ERROL CASTENS: Biblical literacy is for everyone

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

If you’ve ever seen the handwriting on the wall, needed the patience of Job or had to deal with a doubting Thomas, you’ve lived out a part of the Bible.
While it may be common to ignore or even disparage the Judeo-Christian scripture, Western civilization has been shaped in major ways by the prose and poetry of the Old and New Testaments as well as by the principles they teach.
“The Bible, the holy book of Judaism and Christianity, is the most widely known book in the English-speaking world,” writes Ed Hirsch in “A Cultural Literacy” (Second Edition, 1993, Houghton Mifflin).
“No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible,” he added. “All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describe a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the ‘wisdom of Solomon’ is wise or foolish, or whether saying ‘My cup runneth over’ means the person feels fortunate or unfortunate.’ Those who cannot use or understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English.”
For those who purport to be Christians, however, the issue goes further than mere cultural and linguistic knowledge. Many a survey has shown believers to be unfamiliar with many basic tenets, characters and stories of their professed faith.
In the general population, biblical ignorance “is pandemic,” said Greg Thornbury, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University. Within the church, he said, it is merely “epidemic.” For the unconvinced, he recommends reading “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” by Kenda Creasy Dean.
“Anytime an organization or community does not teach the coming generation about its tradition, you always have drift,” said Thornbury, who is one of the authors of the “Bible Mesh” curriculum. “That’s not unique to Christianity. It’s a sociological inevitability.”
He said ever-busier lives and broader connections mean Bible exposure isn’t the cultural given that it was decades ago.
“Because of the fact that our culture is so homogenized at the level of media, it’s more difficult for churches to spend a lot of time training young people,” he said. “Two generations ago for a Baptist kid in the South, the church would have been their main social contact, and that’s not the case anymore.”
The Bible Drills that brought more than 40 churches Thursday to Harrisburg Baptist Church are an effort to turn that tide.
Don Hicks, who runs the Bible Drills program for the Mississippi Baptist Convention, said, “We’re trying to give our children and young people a love for God’s word and enough background to use it effectively.”
Psalm 119:11 builds a strong case for the value of effort: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at

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