In evaluating my ministry with high school and middle school students I am continually depressed by their understanding of the Bible. Many of these young adults have been going to church for years. Most of them are self-professed Christians. However, if I ask them to quote 5 verses from the Bible, I suspect few of them could. Most of them could not give even a basic description of entire books of the Old Testament such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Judges (just to name a few). I have come to the realization that the deficiency is more in the teaching of the church than the ability of the students. Here are some reasons I think our young adults are largely Biblically illiterate.
1. Emphasizing character traits more than Christ. In the desire to teach young adults morality we often miss Christ. We treat the Bible like a playbook (sorry Joe Gibbs and Tony Dungy) and look for principles of successful living. As a result we have considerate students who do not know Jesus. We get to a passage such as Luke 4 (the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness) and teach students how they can use magical Bible bullets to defeat Satan while neglecting to mention how Jesus (the second Adam) passes the test where Adam failed. We forget to show how Jesus’ time in the wilderness is a reversal of the Israelites’ failures in the wilderness (that is probably why all of Jesus’ quotations to the devil are from Deuteronomy 6 and 8). The result of character overemphasis is the creation of virtuous pagans.
2. Relying on literature about the Bible more than the Bible. My new goal in equipping gospel ministers is to free them from shiny Sunday School quarterlies. If I am unable to explain “the gospel according to the Scriptures” then I cannot teach it. I want to understand and articulate the gospel according to the Scriptures and use Bible helps only as a secondary study tool. If we imply that the Bible is not sufficient and perspicuous (+3 points for a seminary word) then those we teach will feel ill-equipped to study it on their own.
3. Not modeling good Bible-study. When teaching I must not only communicate the truth of a meaningful passage of Scripture I must demonstrate good tools of Bible Study that can be reproduced in the lives of those I am teaching. While I might not walk them through my hermeneutical method explicitly they should absorb a method of faithful exegesis.
4. Unnecessarily low expectations. Each Christian is a fully capable minister of Christ. Further, many of the adults in my church are more intelligent and educated than I. The young adults in my student ministry spend their days studying Trigonometry, Latin, and Physics. The people I teach are more than capable to grasp the things of God. It is arrogant and incorrect to treat them as if they cannot understand the “deep” truths of Scripture.
I am still trying to work out the implications of these suggestions but my basic goals are to trust that the Bible is sufficient, clearly articulate the gospel, and focus on discipleship rather than entertainment in my model of ministry. Jesus is compelling and relevant. I must give students every opportunity to know, follow, and obey Jesus.
When I was in high school we used to call people “posers” when they tried too hard to fit in. If you wore Vans and dressed like a skater but couldn’t ride a skateboard, you were a “poser.” Now that I look back on it, I realize that “poser” is just a different word for “hypocrite” — someone who says one thing or looks one way, but in reality acts or thinks differently.
One of the biggest arguments non-Christians cite as a reason they do not want to attend a church is because it is full of “hypocrites.” In many ways, I feel their pain.
I have noticed a great deal of spiritual pretentiousness in “Christian” groups. There are usually spoken and unspoken expectations of what a Christian looks and acts like. These expectations involve the way you dress, the way you talk, the music you enjoy, the books you read, and your political affiliation (to name a few). People are continually shocked to learn that I despise listening to happy, shiny K-love and am not a Republican. I am tired of kitschy, sentimental Christianity. I want a Christianity that works in the “real world.” A Christian is not someone who “looks” a certain way on the outside but, rather, someone whose heart has been transformed by Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Hypocrisy is a result of focusing too much on externals rather than focusing on the heart.
In my ministry with young adults, there is a temptation to breed the hypocrisy I so despise. If I am concerned only with teaching them to behave well and not to love God I will teach them to ornately paint their coffins and never deal with the dead bones inside (Matt. 23:27). If I only emphasize character traits (e.g., modesty, abstinence, honesty, commitment, etc.) and never deal with motivations and intentions then I will only teach them to look good on the outside. If they love “good” more than they love God then they will go to hell “good” people.
For me this means that I need to model genuine Christian transformation (2 Cor. 5:17). First, I do not need to play the part of a “good” Christian. I must be honest about my struggles. I cannot just imitate Christian vocabulary but must mean what I say. If I say, “I’ll be praying for you,” then I need to actually pray for you! Second, as Tim Keller says, I need to “repent not only for the things I do wrong but for the reasons I do right.” Am I doing good out of a heart that loves God or am I just trying to justify myself (Luke 10:29). Do I love and obey God as a means or as an end?
“Religious people love God to get things, gospel people love God to get God.”
— Tim Keller