A  Congregation in the Atlantic Presbytery
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 Would you know what a journalist meant if he called a break away political party the Adullamites? I didn’t when I read about such a group in England’s Parliament one hundred fifty years ago. A footnote said that the nickname was a biblical allusion. I had to look it up, but English writers back then assumed that their educated readership would understand.

 So what? So what if Christians don’t know their Bibles well and people outside the church don’t know the Bible at all? One man in our church answered this way: ignorance of the Bible means no fear of God, and no fear of God means no respect for life and no respect for authority. People have nothing to fear, so everyone does whatever he likes.

 Even people who attend church and say that they have been born again often have little fear of God. They seem to think that God exists simply to forgive sins, comfort us when life hurts, and otherwise leave us alone. They do not know that our Father in heaven chastens His sons. (Hebrews 12:6) They do not know that God forgave David’s murder and adultery, but punished him with his son’s death and trouble that never left his house. (II Samuel 12:9-14) They do not know that judgment begins at the house of God (I Peter 4:17) where Ananias and Sapphira met their end. (Acts 5) They do not know that God has promised that He will see to it that oath-breakers are punished. (Exodus 20:7) They are shocked to find that all who live godly lives will be persecuted. (II Timothy 3:12)

 The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. Little knowledge of the Bible in the church means little knowledge or fear of God. The result is whatever-pleases-me worship and whatever-pleases-me doctrine and whatever-pleases-me lives. (see Judges 21:25) Church services do not revel in God’s great acts, but focus on “worshipers’ “ expressing their feelings. Regular churchgoers will sometimes even say casually that, “of course, it’s fine for someone else to be a Buddhist, as long as his faith helps him.” In other words, they don’t believe that the Bible is actually true. Biblical illiteracy in America’s churches produces people who only half know God and His ways.

 Biblical illiteracy among Christians produces immature churches like the proud, presumptuous and morally careless church in Corinth that Paul wrote to. They needed to be reminded from the Scriptures that God is not to be toyed with. (I Corinthians 10) Paul had to review again how to observe the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), how to behave in worship (chapter 14), and what the basic doctrines of our faith are. (chapter 15) Biblically ignorant Christians are careless Christians.

How ignorant of the Bible are Americans outside of the churches? When students at the Center for Urban Theological Studies in Philadelphia took turkeys to neighborhood families at Thanksgiving time, they gave them “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Some families asked, “Who is this Jesus Christ who gave us the turkeys?” Elsewhere in the city, at the University of Pennsylvania, I once taught a class in modern European history. Half the class needed to be told that Europe’s religion for centuries has been Christianity, which teaches that there is one God existing in three Persons. He made the world and visited it in the person of Jesus Christ. At the end of time there will be a general resurrection and judgment to heaven or hell. These Ivy League undergraduates did not know these things.

 Modern culture is certainly not Christian, yet ignorance of the Bible is undermining it. Bible knowledge gave dynamism and optimism to the European Enlightenment thinking of the 1700’s that dominates modernity. Without the Bible the modern, Enlightenment belief in rationality and progress cannot endure.

 Enlightenment thinkers denied God, but they could not ignore the Bible. As long as the Bible provided the most profound ways that people possessed to think about the world, rejecters of the Bible had to imitate it. In fact, they had to claim biblical blessings as their own or no one would have listened to them. For the Coming of Christ they substituted the promise of a future glorious earthly paradise. For God’s providential care they substituted a “law” of progress. For Original Sin they substituted a corrupting society. They did not dare deny the essentials of biblical morality, but they had to find a source for it outside of God, somewhere in man himself. For the Bible’s history of the world they offered their own history of everything. Modern culture, in fact, purported to be more realistic than the Bible. Today, however, the Bible no longer provides society’s thinkers with the ideas which they must either accept or imitate. Our society is biblically illiterate, and the result is the further erosion of modern non-Christian culture. What is replacing it? Various writers have called the emerging culture post-modern, no longer committed to rationality, no longer optimistic, and doubtful of progress and morality.

 The post-modern mentality no longer knows the Bible even to reject it. What does such a mentality mean in practice? Consider storytelling. In modern culture the accepted way of knowing about life has been the realistic story. Autobiographies, detective stories, the news, histories, and soap operas, all tell stories that make sense and which describe things that at least might happen in the “real” world. But notice! The way in which we tell stories assumes that there is a grand story of everything within which our little stories make sense.

