Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Biblical Illiteracy and Pastoral Dereliction of Duty

My friend Ray Ortlund knocks another one out of the park. Some great advice:
[Increasing, demonstrative biblical illiteracy is happening] on our watch. What can we pastors do about it? Here are a few obvious ideas. Please help me by adding your own:

1. Memorize the Bible together, as a church. One verse per week in your service. It can be fun, and it provides a moment of connectedness and participation together. It says a lot to guests about what that church is passionate about.

2. Gather a small group of eager men and go deeper. I believe every man should be able to think his way through the argument of the book of Romans, for example. That can happen, with great effect, in a small group.

3. Read the Bible in every worship service. Is this too obvious to say? I don't think so. And end the reading with the faith-filled declaration, "This is God's Word." That solemnizes the moment in a gentle, non-spectacular, factual way. It's a tactful way of saying, "Okay y'all, now we've got to deal with this for what it is."

4. Preach from the Bible, and from the Bible only. Again, does this need to be said? One thing's for sure. The Bible is fascinating, disturbing, offensive, sweet, alarming, comforting, stretching, shocking, controversial, caressing, strengthening. No way are you and I that interesting. Let's put the Bible front and center and let it be itself and do its thing, whatever the impact. Submerging the Bible for the sake of our cool personas isn't really cool at all. It's a way of avoiding risk, chickening out.

5. Approach church problems and opportunities with explicit reference to the Bible, chapter and verse. Some may expect us to preach from the Bible but will be surprised if we lean hard on the Bible when everything is on the line. A corporate experience of realigning ourselves with the help of a specific, powerful and relevant verse of Scripture at an important moment in a church's journey can be unforgettable.

6. Saturate your church's children and youth with the Bible faithfully and enthusiastically, week by week, year by year, and they will still be drawing strength from it fifty years from now. They might not remember our names, but we will still be there in their lives, speaking the Bible into their hearts and minds and consciences.


Bob said...

Whenever I hear the term "Bible literacy" I cringe. Generally it means I know chapter and verse or who David's first wife was or where I can find God's stance on ______ or even that I read it everyday and have memorized large passages that I can inserts as pithy sayings as I go through my day.

When I think of "Biblical literacy" I think of a person's ability to read the words and have the background to attach them to their proper meaning. This means understanding the major threads of the Bible (good/evil, light/darkness, exile/homeland, slave/son, bondage/freedom, death/life, creation/re-creation, clean/unclean, etc.) as well as familiarity with the imagery of it (sea, flock, shepherd, stone, water, light, serpent, flesh, king, covenant, mediator, etc.) Armed with this we should be able to hear a verse, attach it to the broader themes of the Bible, give it weight of a concrete image, and then form a "Biblically-based" opinion on a real life situation.

How do you do this?

Every time you preach or read the word make a conscious effort to tie it into the basic, over-arching themes of the Bible (Kingdom, Covenant, Mediator). Then, when I go home after you've just preached about the Good Shepherd and read something else that uses the same imagery, I can make a connection in my head. Unless I have the broader framework (literacy) of the full-Bible, I will just flounder from sermon to sermon or verse to verse wondering what it all means. Frustration results.

Or at least that's my $.02

Jared said...

Bob, making connections is huge. It's one of the constant practices I urge in our Element Bible studies, connecting the text we're focusing on to other passages it reminds us of. It's a great way to begin seeing the unity of all of Scripture.

Bob said...

I agree. I just think rather than connecting passage to passage, you connect passage to theme. OT type to NT fulfillment. etc.

What people lack (IMHO) is a framework/foundation on which to hang their passages. They can weaver their own path by drawing lines between verses but unless there's a overall understanding of Scripture, you might end up with a big ball of goo.