Friday, March 9, 2007

Biblical Illiteracy

Are you biblically literate? On his daily talk show at Relevant Radio, Drew Mariani posed a simple ten question quiz for his call-in listeners. For an active Christian engaged in some kind of regular Bible study it was quite easy - at least the portion I could hear before I drove out of listening range. And, I might add, it was geared to Catholics, who I suspect may be less familiar with the Bible, traditionally, since they were not encouraged to study it until recently (last 20 years or so.) The one question on the second pope tripped this Lutheran easily (I would have said Clement, but it was Linus, c. 66-c. 77 AD.)

The quiz did make me think about the biblical literacy, or perhaps we might also add "doctrinal literacy" among Lutherans. I add this last category because I don't think that being able to identify Seth as the third son of Adam and Eve or Andrew as Peter's brother is as critical for our people today as knowing why we believe in the real presence in the Lord's Supper, or why we don't espouse the Millennial kingdom at the end of time as do the Baptists.

Now Christians do need to know their Bibles if they are to know their doctrine. That is abundantly true. In fact, I regularly drill my kids in confirmation to identify the source of our doctrines in terms of the book and chapter of the Bible. I want them to know that Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, and that the 10 Commandments are found in Exodus 20, and so on. While Luther's Small Catechism has often been referred to as the "layman's bible," I believe our people need to be clear that the source of its teachings come straight from the pages of Holy Scripture, not first from the mouth of the blessed Reformer.

Having said this, however, I am still concerned about the "doctrinal literacy" of our people. It is, admittedly, an issue of catechesis, which I am trying to address in every venue possible. Still, what people hear on Christian radio stations (evangelical especially) often undermines their understanding of the doctrine once taught to them. We need to constantly reteach our people. The Left Behind series was a classic example of how easy it would be to end up believing in the rapture and the Millennial kingdom by means of a seemingly believable novel.

Over the years I have noticed that different churches teach at widely different levels. In the ELCA tradition, I suspect that catechesis of the young people is light, compared to many in LCMS, although I don't have enough concrete data to support this completely. Denominations outside of Lutherans sometimes have little to no real catechesis prior to membership in a church. Aside from "I believe in Jesus," it appears that little is taught. As for Roman Catholics, Drew realized that his church also has a problem, especially in the area where Evangelical denominations are stronger. While strong on the sacramental life of the church, they are detached, in large part, from the scriptural linkage to those teachings. A good example I have used in the past is to ask a Catholic where the "Hail Mary" comes from? I suspect many do not realize that a large part is taken from Luke.

So how biblically and doctrinally literate do you think you are? Could you defend your beliefs and back them up with appropriate scripture? Do you think that many of the people you worship with are weak on their biblical and doctrinal knowledge? Should pastors be stressing classes that teach the doctrines of our faith more these days? What do you think - do we have a problem here?


The Heresy Hunter said...

I'd better be able to defend my faith or I'd lose my job as an apologist/writer. As for the LCMS, I came to it by way of, first, a missionary church, then Calvary Chapel churches to the LCMS in 1999. So far I've found woeful ignorance of doctrine, even basic doctrine, among the average person in the pew. I've seen people reading the Da Vinci Code, embracing New Age teachings, falling for chain mail letters that promise riches, etc. I never found people in the other churches that embraced that sort of thing. They seem to be far more familiar with Scripture than a lot of or most LCMS members I know. Mind you, they're not familiar enough to immediately join the Lutheran church, so they should do a little more studying!!! I would suspect that a good number of LCMS members are so because their families have been members for generations. I'd love to conduct a quiz some day in church just to see what the majority do believe.

Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

Yeah, I think we as Lutherans seems to have issues here (or not enough Issues, Etc.) :)

Part of the lure of Jehovah's Witnesses or American Evangelicals is their claim that they know the Bible better than we do, therefore WE must be wrong. When they come out with "the Bible says this" and most people don't know the context or even the translation, they can say anything they please. I saw a PDL sermon that used five different translations and cut sentences in various places.

Michael said...

William E. Thompson, in his article, “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis” (Concordia Theological Quarterly 56 (1992) - writes about his experience as a new pastor, as well as the lack of catechesis in our Synod in general.

Very good article!

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