How Did We Become Illiterate?

by Bryant Evans on May 19, 2012

The literacy rate in the United States is 99%. We know how to read. But we are illiterate in one important area. We suffer from Biblical Illiteracy.

Many would disagree. They shout that this is a “Christian nation” that is founded upon “Christian principles.” True enough, but we are still ignorant of the Scriptures to an astonishing degree.

Many can recite the broad outlines of childhood Bible stories. We remember the name of the first couple and we probably know that it was Noah who built an ark. We know Jesus is the Son of God and that he was crucified. But beyond the basics we struggle. In fact, increasing numbers of Christians get their faith from their preacher – not from the Bible. That’s dangerous.

The Bible itself tells us to study:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those who do study are held as good examples:

“For Ezra had set his heart to study  the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his rules and statutes in Israel”  (Ezra 7:10).

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalms 111:2).

Those who fail to study are shown as poor examples who suffer:

“My people are desroyed for a lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest unto me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children” (Hosea 4:6)

“Desire, without knowledge, is not good” (Proverbs 19:2)

A man without a growing knowledge of the truth is in danger of error. Trusting a preacher with your soul is a horrible gamble. Never trust your preacher! He is fallible and apt to err, sometimes through honest mistakes but sometimes through deliberate sin. Remember the Bible says that even Satan sometimes looks like an angel (2 Corinthians 11:14)

How Did We Become Illiterate?

I’ll offer some thoughts and watch for your comments.

We Became Illiterate When We Became too Busy

Careful Bible study takes time. Although some results are immediate we often must wait for the full results to be evident. Solomon said there is weariness in much study. He is exactly right. Our bodies become tired and our minds slow. Successful study takes time and effort.

Our present world keeps us busy. Sometimes the important things in life are pushed away by the urgent things. With children leading busy lives at school and participating in sports and the necessity for working one and two jobs, it is easy to let Bible study slide away. We need to rethink our time and carve out a few minutes every day for study.

We Became Illiterate When We Became too Rich

Too rich? Is that possible? It absolutely is if we  begin to trust in our stuff instead of in our savior. Paul was clear that we must not trust in our things. Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10. It is the love of money that destroys. The problem is that we trust in physical things which lead us away from God. One of the reasons faith has and continues to be a major force in the African-American community is because for some many years they had few possessions and little hope for any improvement. They had nothing to trust in but God.

When we trust in our possessions we will not expend  the time and effort to grow deeper in our knowledge of God’s word.

We Became Illiterate When We Surrendered the Pulpit to the Clergy

I am a preacher. I am supported by the local congregation but I eschew the term “clergy.” Here’s the problem with the idea of a clergy-laity relationship. Such a system assumes the clergy is somehow special and that his understanding is superior from that of the laity. Now I know I am painting with an awfully broad brush but too often we have seen preachers take churches into places they should not be while fundamentally changing doctrine. You’ve seen it and so have I.

The Bible decries  the elevation of preachers. Consider Jesus’ words of Matthew 23:8-12 where he warned against using terms like “Father” or “Rabbi” to denote religious leaders. The warning is underscored by his comment on being humble and avoiding being exalted. But when we let the preacher tell us what to believe we will not study as we should.

As an example, a young man attended a Vacation Bible School and heard the teacher explain one of the great stories from Jesus’ life. He interrupted the teacher. “That’s not the way my preacher tells it!” The teacher turned to the student and asked him to open his Bible. The youngster blushed, “I don’t have a Bible.” The teacher and the student looked together at the Bible and found that the student’s preacher was wrong. He changed the story to make his point.

Conclusion

We may be illiterate now but it need not continue that way. Decide now to make time to know the Lord better by being in his word. Take responsibility for your own faith. Know the Word!

{ 2 comments }

Jenny May 31, 2012 at 10:42 am

I don’t think it’s because we’ve gotten too rich. That suggests that the poor were biblically literate, which often wasn’t the case. After all, it was in the poor uneducated communities where a lot of alternative and elaborated versions of Bible stories originates. That’s where a lot of the self-serving ideas were “baptized.” And that’s where a lot of superstition flourished.

Example, since you mentioned the black community. If you look at old issues of the A.M.E. Church Review, you’ll see that the black educated and denominational clergy read on topics similar to what their class equivalents in the white community would read. However, it was the poor blacks who promoted race-centered eschatology and revisionist Bible stories, evident by their cultural ethics and songs. Today, the once poor faction is rich, meaning they don’t suffer from poverty the same way their ancestors did. But they still perpetuate the biblical illiteracy of the past.

Bryant Evans June 3, 2012 at 6:58 am

I won’t disagree with you but increasing affluence does, sometimes, cause a comfort level based upon tangible things. Such comfort, wouldn’t you agree, can cause us to stop searching for true comfort. And let me add that Biblical illiteracy is not limited to anyone socioeconomic population.

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