These days more Christian leaders are decrying the decline in Bible reading. “The problem in the church today…” they thunder, “…is biblical illiteracy!” Guilty “Amens” go up from the congregation. It’s a great line, but I’m not so sure it’s the real problem.

I am sure that Bible reading is decreasing; the research on that is clear. But is the solution to learn more about the Bible? I agree, it doesn’t look good if a high percentage of church-goers believe the Sermon on the Mount was a message Jesus delivered on horseback. Or that most people can name all four Beatles but not one of the twelve Apostles.

But it seems to me the real issue is not that Christians need to bone up on their Bible factoids. Rather, it’s that Christians need to discover what Bible engagement is; that’s what’s missing in the church today. The question is, what exactly is Bible engagement?

On a practical level it means there are different ways to take in the Bible’s message—reading, listening, discussing, watching, acting, drawing, etc. And on a philosophical level it means there are different outcomes that can result from connecting with the Word of God.

My observation is the outcome most Christians seek from reading the Bible is more biblical knowledge and truth, both of which are important. But the outcome that makes the Bible come alive is a sense that we’ve experienced the presence of the living God as we read and attempt to obey his Word. That’s what Bible engagement is all about.

So my challenge to Christian leaders who are genuinely concerned about the decline in Bible reading is this: stop telling us we’re biblical ignoramuses, and start encouraging us to meet God in his Word. Because ultimately, true Bible engagement is real God engagement. And that’s our deepest need.

Biblical Illiteracy is NOT the Problem

13 thoughts on “Biblical Illiteracy is NOT the Problem

  • August 9, 2010 at 4:48 am
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    Well said Whitney. It's true that there are two approaches to Bible engagement – one is cognitive engagement (studying to acquire more knowledge) and then there's transformative engagement (reading the Bible to hear from God, be transformed etc). The first is still OK, but kind of void and hollow without the second.

    Whitney, at a recent conference I attended, it was said that for a long time, the cognitive side of Bible engagement has been promoted by the church at the expense of transformative engagement. Would you agree? Perhaps trying to shift the church to a real understanding of how to engage with the Bible transformatively as you state is the key to unlocking the Bible for post-moderns?

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  • August 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm
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    Never thought of it in that way but you do have a point worth considering .if people engage the word they will engage God and the desire to read and know the word will increase significantly.

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  • August 10, 2010 at 12:18 am
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    Yes, certainly as a trained teacher I see that knowledge gained that is not practised in someway starts a (bad) habit of engagement with the Bible. If unchanged, one would become used to 'merely reading the word' (James 1:22). To me, the question then is, what sort of environmental factors are necessary to help Bible reading to naturally progress to life transformation in all its multiplicity? I suspect that individualism in Western societies is a large problem, but I'm sure the answer is far more pluriform than this.

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  • August 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm
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    Hello, just want to share my experience after reading this post.

    – It has helped me identify my primary problem with Bible-reading – that engagement does not necessarily come with reading.

    – It has also helped me to realize that, even though I am not getting that Bible engagement through reading alone, I am still getting it in my daily life by remembering some passages (definitely not many) and living them out in all the other things I do. In other words,God already figured out what works for me, and put me in situations / commitments / ministries that facilitate the Bible engagement. I just hadn't discovered that, otherwise I could make active decisions to reach that Bible engagement whenever I want.

    – It's a huge relief and encouragement to me to finally know now all that I've typed above.

    Thank you very much for this post!

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  • August 10, 2010 at 9:43 pm
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    If Christian leaders do not encourage the reading of the bible though, that would be a dangerous situation. What is the point of being Christian without knowing the words in the Bible? I guess, Bible reading should still be emphasized, and I would say that Bible illiteracy IS a problem.

    What is important though, is that gaining knowledge about the Bible, bearing in mind that it is metaphorical, and engaging in the spirit of it, living life the way Jesus Christ would have lived.

    Peace be with you.
    1 John 4:8

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  • August 12, 2010 at 11:17 am
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    Great point… well said. But may I add; everything revolves around reading and studying and understanding the Bible.
    It is through dedicated reading and studying, and most of all getting to the point of truly understanding the bible, that we are able to properly recognize our daily experiences with God. And it is not until we begin to recognize God in our lives that we can confidently engage God.

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  • August 15, 2010 at 1:30 am
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    I see many who read the book on swimming. They may even daily recite the swimmers creed. They talk with others about how to swim and are quite passionate about reading the book on swimming, however, they themselves never get beyond ankle deep in the water.
    I encourage you to read and drink deeply from the Bible and then go deep. Get out there in the deep, so deep you can longer touch bottom and enjoy His presence.

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  • August 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm
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    It may well be the case that Biblical illiteracy is not the 'problem', but it is the reality which we find. In the last assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) held in Buenos Aires, there was consensus among delegates that Bible use in evangelical churches in Latin America was dropping alarmingly. Meanwhile in the RC Church the main bishops' conference held in Brazil in 2007 took the issue of Scripture engagement very seriously and see one important response through the recovery of the 'lectio divina', prayerful reading of Scriptures. The UBS and CELAM initiative for children and young people shows promise–see http://www.lectionautas.com and http://www.discipulitos.com.

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  • August 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm
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    When you have bought your groceries, you can throw away the grocery list.

    When you have actively engaged in God, can you throw away the Bible?

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  • August 22, 2010 at 12:46 am
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    I believe it is true that bible reading has decreased among professing Christians, however, I believe the true problems stems from lack of understanding. Many seek to please God with their own works of righteousness in the flesh based on natural wisdom and understanding. Few understand the deep, spiritual things of God. Few understand that the law of God is spiritual. Here is a great bible study website that opens the scripture up spiritually, revealing the deep things of God.

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  • March 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm
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    Hello Brothers and Sisters, I need your help please. My daughter was surfing the internet and she came across this terrible site where they are burning the bible. She is only seven years old. This kind of material needs to stop damaging our society.

    http://youtu.be/rwFL1Vd-D04

    Please help me shut this site down! Thank you.

    Reply
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