Biblical Illiteracy

Albert Mohler has a good blog today on biblical illiteracy in the church. I’ve blogged briefly about this before, and I think this is one dead horse that still needs beating. Mohler cites the statistics:

According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

Big trouble indeed. Bibles today that are available to the church often contain many more notes and extraneous materials than they do the actual biblical text. The usual argument goes something like, “I need the notes to understand the difficult passages.” I will concede that point. It does help and is often a benefit to see what others have gleaned from their readings and study. This is not, however, an adequate substitute for reading the actual text. Making doctrine from the “Cliff Notes” version of the Bible is a dangerous thing.

I’ve been in countless Bible studies where, during the course of discussing a biblical passage, someone will invariably say, “Well, my Bible says,” and then refer to thier study notes (which, contrary to popular belief, are sometimes completely wrong). Study notes are not inherently bad, but they do contribute to the church’s biblical illiteracy when one looks to them before looking at the text.

The research Mohler cites doesn’t discuss the percentage of Christians who have read (or are currently on a plan to do so) the entire Bible. I wonder about this. Rarely are people encouraged to read the whole thing by pastors, teachers, and other believers, and I wonder if this is due to the fact that fewer and fewer Christian leaders have a working knowledge of the entire canon of Scripture.

The fact that Christians today do not know the Bible shouldn’t make us throw up our hands and give up because we’re too far behind. On the other hand, we should follow the voice that Augustine heard, and “take up and read!”