The Challenge of Biblical illiteracy

I was at a conference recently where one of the topics was to do with preaching. The speaker (like me) believed in the importance of expository preaching.  He stated that one of the challenges today is that many people sitting in our churches do not know their Bibles. This means that we are often preaching to and doing bible studies with people who are “Biblically illiterate.”

In some cases, the problem is there for very good reasons. We have quite a few people coming along who are new to the Gospel and haven’t been in a Bible teaching church before.  It’s great when people turn up who don’t know their way around the bible but are hungry to learn.

Bible literacy matters not because we want to elevate the bible and worship it. Rather it is because the Bible is God’s Word. He speaks to us and so when the bible is read, study and expounded we hear God speak to us.

Sadly, it is not only people who are new to the Gospel who the speaker suggested were Biblically illiterate. There are people attending evangelical churches who don’t know their Bibles. The only place that they hear the Bible read is in church (they don’t study it at home) and even then they may well only hear it rather than reading along for themselves.

I want to share two articles with you. The first is about how we cater for congregations with low levels of Biblical literacy and the second will be all about how to improve Biblical literacy. So here are some suggestions for how we can help make our sermons accessible to people who don’t yet know their way around the Bible.

1.       Provide Bibles for people to use during the church service and/or print out the relevant bible passage on a handout or project it on the screen.

2.       Make sure that the Bible passage is clearly read before the sermon.

3.       Preach sequentially through a book of the bible so that the hearers can follow the unfolding story or argument.

4.       Before you preach, take time to explain the context of the bible passage. This may include its context within the Bible and the historical context of when it was written.

5.       If you are providing church Bibles tell people the page number to turn to in the Bible so they can find the passage quickly.

6.       You may occasionally want to turn to the contents page first and explain to them where to find the particular book in the Bible.

7.       Avoid statements like “As we all know.”

8.       Resist the temptation to go on a “Bible safari” where you use a variety of verses to support your point. The hearers are likely to be overwhelmed by this as they hunt the references and unlikely to grasp the links.

9.       Show people why what they are about to hear about is relevant. Use your introduction and your conclusion to do this. At Sunday Night Church during our Dig Deeper study we start with a question which links to the application. We then explain that we are going to see how the passage answers that specific question.

10. Choose a Bible version that people can easily read and understand

Can you add any more suggestions?