Biblical Idiots

Stephen Prothero’s editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times calls for a public school course promoting biblical literacy. Prothero is chairman of the religion department at Boston University and author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t. In this article, his indictment of Americans in general and Evangelicals in particular is alarming:

U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what he had to say.

After citing his own eyewitness testimony regarding biblical illiteracy among the nation’s undergraduates, Prothero also provides statistical evidence given by American pollsters. This problem is not just a religious problem, but a civic one. Prothero writes:

Biblical illiteracy is not just a religious problem. It is a civic problem with political consequences. How can citizens participate in biblically inflected debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment without knowing something about the Bible? Because they lack biblical literacy, Americans are easily swayed by demagogues on the left or the right who claim — often incorrectly — that the Bible says this about war or that about homosexuality.

Prothero’s solution is to provide a biblical literacy course in our public schools. While I’m generally supportive of such an idea. The concept could be hijacked to teach a politically-correct, liberalized view of Scripture which would strip the Bible of its moral authority. As a pastor, I’m more concerned that the Bible be taught in our churches. The Bible left the pulpits of America’s Protestant churches long before it left the classroom. Churches, as Hercules Collins has written, are “the schools of Christ.” When these schools do not teach the Bible, it is no wonder that we live in a land of biblical idiots!


  1. Hi Pastor–
    I hope the churches do a better job too. But it’s not an either/or. Teach the Bible in the public schools from the perspective of history, literature, and academics. Teach the Bible in the churches from the perspective of faith. Sounds reasonable to me!

  2. As Leonard Ravenhill said, we do not need to get prayer or the Bible back in our schools nearly as badly as we need to get both back in our homes!!

    Thanks for the post.


  3. Dr. Prothero,

    I agree that it’s not an either/or. I am leery, however, of a one-sided teaching of the Bible in the public schools. I don’t believe neutrality is possible. Everyone has presuppositions, but some are not honest enough to admit their own. Having said that, I support the teaching of the Bible from the perspectives you mention, “history, literature, and academics.” But if the only scholarship allowed is from one perspective (presupposition of anti-supernatualism), then I would be alarmed.

    I do understand and appreciate the point of your article. We have lost something in this country by our increasing biblical illiteracy. A whole language and framework for debate has been lost and welcome your attempts to restore this important foundation.

    My post was not meant to critique your efforts (though I did include the caution), but to bring the indictment against the churches with whom the responsibility for biblical teaching ultimately lies. Pastors, church leaders, and members are the primary audience of this blog. Your post provided me the opportunity to hop up on my own soap-box of biblical illiteracy in the pulpit.

    Thanks for your article and interaction!

  4. Perhaps an historical survey of the Bible and its foundational influence in American Society/Culture would be appropriate. A needed inclusion would be idiomatic references which are dependent on the Bible: “good Samaritan”, “old as Methuselah”, etc.

    I think your main concerns would be alleviated if the course did not actually teach the Bible.

  5. Philippians 1:16-18 – even if done with anti-biblical bias, the Truth would still set some free as they endeavor to explore it themselves, so I say amen…

  6. “As a pastor, I’m more concerned that the Bible be taught in our churches. The Bible left the pulpits of America’s Protestant churches long before it left the classroom.”

    I agree 100%

  7. I’ll add this: It’s incumbent on Christian parents to teach the Bible to their children. Churches should teach it, but there should always be the admonition for parents to stop being too busy to sit down with their kids and go through the Bible, academically as well as devotionally.

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