Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paradox: Increased Biblical Illiteracy with Increased Worship

The Associated Baptist Press has an interesting article on a paradox occurring in Christianity today. While there is an increasing passion for worship in America, there is also the disturbing increase of biblical illiteracy; people want to worship, but people don't even know the Bible. With this in mind, one professor at an evangelical university charges, damningly:
“If biblical literacy is so low at this point in Western history, then the God of the Bible is not the god being worshipped but rather a shallow and incomplete version of him.”
The article blames pastors for preaching small tidbits of scripture in non-cohesive, non-synthetic fashions, shying away from tough texts, and teaching as if to preschoolers.

According to the article, teaching scripture though longer passages and explain how texts fit together, following the lectionary, offering lectio divina, or singing scripture are all ways for people to gain deeper biblical knowledge.


matt said...

is there really an increase in the desire to worship? seems every report i've heard or read shows americans going to church, of any kind, less and less.

that being said, is it an attention span problem? it takes a lot of time to learn the bible (not that i am an expert by any means). not to mention, there seems to be an ever growing number of christians who only like/believe/support portions of the bible. maybe it's ignorance by choice?

Drew said...

From the article: The widely observed decline in biblical literacy among American Christians has paralleled a growing interest in developing new and enriched ways of worshipping.

"How can these two events -- biblical illiteracy and a great passion for worship -- be happening at the same time?” asked Teichler, who teaches at an evangelical university in the Chicago area and blogs on music issues.

I can't answer your questions, but you might be on to something. Until I went to Divinity School and really started listening to sermons, I admit that I tuned out during most parts of the service. And, on the other side, I have heard many pastors and aspiring pastors tell me that it is tough to preach the Bible in church. That much of the education that they receive can't be taught in church ... as if congregations will be threatened with new and appropriate knowledge. So, I would guess that the biblical illiteracy has a bi-directional component.

Katie said...

Not to be glib, as this is an obviously serious topic, but this trend makes me think of Stephen Colbert's famous "truthiness." That is, having a sense of what the truth feels like, without the involvement of facts.

What I think we see happening here is that people are more moved by their vague, visceral, almost zen-like idea of what their religion means, and less by the language, doctrines and documents on which it is based. Honestly, I can see that type of spirituality creating a much more deeply felt relationship between an individual and his or her Creator than ancient scriptures might.

I know that for myself, my religious identity is most immediate and special to me in how it is manifest in holiday observance and family traditions. I know the stories, but the substance of them doesn't mean as much to me as the fact that they are the same stories that my ancestors told and understood long ago, in those days, at this time. That's how I feel connected to the universe. I go to services about once a year, and that's a nice little recharge. But that's not really the source of my spiritual font.

I guess it falls in sort of a similar vein as people who define themselves as "spiritual, but not religious." They are in touch with some kind of creative force, but the extant definitions of that force do not resonate with them, so they connect in a way that works in their lives.

Additionally, as there are more and more efforts to make faith accessible and even "hip" (see any "Teen Bible" in your nearby bookstore, or the Holy Land theme park in Orlando), it seems that clergy and other faithful are willing to change up their game a little if it means bringing more saved souls to their flock.

So... that's my two cents. :-)

Darren Staley said...

This is a very interesting discussion. When I talk to average Christians in general, and I know many, they seem amazed at my knowledge of scripture.

I am always honest when I tell them that I cannot quote a ton of scripture, I just remember the verses that were pounded into my brain week after week for much of my childhood.

This was always my problem with going to church as such. How many times can you hear the same sermon without screaming "I get it already."

As Drew mentioned, if a pastor gets too drastic the deacons will vote him out in a second.

This is also my issue with literal interpretaions. If the Bible is merely a set of instructions, why go to church? If someone is just reading a manual to me, I will just zone out or stay home and read it myself.

I prefer to see the Bible as a piece of literature, with layers of texture and meaning.

My ideal church would be more Socratic and less dictatorial.

Matt F. said...

The one thing I would point out is that this only seems like a paradox if you think the bible makes sense. To me the paradox would be if more people actually read the whole bible and still believed so fervently.