According to usgovernmentspending.com, the US (state and federal governments) spent about $922.6 billion on education in 2015. It is clear that education is an extremely important aspect for the American family. In fact, we’re willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars or more per year per child to send them to the best private schools around. We spend countless hours helping our children with their homework and teaching them things along side of their schooling so that they can get ahead in the world. We value education because we value the benefits of having a good education. We want our kids to have great preschools so they can do well in their great elementary so they can do well in their great junior high so they can do well in their great high school so that they can do well in their great college so that they can do well in their great careers.
These are all great goals, and any parent who invests in their child’s education should be applauded!
Literacy is Paramount
The key to all education is the ability to read and to write. This is what is called “literacy.” It is estimated that more than 97% of Americans can read and write. This is a pretty staggering number of people. In fact, between 1970 and 2005, the illiteracy rate in the world has dropped by half. These are pretty fantastic statistics and are something to be proud of. According to the World Literacy Foundation, where there is illiteracy there is poverty, and where there is poverty there is unemployment, crime, long-term illness, and prejudice against women.
It’s important that we keep the world reading and spend a lot of time and effort teaching people to read. Unfortunately, as the general illiteracy rate of the world continues to decline, Biblical illiteracy continues to increase.
Biblical Illiteracy Running Rampant
According to a report by Barna Group in 2014, only 37% of Americans report to read the Bible once a week or more. That means that 63% of Americans rarely open their Bibles. This makes a lot of sense given a lot of the conversations I’ve read over the past few months on the Internet. It is clear that people are becoming more and more Biblically illiterate.
We live in an anti-intellectual era, no matter how much we want to deny it. People get their “news” from John Stewart and Steven Colbert. They spend more time in front of the computer screen and TV screen ingesting hours and hours of terrible media. Don’t even get me started on the Kardashians. We are living in a technologically and scientifically advanced world, and we have millions of amazing scientists, inventors, and engineers coming up with some astonishing new thoughts, ideas, and innovations. Our ability to innovate does not make us intelligent nor does our ability to share our thoughts over the internet as we please.
What is worse, is folks who never open their Bibles who claim to be Christians go out onto social media and post messages and articles and make claims about what God would or would not do. They make claims based on their experiences with their surrounding culture and then based on those assumptions rush into the Bible to find verses that support those claims. This is a sure-fire sign of Biblical illiteracy.
Beloved, we cannot run around making claims about who or what God is, unless we know who and what God is. We can’t make claims about what God loves or what God hates, unless we know what it is that He loves or hates. We cannot rightfully make a claim that something is OK before the face of God, unless we check in with God first. The only place we can find these things out is in His Word – the Bible. We are part of this world, and we must live in the world. We experience a lot of things, but not all the things that feel good or look good are good. All of our experiences and all of our feelings must be cross-referenced with Scripture to make sure we remain in alignment with it. We cannot base our worldview on our perception of our cultural surroundings, because Satan is really crafty at making things that are really bad look and feel great.
Take a moment and think about all that you know about string theory. If you’re like me, this exercise only took a couple of seconds. There are countless books out there that talk about this theoretical science. There are people who spend even more countless hours studying, theorizing, testing, solving, and attempting to prove this theory. Would you, who read one book on the subject matter, and took one college course on it walk into a lab and start telling those scientists what you think about the science? No – chances are you’d walk into that lab looking to learn more, and that desire to learn more would lead you to read more on string theory. By going to your Facebook page and telling people what you think about God is like walking into that science lab and telling those string theorists that you know what you’re talking about. I know nothing outside of what I’ve heard on The Big Bang Theory and a couple of hours reading into the subject, so you will never see me post my thoughts on the subject unless I’ve done some serious homework on it. We should be just as thorough when talking about theology. Unless we are sure what our source material (the Bible) says, we should remain silent on the subject.
