Response Magizine Online Logo : Seattle Pacific University

Response Spring 2007

From the President



Books, Film, & Music



My Response

Letters to the Editor

From the Editor

Response onScreen



Response Home

Seattle Pacific University
Spring 2007 | Volume 30, Number 1 | Features
"Biblically Literacy" continued

“I didn’t think biblical literacy mattered until I finally read the Bible. Reading the Bible is like opening the blinds on your culture. You suddenly understand where our stories, language, clichés, aphorisms, and jokes come from. Biblical literacy matters for another reason, too: It narrows the divide between religious and unreligious Americans. Civil society depends on all of us attempting to understand the beliefs and ideas of our fellow citizens, even those citizens you think are wrong. To ignore the Bible is to willfully cut yourself off from millions of your fellow Americans, to refuse to even try to understand why they believe what they believe. That kind of willful ignorance only aggravates cultural and political conflicts, and undermines our shared sense of Americanness. (It goes both ways, of course: Religious people have an equal obligation to seek to understand the beliefs and moral codes that guide unreligious people.)” — David Plotz, deputy editor of Slate, author of Slate’s “Blogging the Bible” column

“Biblical literacy matters because biblical faith is a story. It is a story of God’s great rescue operation and the special men and women who were his chosen agents. The rub is, the story is still being acted out on the stage of history. If people don’t know the first part of the story, they’re likely to mess up as they try to live out their part of the drama.

“Now, if the Bible and biblical faith were not a dramatic rescue story but instead a set of ideas, then we could do with a simple handbook of beliefs, and we wouldn’t need the Bible, with all its power-hungry, sex-crazed, conniving characters who keep setting bad examples for our children. But since the biblical God is someone who acts in human history, we need to know the story of salvation up to this point so we can recognize God’s saving interruptions in our own lives.

“If we are biblically literate, that is, if we have a good grasp of the full story, we who believe can be properly oriented, can know which direction is forward. If we know the full story, we can learn what kind of people we need to be, what strengths of character we are called to develop in the conflict we face. If we know the full story, we can also recognize the stratagems of the Enemy. He is so pathetic; he keeps coming back to human beings with the same old temptations. But if we don’t know the Bible, we’re likely to fall for his stupid tricks.” — David Neff, editor and vice-president of Christianity Today

“At InterVarsity, we are witness to the decline of biblical literacy, and the troubling consequences of those trends. We are working on 575 secular campuses, and we are encountering ignorance of the Bible every day.

“This is not just a problem of students who pull Scripture out of context or proof-text. That happens with every generation. What’s new is that post-moderns tend to look at their own experiences as the foundation for truth, and then re-interpret the Bible through that lens. The truth of Scripture, which was once a meta-narrative, becomes instead a personal mini-narrative. The problem with this, of course, is that truth becomes subjective rather than objective, and the collective sense of the 'the Word becoming flesh' is diminished.

“Further, the shift in our culture’s attention from the word to the image raises questions as well. How will that influence the way in which we understand the Word?

“We’re tracking book sales to young people through InterVarsity Press and we observe a disturbing trend — they are reading less.

“The problem of increasing biblical illiteracy is part of a larger trend — illiteracy in general. Nevertheless, the trend of biblical illiteracy carries greater freight because of the consequences this will bring upon the church.

“As the ‘gospel of tolerance’ increases and biblical knowledge decreases — almost in direct correlation — this does not bode well for the future of the church.

“At our triennial Urbana Students Missions Convention last December, 20,000+ students participated. In part, because of our concern about biblical illiteracy, we divided them into small groups and gave them the tools to do a manuscript study of Ephesians. It turned out to be rousing success. We believe that it is absolutely critical to introduce this generation to the discipline of objective inductive study.

“On campus, our student leaders organize ‘Groups Investigating God,’ or GIGs, in which thousands of students are involved. Half are non-Christians invited by Christian friends. I’ve heard countless stories about seekers who, as they get into the Word, are intrigued and move further in their faith journey. But we are finding that our Christian student leaders need a lot of training in advance.” — Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1975 SPU alumnus, SPU faculty member and dean of School of Business and Economics (1985–2000)

“Although the level of formal education of the U.S. population has climbed dramatically since the 1940s, surveys show that the level of biblical literacy has not kept pace.

“Americans, both churched and unchurched, remain ‘biblical illiterates.’ We reveal the Bible but don't read it. Little wonder that surveys indicate that many people are hard pressed to say what they believe, or why.

“Without biblical knowledge, those in the Judeo-Christian tradition are highly susceptible to a non-biblical, ‘anything goes’ worldview. The effects of such a worldview are apparent today in watered down ethics, sexual promiscuity, and feelings of hopelessness about the future of the nation and the world.

“Surveys of English teachers, of major national education associations. and the American people themselves, funded by The Templeton Foundation, show a willingness to see the academic study of the Bible in local schools. Yet most young people in the U.S. today are denied the opportunity to study the Bible in school, thus crippling their understanding of the foundations of American society, and undermining their opportunities for a well-rounded education.” — George Gallup Jr., founding chairman, The George H. Gallup International Institute

Return to Story | Next Page 2 of 3

Back to the top
Back to Features Home

Department Highlights

from the president
Embracing the Christian Story
SPU President Philip Eaton asks what would happen if the Bible were at the center of the learning enterprise.

Destination: Asia
SPU President Philip Eaton joined a historic delegation of U.S. university presidents that visited Asia.

Coffee as Change Agent?
Pura Vida employees, including several SPU alumni, engage the culture using a social-venture business model.

books, film, & music
Dark Alphabet
Jennifer Maier, poet and SPU associate professor of English, receives a literary award for her first book.

National Tournament Returns
For the first time in 10 years, SPU hosts the USA Gymnastics Women's Collegiate Championship.

my response
Undone by the Word
Response writer Kathy Henning shares her journey to know the Bible better.

Response art
Pink Emperors
Class of 1973 alumna Jill Ingram introduces Response readers to “Pink Emperors.”