Biblical Literacy, Part 1
Updated: Oct 25
"My Mom's boyfriend says Christmas is when Frosty the Snowman fights the Devil."
- Unaccompanied Minors, 2006. As the #1 Bestseller in the world, it's safe to say Bible ownership in the United States is super high. According to the American Bible Society, who really should know about these kinds of things, 9/10 American households own at least one Bible, and the average household has three of'em. You know, somewhere in all this mess. But owning something and using it are two different things.
One word: Soloflex. How bad is the problem? The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and discovered that 59% of UK kids didn't know the Nativity was in the Bible, or that a great fish swallowed Jonah. And their parents didn't fare any better, with 30 percent completely ignorant of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan. And let's not dwell on the 54% unsure if The Hunger Games is a Biblical story. It sure looks like the Brits haven't been cracking open their Bibles lately.
Yeah, But What About US? So how many Americans have gone coast-to-coast, taken it to the house, eaten the Whole Enchilada? Pie chart time! (mmmm... pie). Surely we can do better...
Ouch. But remember, that's all Americans, a great melting pot of different cultures, many of which are not Christian or even religious. And "Good Southern Baptists"? The numbers do improve a bit there, with 61% of Evangelical Christians reporting having fully read what they implore others to read.
Not bad, but that implies (carry the one...) that 39% of people in the church haven't read the Bible Soup to Nuts yet. This might explain why Lifeways Research found that 45% of Evangelicals think Heaven is a real place with multiple ways to enter (Nope!). Or that 59% think the Holy Spirit is a "force" instead of an actual person, despite the Bible referring to the Holy Spirit as a "He" in John 14:26, 15:26, and especially in 16:13-14:
"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
We can't know the Bible if we don't read it. We're gonna fix that. But first, what's getting in the way? What are some common reasons we give for not reading our own Book? Are those reasons even valid?
Debunking Powers, ACTIVATE!
The Bible Is Only for Preachers to Read
Yeah, the Catholics wanted you to think that for centuries. They even held highly complex services exclusively in Latin, forcing everyone to rely on ONLY THEM. But the New Testament says the Church resides in the hearts of its believers, and that makes us priests now, charged with a Great Commission.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28:19-20
Seems pretty simple, right? But as newly-minted priests, shouldn't we have a workbook or reading plan or something to help us along?
The Bible is Too Big and Intimidating
Jordan Peterson is right: the Bible is not a book. It's a library. Too many people regard each book in the bible as nothing more than a large chapter, and who gets excited about finishing a chapter? This is an incorrect and reductive view.
Each Biblical book is just that: A BOOK. And different books belong in different sections of the library. Finishing one book in the Bible should give you the same satisfaction as finishing any other book you've ever read and shelved.
So don't be hard on yourself if you're not a speed reader. You've been taking on 66 individual books from 11 different sections of a 2,000-year-old library! With little to no plan.
But the Bible's Hard to Read, Much Less Understand
Forget your high school Latin: you don't need it anymore. Modern translations like the ESV and NIV kick all thees, thous, and thys to the curb. It's just not how we talk anymore. The Word's not more authentic just because it sounds Elizabethan. Madonna's fake British accent doesn't mean she ain't from Detroit, nameen?
Sure, the Bible is repetitive and antiquated in places. There are reasons for this, what with being 2,000 years old, starting as oral history, and dealing with supernatural themes that make the MCU multiverse read like Hop on Pop. But many of you got through 8 books of Harry Potter just fine, so you can do "Lore". And this is OG Lore.
Back to the Plan: Biblical Literacy We have a no-pressure plan to read the Bible with no quizzes, pressure, or arbitrary timelines (Bible-In-A-Year, anyone?). We start with just a literal reading: what happened, and a thing is that thing.
Figure 1: Levels of Literary/Biblical Understanding, Compared
Formal religious teaching is above my pay grade, so this is just a realistic reading plan that keeps you motivated and on track. Our goal is Biblical Literacy, not a full symbolic or typological understanding. But even with just a Level 1 understanding, you'll know what happened and who the players are. You'll catch Biblical allusions people use every day (some without even knowing it). Pastor Derek starts making hella sense. You'll even detect when non-believers BS you about the Bible. YOU can be the "Actually..." guy now.
And WOW does Biblical Literacy make second readings easier: just like when you re-read a chapter for school, unrelated events and concepts come into focus, and you see how everything fits together. Do this with the Bible and Lord of the Rings reads like it was written by throwing a typewriter down a stairwell.
You'll also make plenty of Level 2 and Level 3 connections along the way. But again, my pay grade = free x zero, so your mileage may vary. Best to grab a seat on Sunday for those.
Next Time: Sounds great, but umm... HOW??
The author felt called to City On A Hill Church DFW.com during COVID-19. Post-vaccination he snuck into a service, finding zero social pressure. He's a member now and everyone knows he sucks at small talk. They don't care: it ain't that kind of church.