I doubt that anyone will disagree with me when I state that our society today in America is biblically illiterate. Specifically, I would define "biblically illiterate" as the following:

* Unfamiliar with the structure of the Bible. Most people could not explain why the Bible is split between Old and New Testaments. They cannot name the books of the Bible. That the books are grouped into certain categories is unknown to them. And, sadly, many people cannot even locate a verse of Scripture.

* Unfamiliar with the content of the Bible. Noah and Moses and Jesus are favorite stories, but are known only in the terms and generalities of childhood tales. The Psalms are at best pleasant poetry. The sermons of Jesus draw a blank. The Pauline and General Epistles are much too difficult to read and really aren't practical. The books of the Prophets are totally useless.

* Unfamiliar with the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is certainly not science, and even its history is suspect. At most it's a moral code, but even then, the vast majority of people haven't read it to know what moral code it contains - they quote the Golden Rule and think that's all Jesus ever said.

* Unfamiliar with the theology of the Bible. Words such as sin, salvation, sanctification, grace, justification, and redemption are archaisms completely out-of-touch with modern-day America. The concept that there are doctrines of God, man, Christ, and the Trinity is unheard of.

* Unfamiliar with the truth of the Bible. In a world of moral relativism and moral decay, the statement that there is absolute truth, revealed by the one True God, would be considered ridiculous, narrow-minded, and old-fashioned.

It is one thing, however, to state that our society is biblically illiterate. That is almost to be expected; after all, that is the "world" that we are in, but not of.

What would you say, though, if I were to assert that the Church in America is also biblically illiterate? And by "the Church" I mean the true Church: the children of God, saved and redeemed by the blood; not everyone who happens to inhabit a pew on a given Sunday morning.

Look back on our definition of "biblically illiterate." Unfamiliar with the structure of the Bible. Can most Christians talk knowledgeably about the reason for the Old and New Testaments? Find their way quickly around to locate a given text? Talk about the various types of books found in the Testaments?

Unfamiliar with the content of the Bible. More is known about content, undoubtedly, than in society at large, but ask yourself: How many Christians can quote or locate verses that they need without hesitation? Or paraphrase passages or verses of Scripture - even well known ones such as the Beatitudes or I Corinthians 13? If asked what would define the Christian walk, could they provide a clear answer? Are people comfortable defending their faith? Proving a point from Scripture? Leading someone to Christ with nothing more than a Bible in hand?

Unfamiliar with the purpose of the Bible. The Church does fairly well here, recognizing and affirming that the purpose of the Bible is to tell the story of man's sin and God's plan of salvation and how to live a holy life, but still - do we really live it? Do our lives show the world the importance of the Sacred Writ?

Unfamiliar with the theology of the Bible. We do all right with short words like sin and grace, but longer terms such as sanctification and justification still get glazed looks from many Christians. Certainly, the words seem to be detached from everyday life. We are content to admit that doctrine is important, but we relegate it to pastors and seminary students.

Unfamiliar with the truth of the Bible. As Christians, we affirm that the Bible is the true and absolute standard of living, the only plan of salvation, and the answer to every question voiced by humankind. But if we don't know what it says, if we don't understand the doctrines, and if we can't tell people about it - then can we really say that that is what we believe?

In any battle, it is important to understand what we are fighting against. Christian education in all its forms - Sunday school, Bible studies, discipleship relationships, sermons, books, radio, etc. - is struggling against biblical illiteracy: in the church as well as in the world. Let's take the time to study our opponent so we can advance God's kingdom and win this war!

© 2008 Paula Marolewski

You have my permission to reprint and distribute this article as long as it is distributed in its entirety, including all links and copyright information. This article is not to be sold or included with anything that is sold.

Author's Bio: 

Paula J. Marolewski provides challenging and interactive adult Bible studies for individuals, Bible studies, small groups, and adult Sunday School classes at Sink Your Roots (www.SinkYourRoots.com). Studies include such topics as Debunking the Myths about Knowing God's Will. The above article is an excerpt from Called to Teach.