Recently, on Children's Sunday, we went through the ritual of presenting the third graders with their own Bibles. Some of the children receiving Bibles were brand new to church life. We may have been giving them the first Bibles they would see in their homes.
To liven things up, I gave the children a pop quiz. I said, "I'm going to call out three names of books in the Bible. You tell me which ones are false. First, the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Paul, and the Gospel of Stewart." The adults laughed and the children knew that there was no Gospel of Stewart in the Canon. As for the Gospel of Paul, they claimed a deep familiarity with it.
I realized I had to make my public quiz easier. I told them there would only be one true book in the next list, and I asked them to choose among the books of Malachi, Shalakai, and Jai-Alai.
"The book of Jai-Alai is the right one," called out a child. Jai-Alai is a popular betting sport in Connecticut. Sadly, it would be more familiar to the average child than a book of the Old Testament.
"Okay, now try this list: Habbakuk, Chewbacca, and Pistachio." The children laughed. They thought that all three were made up.
"That's why we are giving you these Bibles," I said, undiscouraged.
My quiz confirmed yet again that I can never assume biblical literacy in my New England congregation. Here in my mainline Protestant Congregational church that lies in the shadow of Yale University, the preacher can never be too basic.
Increasingly, people wander into our church with a similar story. They were raised by parents who believed children ought to "choose their religion for themselves." They had parents of different faiths or no faith who preached a generic morality across the dinner table in the hope that something ...1
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