Monday, 20 January 2014

The New Illiterates


Scotland’s education system owes much to the church. With its beginnings dating back to the Reformation, the emerging Protestant church aimed to engage ordinary Scots with Biblical truth through the provision of basic education in every parish.

In the 21st century, literacy continues to be a major priority in Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. While primary teachers have always had the responsibility of developing literacy in their pupils, the new curriculum has added this task to secondary teachers who until recently had regarded themselves as ‘subject specialists’ as opposed to general teachers of literacy. Curriculum planners hope that this measure will help develop and maintain high levels of literacy.

Within the church however, levels of Biblical literacy are a cause for concern, particularly amongst the traditional Bible-loving evangelical sector. Research in recent years by the Evangelical Alliance involving a survey of 17,000 Christians has revealed some exceedingly disturbing trends.  

There is widespread consensus and certainty amongst evangelicals that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it has supreme authority in their lives. 93% strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

There is less certainty, and a broader range of opinions as to whether or not the Bible, in its original manuscript, is without error. Only 54% agree that the Bible, in its original manuscript, is without error……a clear disconnect with the previous statistic, pointing to uncertainty about what the Bible really is.

The most disturbing figures however concern engagement with the scriptures by age group as outlined in the table below.

Percentage of respondents who read (or listen to) the Bible everyday

16-24              25-34              35-44              45-54              55-64              65+

38%                38%                38%                50%                59%                69%

Church leaders ought to be very concerned by these figures, particularly the lack of regular and consistent engagement with the scriptures by the 16-44 year old age group, the group most traditionally involved in the leading of worship and youth work in evangelical churches. It should be a concern that those with an important role within the church would appear to be the least Biblically literate and equipped.

Jamie Smith, writing recently on ‘The Berean Call’ website www.thebereancall.org spells out the consequences of Biblical illiteracy for evangelicals: “In spite of the importance God places on the knowledge in His Word, there is a definite weaning of evangelicals away from knowledge and understanding of and a dependence upon the Word of God. This ‘dumbing-down’ of the flock produces biblically illiterate Christians who have little or no defence against "ravenous wolves" that come forth, claiming to be "evangelical," but in reality are not…….. "ravenous wolves" who make claims of new revelation through the rhema of God that the flock should recognise as being counterfeit but do not, because they do not know the genuine article (the logos) well enough to spot a fake. The flock has no means of reliably testing what these false teachers claim, because the sheep no longer recognise the shepherd's voice. As such, the sheep rely on their own understanding and desires to discern what is and is not true”.

There is therefore an urgent need for church leaders to address the issue of Bible illiteracy. This can only be done at individual church level, but takes determined, creative and energetic leadership that is prepared to harness all of the human resources that God has made available. The question is: Do our church leaders recognise that there is a problem, and are they up to the task of equipping those in their care?
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