That was a famous quote from Dr. John G. Mitchell, the founder of the Bible college I attended. Although he first began asking that question in the 1950s, it seems it applies even more to the Christians of today.
In “Why Johnny Can’t Read the Bible,” Christianty Today writer Collin Hansen offers a great overview of the rise of biblical illiteracy.
According to one poll only 44 percent of evangelical teens can find the quotation from the Sermon on the Mount when given four choices (compared to 37 percent of all teens). But the adults aren’t much better. According to Time magazine, only half of U.S. adults could name one of the four Gospels and fewer than half could identify Genesis as the Bible’s first book. This lack of knowledge is disturbing,
But pastors, professors, and others committed to teaching the Bible have identified a problem far larger than fluency with basic characters and stories. It’s one thing to recognize the reference to the Promised Land in a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. It’s another to recognize biblical references within the Bible itself. Even weekly churchgoers who know the names and places struggle to put it all together and understand the Bible as a single story of redemption.
The deeper issue is our lack of literacy regarding the overall story of the Bible. David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, has identified one cause of declining biblical literacy:
Platt believes churches have lowered the bar for biblical and theological literacy by treating it as something for professionals. Equating serious biblical engagement with seminaries rather than the local church has impoverished both institutions, he says.
The article talks about some efforts, including a computer program called BibleMesh (which features articles from Joshua Harris and other evangelical leaders) and training programs churches are initiating to increase their members’ Bible knowledge. But perhaps the basis of the biblical literacy issue is a heart problem. Christians have lost their hunger for the Word.
“More than 200 million people have no access to spiritual food, with no Scriptures in their own language,” says Krish Kandiah, a director at the Evangelical Alliance UK. “Yet we in the West, despite owning more Bibles per household than we will ever use, are slowly starving to death because we have lost our appetite for Scripture.”
Not being able to spout off what should be commonly-known Bible facts is embarrassing, but not loving God’s Word enough to know it is the real tragedy.