Biblical Illiteracy in America
Remember the frog that landed in a pan of water and stayed until it boiled? Had the pan been hot, the frog would have noticed and hopped out. But the water felt cool at first, and the frog sensed no danger. It simply relaxed and conformed to the gradual change. Subdued by the rising heat, it grew too sluggish to act. By the time the water boiled, the frog was dead.
I want to share the burden of my heart with you concerning the alarming trend of Biblical illiteracy and state of discipleship in today’s church. I want to encourage you by saying that with every problem there is an opportunity and to envision the church as the Lord sees it. The following statistics reveal a crisis in the church.
Regarding Biblical illiteracy and discipleship, Christian researcher and author George Barna reports:
* Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.
* Many professing Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
* 60 percent of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
* 82 percent of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.
* 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
* A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
* A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
* Six out of ten Americans reject the existence of Satan.
* Four out of ten Americans believe that when Jesus Christ was on earth He committed sins.
* Five out of ten believe that anyone who is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life will earn a place in Heaven.
* Four out of ten believe that the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.
* Seven out of ten born again Christians said they do not believe in moral absolutes.
* Only one out of ten Christians base their moral decision-making on the principles taught in the Bible.
* 54 percent believe truth can be discovered only through logic, human reasoning and personal experience.
These statistics indicate a gradual change of temperature over time. In general, Biblical illiteracy is a growing trend and church discipleship is ineffective.
John Stott wrote, “The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict half-built towers. The ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent but thin veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.”
I would suggest that many Christian churches have abandoned serious Bible exposition and theological teaching. Historical exegesis is becoming a lost art in the pulpit. The church should be intentional about teaching the background of the being and attributes of God, His sovereignty, His majesty and holiness. Preachers should stress the fact that the righteousness of God has been outraged by human sin and that apart from Divine, unmerited grace, man’s deadly guilt (Romans 3:19) will bring upon him the wrath of God (Romans 1:18), the deserved judgment of the Lord (Romans 2:2), and ensuing death (Romans 6:23).
However, as Gary Burge writes, “Rather than explaining the historical setting of a passage, texts become springboards for devotional reflection,” he notes. “Biblical passages are taken out of context as the preacher searches for those stories that evoke the responses or attitudes desired.” As a result, “The heart of a ‘good’ sermon is fast becoming the ‘emotional work’ that can be done in 20 minutes preaching time.”
Perhaps we are where we are because there is an overemphasis on personal experience to the exclusion of serious Christian education or that spirituality is being built on private emotional attachments or because of the tremendous influence unbiblical philosophies and worldviews are having on churchgoers. Albert Mohler writes, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study. Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people? Even the pulpit has been sidelined in many congregations. Preaching has taken a back seat to other concerns in corporate worship. The centrality of biblical preaching to the formation of disciples is lost, and Christian ignorance leads to Christian indolence and worse.”
As Barna reports, “Christians have increasingly been adopting spiritual views that come from Islam, Wicca, secular humanism, the eastern religions and other sources. Because we remain a largely Bible-illiterate society, few are alarmed or even aware of the slide toward syncretism – a belief system that blindly combines beliefs from many different faith perspectives.”
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