People are curious about the Bible—blockbuster films about the Bible and TV specials demonstrate this to be the case. Yet, engagement with the Bible itself is lacking; statistically, this has been proven to be the case.
This is a fascinating thought. People are curious – no doubt about that. And we often follow up on the things we’re curious about. So what’s different here? Why would so many people be curious about the Bible – but not follow up on it?
If you’re one of those curious people, but haven’t investigated your curiosity yet, I really hope you’ll continue reading – and definitely encourage you do do so. Not for me to have more readers – but for you. Something got your curiosity going. Something’s also keeping you from following it. Wouldn’t you like to know why – for both of them?
The quote above is the beginning of a blog entry on biblegateway.com. It’s titled 4 Ways to Fight Bible Illiteracy. While it sounds like it’s directed to those of us who have investigated the object of our curiosity – and with the sections in it’s “four ways” – it becomes obvious that is really is directed that way – I want to add to it, to try to reach out to the curious people who haven’t investigated the Bible.
For each of the four ways – there are pointers to help reach the curious, but will the curious even bother to read something that’s not directed to them? If not, then the curious also won’t know that there are some who are trying to do something other than give the “tried and true” answers, no matter what the question was.
The four ways from the blog
1. The Real Problem Behind Bible Illiteracy
People are curious about the Bible—blockbuster films about the Bible and TV specials demonstrate this to be the case. Yet, engagement with the Bible itself is lacking; statistically, this has been proven to be the case.1 It’s ironic and disheartening but there’s hope.
If people are curious about the Bible, but lacking enough interest to read it and understand it, then perhaps the problem is with us who know the good book well. Maybe we need to do better.
Let’s be honest here – saying “perhaps the problem is with us who know the good book well” is only part of the issue.
If you’re curious about the Bible – chances are, I believe, you’re curious about things like God, Jesus, Heaven, Hell, among others. Question – can curiosity about Hell really be satisfied without learning something about Satan. Too often, churches and individual Christians don’t want to talk about Satan – but without Satan can we really talk about Heaven, Hell, and even why Jesus dying on the cross was essential? No – we can’t!
Earlier, I asked if you wouldn’t like to know something –
Something got your curiosity going. Something’s also keeping you from following it. Wouldn’t you like to know why – for both of them?
The truth is, we all started from the same place. No one is born knowing about God and the Bible. Not even Jesus, surprisingly enough. When Jesus was a boy, the Bible says this happened –
The Boy Jesus at the Temple
Lk 2:41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Lk 2:49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Lk 2:51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
That last line is what we’re looking for –
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature
along with the earlier one –
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Jesus was in the temple courts for three days – asking questions, learning, growing. Yes, even Jesus had to learn. So when we are curious – we’re in good company.
where does the curiosity come from?
To begin to understand where that curiosity comes from, let’s add to the list of things you may be curious about. Namely – conscience, right and wrong, and maybe you’ve heard of the Holy Spirit. And of course – since we’ve already mentioned Hell and Satan – let’s add sin as well.
Then, let’s take a look at something the Apostle Paul wrote from the book in the Bible called Romans, in the New Testament –
Ro 2:12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
In another passage, Paul also writes that everyone has sinned – so everyone will be judged.
Here also write about “The Law” – which is a reference to the Jewish Law. He goes on to say that even for those of us who aren’t Jewish, the requirements of the law are written on their (our) hearts.
We have a conscience. We know right from wrong. We’re born that way.
That we would be curious about something (The Bible) which claims to give us insight into why there is so much “wrong” in the world is hardly surprising. It’s even to be expected. We were created that way.
So what is it that hinders us from checking out the Bible?
What stifles our curiosity? We may remember things like having been to church, and being totally turned off by the experience. Maybe we have Christian friends that appear to be anything but good. Maybe it was our parents.
These are all symptoms – but what is the root cause of the problem?
The ultimate cause of all of this is Satan, as we read here –
2Co 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The god of this age – that is Satan. He is the real reason that all of us – not just you, but every one of us – has a tendency to not want to check out the Bible, in spite of the curiosity we have about it.
So, what we have is a conflict. It’s like having an itch, but not wanting to scratch it to make it feel better. In this case, we have a conscience telling us that something’s not right in the world. We have the Bible, telling us why that is – but we don’t check it out, even though part of us wants to, because Satan is preventing us from doing so.
How can we overcome this?
It almost seems hopeless for us.
