If Bible Education Isn’t Practical - It’s Practically No Good!
A recent survey from the Barna Group, commissioned by the American Bible Society, provides new insight. From the results, it’s easy to see why the Bible remains a cultural force in the United States. However, its future role appears to be very different than its past.
Source: The American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2013 / Barna Group
Additionally, despite a generally high number of Americans who think the Bible is sacred, there’s also a fairly high proportion of Americans who at least somewhat agree the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths. Nearly half of Americans agree with that statement (31% of Americans agree somewhat, while 16% agree strongly), which hasn’t significantly changed since 2011.
Overall, there has been a decrease in people who are friendly or neutral toward the Bible—those people in the “middle” who are neither engaged with Scripture nor who actively dislike the Bible. Since 2011, the number of American adults who are engaged with Scripture—people who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God with no errors and who read the Bible four times a week—has stayed about the same (staying relatively constant from 20% in 2011 to 21% in 2013).
However, the number of American adults who are friendly–or, those who believe the Bible to be inspired and infallible but don’t read the Bible as often—has gone down (from 45% to 39%). Those who are neutral—the people who rarely read the Bible and believe the Bible to be inspired but containing errors—numbered 25% of American adults in 2011, and is about the same in 2013 (23%). The biggest jump of any group are those American adults who are antagonistic to the Bible, meaning they believe the Bible to just be a book of stories and teachings written by men, and they rarely or never read the Bible. That group stood at one in ten adults (10%) in 2011. In 2013, their ranks have grown to 17% of all U.S. adults.
What the Research Means...
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, pointed to several conclusions from the study:
Most Americans esteem the Bible and have access to it. However, even if there’s a baseline of respect, people aren’t sure how to apply the lessons of Scripture to public life or society, particularly in an increasingly pluralistic nation.
The middle ground related to the Bible seems to be disappearing. The decrease of Bible-neutral and Bible-friendly people and the increase of Bible-antagonists suggest that more people are picking a side. It echoes the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans—these changes are perhaps less about the decline in belief and more about there being less cultural baggage to identifying as skeptical or disbelieving.
There’s a healthy cultural respect for and fascination with Scripture, which helps to explain why millions have tuned into The Bible series. People seem to be open to experiencing ancient scriptures in new ways.
Mosaics - a generation often called Millennials - are very intrigued by the role of the Bible in providing guidance and wisdom. It is a surprising expression of openness to Christianity amidst a generational cohort that is increasingly post-religious.
So how do we make any sense of this?
I believe that this study is fundamentally about the relevance of the Bible and its teachings. Many are wondering how an ancient religious book can be relevant today. How can it help them live a happier, more successful lifestyle? And perhaps, that is the problem – at least with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that a true believer will deny himself, take up his cross and follow him. And then making things even more confusing, Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciples, eat my flesh and drink my blood.” What did Jesus mean by that? Jesus also said that first shall be last and the last shall be first. Huh? How can I apply that to my life? Further, there are about 1200 different Christian denominations in America, some of which are saying that they are THE church. How does one find his/her way through all of this? It’s very confusing!
So how do you and I make our way through all of this? In this post, I will share with you a little of my personal story of how I have successfully found my way through this religious maze for more than 40 years.
Greek Philosophy versus the Philosophy of Jesus
I believe that there are basically two very different ways to educate and learn anything. One way was first demonstrated by the Greeks and the other way was demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth, son of Jesse. And for Christians, Jesus is the Messiah and the Savior of the world. Just as during the time of Jesus, today many people have embraced a more intellectual philosophy of learning as taught by the ancient Greek philosophers, rather than the more spiritual, some have said “mystical” approach to learning. The Greek Philosophers sere later called “humanists”, because they taught a philosophy that exalted man’s intellectual and physical abilities, while not acknowledging the monotheistic God of the Jesus and Judaism.
History indicates that there are at least two basic ways to educate and to learn. One was first introduced and spread to the world from the Greeks. Such well-known men as Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were some of the Greek philosophers and teachers. They taught and trained the mind to learn and communicate effectively and persuasively, using well researched and thought-out arguments. They were what I call “the intellectual-hypothetical-theoretical-philosophical-hermenuetical” bunch.
Today, they would be like American university professors with their doctorate degrees and expert opinions. These professors are frequently quoted in our American national news media as experts. Touted as “experts”, the national news media asks them to give their opinion on various situations. For example, during the recent “Bible Wars” as the media has called it, the Dallas Morning News and others have frequently requested that a specific SMU professor (with a doctorate in religion) give his expert opinion on what is legal and appropriate curriculum for Texas Public Schools, pursuant to Texas House Bill 1287, the 2010 Social Studies TEKS and the US Constitution.
When I looked closer, I was reminded that “birds of a feather flock together”. After a little research, I noticed that the beloved SMU professor was of the liberal persuasion as is the Dallas Morning News. They were trying to tag-team and set the bar for Bible Literacy public school curriculum in Texas. This group of the liberal persuasion added one more liberal organization to their trio. Working together like a finely tuned three stringed instrument, they have been very successful.
So what’s my point? My point is that Greeks’ kind of learning was/is purely intellectual and physiological. However, Jesus had a different philosophy of learning, because he said, “They that worship god must worship him in spirit and in truth.” And like the book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, Jesus brought a whole new government and way of learning and living that is diametrically opposed to the Greek philosophies.
Let me explain...
The Greeks said that learning is physical and mental, but spiritual. That’s where our US Public School System gets their philosophy learning. But, Jesus teaches that life actually comes from one’s spirit and was given to mankind by a God that is spirit and truth. That’s why the word “repent” was used by John the Baptist and Jesus, saying to the people to allow the spirit of God to change your thoughts and actions, not just your thoughts. Jesus taught about his new government (called the Kingdom of God) that would transform lives spiritually, mentally/emotionally and even bring health to physical bodies of believers.
Today, I believe that many people are tired of powerless religious people and their intellectual-hypothetical-theoretical-hermeneutical theories that are not practical in changing and empowering lives. I also believe that the “religious experts”, as previously mentioned, are just people with a lot of education and an opinion that is no better than anyone else’s.
The Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducees were some of the intellectual experts of that time. This is what Jesus said to them, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.” (Matthew 15: 8-9)
“The spirit of education is not complete without the education of the spirit.”
(Former US Attorney General, John Ashcroft.
And I say it again… If education isn’t practical, it’s practically no good!