Combating Biblical Illiteracy 2
There are no quick and easy answers to the state of ignorance rampant in American churches. Nor will the answers to this ignorance come in “one-size-fits-all” formulae. I am giving an open invitation for bibliobloggers and others to join me suggesting practices for churches struggling to reverse these trends. What follows are my tentative suggestions:
- Mandatory new members classes for new Christians, either before baptism in a revival of the ancient catechumenate, or following baptism or both. Adult members who transfer from other congregations of “like faith and order” can no longer be presumed to have had much instruction, however, so (diplomatically and with pastoral sensitivity so as not to scare members away) these transferring members should be tested for knowledge of basic Christian beliefs and basic biblical knowledge.
- The idea behind such a catechumenate, from my Free Church perspective, is not indoctrination in a creed, nor encouraging legalism nor blind acceptance of pastoral authority. Rather, the classes should stress basic biblical knowledge, basic Christian concepts (broadly construed) and basic behavioral expectations of Christians. All churches must assume that they are in a new missionary context: the surrounding culture, while still very religious and vaguely “Christian,” no longer gives much, if any, biblical literacy. Yet, students in these questions should be encouraged to question and explore. Especially from a Free Church perspective, one does not want docile laity who blindly accept the theological authority of so-called clerical “experts.”
- Although it is no substitute for deeper study of individual biblical books, there is also no substitute for reading the entire Bible several times to get a “sense of the whole.” There are several good programs promoting reading the Bible through in a year’s time. See here and here for examples. There are also 3-year read-through programs structured around the Common Lectionary. Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses, but the important thing is to encourage such regular devotional reading of large sections of Scripture. There is no substitute in getting a sense of the overarching narrative structure, the major themes and concepts, etc.
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