But remember, there’s one more item on our list of things to be curious about – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of reaching out to us – to, as Paul wrote and as Jesus said – “open our eyes” to the truth. Here’s something from the Apostle John on that topic –
1Jn 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
the one who is in the world – that would be Satan.
the one who is in you – that’s up to you. It could be Satan or it could be the Holy Spirit. In the verse we just read – it’s addressed to people who are already believers – who already, in today’s language, are Christians. When we become Christians, God gives us the Holy Spirit – His own Spirit – and then we see that His Spirit is stronger than Satan’s attempt to blind us to the truth.
The Holy Spirit is how we overcome Satan. We ask Jesus – and the Father will send the Holy Spirit to us, These three – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are what’s known as the Trinity – the three persons of God. And if / when we ask them – they will be there for us, as we see here –
Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Interesting, isn’t it? People talk about God’s will all the time – this is God’s will, it wasn’t God’s will, that’s God’s will – Etc. We read here that Jesus says God’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
If you want to overcome, and begin to see the “light” – the truth – and start to put an end to Satan’s power over you – just ask. And I mean really truly ask. It’s not just saying the words. It’s really, honestly, meaning it.
Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
If you’re not yet a believer – and since you’re still reading – there must be something keeping you here. I submit that it’s the Holy Spirit. Even if you don’t like what you’re reading – something’s keeping you here. You must be more than a little bit curious.
Maybe we need to do better
Yes – maybe we need to do better. Maybe – we need to explain better. Maybe we need to try to explain more – not just just the goodness of God, but the whole truth. When there’s a battle going on for our souls – should there not be more of a sense of urgency? Should there not be at least a little knowledge of the fact that the battle is real – who are the participants – things like that? Plus – wouldn’t it be nice to know that, while God wins in the end – it’s entirely up to us to choose whether we want to be on the winning side or the losing side?
Yeah – we need to do better.
And – by the way – we need to be asking God, through the Holy Spirit – to help us.
I can write as much as I want – but that won’t do anything other than, hopefully, make you more curious. Because I can’t save you. I can try to point to the way – but you have to take it – you have to want it – and you have to ask for it.
2. We Need to Offer Guidance and Have Passion
This is the second point in the article. Absolutely true – we need to do these things.
This part of the article starts with –
If the Bible is as transformative as we claim it is, it should ignite an unquenchable passion in us. We must then take this passion and use it as a catalyst to tell others about the God we love and his book.
But we all know that passion is not enough. The Bible is often overwhelming and perplexing—interpreting the Bible is a messy and complicated business. The central message of the Bible is clear: God loves you and Jesus died for your sins so you can have relationship with him (John 3:16–17). Yet, what about those complicated passages that hard to understand?
It’s good. especially the part about those complicated passages that hard to understand. They’re tough. They get in the way. It’s hard to believe the Bible is good news with some of these hard passages. And the only way around that is to actually go through it. We need to try to explain what those hard passages really mean – both in terms of when they were originally written as well as today.
However, there is one part of that second paragraph that, I believe, won’t be accepted by everyone –
The central message of the Bible is clear: God loves you and Jesus died for your sins so you can have relationship with him (John 3:16–17).
Yes – John 3:16 is a very famous passage.
But sometimes people won’t accept that these verses make up the central message of the Bible.
Sometimes people won’t accept that God is good.
Other people won’t accept that God wants to have a relationship with us.
Sometimes people won’t / can’t believe it’s really true. A major part of the issue there is those very same hard passages that were just mentioned. When we’re stuck on the hard passages, have trouble believing that God is good – reading John 3:16 to someone may very well not be enough to convince them. Oh, by the way, the the entire Old Testament that sometimes convinces people that God is mean, not good.
You see, the passion problem isn’t just with us. While it’s absolutely true that we Christians need to have more passion when speaking with non-Christians, it’s equally true that passion needs to be generated in the non-Christian as well.
That quote above that purports to be John 3:16-7, is actually –
Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
everything in those two verses is important. That includes the phrase –
that whoever believes in him
We’re not talking about casually saying, “Yes, I believe in Jesus”, like we’re just hanging out with a friend – talking about a movie, TV show, or song. This is life and death! Literally! And it needs to be treated as such.
As I said above – people need to understand why Jesus is so important to each of us. If you’ve ever read “about me – my story” – you can see why God is so important to me. I wanted a father like God, the Father, in the Bible – ever since I was in grade school. I needed what He promised.
It’s that word “need” that generates the passion. “wanting” doesn’t necessarily express the feeling correctly. It’s not like I want a chocolate sundae. It’s along the lines of I’m starving and I need food!
