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The Trajectory of Biblical Literacy

Bible3 (250x227) biblical literacyGeorge Lindbeck, longtime professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, once commented on the trajectory of biblical literacy during his decades-long teaching career. Phil Ryken, who attended the meeting, recently shared Lindbeck’s comment. According to him, Lindbeck lamented the fact that evangelical students at the end of his teaching career know less about the Bible than the non-Christian students he taught at the beginning of his career. That’s a remarkable transition in just one lifetime.

People often lament that today’s students just aren’t like they used to be. Apparently students in earlier generations wrote like Hemmingway, reasoned like Aristotle, read 1,000 pages an hour with total recall, and never complained about doing homework. I think they could also capture moonlight with their hands and weave it into magical cloaks that would let them fly to the stars. They were impressive beings.

Obviously I’m a little skeptical about some of the criticisms often leveled at today’s students. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with this one. The overwhelming consensus of those involved in biblical education, whether in the church or in academia, is that we have witnessed a monumental shift in biblical literacy in just a few decades.

People often say that the church is only one generation away from losing its commitment to the gospel and the Bible. Lindeck’s comment is a powerful reminder of how true that can be.

That We Should be Called Children of God!

“Consider who we were, and who we are now; nay, and what we feel ourselves to be even when divine grace is powerful in us. And yet, beloved we are called “the sons of God‘. It is said that when one of the learned heathens was translating this, he stopped and said, ‘No; it cannot be; let it be written ‘Subjects’, not ‘Sons’, for it is impossible we should be called ‘the sons of God’.” What a high relationship is that of a son to his father! What privileges a son has from his father! What liberties a son may take with his father! and oh! what obedience the son owes to his father, and what love the father feels towards the son! But all that, and more than that, we now have through Christ. ‘Behold!’ ye angels! stop, ye seraphs! here is a thing more wonderful than heaven with its walls of jasper.”

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon in “Exposition of 1 John 3:1-10,” The Spurgeon Archive, (quoted in Ron Highfield, God, Freedom, and Human Dignity, p. 159)

The State of the Bible in 2013 (infographic)

The Barna Group has produced its annual study of what Americans think about the Bible. Here’s an interesting infographic summarizing their results.

Three of the more interesting results:

  • Young people (18-28) are more likely to see the Bible as an important source of “wisdom” in many life areas.
  • They often see the Bible as an important source of wisdom for addressing family conflict and parenting, but not divorce.
  • The percentage of Americans who are openly “antagonistic” toward the Bible has increased sharply in the last two years.


Browsing the Bible’s Self-Help Aisle

People like Proverbs. When I ask my high school students what they’d like to study, Proverbs always appears toward the top of the list (right behind Genesis and Revelation). And, when pastors preach through Proverbs, they often get more comments from people expressing how much they appreciated the sermon.

proverbs, wisdom, godly living, self improvementAnd I’m sure it’s because Proverbs has so much practical advice for daily living: disciplining unruly children (13:24), controlling your temper (14:17), managing your money (21:5), finding the perfect wife (31:10-31), just being wise (6:20-23), and much more. This is good stuff! Unlike those boring laws in Leviticus, these are things you can apply every day. (Before you start defending Leviticus, I don’t really think this. But admit it, most people think that Leviticus is boring and irrelevant while Proverbs is fascinating and practical.)

I recently sat through a sermon series on Proverbs that was just like this: every sermon packed with wise tidbits. I felt like I was hearing Benjamin Franklin reincarnated: be more disciplined, wake up earlier, control your temper, choose your friends carefully, spend wisely, and so on.  This is good advice that everyone should follow: the Bible’s own self-help aisle.

But is this really what Proverbs is about? Should we read Proverbs as a book of wise advice that anyone can and should follow?

This is the beginning of my latest monthly article over at So head over there to read the rest and let me know what you think.

All Is Vanity Mirrors

What happens when you combine Ecclesiastes, fatalism, and vanity mirrors? A great comic strip.

ecclesiastes, vanity, fate, fatalism

Understanding Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology is all the rage these days. A quick Amazon search will turn up all kinds of books on biblical theology, many of them written in just the last few years. But if you skim through those books, you’ll quickly notice something rather interesting: no one really seems to know what “biblical theology” means.

Biblical theology is one of those phrases with an obvious surface meaning (who wouldn’t want their theology to be biblical?) that grows hazy the minute you begin to ask some of the difficult questions:

  • What is “theology”?
  • What does it mean to be “biblical”?
  • Whose theology are we after (e.g. the Bible, the biblical authors, the religious communities of the biblical authors)?
  • Given the different perspectives in the Bible, can we really talk about just one biblical theology or are there many biblical theologies?

