In Religious Literacy, author Stephen Prothero cites the general lack of ignorance regarding religions in general, and our own experiences among our brothers and sisters can speak to a lack of knowledge of Christianity among those who claim to be Christians. We laugh at the ways children might mix up Biblical stories, but, after a time, such missteps are no longer humorous. They reveal an ignorance on our own part.
Prothero gave his university students a quiz regarding Christianity, Judaism, and other world religions, and they failed spectacularly. Likewise, the Gallup organization cites its own studies demonstrating a record low of Bible knowledge among the general United States population. Some of the results to questions may provoke laughter, but the fact is, by and large, our Bible knowledge does not improve from elementary school to college to adulthood.
Our Own Religious Illiteracy
How is our specific Bible knowledge growing? As people who claim to be followers of Christ who might even look down upon people who can’t name the four gospels, how do we ourselves really stack up? Can we defend our beliefs and practices using the Bible? Can we use the Bible to show the establishment and ownership of the church? Could we defend or moral positions through scripture? Even more telling, are we willing to honestly assess what we know and what we don’t know?
I need to be willing to do more than “just enough” when preparing for services and Bible classes. If teaching, I need to be thoroughly prepared not only to facilitate discussion but to teach trough and encourage spiritual growth. If a student, I need to be willing to put in the work to get something out of the lessons. In I Corinthians 1:17, Paul discourages us from relying on human wisdom in convincing others of Christ, and verse 20 continues this theme. Chapter 2:1-7 recounts Paul’s desire for those Christians’ faith to be rooted in spiritual wisdom, not man’s.
Stephen Prothero observes a decline in Bible study and how communities were once reputed for their scriptural knowledge, but an emphasis on emotion over intellect has led to apathy and skepticism. In Hebrews, the author is speaking of the dangers of apostasy, speaking specifically to the problem of ignorance. In chapter 5:11-14, he criticizes his audience for inability to understand topics they should be ready to deal with. They have not spiritually developed as they should have, and a lack of use is specifically cited as a reason for this problem. If we don’t exercise our Biblical knowledge, we lose it.
Back in Hosea 4:6, God says His people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. They may have known the basics, but they were unable to apply what they knew. II Timothy 2:15 encourages us to give diligence to our knowledge, giving us the ability to handle God’s word properly, strengthening our own faith and the faith of others. Finally, I Peter 3:15 reminds us that we should always be able to answer questions presented to us.
Merely knowing the stories is not the same as understanding application, but it is a start. There is a growth process. It’s understandable for children to mix up Bible stories, and misapplication of Bible concepts is expected among spiritually young Christians. However, as we gain experience, we should be growing out of our illiteracy and developing a strong foundation for our faith.
lesson by Tim Smelser
See also: I Know Whom I Have Believed