Some decades ago, Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny Can't Read startled the world of public education. Flesch's book pointed to an alarming trend among America's children. Simply put, Flesch said: "Many of them cannot read. Not well, anyway." In his book, Flesch attempted to trace the roots of this educational embarrassment. Then, he suggested ways to reverse the tide of functional illiteracy.
Decades have come and gone. The "Johnny" of Flesch's book is now an adult. Hopefully, he's a better reader than he was when Flesch wrote his book. Sadly, there is one area where Johnny still can't read. Not well, anyway. Simply put: Johnny cannot (at at least doesn't) read the Bible.
A recent George Barna survey showed that, in a typical week, 22% of evangelical Christians do not read the Bible at all. Another thirty percent read it only once or twice a week. The reason? People say regular Bible reading is hard to maintain, that busy schedules and lack of a good reading plan hinder their Bible reading. Others say Bible study is boring and not life-related.
For many people, direct encounters with the Written Word have given way to books about the Bible that "guarantee" immediate application to life. It has become easy to let others tell us what the Bible says. Tragically, when Christians go to a best-selling Christian book or to a commentary rather than to the Bible itself, they miss out on direct contact with God's Word.
This lack of direct encounter with the Bible concerns me. I am a Nazarene whose heritage is within the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley once said: "Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book)." Furthermore, being Wesleyan also means we're Protestant. Thus, we should stand on the foundational principles of the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s. One of those key Reformation principles was that Christians can and may read God's Word for themselves. This principle of direct access to the Bible was so critical to early Reformers that many of them forfeited their lives promoting it.
Today, many adult church members are "biblically illiterate" – lacking the skills, confidence, and even the incentive to read the Bible as a daily guide for life. Today, I have to wonder if we Protestants — by our lack of Bible reading and study — are making proper use of that right to read the Bible which so many people sacrificed to make possible.[ see article on Biblical illiteracy ]
Recently, I observed an animated Sunday school class session. Those present were discussing some political topics. While several people quoted the Bible in support of their particular perspective, no one actually opened God's Word and read the words written there. In this case and others like it, Sunday School sessions become simply "Christians discussing" rather than being "Christian discussions."
What can churches do to reverse the rising tide of biblical illiteracy? Here are some strategies:
Some time ago James Smart wrote a book titled The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church. In that book he proclaimed the need to keep biblical preaching prominent. Smart said, "The church that no longer hears the essential message of the Scriptures soon ceases to understand what it is for and is open to be captured by the dominant religious philosophy of the moment."
We must let the words of the prophets, of the apostles, and of Jesus sound in our ears. We call ourselves people of the Word. Let's make that statement true.
Originally written by Randy Cloud and published in The Herald of Holiness (now Holiness Today). Revised, adapted and used by permission.
"Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who . . . correctly handles the word of truth" — 2 Timothy 2:15
|What oft-used English phrases come directly from the Bible? [ read more ]|
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