 The necessity of the big story to make sense of the small story can be illustrated with the following story. “He got the ball, cut left, stumbled, recovered his balance, and scored.” You can’t know what that little story means unless you know whether he is playing basketball, soccer, lacrosse, or football. And if you couldn’t guess that the story referred to a sport, you couldn’t make much sense of it at all. So it is with the little story of your life and mine. Without a big story to give it context and meaning, our lives’ stories are only so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. If the big story does not make sense, then our own little ones cannot either. Who can construct the grand story? Only an omniscient storyteller! The only truly omniscient storyteller is God, and the story that he has to tell about the world and us in it is the Bible.

 When people knew their Bibles, they knew that the entire human story must make sense. Secularized versions of the Bible’s outline of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Christ’s Return energized the modern world: the vision of a world advancing from theology to metaphysics to science; the drama of dialectical materialism leading to a classless society; the faith in ever-expanding freedom, equality, and prosperity guaranteed by the triumph of liberal democracy throughout the world. All of these modern faiths assumed an objective world which makes sense as a whole. Thinkers today, however, are losing their faith in the modern world’s substitutes for the Bible partly because they do not even know the Bible that once lent credibility to its own substitutes.

 The loss of faith in any grand story of the whole human experience appears today mostly in the arts, which are already post-modern. Writers write books that don’t make sense, or which don’t relate to the real world. Artists paint pictures which don’t tell a story, which don’t relate to the real world, which deal only with the techniques of art. Musicians compose dissonant music because they believe that the world is dissonant. Professors of English deny that books can convey an author’s intent to his readers.

 Modernity’s substitutes for the Bible still control American life in general; our society as a whole is not now post-modern and may never become so. A revival of biblical Christianity, especially among America’s intellectual leaders, would stop post-modernism in its tracks, just as the Reformation once stopped a pagan Renaissance in Europe. Or, because the negations of post-modernism are even further out of touch with the realities of God’s creation than the tenets of modernity, our society’s leaders may reject such nihilism before it dominates society. We can’t be sure that America can never become a post-modern society, however, because at least one country once rejected the Enlightenment’s substitutes for Christianity and embraced a different set of ideals. Fortunately, the Nazi’s Thousand Year Reich lasted for only twelve years.

 Nevertheless, signs that general American society is now catching up with the post-modern arts abound. Activists of various sorts try to reshape language in order to create a new world. We have people who cannot “find” themselves or their place in the world because they cannot imagine an orderly world into which they could fit. We have people who can think and talk about human behavior using the language and the pseudo-insights of psychology, but they can’t use ethical language. Because there is no big story that makes sense of life, people not only can’t keep their promises, they can’t even make promises. How can they bind themselves for a future that may have nothing in common with today? Without knowing about God who sees all our days, individuals live disconnected lives, unable to meet themselves in the future with a promise. The growing refusal even to make promises is one reason for the catastrophic increase in illegitimacy, more than half the babies in the black community and almost a quarter among whites. It is beginning to seem to many that the fleeting images and emotions of MTV represent the world better than logical thinking. Knowledge of the Bible once held the modern world to a secularized faith in reality. Biblical illiteracy now opens the way for a post-modern world which has lost its faith that a coherent world with discernible meaning even exists. All that is left is blood and soil, tribal loyalties to our own groups and our own places.

 Our society needs to know the Bible. The knowing must begin in the church. Away with empty sermons with cute titles that only tickle the ears of the hearers -- for twenty minutes, maximum! Away with Sunday School curricula that downplay biblical knowledge and replace it with self exploration! The church must reemphasize the biblical story summarized in the confession, “I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and outlined in the Apostles’ Creed. “Prescribe and teach these things.” (I Timothy 4:11, see verses 6-10 preceding)

 Finally, we must look forward to the Coming of our Lord without reservation. Observing the weekly Sabbath rest will help us to keep looking forward. We must allow God’s promise of the Resurrection to give shape and direction to our lives and make the church itself a place of promise making and promise keeping. Fidelity is the foundation of love. We need to be immersed in the Bible so that we know God’s ways and think God’s thoughts about the entire story of the human race and our place in God’s plan. Only then can we can be a light to a world that is losing even the secularized and vain hopes of the Enlightenment.