The Fruits of Biblical Illiteracy
Christians are generally proud to be Christians, so when we start being attacked, marginalized, or stereotyped by the secular world, we want to defend ourselves and we should! There is an entire theological study of Apologetics that exists simply for the task of defending the faith. Defending our faith is important, but what we must be absolutely careful about is defending ourselves, rather than our faith. When we begin shifting our defenses from defending Christianity and the Bible to defending ourselves, and we are Biblically illiterate, we run the risk of bearing one of two fruits: Resorting to hate and resentment, or compromising our ethic. One of these will invariably happen when we are Biblically illiterate.
When we think of hateful and judgmental Christians, our minds immediately go to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). They’ve propagated hate since their inception and they’ve only gotten more bold in their protests and picketing. This is what happens when we attempt to defend the Bible by casting sinful judgement on another person. While Christian ethic does hold us accountable to judge the actions of people based on Biblical reference, we are never to be the final judge that makes a proclamation on where anybody will end up for eternity. Final judgement is left up to the Son and He does not need our help. Groups like the WBC see sinful activity happening in this world and are rightly upset by it, but due to their Biblical illiteracy, they have gone to Scripture to find passages about God hating and find something somewhere and says, “Ah-ha! See, it says here, ‘God hates sin!'” and wrongly apply that to hating the sinner, therefore, they get the sign that says “God hates fags.” If they had any notion of proper hermeneutics and exegesis, they would see that God loves people, but he hates and judges sin. He gets no pleasure in condemning unrepentant sinners to hell, but he will not sacrifice one iota of His holiness to ignore sin. The WBC and other Christians who resort to hate and resentment believe telling the truth as loudly and offensively as possible is the right method. In their mind, there is no room for love where sin is involved.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have illiterate Christians who are overly willing to bend and compromise the basic tenants of their faith and morality to keep the peace and appear loving. We, as a nation, are preoccupied with being accepted by friends, family, and surrounding people that we will often compromise to keep the peace or to remain liked. Sometimes this is worthwhile and smart. For example, you and your wife are disagreeing over where to go out for dinner. A smart man will compromise his position and go where his wife wants to eat. The issue arises when we are willing to, in our ignorance and illiteracy, bend and compromise on basic truths found in Scripture. These folks are just as earnest as the WBC at defending their faith, but they will use texts like “judge not lest ye be judged” or “cast the first stone” and say, “Ah-ha! See, it says here, ‘God is love!'” and wrongly apply that to ignore sin and call it good. They want to paint God in a more favorable picture to the outside world, so they will compromise the truth in order to paint a picture of a loving God who is totally cool with everybody and everything. In a world of moral decay and moral relativism, this soft-line approach is as destructive to Christianity as the Westboro Baptist Church’s hard-line approach.
We must find a balance between truth and love. This balance can only be found by a right and proper study of the Bible. We must understand what Scripture says before we can try to apply it to our lives and to those around us. We must never call what is sin good or what is good, sin. Nor must we make a judgement on where an individual will spend eternity and broadcast these errant thoughts to the world.
Scripture must be our rule and authority when we are creating or modifying our worldview, and Scripture must be the rule and authority on how we confront sin in the public arena. We must have a firm understanding of the Bible and an even stronger understanding on how it applies to our every thought, word and deed. Studying Scripture not only makes us more knowledgeable about God, but it also renews us, and gives our minds a nice cleaning. We should open the Bible daily in order to keep our minds clean and ready to continue to face the world.
But most importantly, we must understand the Bible or remain silent. When we misrepresent God based on what we think He would or should do, we are sinning. More often than not, the God that we think of when not firmly rooted in Scripture is not actually God, but is an idol that we have crafted in our mind.
Beloved, open your Bibles and read. Read everything. Read for understanding. Do not read to find verses that support your worldview – instead, read to generate a worldview based on what is written. There are daily reading plans out there that make it very easy to spend just a little bit of time in the Word every day and make it all the way through the entire Bible in a year. Find one of those reading plans and follow it. Make a commitment to drive Biblical illiteracy out of your life and your home. The world has a lot of Christians, but what the world needs is more Christians who have read and understand the Christian owner’s manual rather than Christians who are fumbling around trying to assemble their lives and worldviews without giving second thought to the manual that is available at their fingertips.