Reclaiming Biblical Literacy II

My mother isn’t very tech savvy. She has a smartphone but barely uses it. When she does it is for calls and the occasional text. She prefers to use an old Nokia instead. When she wants to do something more on the phone she gets me and my sister to try and teach her how to do it. She always complains that we are such terrible teachers. It’s so simple for us and we complete the task in a flash. She has absolutely no time to process what we did. (Even when we think we are moving slowly, for her we are rushing!) The reason why she has such a problem is that it is an issue of digital literacy. Learning how to proficiently use a new system of communicating and processing information is challenging. Reading and writing comes automatically to me. I remember how as a child I struggled to learn how to spell something as basic as my own name (having four names did not help.) The great challenge the church faces in understanding the Bible is a literacy problem.

The Bible is a complex compendium of ancient literature, covering multiple themes and different genres across a wide span of history. There were differing views on the Scriptures among the Jews as well as in the early Church. Even in the New Testament, it is apparent that the authors did not have identical views or understanding of everything, even though there is a strong consensus among them. On the central tenets of the faith, however, there was universal agreement. When we acknowledge the complexity of the document we then appreciate that we need to be properly equipped to handle it. The cultural milieu the early Church was birthed in, and the fact the New Testament came from them, made it easier for them to understand the Bible. The Bible was written according to a worldview where they took so many things for granted. Today, we have to put in quite a bit of effort before we get them correctly.

Biblical literacy goes beyond getting Bible trivia questions right during fun Church activities or reading your Bible regularly. Biblical literacy is having access to the biblical text and being equipped with the skills to handle it responsibly and use it productively. It is a necessity for every Christian to be biblically literate. We need pastors, theologians, Bible scholars, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, Christian publishers, every single Christian worldwide to combat biblical illiteracy.

The right to education is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The idea of human rights does not proceed from secularized thinking but from the Judaeo-Christian worldview. It’s only in this worldview that humans have intrinsic worth because we are all made in the image of God. A friend of mine posted something on social media that made me think of Christian rights i.e. rights we have as believers. She asked why the wealthier urban churches were not making the teaching resources they had available to their sister churches in rural and less wealthy communities.

Ghana is a developing country and the effect of poverty is strong on our society. I have made the personal observation that younger, better educated, and more financially stable people prefer, to attend the newer urban centralised churches or their branches. We have the term ‘local church/assembly.’ This is a congregation whose services are primarily conducted in a local dialect. The educated prefer to go to places where English is mainly spoken. The official language of the country is English but it is the local dialects that are used in everyday life. Having a good command of English is often attached to good social standing. In fact people who love to speak English on a regular basis are sometimes tagged as arrogant or even un-Ghanaian. It really bothers me when I see this social divide in the Church based on wealth or education. This should not be the case.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all – Colossians 3:11 ESV

The Church is supposed to transcend every human distinction as a part of the New Creation. When we begin to segregate ourselves into social cliques we defeat the purpose of the Church of God. No Christian is bigger than the church, even if you are an apostle like Peter (Galatians 2.) The early Church shared everything in common because they genuinely believed they were brothers and sisters, a real family in the Lord.

I used to wonder why the New Testament emphasized love so much as the way to identify a true believer. How could something as vague as expressing affection show that you believed in Jesus? The Scriptures did not tell us to love with our feet firmly planted in mid-air. It told us to love one another because of Jesus and the example he gave us on the cross. We are a community of people who love one another because of what Jesus accomplished for us all. We love because he first loved us. The Son has granted us equal status as members of the family of God and he died to make it happen when we enemies of the one we now call Father (Romans 5:10.) This remarkable love provides the impetus for us to show genuine, passionate concern for one another. When the world sees this uncommon love they will have to ask for the reason behind it. It is because we share a common faith and hope in one man, our Lord Jesus. In the Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark the reason why early Christianity enjoyed a meteoric rise in the face of huge obstacles was because of their superior ethic.

We are a community founded on the Logos of God. Imagine for a moment that every believer around the world is able to properly study the Bible. Christendom would be united around the study of the Word of God. There would be a global army of believers equipped to defend the Church from the attacks against our faith. Most importantly the Church will be nourished by being able to hear God speak directly into our lives.

As I write this it almost sounds naïve to have such a massive and difficult dream. When you consider the Church beat the overwhelming odds against it ever existing, and it survives and thrives to this day, this is not as hard as it seems. As much as the right to education is fundamental in the secular world so is the right to biblical literacy an essential Christian right. If we are truly a family in Christ we have the responsibility to make our very own book, the Bible, accessible to all our brothers and sisters. I think the Church is making great strides in evangelism but we need the Word of God inside the Church too. Yes, it is possible for the Word of God to go missing in the house of God (1 Kings 22.)

Great strides have been made in biblical literacy already. The Bible is the world’s perennial best seller and it is found in more languages and in more formats than any other text. For those who live in a society similar to mine we should readily share the privileges we have. As we have seen from the world of the New Testament, just because a person cannot read or write, does not mean they cannot have a highly developed, sophisticated, understanding of the Bible. We should not be the reason why they are unable to know and enjoy the truth. If you are reading this from the Western world you don’t really have any excuse. You have ready access to cutting edge biblical scholarship. Where I am writing from even internet access can be quite a challenge. Western Christians are generally speaking well positioned to be biblically literate. I appeal to those who are reading from the more privileged parts of the world to prayerfully consider how they can share the blessings of the Word of God with their family all over the globe.

For us to further the goal of biblical literacy in the Church we need to come up with innovative and culturally relevant approaches. We cannot do the same old things if we wish to get new results. When God revealed to Joseph the famine coming on Egypt, Pharaoh recognised that the young Hebrew was the one best equipped to handle the situation. If you can identify a problem in your church community, the same God is able to equip you to help solve it. As unlikely as it may seem to you, you are the best man for the job.

The Bible is our universal hallmark as believers. The Koran, which was written in 6th century Arabia, described Christians as ‘the people of the Book.’ It’s high time we start owning it.

⇐Part 1

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