Pastoral Biblical Illiteracy

As I was driving home from visiting my parents in North Carolina the other week, I was flipping through the dial and came across a Christian station. The speaker was talking about a certain well-known Christian college that had conducted pre-entrance tests on incoming freshmen. He was sharing the results of these tests, making the point that Christian kids coming from typically evangelical churches do not know the Bible. One of the more striking facts was that a large percentage (at least 30%) could not identify Acts as the place to find information about Paul's missionary journeys.

Most of us in ministry recognize that congregational biblical illiteracy is a major problem. But what about pastoral biblical illiteracy? I wonder how many of us are theologically fluent, but not as strong in biblical knowledge as we ought to be. I'll raise my hand and say that I wish I knew some sections of the OT, for example, better than I do.

John Piper quotes Jonathan Edwards in The Supremacy of God in Preaching (p. 89). Piper writes, "One has to stand in awe of how thorough Edwards's knowledge of the whole Bible was, especially in view of the fact that he was also conversant with the best theological, moral and philosophical learning of his day. As a student he made this life resolution: Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same."

Piper adds that "His practice was to take hundreds of notes on the Scriptures and pursue any thread of insight as far as he could."

Maybe we ought to adopt a similar resolution, and those of us who connect via this medium could pray for each other that such a resolution would be reality in our lives.


David & Marian Sloss said...

I am interested but not at all surprised at the conclusions you come to concerning biblical illiteracy! Too often pastors believe that their formal education is the majority of their learning instead of seeing it as the beginning of a lifelong journey.

I would concur with John Piper's comments and those of Edwards. We are too easily satisfied!

It was some years ago that I was reading some of Martyn Lloyd–Jones' sermons and appreciating them so much that I found out that in his 45 years of pastoring, he had used McCheyne's Bible reading plan each year for 45 years. He had read through the entire BIble 45 times and the NT and Psalms 90 times! That was one of the secrets to his great preaching!

Could it be that pastor's have substituted less important issues of the calling rather than persue that deeper understanading of the revelation we have in Scripture?

May I make a suggestion to begin correcting the problem within the pastorate? Why don't pastors acknowledge the deficiency and partner with another pastor to encourage and challenge in this very critical area of growth. Perhaps monthly meetings either in person or over the phone would begin to help re-prioritize our schedules and place the study of the Word where it belongs.

If pastor don't set an example, how can we expect paritioners to become increasingly Bible savy?

Thanks for the post.

Milton Stanley said...

You're right. Many of us are theologically fluent, but I doubt any of us are as strong in our biblical knowledge as we ought to be. We need to be in the Word every day!