Biblical Illiteracy in the Church

By Aaron Marks

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." - 2 Timothy 2:15

Throughout the last several decades, anti-intellectualism has plagued the church in America. Several pastors and theologians are greatly alarmed by the great decline of biblical literacy throughout the nation. It seems now more than ever, Christians are content with knowing very little about their faith. I believe some pastors and teachers have aided to this epidemic by replacing sound doctrine and expository preaching with watered down messages of moralism, self-help, and prosperity. Their aversion to teach theology and doctrine from the pulpit has caused many Christians to develop a similar disposition. Rather than studying the Scriptures to discover who our God is and what his Word teaches, we have allowed our own reasoning and experiences to construct our own misguided opinions.

Pastor Voddie Bauchum said, "Modern American Christianity is the only place in our culture where we will tolerate this cognitive dissonance between a [person] who will say, 'I've been walking with God for forty years and I know nothing.'" He goes on to say that he is unaware of any other field where an individual can be doing something for a long period of time and know very little about it. If you have been laying tile for 30 years, then you should be able to teach someone how to lay tile. The reality is that there are many people in the church who have been Christians for twenty or thirty years who still have a very elementary understanding of Scripture which disables them from discipling younger believers who want to grow in their knowledge of the Word. 

One serious problem is that many Christians, including myself, are often overly confident about what we know concerning God and Scripture. But if God grants us the humility to truly assess what we know, we would have to admit that our understanding is either deeply flawed or incomplete. And if our understanding of God and Scripture is either flawed, limited, or both, then shouldn't that spark a desire within us to pursue clarity and understanding?

In the book Playing with Fire, author Walt Russell says, "If we cannot be his students, we have no way to learn to exist always and everywhere within the riches and power of His Word. We can only flounder along as if we were on our own so far as the actual details of our lives are concerned. That is where multitudes of well-meaning Christians find themselves today." Church, how can our hearts burn with a passion to love and serve a God who we do not know? If we don't turn to the authority of God's Word, how will we know if our beliefs and conduct are correct? On Sundays, how can we sing praises to a God who we are unfamiliar with? And in the midst of the greatest pain or loss, how can we hold fast to God's promises if we do not know them? It would be a travesty to continue walking with God without knowing His character, promises, and commands that we find revealed in Scripture.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15, "do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." In Timothy 3:16 Paul goes on to say that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Church, we must be diligent to study and know God's Word. It is the primary source of God's self-revelation and contains the only sufficient source for knowledge of salvation that can't be obtained through nature or conscience. It does not contain error in matters of history, science, or doctrine and is therefore a trustworthy guide for life and godliness. And it is the primary means that the Holy Spirit uses for our spiritual transformation: it renews our mind, strengthens our soul, and stirs our affection for God. 

In Hebrews 5:12-14 the author writes to his readers, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Christians, we should not be satisfied with an elementary understanding of Scripture. There is indeed a time and place for spiritual milk in the life of a believer, but we should grow to be mature in God's Word, rightly and skillfully dividing and applying its truth. I pray that the Spirit would convict our hearts and show us the necessity of a comprehensive knowledge of Scripture in our lives. May we all, by God's grace, read, study, and apply the Word for the rest of our days. 

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