The basic solution to the problem of biblical illiteracy is of course extraordinarily simple: We must read it. We must read the Bible. We, as a people, individually, and especially in groups, must return to Bible study, to reading the Word, to discovering Jesus Christ through His Holy Note to us. And by our repeated and thoughtful digestion of it, we will learn afresh to accurately interpret and apply its meaning, and grow closer to Christ as a result.
But how to convince those that may balk at a return to being “people of the Book”? I don’t claim to know any method that will reach all skeptics in the church. But the following four suggestions may bear fruit for many of them:
1. Pray daily for a return to the Word. Genuine revivals throughout history have gone hand in hand with a renewed appreciation for scripture. Pray daily for hearts and minds to be open to this. God’s Spirit, in answer to our prayers, will do a work in our church that we could never achieve by ourselves.
2. Use your influence to encourage the development of other’s reading skills, particularly in young people. Few would argue against the assertion that media consumption, particularly of visual media, is at an all-time high for most of earth’s inhabitants. Christians who are troubled by this often rightly point out the soul-stultifying affects that inappropriate media content can have.
But in my experience, what is nearly always missed in such objections is the effect of visual media on one’s desire and even one’s ability to perform that most basic of communication functions: to read. For as it turns out, Hollywood’s jaw-dropping, special-effects-laden offerings not only distract from reading, but can actually help defeat the brain processes that reading both requires and facilitates.
As any avid reader knows, reading demands imagination in order to “see” the connections that the author is trying to make, and therefore inherently develops abstract reasoning skills, forcing the mind to grow in reasoning ability and creativity at the same time. Conversely, studies have shown a measurable reduction of higher-order brain function in those consuming large amounts of visual media, as well as other deleterious effects[i]. The devil thus wins a double victory when we consistently overindulge in pop media: Not only are we far more likely to see things we shouldn’t, we are also diminished in our desire and ability to read most anything—including the Bible.
So consider using your influence to encourage reading skills in others. Sponsor reading programs at your local school. Encourage children’s Sabbath Schools to utilize written media more, and to use videos (even spiritually appropriate ones) less. If you have children and can afford to do so, buy them soul-edifying, age-appropriate, engaging books on a variety of topics. As they get older and have sufficient wisdom to make sound choices, take them to appropriate book stores regularly and let them choose books they would like to read. If available, get them memberships at a local library. Children that grow up reading regularly are, in my experience, much more likely to continue reading as adults, including reading the Bible.
3. Use your influence to strongly encourage Bible use in the home. As I mentioned earlier, I have met large numbers of teachers in Adventist schools that work with students who have low levels of Bible knowledge. This is a serious problem, and its solution is best started in the home. When my girls were little (and up until they left home), we had family prayer every night and each morning, with a story or interesting reading from the Bible appearing at one or both. On Friday and Saturday nights, we would sing several Bible-based songs (many of which were scripture set to music) to commemorate the Sabbath, and then conclude with the Lord’s Prayer. From these practices alone, my girls knew a great deal about the Bible long before their first day of school, giving our dedicated Adventist teachers a solid foundation on which to build. Not coincidentally, their personal habits of spending regular time in the Bible privately were a natural outgrowth of this environment.
If you have children, but no pattern of using the Bible in your home, start as soon as possible. If you have babies or toddlers, start reading them Bible story books now[ii]. This will make Bible use seem normal to them as they grow. If you’re children are older (such as in their teens), start gently. Be brief, make it as interesting as possible, letting them choose from a range of Bible-based offerings. Don’t force, but invite participation, as much as is appropriate for the situation.
Even if you don’t have children, you can encourage family worship from the front at church on Sabbath mornings. Help purchase Bible story books for young families. Do what you can to make sure your children’s Sabbath School classes have the necessary Bible-based supplies for a quality Bible instruction program. Help it be normal in your church for families to have worship—not berating parents for not doing it, but joyfully, prayerfully encouraging them to make it their practice.
4. Integrate the Bible into your communication with fellow believers. Scripture is one of God’s most potent conduits for the Holy Spirit to change lives through. “For the word of God is alive and active,” Hebrews 4:12 declares. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” No human philosophy, however clever and entertaining, can make that claim. Yet too often, when speaking with fellow believers, the Bible is not to be found. Our favorite news source, pop culture commentators, politicians, etc., may all be cited, but the Bible can be scarce.
The solution is not to become preachy, or to post long biblical treatises on Instagram or Facebook. But rather, organically weave your experience with the Word into your conversations. When a friend from church asks how you’re doing, in addition to sharing the usual “Oh, I’m fine,” share briefly also about what you read in the Bible for worship that morning and how it affected you. If the conversation turns to political issues, wonder aloud with your friends what Jesus said in the Gospels that might be pertinent to that topic. When you go to a friend’s house after church on Sabbath, start a discussion about the sermon, what you thought about it, how it matches up with your understanding of scripture, etc. At board meetings or committees that you attend, when facing obstacles, or when determining new priorities, don’t hesitate to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Weaving scripture into your communication with other believers does not mean quoting long texts ad nauseum or constantly texting biblical memes. It simply means appropriately acknowledging that the Bible is normative in our lives, and letting it be the rudder for what we do with and say to others.
Take Up Your “Sword”!
History is replete with examples of how powerful a strong familiarity with scripture can be. Moses would have been a dismal failure in leading Israel had he not paid such close attention to God’s words. Peter—petulant, passionate, pious Peter—could never have delivered his Pentecost appeal (nor seen its profound results!) had he not had the deep well of scripture from which to draw saving waters. And in later times, what of Martin Luther or John Knox or John Hus? They would have been nothing but pathetic mosquitos plastered on the 15th and 16th-century papal windshield had they not steeped themselves in the Bible. John Wesley and George Whitefield would have been mere footnotes of history had they not presented sermons drenched with scripture. Our most prominent founder, Ellen White—the most published woman in the history of the world—would have been just one more eloquent, yet ignored female had she not lived and breathed Holy writ.
And most important of all, even Jesus Christ—having every communication tool heaven could provide at His fingertips—chose to prominently, regularly, and powerfully use scripture when seeking to reach humanity. If God Himself was saturated with the Bible when He communicated with others, why would we not do the same? Biblical illiteracy has indeed taken root in the church. Too many of our “swords” have become rusty from lack of use! But there is still time. Let us return to the Word, that we may take our stand against the devil’s schemes—and prevail.
[i] For instance, see https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502424/, https://www.brighamandwomens.org/about-bwh/newsroom/press-releases-detail?id=1962 , https://mcpress.mayoclinic.org/parenting/social-media-affects-teens-brains/ . See also Boston Children’s Hospital’s Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at https://digitalwellnesslab.org/cimaid/ for helpful research on child media consumption. For a helpful religious take on media consumption, see https://www.beltoftruth.tv/media-on-the-brain .