Biblical Illiteracy

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Christian churches no longer teach the Bible. That is the inescapable conclusion of a report on Bible literacy released earlier this year by the Biblical Literacy Project. Researchers conducted a survey of teenagers in which they asked questions about the Bible. Students were asked, for example, to identify which of four statements about David was not true. Only one-third correctly knew that David did not try to kill King Saul. One in four believed David was not a king of the Jews, and one in five believed he did not love Bathsheba. “Perhaps surprisingly, born-again and Evangelical teens were often only slightly more likely than other teens to display Bible literacy. In the whole sample surveyed, just 44 percent of born-again teens could correctly identify a quote from the Sermon on the Mount, compared to 37 percent of all American teens” (Bible Literacy Report, 25).

I’ve seen some of the odd mish-mash of pop psychology, contemporary values, and Bible stories that pass as Sunday school curriculum nowadays. Nearly all of them have a core lesson summed up in a few words. The teacher parrots these words throughout the session. Nearly all bury the Bible story in a five-minute segment that serves to re-inforce the core lesson. There are usually other activities and stories also designed to drive home the core lesson. The actual details of the biblical narrative are lost or even altered to fit the core lesson. No wonder even church-bred kids are growing up not knowing the Bible. Churches have substituted abstract lessons for the nitty-gritty details of messy and—let’s face it—politically incorrect stories.

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