Combating Biblical Illiteracy in the Churches, 1
Dr. Jim West, pastor of Petros Baptist Church, is part of a growing number of bibliobloggers, i.e. folks who blog primarily on biblical studies. On his blog, Jim regularly blasts TV preachers and others who regularly misinterpret Scripture badly as “dilettantes.” I have argued with him that he seems to promote an “academic magisterium” of semi-official biblical interpreters which, it seems to me, undermines the Reformation doctrines of the “perspicacity of Scripture” (i.e., that the main message of Scripture is understandable to all who read it–barring learning disabilities or other special circumstances) and of the “priesthood of all believers.” But Jim and I agree that the Bible is regularly mangled by TV preachers, writers of much popular drivel found in Christian bookstores, etc.
Further, the state of biblical literacy among laity is very low. Theologian George Lindbeck notes that when he was a student at Yale Divinity School entering students were tested for levels of biblical knowledge that would now surpass many graduating students–and that is not something unique to Yale. Indeed, I have heard similar complaints from many professors at conservative evangelical institutions. When I taught New Testament introduction courses at a local church-related university (in Louisville, KY–part of the Bible Belt in America), I began each course with an anonymous pre-test to let me know where the students were at the beginning of the semester.
I asked the following 6 questions: 1) How many books are there in the New Testament? 2) How many Gospels are part of the New Testament? Name them. 3) Who wrote more books of the New Testament than anyone else? 4) In which book would you find the Sermon on the Mount? 5) Which book tells some part of the history of the early church? 6) What is the name of the last book of the Bible? Never did more than 5% of the class get all 6 questions right and usually the percentage was much smaller. More than once over 95% of the class missed all 6 questions and this did not vary too much on whether the students came from strong church backgrounds or not. I have made inquiries across the U.S. and found that these kinds of results are fairly typical.
Thus, laity (and many clergy) are easy prey for heresies, whether of “New Age” nonsense or militant Christian Zionism, or any of a dozen or more other schemes propagated by TV preachers and popular Christian authors, many with mail order degrees from diploma mills and not from reputable schools (although it is quite possible to have heretical nonsense from people who should know better, too).
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