Light Christianity — Great Taste, Less Filling

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.

5 thoughts on “Light Christianity — Great Taste, Less Filling”

  1. I agree with your assesment, particularly the low expectations. You are your father’s son particularly in that regard – I hope we expect excellence in everything we do and of everyone with whom we do it. You’ll forgive me if I continue to use the Sunday School quarterly, although it serves merely as a template. Mark, I appreciate your passion and hope you never lose it.

  2. When all is said and done, the Bible IS the best textbook. Not only does it teach us what God wants us to know, but it teaches us to know GOD. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that by saying GOD I am referring to the Trinity: God, the Father; God the Son – Jesus Christ; and God the Holy Spirit). In times past I have tried to teach simple biblical truths, i.e. doctrines of the Bible, and kids seemed to not have the desire to learn this. I agree with you Mark that we need to “clearly articulate the gospel”. I am on board with this!

  3. Unfortunately, much of the problem is that we, as Americans are accustomed to being fed, we want drive through Christianity. Shove it in a microwave and it’s done in a few minutes – read a devotion and check it off of your to-do list. Bible Study takes work – but it’s worth it to find the gold beneath. Often, in just reading the Bible to say a task is done – one only scratches the surface instead of the deep truths and application of the Word. Teach on – don’t be discouraged – I’m praying that the students will see your passion and pray that it be contagious. We are proud of you.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    Mr. Windon: I appreciate your comments. I’m still, however, going to mock k-love and sunday school quarterlies.

    Rick: You are right that the Bible is our “textbook,” but the issue goes further. Right interpretation of the Bible is key. What is the point of the Bible? To tell the story of the redemption of God. What is the result of reading the Bible? To know God. This might seem like simple fair, but many times we treat the Bible like it is a blue print and the result of reading it is the cultivation of virtue. Many people will teach and quote the Bible while completely missing its intended meaning.

  5. Mark, I so believe that we spend far too much time trying to foster principles of life change without that being done through a life changed by a personal, daily, growing encounter with Jesus Christ. When you really look at it we teach and parent the same way … Raising good, moral students or raising up Godly students that are useful to God!

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