Thursday, October 30, 2014


A recent Christianity Today article (Biblical Illiteracy by the numbers Part 1:  The Challenge) gave some stats on Bible reading habits among church-going people.  The percentages given of those who read are:
          19% - every day
          26% - a few times a week
          14% - once a week
          22% - at least once a month
          18% - rarely or never

Of course these percentages don't tell the whole story.  While I'll accept them as reasonably accurate, they don't tell how much these people actually read when they do read - a verse? - two verses? - a chapter? - a book?

One of my first classes in seminary was Old Testament Introduction, taught by Dr. Bruce Waltke.  The class covered historical backgrounds and various theories of biblical composition.  Dr. Waltke impressed us all with his vast knowledge, not only of the Bible, but (it seemed) with every book and study written about it.  He was on a first-name basis with every character in the Bible and used their stories as illustrations in all his lectures.  Complete focus was required to keep up with him and pity the student who did not come with some previously acquired amount of biblical knowledge.

In one of the early classes, I recall one of my fellow students meekly raising his hand and saying, "Dr. Waltke, many of us aren't as familiar with the Bible as you are and we'd appreciate it if you wouldn't use so many biblical illustrations.  They're hard to follow."

Now Dr. Waltke was not at all threatening in appearance; he looked like the meek quiet scholarly type, with his thick glasses and balding forehead.   But he was feared!  I believe we all were trembling in fear for our fellow student as Dr. Waltke lowered his glasses on his nose and glared at him with the look one would give to a misbehaving child - a sort of mix of pity and disgust.

"Young man," he said slowly and softly but firmly, "I'd suggest that you go to your room this evening, sit down, take your Bible and READ IT!!"

On my previous post HISTORY LESSONS, I complained about our ignorance of history.  While I still hold those same complaints, I need to soften them a bit.  When speaking of history teachers I was speaking in generalities.  There are many solid teachers who have a passion for the study of history and are eager to share that passion with their students.  One of these was Dr. John Hannah, my Church History prof at Dallas Seminary.  Dr. Hannah portrayed the historical actors with understanding and compassion, as Dr. Waltke did with biblical characters.

But many of those passionate teachers are confronted with apathetic students, who have already been conditioned to regard history as a bore.  The ignorance is not always the fault of their current teacher.

Perhaps ignorance of history might be to a certain extent explainable if not excusable.  The same could be said of ignorance of science (IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS).  But ignorance of the Bible is definitely not excusable for the follower of Christ.

I realize that ignorance of the Bible is mainly due to the fact that people don't bother to read it.  However, if I lay much of the blame for ignorance of history on history teachers, I suppose I should do the same for ignorance of the Scriptures.  For the greater share of my life I have taught the Bible - as a pastor, as a college professor, as a Sunday school teacher, as a counselor.  Have I been a contributor to the ignorance of many?  If so, in what way?  What have I and others done to discourage people from reading the Bible?

Some observations and questions we teachers need to ask ourselves:
  • Do we come across as authorities and discourage people from thinking through biblical concepts on their own?
  • Do we use the Bible as a loose collection of stories and sermon topics that are often ripped out of context?
  • Do we bring out the great themes of the Bible and demonstrate its unity?
  • Do we demonstrate the relevance of biblical principles to every area of life?
  • Do we make an effort to teach our people how to study on their own, to observe, interpret and apply?
  • Do we moralize?  While much of the Scripture is concerned with ethics and ethical behavior, not all of it is.
  • Do we ourselves have a passion for the Word that is contagious?

According to Haddon Robinson, my prof of Homiletics (preaching) at seminary, "It's a sin to bore people with the Word of God!"

Do we?  Do I?


KenMullins said...

I see two root causes: 1) some pastors just don't know the Bible well themselves -- this is relatively easy to fix. 2) Many pastors do know the Bible well, but lack good communication skills. This usually can be fixed, but is much harder to overcome. This is a common problem.

Bill Ball said...

So #1 has the disease and passes it on and #2 does not have the disease but is a carrier ?

Rudy Ric Trabel said...

Hello I Admire you for your passion on biblical teachings and research but as a common adage says "the more we know, the more we realize how much we really don't know" You might as well delve on the subject of "which day truly is the Christian Sabbath?" I understand you are a Sunday Keeper.

Bill Ball said...

There is no such thing as "the Christian sabbath."