Monday, June 05, 2006

My Semi-Annual Biblical Literacy Rant

I'm reading Fortress Introduction to the Gospels, by Mark Allan Powell. It's a great book, written for laypeople.

But how many laypeople have ever read it?

When is our church going to start taking biblical literacy for laypeople seriously, instead of piddling around with the usual devotional-lite Bible studies that don't teach people how to read the Bible intelligently? Why is this such a hard thing? What is the payoff, for all concerned, in keeping people lazy and ignorant?

/rant

9 comments:

Rainbow Pastor said...

Try the Disciple Bible study series. It's an in-depth, nine-month study. It has several components, but the first one (recommended before you take any of the others) begins with "how to study the Bible," that is, not literally, but with an inderstanding of the Bible as a collection of different kinds of literature, reminders of what metaphors and similes are, etc.

I highly recommend it. It's published by the UMC...cokesbury.com, I think,

Jim said...

Like anything else that is worthwhile, achieving that kind of literacy is very hard work. A basic working knowledge of Torah, alone, could be several years' worth, doing it part time. And without Torah, the New Testament loses (I think) most of its meaning.

It depends on how serious one is about discovering the roots of faith, don't you think?

Chris T. said...

Amen, amen, amen!

I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the yearly lectionary found in the LCMS hymnal. Daily Bible reading is a discipline that has fallen by the wayside, and I think progressives in particular would find it illuminating. It's amazing the justice- and love-oriented passages that have been kept out of the general consciousness.

Sadly, a lot of pastors just seem to be towing the lines instead of helping their parishoners understand the whole Bible as a complete narrative. I will definitely check out the book you mention--good resources for lay people are priceless.

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Yeah--and how many of your laity have read the Da Vinci Code instead... This constantly drives me up the wall. Especially because we'll have people show up at seminary who have never read it and only know little bits and pieces. If these are the *leaders* of the church...

Just another reason to commend the Daily Offices in their classical form.

LutheranChik said...

My big frustration with the "life-application" Bible studies where people sit around talking about Feelings-n-Stuff is that it takes what is a very sensible plan for tackling Scripture -- What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean for me right now in my life? -- and cuts out two-thirds of the three essential steps. How stupid is that?

Powell's book assumes a reasonably literate and motivated, but not academic audience. He gets into how the Gospels were written, and why, and for whom; major themes in each Gospel; very good, basic stuff like that. The first 30 pages of the book have more useful information about how to approach the Gospels as crafted documents than I, frankly, ever received in my first 30 years of churchgoing. And that is pretty sad. My pastor and I were once discussing my lay ministry studies, and he said, rather wistfully, "Wouldn't it be great if every person in this parish could go through that class?" Yes; yes, it would. And they could, more or less, if the church was serious about educating the laity. As it is you have 20- and 40- and 70-year olds walking around with a Sunday-School understanding of the Bible; it's no wonder that when they do inadvertantly stumble upon for-real biblical scholarship, it freaks them out. In my class, when our professor suggested that Abraham may not have been an actual living individual but rather an amalgam of early tribal leaders, or perhaps a highly fictionalized alter ego of a real patriarch, some of the class nearly stroked out. Isn't it better to give laypeople some tools for understanding how Scripture was written and how it came to be gathered into the canon? This could start right in Sunday School. Why gatekeep?

Lutheran Zephyr said...

When I saw the title to your post, I asked myself, "Only a semi-annual rant? How does she contain herself for entire 6-month stretches?" Seriously, the issue of biblical literacy - especially for church leaders - is critically important. For those who sit on church councils and vestries, for those who lead committees, for those who teach the faith - these folks really should have completed some sort of education provided by the pastor, synod or some other mechanism. I have seen Lutheran congregations that have requirments for members of Council that they have been in a Small Group Bible study for at least one year, and in another church that all Sunday School teachers complete a year-long training program. It is possible to equip the saints - we just need to get off our collective rear ends and do it.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I suppose this lack of Bible knowledge is why some traditions have the sermon be more of a Bible Study than the way Lutheran do things. People from the Bible-study-sermon type of church think some Lutheran sermons are Christianity lite.

[Yet people from the Bible Belt states seem (this is, I'll admit, prejudicial grouping of people) to know the Law better than the Gospel.]

When all is said and done, it is the living out of the faith that really matters, not the knowledge of Biblical details. And yet, and yet...if we don't read it for ourselves, we can be told anything by any preacher.

Rainbow Pastor said...

I would again say that the Disciple series is pretty good at making people think--it's not touchy-feely, it's pretty rigorous, and it never talks down to you. Or rather, the Biblical scholars in the videos don't.

No, it's not seminary level. But it certainly moves folks beyond Sunday school.

The problem with a daily reading is that it doesn't answer questions. And for the inquiring, interested layperson, there will be questions.

I'm with you, LC--we need to be doing more in-depth, challenging work.

The challenge I have is that my congregation is all over the map when it comes to Biblical literacy. Some of them rival Howard Dean (who said his fave NT book was Job), and at the other end of the spectrum, others have had a few seminary classes. How do I reach everyone--there's a core who are hungry for it, but they are a small group, and, again, their knowledge is all over the map.

And now I'm feeling guilty that I don't have an education event planned yet for the summer...

RuthRE said...

This sounds like another book to put on my list.....(the Mark Allan one...the Bible's been on the list....oh ....a while :) )