Bible Illiterates

Tragically there are so many believers today who say or think the following: “If only God would just speak to me”. Of course the simple truth is this: he already has. He has spoken to us clearly and sufficiently in his Word. But another great tragedy of modern Christendom is the fact that most Christians do not read the Bible, so they miss out big time.

The daily reading of the Word is as essential for Christian growth as the daily eating of food is essential for physical growth. But so many believers deprive themselves of this essential spiritual nourishment. We cannot grow spiritually – and in fact we will go backwards – if we do not daily feed on his Word.

If we just open the book and read, God can speak to us in so many powerful and vital ways. As but one quick example: this short phrase jumped out at me this morning in my daily reading: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23:2). What a terrific word. If all Christians simply committed to keeping this one commandment, our societies could be radically transformed.

Daily we get bible 2such gems when we read and study the Word of God. Yet countless believers are dying spiritually because they refuse to do this most basic and essential of Christian disciplines. Yet it is hardly onerous: as I have said so often before: a mere ten minutes a day or so will allow you to read three chapters of Scripture, meaning you can read through the entire Bible in a year.

Thus if you began with Genesis 1 on January 1, you would just now be reading about the amazing work of God with Israel and the Exodus, and the giving of the Ten Commandments. All this biblical history is vital for any Christian today, but we deprive ourselves of it if we ignore Scripture.

Indeed, the passage I just shared above can be applied here: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong [by refusing to read God’s Word].” We sin against our Lord when we refuse to read what he has given to us. And when we do not read it, we become more prone to other sins. As we find in Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Thus the old saying certainly is correct: “Sin will keep you from this book, and this book will keep you from sin.” Believers today have no excuse in this area. But as I say, biblical illiteracy is rampant, even among so-called Bible believing Christians.

I am not alone in such concerns. Al Mohler has just recently penned a piece on this very same topic, and it is well worth quoting from at length. He begins:

While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home – biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm.

He offers more alarming data on this, and continues:

The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.
How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? No wonder Christians show a growing tendency to compromise on the issue of homosexuality. Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the Gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.
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?

He concludes with these words:

Recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.
Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy – or too distracted – to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.
We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.
This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of biblical illiteracy, or a frighteningly large number of Americans – Christians included – will go on thinking that Sodom and Gomorrah lived happily ever after.

So how should we respond? It should be obvious: if we have not been regularly reading and studying the Word of God, our first response must be to repent. We have sinned against God and others by refusing to avail ourselves of his precious Word. Then we must commit to get back to the Bible.

And if you can spend hours a day on TV or playing stupid Facebook games, but cannot find the time to read the Word, then you are likely not even a disciple of Christ, and you need to get saved. It is that simple. And that imperative.


9 Replies to “Bible Illiterates”

  1. Hosea 4:6
    6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
    How can we function as “priests” (Revelation 5:10) and defenders of the faith (1 Peter 3:15) to a lost world if we don’t understand our faith?
    Hebrews 2:3 may also be relevant to Bill’s last paragraph.

  2. You may have heard that Britain is about to push Sunday schools (along with many young people’s other organisations) into a compulsory registration system, whereby they may be inspected by Ofsted to ensure that “British values” are being taught, and that extremists might thus be rooted out and dealt with.
    The command is that any children’s groups outside of normal school-time that provide them with some form of education for more than six hours per week must register. I think I’ve got that generally right.

    You can imagine the effect that will have on Bible-studies and church youth group activity. Soon it may be near impossible to hold such events in the UK without the fear of some government inspector sat in the back seats, reporting on whether or not the group adheres to and teaches the politically correct gospel or the true one. Muslims will no doubt get a clean bill of health, as they always do in the UK. Christians of course will be the extremists.

  3. We certainly do need to read the Bible constantly as Jesus said when tempted by Satan- .
    Matthew 4:4 It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

    Satan replies soon after with a quote showing that he is actually very familiar with the Bible —

    5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,

    6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

    7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

    There are so many distractions in life, more than ever before. I had long moments of silence in my life as a child with no mobile phone, TV, or internet with their constant updates and noise compared to the world of my children. We need silence in order to think about the words of God and put them into practice.

  4. There is a great story told of a sermon delivered by the Puritan evangelist John Rogers:

    ‘[He] warned his congregation against neglecting Scripture by telling them what God might say: “I have trusted you so long with my Bible … it lies in [some] houses all covered with dust and cobwebs, you care not to listen to it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.”

    ‘Rogers then picked up his Bible and started walking away from the pulpit. Then he stopped, fell on his knees, and took on the voice of the people, who pleaded, “Lord, whatever Thou dost to us, take not Thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us Thy Bible, take not away Thy Bible.”

    ‘“Say you so?” the minister replied, impersonating God. “Well, I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you. I will see how you use it, whether you will search it more, love it more, observe it more, and live more according to it.”

    ‘Thomas Goodwin was so moved by Rogers’s dramatic presentation that when he left church he wept upon his horse’s neck for fifteen minutes before he felt strong enough to mount it.’

  5. Great article Bill, thank you. Our priest once said he does not follow biblical morality but catholic morality. Apparently he thinks there is a difference; but he may be right. At the Catholic Assembly a few years ago the suggestion that gay couples be welcomed into the church was greeted with thunderous applause; happily disregarding biblical morality. The bishop who was present made no comment. Another bishop on another occasion suggested that legalizing same sex unions may serve the common good – after all, he said, the law does not punish adultery or divorce or adult pornography any more. Clearly there is no regard for the authority of the bible. These people are quick to cite the bible when arguing that the Catholic church is built on Peter and his successors. They fail to realize that in the original Greek the word ‘rock’ is a feminine noun which can’t possibly refer to Peter; it is referring to ‘faith’. Didn’t Jesus say ‘I will build ‘my’ church’. The problem is that these bishops and priests who know everything can’t be taught anything, even by the Holy Spirit.

  6. Thank you, Bill, for this most important post.

    To get through the Bible in one year, you need to read three chapters a day and five on Sunday.

    Sometimes newcomers keep to this plan in the early stages, when they’re reading Genesis and Exodus; but they become perplexed and discouraged and are tempted to quit when they reach Leviticus.

    Perhaps, in a future post, you could give your readers some guidance on how to understand ‘difficult’ books such as Leviticus and still to press on with reading the whole Bible.

    One book I’ve found very helpful in this regard is by famous British preacher David Pawson. It is called Unlocking the Bible: A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible (London: Collins, 2003) and is based on a series of sermons Pawson delivered in which he preached through every book of the Bible.

    It is a joy to read and gives the reader a refreshing and exciting understanding of what God wants to teach us.

  7. Thank you, Bill for this great post. I have read the Bible several times and over and over. This year I noticed my desire for the Word had waned. I asked myself, “If I truly love God how will I read the Bible?” The one missing thing was discipline. God has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus through the Word and if I truly love Him then I will read His word.

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