The Washington Post and other media made a big deal Monday that President Trump posted a “fake quote” on Instagram. The quote, in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years,” was misattributed. Lincoln never said it.
The media is always looking for these kinds of faux pas. But what if Trump had posted “Money is the root of all evil” or “God moves in mysterious ways” superimposed over an image of the Bible? Almost certainly, the media would never catch it, because they are biblically ignorant and scripturally illiterate.
The Church’s Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem
While it’s fun and useful to point out the secular media’s Biblical errors, Christian leaders are not so quick to hone in on a bigger problem within the Body of Christ. Biblical illiteracy among believers is eroding the faith.
My pastor, Mark Merrill, cited a Lifeway Research study in his sermon last Sunday. It’s a survey of British children, who, granted, are much less focused on Bible study than American kids. However, this is where America is going, so I’m including it here.
When surveying children from the general population, most could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn’t choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn’t know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible. Parents didn’t do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don’t know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.
You might say “that’s not me.” And maybe it isn’t, but give it a generation, and it could be your kids or grandkids. Huge swaths of Americans embrace a simple cultural Christianity. J.D. Vance, in his best seller “Hillybilly Elegy,” described a faith rooted in self-help, hard work, oral traditions and God’s plan (but not so much on the Bible or what’s written in it). Vance summarized: “God helps those who help themselves. This was the wisdom of the Book of Mamaw.”
The Book of Mamaw, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Jesus Christ. Many Christians strain to know who said what. They don’t read the Bible, so they don’t know what’s in it. And more importantly, they don’t know what’s not in it.
Two important quotes from G.K. Chesterton frame this nicely. “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense,” and “You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief — of belief in almost anything.” Nobody can deny that are seeing the symptoms of this manifested today.
Indeed, Erick Erickson wrote Monday that many of his friends in Silicon Valley who profess agnosticism embrace a future of self-aware artificial intelligence—a future of human-machine cyborgs. Astrophysicist Milton Wainwright believes that aliens seeded earth with life, a theory suggested by Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA. Nowhere do they suggest who seeded the aliens with life.
Who will answer the next generation of skeptics?
How many generations are left?
Without teaching deep knowledge of the Bible and what it contains, the Church is not making disciples, it is making converts. Disciples beget disciples. Converts are seed for the sower.
Matthew 13:18-23 (NLT):
Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
American Christians could be one or two generations away from losing the Church. My pastor cited a statistic that 96 percent of American churches are experiencing declines in attendance. In England, the problem has become critical, with only non-denominational and Pentecostal congregations showing small growth in the last 35 years.
With a lack of Biblical teaching and focus on the unadulterated truth of God’s Word, America will not be far behind our British counterparts. Our church leaders cannot let pursuit of political, cultural, or numerical gains replace the Great Commission.
We are called to make disciples. If we fail in that, we fail in all.