Evangelist John Bradshaw said the Seventh-day Adventist Church's message should be proclaimed in every city no matter its level of Bible literacy after a survey ranked his adopted hometown as the most Bible-minded city in the United States.
Chattanooga, Tennessee — which has a thriving Adventist presence — is more Bible-minded than any other city in the United States, according to the recent survey of 100 cities by the American Bible Society and the Barna Group.
The issue of biblical literacy and engagement has been of concern to Christians, who have questioned whether it’s possible to reach a community without a basic grasp of the Bible. This is particularly true for Adventists and their traditional evangelistic methods that focus on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Some say modern audiences are not as familiar with these texts so such approaches don't work as well.
But Bradshaw, speaker and director of
It Is Written, the pioneering Adventist television ministry now headquartered in Chattanooga, said the scriptural literacy of a community should not serve as a barrier to evangelism.
“People being ignorant about the Bible doesn't mean we shouldn't teach about the Bible,” he said by telephone.
Sometimes “cities with less Bible literacy are places where people don't feel they have answers” and thus are more open to an Adventist message, he said.
Five cities in the U.S. South topped the list of most biblically minded places in the country. Chattanooga was followed by Birmingham, Alabama; Roanoke/Lynchburg, Virginia; Shreveport, Louisiana.; and Tri-Cities, Tennessee. At the bottom of the ranking were New York City (90); Las Vegas, Nevada (95), and the region incorporating Albany, Troy, and Schenectady in New York state (100).
The most Bible-minded respondents said they had read the Bible in the past seven days and believed strongly in the accuracy of the Bible.
“The cities at the top of this list — their attitudes and actions — show engagement,” American Bible Society spokesman Andrew Hood told the
It was unclear whether the sizable Adventist presence in Chattanooga, population 170,000, and the surrounding area had any impact on the city’s ranking. The Adventist Church has 29 congregations,
Southern Adventist University, Collegedale Academy, six elementary schools, and other facilities in and near the city.
The biblical literacy survey made no denominational correlations, Hood said.
Bible literacy, however, should be a white-hot issue for both Christians and broader culture, he added.
“I have talked to seminary professors from around the country and heard stories about people entering seminary who have a strikingly low level of literacy, who are not familiar with the Bible,” he said. "If you want to understand where the world is today, biblical literacy is important across the board.”
At the same time, a top ranking for Chattanooga doesn't preclude other cities as places where God is at work, Hood said.
“I see God at work in my city of Philadelphia, even though we're No. 57,” he said.
Bradshaw said he has seen God at work in No. 1-ranked Chattanooga, too. He recalled how a 92-year-old atheist made a commitment to Christ and then became a member of an Adventist congregation during evangelistic meetings organized by It Is Written in Chattanooga last year.
Bradshaw cautioned against a “one-size-fits-all” view of public evangelism, saying it “isn't designed for the atheist next door or the post-modernist down the block. Once we make friends and earn their confidence, then we earn the right to make a presentation” of the gospel.
He pointed to a need for Christian workers to go among the people, minister to their needs, win their confidence, and then invite others to follow Jesus. That formula was outlined by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White in an oft-quoted passage from
The Ministry of Healing, page 143.
“Evangelism works when we work,” Bradshaw said.