And we could keep going. With just a few questions, we begin to see why it can be so frustrating to figure out what people mean when they talk about biblical theology. It’s because biblical theology is a label that covers a multitude of differences.

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9 Reasons We Need the Gospels

Some Christians downplay the Gospels. We don’t do it on purpose, of course. After all, those are the books about Jesus, so they must be important. But we still have a tendency to prefer the letters to the Gospels. Stories are interesting, but they’re also a bit messy and complicated. So it seems easier, faster, and clearer to skip past the stories and just hear Paul tell us what we’re supposed to believe.

In Reading the Gospels Wisely, Jonathan Pennington offers nine excellent reasons that we should not do this. Beyond some nifty stories and fascinating parables, the Gospels have a lot to offer. And we’re missing out on a lot as Christians when we don’t allow us ourselves to soak in these life-changing narratives.

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All of the Above: Another Approach to the Image of God

Do you know how to separate good test-takers from bad ones? The bad ones think “all of the above” is their friend, giving them an out when they don’t know the right answer. Good test-takers know better. ”All of the above” is usually a trap.

You see, evil professors know that multiple choice questions can actually be very difficult to answer. Worded properly, the answers all sound pretty good. So the ill-prepared student has a hard time figuring out which one is correct And then the professor slips in “all of the above.” If all the answers sound good, that must be the right choice. It covers all the bases! When in doubt, cover as much territory as possible.


test, multiple choice, answers,

The problem with “all of the above” is that there only needs to be one little mistake in any of the options for your choice to be wrong. A and C could be perfectly true, but if B is a little off, then “all of the above” is flat out wrong. It’s just there to suck you in with it’s seductive promise of all-encompassing thoroughness.

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Sex Is Natural, Sex Is Good: The Image of God as “Relational”

It’s a boy! I could be wrong, but I imagine that’s the first the the doctor said to my parents when I was born. And I’m sure my parents didn’t find this at all unusual – especially since I am, in fact, a boy. But if you think about it for a moment, why is this always the first thing we think about when a new baby is born? Surely, my sexual genitalia were not my most notable features. The doctor could have made equally objective observations about the size of my head or the tone of my skin. Why does gender get so much attention?

image of god, gender, sexuality, male and femaleAnd the same is true for non-doctors. Tell someone you’re pregnant, and just count the seconds until they ask if it’s going to be a boy or a girl. Look at the baby shower presents and notice how the anticipated gender shaped everyone’s purchases. Dress your new baby in green and watch all the frustrated people try to figure out which gender category to put it in. Before we have even opened our eyes to see the strange new world that lies beyond the safety of our mothers’ wombs, our sexuality has already started to shape who we are and how we relate to the people around us.

Sex matters.

As Robert Jewett said,

Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person….Our self-knowledge is indissolubly bound up not simply with our human being but with our sexual being.

So, as we continue our discussion of the image of God, it should come as no surprise that some have considered the possibility that sexuality lies at the heart of the image of God just as the image of God lies at the heart of what it means to be human. But they mean more than just the fact that we were born with certain biological features. For these thinkers, sexuality is really about being in relationship. “Male” and “female” are essentially relational terms–i.e. you can’t really have one without the other. So, by creating humans as gendered creatures, God established us as those who identity is always constituted in relationship to someone else. And it is through these relationships that we we reflect God’s being in the world. The imago is relational.

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Forced Choices: The Historicity of Adam and Eve

Our last Forced Choice was a landslide. Apparently there’s not a lot of debate around here that philosophy is good for theology (85%). I really thought more people would be hesitant with that one, but I’m glad to see I was wrong.

This week’s choice will jump right into the middle of the debate surrounding the historicity of Adam and Eve. This has gotten a lot of attention lately with prominent books from Peter Enns (The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins) and John Collins (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who Were They and Why You Should Care), among others. If you’re interested, Brian LePort has been doing an series on both of these books (you can read the latest post here), and he also posted an excellent summary of views on the historicity of Adam and Eve.

But we’re not here to discuss the relative merits of the various positions. We’re just here to vote. So what do you think? Were Adam and Eve the historic individuals from whom all other humans descended?

But, since I think a simple yes/no vote is likely to mimic our earlier vote on evolution, I’d like to complicate things just a bit by offering some options about how long ago Adam and Eve were created (i.e. less/more than 10,000 years ago) and whether they were the ones from whom all other humans descended. The latter option covers the possibility that humans evolved like other creatures, and that at some point God selected two of them for special relationship with himself.

So, with that clarification in mind, use the poll in the sidebar to vote and let us know what you think.


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