Crave-worthy courses for a Bible-starved culture
by Caroline Leal
Posted 10/13/14, 03:29 pm
Biola University Professor Kenneth Berding compares Americans’ biblical illiteracy to eating a diet of nothing but chicken nuggets.
“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book,’” he said. “They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it, and taught it to others,” wrote Berding. “We don’t do that anymore, and, in a very real sense, we’re starving ourselves to death.”
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels, according to the Barna Research Group. To fight the decline, Berding created a free, online resource called Bible Fluency with multimedia tools to help users learn more about Scripture. The program employs music, visuals, flashcards, workbooks, lectures, and small-group activities to teach people to recognize and locate the Bible’s 400 most important events, characters, and themes.
Berding’s concern for biblical literacy began when his interactions with freshman students in his classes every year gave him a startling reality check. Once, while teaching in a New York college, he assigned each student to write a biographical sketch of an Old Testament character and came across the line, “Joshua was the son of a nun,” in an essay.
“This student clearly didn’t know that Nun was the name of Joshua’s father, nor apparently did he realize that Catholic nuns weren’t around during the time of the Old Testament,” said Berding. “But I’m sure it caused quite a stir in the convent.”
According to 2014 polls and reports by Barna Group and American Bible Society, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. A survey of graduating high-school seniors revealed over 50 percent thought the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were names of a husband and wife, while another poll indicated that many people believe Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
Before launching the Bible Fluency site, Berding ran three pilot classes at his church in Whittier, Calif., for students ranging in age from 12 to 70, and the feedback was encouraging. His resources are a bit famous among Biola students in particular, who can often be heard singing his Scripture verse memorization songs or seen flipping through the flashcards around campus.
Reid Winans, 18, signed up for both of the professor’s 12-week fluency courses at Redemption Hill Church. “Even if I was unfamiliar with a certain book, I was given some big ideas so that I would at least have a starting point, like Joel talking about a locust plague or Paul talking about meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians,” he said.
Another fluency-minded resource, Bible Literacy Project, is a non-profit endeavor that encourages the academic study of the Bible in public schools. Its student textbook called The Bible and Its Influence aims to help users understand the language, major narratives, and characters of the Bible, also exploring the influence of the Bible in classic and contemporary poems, plays, and novels. Although designed for high-school students, college students and adults use it, as well.
Berding says media distractions, misplaced priorities, and the pretext of being “too busy” to read or study Scripture are just a few factors contributing to the decline of biblical literacy.
“Christians need to personally commit themselves to learning God’s Word, or it simply is not going to happen, no matter how many helpful materials we produce,” said Berding, adding that he sees America’s lack of biblical engagement like watching cooking shows on TV. The viewers don’t make contact with the food and usually don’t even attempt cook the recipes they learned on the program. “There does come a point at which someone has to decide to buy the food, prepare it, and eat it,” he said.