Combating Biblical Illiteracy 3
- Children need to learn good Bible reading habits early. Just as they learn to read by having parents read to them, so they learn to read Scripture by having Bible stories and then the Bible itself read early and often. When giving children their own Bibles, reading level should, of course, help guide picking a translation. However, in my opinion, one should discourage various “study Bibles” geared for children and youth. In my experience, children have trouble distinguishing the study notes (often color-coded and worded very simply for easy memorization) from the actual text. (An egregious example is the NIV Adventure Bible published by Zondervan where the notes and summaries actually misinterpret as often as not and encourage the false notion that the Bible is mostly about the “inner life.” The notes in this Bible encourage children to miss the major social justice dimensions of Biblical faith, thus encouraging cultural conformity.)
- I am open to suggestions as to what curricula are best for teaching the Bible to children and youth. (Since I am an adult convert, this is an area I have had to learn from scratch as a church youth worker in the past and now as a parent and member of the youth advisory council. Interestingly, I learned to read the Bible regularly in the home of parents who were not–at the time–believers because they were well-versed in Western literature and knew how much the English Bible influenced English and American literature. I later found that children raised in many churchgoing, or even fundamentalist, homes learned much less Bible than I did in my unbelieving home!)
- One practice of most liturgical and pedobaptist groups that baptistic, Free Church groups could adapt and adopt is that of “godparents.” Many believers’ church groups now do infant dedications. It satisfies the emotional needs of parents for blessing and dedicating themselves and the congregation to help raise the child in a godly manner while, for biblical and theological reasons, leaving baptism as a response to repentance and faith. So, why not have “godparents” who help the parents instruct their children in Christian living and believing, including inculcating the practice of regular Bible study? Churches with very stable memberships might want to entrust this instruction to the congregation as a whole, but the task should be undertaken deliberately.
- Churches must recover the practice of regular, sustained Bible study in groups on a weekly basis–for adults as well as children and youth. Whether this should happen at 10 a.m. Sunday School classes or in some other format is a contextual question. But the congregation should endeavor to enlist every member in some form of regular Bible study. I recommend rotating between study of individual biblical books with topical studies (e.g., “Wealth and Poverty in the Bible,” or “Biblical Perspectives on Caring for Creation,” etc.). In some congregations, it may be desirable to have different groups according to level of difficulty, while in others that may cause unnecessary division.
- Congregations across theological and ecclesial divisions must recover the practice of regular expository preaching. This need not rule out creativity, the use of narrative style, monologues, drama, etc., but those in the congregation responsible for regular preaching must emphasize sustained attention to the content of the text. Pastors and others who preach regularly must avoid preaching only their favorite texts or themes.One way to do this is to adopt a lectionary preaching schedule around the church calendar. Lectionaries are not perfect, by any means, but they do force the pastor not to preach the same handful of favorite passages while offering 4 passages each week for possible exposition.
- Alternatively, and more common in Free Church tradition, one may preach through entire books of the Bible. When I was responsible for regular preaching, I combined these practices. I usually followed the Christian calendar except when a crisis in the life of the congregation demanded deviation. I followed the New Common Lectionary in my preaching from Advent to Trinity Sunday (the Sunday following Pentecost), thereby covering the major themes of the faith. But I have never been happy with the grab bag approach of the lectionary in the “Season of Pentecost” (formerly called “ordinary time”), roughly late Spring, Summer, and the first part of Autumn. So, between Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent, I picked one or more books and preached through them, rotating between testaments and never using the same books two years running. This kept me in my study of the Word as much or more than the congregation.
- Anglicans and Catholics often have retreats that emphasize the Scriptures in spiritual formation and Christian living. Protestant church retreats are seldom so focused on the Scriptures in this way. The practice could easily be adopted more widely.Seminaries must help recover biblical literacy by reinstating Hebrew and Greek requirements where they have been dropped. They also need to require more biblical courses than is often the case today. Because of the low biblical literacy levels even among many incoming students and ordinands, graduation requirements may need to include testing for high levels of knowledge of the content of Scripture. If those who are prepared to serve churches as pastors (and other church leaders) do not have high levels of biblical literacy, there can be little hope for other members of the churches.
These are enough suggestions to begin. I invite others.
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