Excellent Insights on Biblical Literacy

His set of buzzwords is a bit different from mine, but his insights are profoundly needed: David R. Nienhuis’ article in Modern Reformation on how to promote biblical literacy is a great read.

He points to our entertainment culture as one reason even evangelical kids don’t know the Bible well, coming up with a corker of a quote in the process. One of his students told him, “Reading a lot is not a part of my learning style”!

He also points to the proof-texting traditions we’ve built up in American evangelicalism, in which students fail to gain the skill of reading God’s words in their full depth and breadth, but only stock up on individual apologetic points. Here he also landed an insightful quote. One of his students “noted that all these years she had relied on someone else to tell her what snippets of the Bible were significant enough for her to know. But whenever she was alone with the text, she felt swamped.”

Nienhuis suggests three steps for changing the sad state of Bible knowledge in our own churches:

  1. schooling in the substance of the entire biblical story in all its literary diversity (not just an assortment of those verses deemed doctrinally relevant);
  2. training in the particular “orienteering” skills required to plot that narrative through the actual texts and canonical units of the Bible; and
  3. instruction in the complex theological task of interpreting Scripture in light of the tradition of the church and the experience of the saints.

I’d rather not put the third point that way, but I can affirm it if I get to define the terms. Reading in light of church history is at least suggested by Scripture (Heb. 13:7), and it’s certainly wise. You’re going to read in light of some history of interpretation; it might as well be a thorough and accurate one.

May I also suggest, as step zero, getting rid of all verse numbers and printing Bibles in paragraph format? That would go a long way.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

3 thoughts on “Excellent Insights on Biblical Literacy”

  1. To put it in terms of Berg’s chapel message yesterday (http://bit.ly/9wD0pg):
    There is a sense in which you can’t even Believe the Bible, much less Enjoy or Obey it, until you Understand it (i.e., ready, study, and pray for understanding).

    Step 0.5 might also be to simply increase the amount of time spent reading Scripture at church. If the only reading is the verse to be expounded, how does that communicate the priority of reading (much less follow 1 Thess. 5:27 or 1 Tim. 4:13)?

  2. That really was a wonderful sermon. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was challenged to obey Scripture that was explained well to me. What a privilege, and I wish my heart was more responsive to it than it is.

    I really like your step 0.5!

    The way my committee chairman put the point in your first paragraph is that Scripture has a “functional priority” in (what I would call) the “personal spiral.” I like that, and I agree with you.

    It’s been helpful for me to note also, however, that the personal spiral is already going on before I read the Word. I already have thoughts, emotions—an overall bent that, finally, I can’t change if I’m unregenerated. God has to set the truth on fire in my heart, because, like Dr. Berg preached, none of us is righteous, not one. Even among the regenerated, Dr. Berg made it clear that we will need to plead with God in prayer to light what we read on fire. Only He can give us the taste for divine things that Dr. Berg preached about.

    That isn’t an argument for waiting for the fire before we read. It’s an argument for doing just what Dr. Berg recommended: reading, confessing that we’re not as responsive as we ought to be, and begging God to change that.

    I was trying to apply all of this to my reading in 1 Kings, which, it seems to me, takes a LONG time to make its points. There’s not a huge collection of individual applications to be made as I read. So I’m asking for genre-specific illumination!

  3. I was trying to apply all of this to my reading in 1 Kings, which, it seems to me, takes a LONG time to make its points. There’s not a huge collection of individual applications to be made as I read. So I’m asking for genre-specific illumination!

    My reading in 1 Chron. right now (just came through Kings) is similar. I really think that the pace you talk about is a key aspect of interp as well. If Galatians starts with a rocket launch, Kings and Chronicles are more like glaciers–just as powerful, but requiring much more long-term observation. The longer you have to wait, though, I think the valuable the “payoff” can become.

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