According to a new study conducted by the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans are religiously illiterate. “On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith,” reported the New York Times. What is more interesting, apparently atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons scored better than all other religious groups questioned in the survey. (Perhaps the biggest “tragedy” of the survey was the discovery that a mere fifty-three percent of Protestants could identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.)
Enter Biola professor John Mark Reynolds. Writing for The Washington Post, Reynolds uses the Pew study as an opportunity to remind us of one crucial distinction that must be made when it comes to religious literacy, namely, the distinction between knowing facts and actually having understanding: “The Pew Study demonstrates that facts are not enough. We need people that know the facts, but also know the meaning those facts have.”
As a pastor I’m not simply concerned that our members “know the facts” about the Bible and orthodox theology. I’m teaching for understanding. And yet, my goal is still higher. At the end of the day I pray we have a congregation who tastes and sees that the Lord is good, rather than a group of folks that can merely recite the catechism and even know what it means, but doesn’t know Christ.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
And when I preach I pray for the reality of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 to be accomplished among us:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (italics added).
And when I teach I’m begging God to make sure sound doctrine is communicated such that love to Him and neighbor increases (Luke 10:27).
God, make us a church not only good at reciting Bible verses and even the meaning of them, but a people truly growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In this only will You be pleased.