the shape of leadership

Biblical Illiteracy and Its Solution

Three things the Church needs today

Ed Stetzer on January 9, 2018

According to American Bible Society, 87 percent of American households own a Bible. The average household has three Bibles available. But the problem is this: Most Americans have access to a Bible they don’t read.

Just 11 percent have read the entire Bible, and the majority (30 percent) of Americans surveyed have read no more than several passages or stories. 

Even more shocking is that only about a third (36 percent) would describe the Bible as true, while 56 percent describe it as “a good source of morals.”

There seems to be a high level of respect for the Scriptures without a belief the contents are applicable to daily life, or even true.

As we process this data, a few things become clear. Over half of Americans believe the Bible is morally beneficial, but most haven’t read it in its entirety, and only a third describe it as true. There seems to be a high level of respect for the Scriptures without a belief the contents are applicable to daily life, or even true. 

But the problem doesn’t stop simply with biblical literacy and engagement. It also extends to theological conclusions. 

“The State of American Theology,” a joint study between Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries, uncovered some interesting theological conclusions that a majority of Americans have reached.

  • 64 percent of Americans say “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.” 
  • 52 percent of Americans believe that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” 
  • 56 percent of Americans agree with this statement: “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.”

God accepting worship directed toward false gods, Jesus as a created being and not eternal, and the Holy Spirit as less than the third Person of the Trinity are just a few of the many theological errors we uncovered in this valuable research. It is obvious the less people know about God through the Bible, the more errant their theological stances will become as cultural perception, personal opinion and public discourse fill in the biblical gaps.

But Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So we see we have a biblical literacy problem, and an errant theology problem, but why is this so important? The answer to this question arises from another one: Can you truly have a relationship with someone you don’t know or understand? 

A relationship requires revelation, and the same is true of God. Someone who perceives the Holy Spirit as a force and not a Person does not know the truth of who He is and therefore cannot freely engage in the love of the Holy Spirit or walk in His power. 

So we see the problem. When people are indifferent toward the Bible and errant in their theology, it keeps them from really knowing God. As people lose sight of the true God, they replace their love with a false god — a god of their own invention. This should deeply resonate and grieve us.

The Solution: Exposition and Experience

The good news is this problem is not new or surprising to God. In fact, God has continued to use and grow His Church for millennia. So how do we solve this problem? I propose three remedies. 

First, we need biblical preaching. Biblical preaching teaches people week in and week out to rely on the text for their spiritual journey. As they see their pastor doing this, they will look to the Scriptures for answers to life and godliness. And when people open the Bible weekly, they will become encouraged to open it daily. When congregations see the Bible treated faithfully and in a way that is hermeneutically responsible, they see a model of how they can and should live that way too. 

Second, we need dependence on the Scriptures and the Spirit. We must not separate reliance on the Scriptures from a dependence on the Spirit, who informs and deepens our knowledge. We must read the Bible, but we must also allow the Bible to read us. We must grow in knowledge so that we may grow in faith. 

Third, we need an experience that is informed by the Word. Experience is essential and normal in the Christian life. God designed and created our emotions and perceptions to contribute to our understanding of who He is. Yet human experiences alone are unreliable. 

As Isaiah says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8, ESV). People and their philosophies come and go, but the Word of our God remains — true and unchanging — throughout eternity. Verse 9 calls us to announce the good news that lifts up the true God in all His glory. 

Experiences rooted in the special Word of God point us to the special Person of God revealed in Jesus Christ. When congregations see their leaders living this way, they will cling closely to the Scriptures as their guide for sound theology and powerful experience.

Let’s point people to the true God through expositional preaching, dependence on the Scriptures and the Spirit, and experiences informed by His Word. Then they will fall in love with the true Savior.


This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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