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.