The sad diminishing of biblical literacy

By all accounts, biblical literacy is diminishing. Polls show that Americans have scant knowledge of the Old Testament and rather limited knowledge of the New Testament. I hear fewer biblical allusions and phrases in preaching today. And in casual conversations when I insert a biblical phrase, sometimes with the acknowledgement that I read it somewhere, my conversation partners appear baffled as to the phrase’s source. Indeed, a growing number appear unaware that I’ve quoted the phrase rather than devised it myself.
As many Ethical Musings readers know, I am not a biblical literalist. I oppose teaching children, youth, or adults the Bible’s contents without also emphasizing that the Bible is neither a history nor science textbook. Instead, the Bible is a collection of stories, poems, parables, and other materials intended to convey a deeper wisdom about how to live abundantly by loving God and one’s neighbor.
How can we increase biblical literacy?
  • Read the Bible, one book at a time. Marry reading that Bible book with reading a good commentary on the same book.
  • Read books by Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, and others who explore the Bible from a modern perspective.
  • Enroll in a solid education program such as Education for Ministry that couples Bible reading with the commentaries, history, theology, and other disciplines necessary to understand the Bible.
  • Encourage clergy to use biblical allusions and illustrations in sermons, conversations, and other communications AND to explain the allusion, no longer presuming that their intended audience will understand the allusion or illustration.
  • Encourage your faith community to offer substantive, quality religious education programming for youth and adults. Biblical pabulum is a waste and frequently counterproductive.


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