This is the second in my series of “Pervasive Problems with Cultural Christianity,” focusing on the lack of biblical literacy and care for biblical accuracy.
“Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.
Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?” —Albert Mohler, The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy
Until reading this article (one I highly suggest) by Dr. Mohler, president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, I thought I was crazy. I thought I was the only one to notice that bible studies have become much more about what popular “Christian” speakers have to say about the Bible than what the Bible has to say about the Bible. Since I was a very young Christian, I have known something was very off with the way most studies are presented. I never learned anything I didn’t already know from reading the Bible itself.
#1: The vast majority of mass-produced “Bible” studies are man (or woman!)-centered
The Bible is not about us. It mentions us, yes, but we are the antagonists and the ones in need of rescuing if anything. We are not the main character; God is. We don’t need to focus on learning more about ourselves. We ought to be focused on learning more about the Lord of the universe.
We do not need to see how great we are; we need to see more of our desperate state and more of Christ’s sufficiency. Stroking egos and bumping up our “self-esteem” is counter-Gospel. Christ is the Most Beautiful One, not us. The more we see of Him, the less we’ll be concerned with self and thus with how we are perceived by our “self” and the world.
We do not need more fill-in-the-blank workbooks that water down Scripture; we need to fill the holes in our lives with study of the Bible that challenges us.
If the Word of God does not challenge you, you are probably reading to see “how the Bible is relevant for your life” or “what verse is God going to use to make me happy today?” instead of reading it to see how the majesty of God is displayed throughout His Word and how all the verses are woven together into one story, told over many centuries and through many human hands, that we may stand in awe at just an inkling of the Lord of history.
(If you are looking for solid, God-centered Bible studies then I suggest anything by Jen Wilkin or Paul Tripp).
#2– Spending daily time in the Word is not optional
So many people claim to love Jesus but don’t spend any time learning about who He was and is. They can spend 6hrs (or more) a day on video games and Pinterest but don’t think reading the true story of our Creator is important enough to allot even a daily five minutes. And we wonder why our hearts are so riddled with “unconquerable” sin, why our minds are so dulled by endless entertainment, and why our days are so down-trodden with numbing distractions.
Perhaps a part of the reason you don’t like to read the Bible is because the Bible doesn’t paint humanity in so great a light? Humans don’t like to be reminded of their imperfection; sometimes our smallest imperfections are the ones we’re most defensive about.
Even the Bible characters we tend to make the stories about (a grave error and evidence of our self-worship) have major faults that are embarrassingly flaunted with precision. The great patriarch Abraham turned coward in Egypt, hiding his wife’s identity nearly to the ruin of all. King Saul, though anointed by Samuel to be the first king of Israel, not only let Agag king of the Amalekites live in direct disobedience to the Lord’s commandments (which causes problems later on) but also greedily clung to his kingship rather than trusting the Lord’s decree that David should reign, acting as if he had earned the throne when in fact all he had earned was his removal from the throne. He attempts to cling to the title rather than viewing it as a blessing to be given and taken by God. This unwillingness to yield leads him to chase God’s chosen servant, David, around the countryside in an attempt to murder him. Not the most flattering behavior pattern for a king.
The Bible’s account of its characters is full of flaws because humans are flawed. Even more so, humans are fallen and always looking out for self-interest and self-exaltation. But God is still patient and good. If we claim to love God, follow Christ, and be vessels for the Holy Spirit, then we must study the Word because He reveals Himself in His Word.
“We must make a study of our God: what he loves, what he hates, how he speaks and acts. We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned. We must make a study of him if we want to become like him. We must seek his face.” –Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
#3– We need to care about being biblically accurate again
It’s popular to look for worship leaders that look good on stage and have musical talent without looking for worship leaders who know the Word.
It’s easy to look for bible study leaders that have the availability and may skim the material beforehand; it’s not easy to search for bible study leaders who delve into the depths of the Bible in order to pose challenging, Christlikeness-growing questions to the others in the group.
It’s more simple to desperately search for spousal candidates who match our Netflix preferences and whose personalities will cause the least amount of strife possible. But it’s not simple to search for someone theologically sound and deeply invested in walking with Christ in all aspects of life, someone who will love our holiness above our happiness. It is no simple love to forgo the *most needed* qualities like physical attractiveness, our natural “types” and some of our hopes for the future in the process.
It’s alluring to look for pastors who align with our secondary views, are gifted speakers, and will accept the pay grade of the church. It’s not alluring to look for pastors who may biblically challenge the congregation or perhaps are more gifted in counseling than speaking.
If we do not know the Word, then we cannot know its Author. Not knowing the Lord as revealed in His Word is dangerous. This lack of knowledge leaves us vulnerable to whims of the flesh and attacks of the world; it leaves us as empty husks devoid of life in times of distress; it leads us to inaccurate, self-serving conclusions about God’s plans, His purposes, and His ways.
“Bible literacy matters because it protects us from falling into error. Both the false teacher and the secular humanist rely on biblical ignorance for their messages to take root, and the modern church has proven fertile ground for those messages. Because we do not know our Bibles, we crumble at the most basic challenges to our worldview. Disillusionment and apathy eat away at our ranks.” —Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
Things are stirring in our world that ought to be shaking us out of our comfort-laced circles. Because God’s first and foremost care has never been our comfort. His highest goal is not to handle our sensibilities with soft gloves, allowing us to continue on ankle-deep in shallow waters. No, He wants us to swim in the depths of the ocean that is Him. And that ocean is unfathomably deeper, more terrifyingly beautiful, more amazingly complex and more awe-inspiringly grand than any body of water on earth. We ought to be exhausting every passage in a mad desire to know Him more, that our finite minds might be ever more filled with the Infinite.
“I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known;then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them. You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them?“From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, ‘Yes, I knew of them.’ You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” —Isaiah 48:3-11
–With humble encouragement to consider these things,