Jay Leno knew he had the perfect comedy routine. Roving through the audience of his late-night talk show, Leno asked people how much they knew about the Bible. "Name one of the Ten Commandments," he asked. A hand went up: "God helps those who help themselves?" Leno went on: "Name one of the apostles." No answer. But when he asked his audience to name the four Beatles, the names "George, Paul, John, and Ringo" flew from the crowd.
Last year I was listening to a speech on the radio given by a candidate for governor in Nevada. He wanted to propose a new tax on the gambling industry but did not want to give the impression that he was against Nevada's most powerful and lucrative industry. Appealing to biblical authority, he announced: "I want to be like King David in the Bible. He didn't kill Goliath, he just hurt him a little."
Obviously, we live in a postbiblical era where general knowledge of the Bible cannot be assumed. As a book, the Bible has been removed from the reading lists of students so that they can barely recognize metaphors from great novels written before 1950. A professor from the University of Wisconsin told me about speaking to a seminar of highly motivated, intellectually keen students who did not recognize literary references to "Jonah" or "the prodigal son." She was forced to "decode" these cryptic images so that the students could see the underlying themes of the books they analyzed.
We may lament the neglect of the Bible in popular culture and secular education, but we can understand it. But what about the church? What about the evangelical church? If it is true that biblical illiteracy is commonplace in secular culture at large, there is ample evidence that points to similar trends in our churches.
For the ...