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Evangelical Christians pride themselves on being more biblically literate than non-evangelicals. Don't kid yourself.
Susan Jacoby's book review of "Religious Literacy" by Stephen Prothero (The Washington Post, 3/4/07), says:
Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." More than 10 percent think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and--a finding that will surprise many--evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts.I'll say Amen to that.
In spite of the abundance of Bible studies around the country, I am discovering that many are not really Bible studies at all. They are shared religious experiences or uninformed views of what the Bible really means. In these "study" groups, instead of the Bible telling us what our experience should be, our experience dictates the meaning of the Scripture being studied.
Bible study booklets published by evangelical publishing houses are some of the worst offenders. They claim to be inductive studies, but they're not. Let's get it straight. An inductive study starts with no premises. It is based first and foremost on observation, which is the basis of interpretation. When we are sure of what the truth of the Scripture is through observation and interpretation, only then do we apply it. (Hopefully we check out our conclusions using Bible dictionaries and other helps.)
An example of this failure is a Bible study guide on the Gospel of John by a major publisher. It starts out its teaching on the crucifixion of Christ (Jn. 19:17-42) saying:
"There is nothing pleasant or attractive about an execution. The only one I've ever seen was in a televised news report from Vietnam. A captured soldier was shot. It left a knot in my stomach for days.
"GROUP DISCUSSION. Tell about how a national or international assassination affected you and how you learned about the tragedy.
"PERSONAL REFLECTION. When you think about death, what feelings and thoughts come to mind?"
I'd like to know what this has to do with the meaning of the text in an inductive Bible study. Do we find out the meaning of the text from a discussion about an international assassination?
The same study booklet on Jesus words "It is finished," refers the reader back to John 17:4. There, Christ talks about "completing the work" the Father sent Him to do. Okay, what was that work?
I don't expect a teacher who has had no formal training to do what Lewis Sperry Chafer does in his Systematic Theology--give us sixty pages on "Things Accomplished By Christ in His Sufferings and Death." But I would expect the teacher to cite two very important truths--salvation and sanctification in Christ.
Every born again evangelical knows something about grace-faith salvation through the finished work of Christ on the cross. But why is it when we talk about the sanctification (holiness) of the believer, so many Christians get it wrong? The attitude is, Now that I'm saved, I really need to work hard at living a holy life.
This translates into salvation by faith and sanctification (holiness) by works. Are we not teaching new believers the meaning of Romans 6:11-14? Do they not understand that we are saved by faith and live for Christ by faith. He made us holy by the work on the cross. It is finished--now, keep on reckoning (counting it a fact) to be so!
What's the answer to this holy confusion? James 3:1-12. The tongue is guilty of many sins. The first one is a warning to teachers:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (Jas. 3:1).
Perhaps if we had fewer and better teachers we might have less holy confusion.
See also Andy's essay "More Holy Confusion".
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