"I don't expect those outside Christianity to know the Christian book. But I do think the people of the Book should be familiar with it."
Introduction to Biblical Literature is a Bible facts course. At SNU it brings students up to speed on Bible facts and narrative, material that is foundational to the Biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine courses.
This news story on Biblical illiteracy illustrates why SNU students must take a Bible facts course.
Bible literacy slipping, experts say
originally by Clayton Hardiman, Religion News Service
For comedians, there are subjects that are almost too easy -- sure things that guarantee a laugh. For Jay Leno one late night, it was the Bible. During the taping of one of his television shows, Leno moved through his audience asking people what they knew about the Bible. "Name one of the Ten Commandments," he said.
"God helps those who help themselves?" someone ventured.
"Name one of the apostles," Leno told them. No one could.
Finally, he asked them to name the Beatles. Without hesitation, the answer came ringing from throughout the crowd: George, Paul, John and Ringo.
Leno wasn't spoofing the Bible that evening. He was spoofing our society, which claims a grounding in Judeo-Christian principles and yet -- according to a number of surveys -- is increasingly losing touch with the Scriptures of those faiths.
Only two of 10 people participating in a recent Gallup survey correctly identified who delivered the Sermon on the Mount, said David Eikenberry, youth pastor at Orchard View Congregational Church in Muskegon, Michigan. "Typically, people could name only three or four of the Ten Commandments," Eikenberry said. Even that, however, did place Gallup's respondents ahead of Leno's "Tonight Show" audience.
Rev. Willie Burrel, pastor of Christ Temple Church in Muskegon Heights and a teacher with Western Michigan Bible Institute, also noted a decline in biblical literacy. "In order to be a Bible reader, you have to be a practicing Christian," he said. "There are a lot of un-practicing Christians."
The trend can be attributed in part at least to "the busyness of people's schedules," Burrel said. "Because of their work load and play load, people are spending less time in the Word of God."
Eikenberry said he recently gave a simple quiz on Bible facts to people at his own church, Orchard View Congregational Church. The average score was just 40 percent -- and that, said Eikenberry, is no knock against his congregation. The truth, he said, is that many Christians are struggling. Eikenberry, who wrote a 100-page thesis on Bible literacy while working on a degree at Cornerstone College (Grand Rapids, Michigan), said people generally have some pieces of the puzzle but lack the framework in which those pieces fit in a meaningful way.
Eikenberry asked churches and youth pastors in West Michigan to administer a simple biblical literacy survey to parishioners. "The scores were just atrocious," he said. "I don't expect those outside Christianity to know the Christian book, but shouldn't people of the Book be familiar with it?"
In China, people have the time and interest to read Bibles but, because of government restrictions, no access to them. On the other hand, Eikenberry said, "We live in an America where we have Bibles everywhere, and yet we're too busy to read them."
The Bible's impact on American culture is immense. It goes beyond values or faith. Without biblical references, lots of phrases would never have made it into our language. Every day people season their conversations with phrases like "eye for an eye" and Good Samaritans. They talk about the lure of "forbidden fruit." They refer to burdensome circumstances as their "cross to bear." They balance competing priorities by "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Mismatched opponents are compared to David and Goliath. Often, people use such phrases without a clue as to their biblical origin. [ read more ]
Educators tell horror stories about intellectually advanced students who fail to recognize literary references to Jonah or the prodigal son.
Generally, people know the Bible's major figures -- Adam, Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus. Ask them to put those names in chronological order, however, and they are stumped. The question is: Why?
In part, Eikenberry sees growing biblical illiteracy as a kind of reaction against educational methods of the past. "For a time," he said, "there was a kind of overstated catechism in the mainline churches. Now generations of people are saying, `I didn't learn anything -- I'm not sending my kid.' The pendulum has swung the other way."
A kind of educational inertia has also set in, causing parents to pass more and more responsibility for their children's education to professional educators.
Eikenberry believes that Sunday school is not enough to make people biblically literate. "Would you send your kid to learn math or science for just an hour a week with no homework?" he asked. "Yet we think that by osmosis kids are going to learn the Bible."
Biblical illiteracy may also be part of a general malaise in education. "It's a dumbed-down society," Eikenberry said. "Literacy in general has suffered."
Whatever the reason, people are reading the Bible less. Occasional Bible readers have declined from 79 percent of Americans in the 1980s to 59 percent, according to a recent Gallup Poll. Only 16 percent of Christians polled said they read the Bible daily.1
Some Christian leaders are trying to fight back. Eikenberry has established a couple of biblical literacy classes at Muskegon Community College. Burrel, who says Bible study is a priority in his own church, has challenged members of his church to read daily 10 chapters to "get deeper in the Word."
"Some of them were so happy I put that out there," Burrel said. "Some of our young people are doing it -- some of our very young children."
distributed by The Associated Press (AP). Edited and used by permission.
"Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us" -- 2 Kings 22:13 (King Josiah's words upon discovering the lost Book of the Law)
1Gallup, Alec and Wendy W. Simmons, "Six in Ten Americans Read Bible at Least Occasionally," The Gallup Organization, http://www.gallup.com, October 20, 2000.
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Copyright © 2000, 2001 - Last Updated: October 5, 2009 | URL: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/literacy.htm