Importance of Biblical literacy in the 21st century

One of the chief concerns that I have today is about biblical literacy. It is alarming to put it lightly. People are reading the bible like they use to, they are not serious about translating the bible, and they are treating study of the Word faithfully.

Ed Stetzer from LifeWay Research said this,

In America, we have a literacy problem. But more concerning to me, we have a biblical literacy problem. Americans, including churchgoers, aren’t reading much of any book, including the Good Book.

The problem in America is we live a post-biblical literacy culture. It is cool to be dumb theologically in and out of the church. At least half the stuff passing at large churches is more motivational than biblical. People simply do not see a need to “be a berean” anymore and to search the scriptures to verify what the preacher in presenting is true.

The challenges outside of America is much harder to address. It is not just a lack of desire. It is a lack of ability. They do not have a bible they can read in their language. They do not hundreds of books and commentaries in their native languages.

Let’s get real about biblical literacy

It is commonly believed that less than half of adult Americans can name the four writers of the gospels and and less than 40% of them name half of the Ten Commandments. This is concerning. I have no reason to believe that England, Germany, and Canada would be any different, either.

The problem here is not about translations, study aids or solid literature. It is all there. Fifty years ago, the debate about having a bible that the average person could read was legit. Since then, the bible has translated into simple English for anyone to understand.

Dr. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention said,

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 is widely believe that many church going evangelicals actually believe there is a verse that “God helps those who help themselves.” This is an old saying that we use but it is nowhere in the New Testament.

I believe in America, it is just pure laziness. We have no excuse for the lack of biblical literacy today. An endless supply of study aids are as close as our libraries or Amazon. The ability is present but the desire to use those resources is absent. I would not be surprised if our public libraries are less used than they was twenty years ago.

It is not completely our fault. We have preachers who value charisma more than education. Many, if not most, our growing churches are more interested in entertaining sermons they are in people growing in knowledge of the hope of glory, Christ in us!

This is a trend that we must change and it starts from the pulpit. If the judgement of God starts at the household of faith, we can be sure the clergy will be at the front of the line.

This is not an American problem

The reality of the issue is much worse when you look at what is happening around the world. There are villages in India that believe that Jesus could live in the next village. There is who language groups that do not have the bible in a language they can understand. We can forget about having study aids and commentaries in them within our lifetimes.

There is 1,859 languages that do not even have a bible in their language right now. This is the 21st century and we still have only 43% of the world that can read a bible in their native language they use speak for education, business, and relationships. There is another 2,500 languages that only have part of the Bible to read.

While groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators and others are doing more than ever before (we have never have over 2,500 languages being translated at once), the fact remains that we have to get bible that they can understand and then we need to move towards study aids and high quality commentaries. One of the encouraging things is that in the last six months, we have the Word of God in 27 new languages around the world.

What can be taken from this discussion is that the issue is at a manageable point. At the current rate, we could be looking at having a bible anyone can read within the next 10-15 years. This is a huge step in the right direction. Once that is completely, they can go back and work on any errors that happening in the translations.

Biblical literacy

A deeper problem: hermeneutics

I am also very concerned about the lack of hermeneutics in many of our churches and bible schools. As sad as it sounds, there are people graduating from our bible colleges and they can’t even properly interpret texts and some of them do not even know what a exegesis even is. We have biblically uninformed people that will at some point lead churches. This is alarming and it is downright scary.

This issue is the next step after getting the bible to the people around the world. We have to also get them the tools to have biblical understanding and faithful systematic theology. I do not think it matter what country you are discussing, the issue of hermeneutics is problematic.

As Gordon Anderson of North Central University states,

It must be recognized that biases are unavoidable. As Rudolph Bultmann and many others have pointed out, there is no such thing as presuppositionless hermeneutics. This would amount to an “empty headed” (tabula rasa) interpretation. This creates a difficult problem. All interpreters have preconceptions and beliefs, yet these should not govern interpretation to the extent that they counter the intended meaning of the text. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this can reduce interpretation to the conviction that the Bible means exactly what I think it says.” In this respect, all hermeneutics have the potential of subordinating the text to ideology.