Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Biblical Illiteracy

I've been challenged a bit recently on the topic of biblical literacy. I have been reading Jerry Bridge's The Practice of Godliness which discusses how we can develop godly character. One of the key methods he suggests, and uses himself is scripture memorisation. He suggests the memorisation of key pieces of scripture that deal with specific godly characteristics that we need to develop. This is helpful in two ways; to facilitate meditation on scripture, and because the Holy Spirit reminds us of pertinent bits of scripture that we have memorised at times when we need it.

This memorisation thing is a key challenge for me, I have always really hated rote learning. I still do not know my times tables because in primary school I refused to apply myself to it because it required rote learning. Similarly, in high school French, I lost interest as soon as we started having to memorise verb conjugations. I do not know my home telephone number (and I've lived here for nearly 18 months) because I hate memorising things.

With scripture, I read it everyday, and lots of it. But the idea of specifically trying to memorise a bit of scripture (let alone the whole Torah like the Jews used to!!!) makes me feel like running for the hills. Now I find this weird, because the bits of scripture that I do remember (sometimes bits just stick) I love having in my head. But if I quote something it'll sound something like "You know that bit (in 2 Corinthians I think) that says.... No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man, and God is faithful He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, He will provide a way out".

I was reading an interesting
blog post today which has the text of Clinton Arnold's paper, "Early Church Catechesis and New Christians' Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism" included in it. Now it is a bit of a read, and I know talk about a riveting title, but it made some very interesting points and is definitely worth it. It discusses how the early church went about bringing new believers into the fold, compared with today's approach.

A key practise of the early church was that each new christian underwent three years of specific teaching before they were baptised and admitted into communion with the rest of the fellowship. The three years included:
  • An immersion in the Word of God
  • Learning about central doctrines of the Faith
  • Being mentored in Spiritual and Moral Formation
  • Deliverance Ministry

All of which are fascinating, but I'll concentrate on the immersion in the Word of God! Arnold's early church sources show that the immersion in the Word included:

  • The reading of vast portions of the text aloud
  • The exposition of the text being read
  • The surveying of the entire bible in order to understand "salvation history"

He goes on to ask how many Christians nowadays would have read the majority of the bible in the first three years of their walk with Christ. One of my personal bugbears is that I don't hear a lot of expository teaching. When I do hear an expository sermon, it is like a good steak dinner, I feel FAT on the Word! Well back in the early church to be allowed to be baptised and become part of the Christian community EVERY CHRISTIAN had to have heard vast amounts of the bible READ and EXPOSITED. Man, I was SO born in the wrong century!!!!! Three years of expository teaching, I'd be spiritually the size of the good year blimp!! Yeah, bring it on!!! :)

In our day and age, in western cultures there is now a general literacy level such that most people can read. We also have access to many different translations. And yet, to get this level of education in the Word is for a select few, those who choose to go to bible college, or attend bible study groups like BSF (as distinct from bible studies that feature the "what does it mean to you?" method - a nasty product of postmodernism.)

Now the three years of catechetical instruction does sound intense, and that's without going anywhere near looking at what they did regarding learning of doctrine, spiritual and moral formation and deliverance!! I would so love to see this kind of approach return. The benefits of a return to this kind of approach:

  • Christians would expect teaching that is of more depth
  • Christians would recognise shallow and false teaching more readily
  • Christians would be able to pick scripture that is being quoted out of context

So some practical things we can do to immerse ourselves in the Word and increase our biblical literacy:

  • Read scripture aloud
  • Read all of scripture (yes even Leviticus)
  • Memorise scripture (*gulp*)
  • Meditate on scripture
  • Find podcasts that feature expository teaching
  • Encourage our pastors when they do heavy teaching
  • Learn proper exegesis & hermeneutics
  • Don't quote or memorise verses out of context

God bless,

1 comment:

Audio Bible said...

Bec, love your heart for the true meat of God's Word! Just wanted to drop in and say you and your readers can also listen to God's Word to help grow your faith (Romans 10:17). Listening allows you to hear the stories and enter into Biblical scenes, aiding in memorization. Here's where you can download your free Audio Bible, www.FaithComesByHearing.com