Then, we we have that feeling of “need”, we can get up the courage to do something like this –
Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
It takes a lot of courage to “knock on God’s door”, Takes courage to not run away when the door opens too. But when we do it, knock, stay, ask – look what happens!
That’s the kind of passion we need to have – and the kind of passion we need to generate.
Because the truth is, we cannot save anyone by ourselves. Only God can do that. The thing we need to do is get people to knock on God’s door and ask.
3. We Need to Honestly Answer the Difficult Questions
Often all that stands between a person and faith is a question. But often we don’t approach matters of theology from the standpoint of helping someone explore their questions. Instead, we try to give them the common answer as quickly as possible.
Everyone knows there are multiple viewpoints on the Bible. And people are searching for answers to their difficult questions. We need to help them fairly engage issues of interpretation—presenting options and letting them decide for themselves. If we believe truth is really that, truth, then we must not be afraid of any questions people might have. We must trust the Creator of all truth to lead.
Again – absolutely true.
The catch here is that too often, many Christians don’t have the knowledge to be able to do things like what’s in the second paragraph. The simple reality is that many people will never be able to present different viewpoints on how to interpret the Bible. It’s just not going to happen.
The way around this problem is that when (not if) we don’t know the answer, we need to be willing to say something along the lines of – “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but …” – at which point we look it up, ask someone else to help us, Etc. The point is, there are two things we should not do – both of which are done way too often.
- Immediately come back by saying “God is good, and that’s all we need to know”.
- Give our one answer that we know, as if it’s the only possible way to interpret the hard passage – even though we know it’s hard and there is more than one way it’s interpreted.
Honestly answering the difficult questions will sometimes require leaving our pride out of the conversation. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to do. We have to remember though, these words from Hebrews –
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Heb 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
Heb 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
the passage continues, but this is plenty to make my point.
The very start of the passage is –
faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see
How is it that we can be so sure of what we know, when these, and many others before us – didn’t know for sure? If we knew for sure, it wouldn’t be faith!
Along those lines, here’s something from the Apostle Paul –
1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Again – if Paul had “hope” – how can we have absolute certainty about things – especially the hard ones?
It’s not about absolute knowledge. It’s about faith!
Many, many Christians today talk about what they “know” to be true.
And yet, in the Early Church of the New Testament, when it was led by people who literally knew Jesus – it was all about hope.
It seems like that could / would be a problem. For us to claim to know what those who walked with Jesus hoped for – it seems more than a bit arrogant. For us to claim to know what God is thinking / doing / planning – that’s beyond arrogance. That’s claiming to be equal to Him. And that – believing we know what God’s thinking / doing / planning, seems like it would be at odds with the relative position in which we should hold God, compared to ourselves – or anyone . anything else. For more on that, see A jealous God, punishing sins for generations. Or maybe not?
In any case, we need to answer in a way to generate passion in the person who asked the question – but also in a way that’s entirely biblical. If faith and hope are what Jesus taught – if faith and hope were all that was needed for the early church – why should faith and hope now be inadequate for us today?
4. We Need to Express Our Beliefs
Expressing our beliefs in the God we love and serve is a great testimony to Jesus. People can see a life transformed. And there are few who can resist wanting the same for their own life.
We must put in a good word for Jesus, as my pastor so often remarks. And we must love people fully and compassionately. Our love is the way they’ll know we’re Christians (1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13). This love is seen in a faithful and fair answer. This love is seen in walking alongside someone in his or her Bible study. This love is seen in our passion for Christ. This is how we fight Bible illiteracy.
Once again, absolutely true.
But since I don’t have to fit in the space allotted for the Bible Gateway article, allow me to expand on this one as well.
Yes, we do need to be able to express our beliefs. Beyond that, we need to give a short explanation of why we believe what we do. And then – especially remembering #3 above – we need to be able to go into a deeper explanation, with all the same caveats that came in all three items above.
Being able to explain what we believe and why be hold those beliefs, is incredibly important. If we can’t explain either one – how could we ever convince someone else to have those same beliefs. Even further – how could we ever even “hope” (pun intended) to convince someone else?
By the time I got to #3, I was beginning to feel like I’m picking on the article. I’m not. As I said in #3, the author of that article had to fit within the space allotted by Bible Gateway. I have no such restriction. I do have a restriction – but not that one. My restriction is trying to walk a fine line between not writing enough to get my full point across – and writing so much that the reader would think it’s too long and lose their interest.
Since you’re still here – thank you for your attention and your time.
I pray that this was worth your while, because if it was, then it will be good for you and for someone else that you will talk to later.