Russell Moore shares some compelling remarks on Biblical literacy in his article “Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?”. He quotes David Nienhuis, author of :
“Some of my students attend popular non-denominational churches led by entrepreneurial leaders who claim to be ‘Bible believing’ and strive to offer sermons that are ‘relevant’ for successful Christian living,” [Neinhuis] writes. “Unfortunately, in too many cases, this formula results in a preacher appealing to a short text of Scripture, out of context, in order to support a predetermined set of ‘biblical principles’ to guide the congregants’ daily lives. The only Bible these students encounter, sadly, is the version that is carefully distilled according to the theological and ideological concerns that have shaped the spiritual formation of the lead pastor.”
Here’s the end-result according to Nienhuis: “They have the capacity to recall a relevant biblical text in support of a particular doctrinal point, or in opposition to a hot spot in the cultural wars, or in hope of emotional support when times get tough. They approach the Bible as a sort of reference book, a collection of useful God-quotes that can be looked up as one would locate words in a dictionary or an entry in an encyclopedia.” He continues: “What they are not trained to do is to read a biblical book from beginning to end, to trace its narrative arc, to discern its main themes, and to wonder how it shapes our faith lives today.”
Moore asserts that the solution to this problem is not easy. If easy means simple, then I disagree. I think the answer is simple—Christians need to spend more time, and more quality time, reading the Bible. This solution, however, will be hard, and that’s the challenge: most Americans avoid hard work and struggle to resist the constant distractions of social media and our ubiquitous screens.
The solution at the individual level is committing to spending much more time in the Word, not in books or media about the Word. It means carving out devotional time on a daily basis to invest significant attention to the reading and study of the Bible, and prioritizing that above the distractions of our phones or the call of work. Personally, I do this every morning. I am a morning person, so I get up extra early, make myself some tea, and spend a good chunk of time reading and studying before I get sucked into email and my daily grind. For some, this looks like setting aside time each evening.
I’ve written before about giving focused time each New Year to reading the Word.
At the family level, becoming Biblically literate people places a call on fathers to lead their families in Bible reading. This is something I fondly recall my own dad doing; family devotions were a consistent part of my childhood, although the timing and content evolved with the changing schedule and ages of my siblings.
The real challenge is changing the mentality at a church level. Most churches I have been a part of function through seminary-educated “professionals” who are expected to be the Biblically-literate Christians teaching and preaching for everyone else (although Moore rightly notes that many of these experts don’t really “get the flow” of the Bible’s overarching narrative). This is not the model found in Scripture, or in the historical practice of Judaism followed by the first-century Christians. Paul’s clear expectation was that all members of the Church should be Biblical experts and the model the apostles grew up with was one in which everyone studied the Scriptures, under the guidance of a rabbi. This mindset has to occupy the leadership of American evangelical churches today—every member of the church should be expected to spend substantial time studying the Bible and an experienced Christian should be ashamed if this discipline is not part of their life.