July 9, 2020

iMonk Classic: The Last Gasp of Literate Christianity

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

The comment wasn’t all that unusual, but it has stuck in my head for weeks now. “Mr. Spencer, does it matter if I don’t read the Bible?” The student speaking was one of my juniors, attractive and smart, and one of the more visible, serious Christians on our little Christian school campus. I could have simply answered the question with yet another admonition on the importance of Bible reading, but the question struck me as representing much more. It hit me right in a developing hypothesis that has taken up more and more of my thinking recently: We are living in the last gasps of literate Christianity.

For this excursion I want to define literate Christianity as Christianity primarily made up of readers, and of people who understand truth to be verbal, propositional and accessible in words, sentences and, of course, the printed page. I am NOT commenting on Biblical ignorance or the appalling prevalence of illiteracy at large. I am talking about the end of a form of Christian faith where clergy, laity, scholar, student, preacher and pew all looked to the written word as God’s means of communication, and ordered their lives and worship accordingly. I am talking about the end of a form of particularly Protestant Christianity that was largely centered around the Bible, Christian books and the verbal communication found in the Bible.

Certain renegade sociologists have postulated a connection between the loss of literacy and the rise of violence among young males. The theory states that among the literate, the verbal thought processes associated with reading have an essential humanizing influence. These sociologists note that the rise of the audio-visual age and the rise of youth violence may not be related just to the content of what young people view, but to the actual development and use of the brain itself. In other words, literacy civilizes us, and illiteracy distorts us. The a/v age has produced unethical and immoral humans who cannot think linearly and logically, but think by their feelings and visual perceptions. Thus these new humans are more easily manipulated and agitated, and have less concern for the logical coherence of rational civilization.

Or so they say.

I am not signing on to this theory entirely, but I will agree to this much: the loss of literacy is not progress, nor is it neutral. It is regression and often introduces serious distortions in the human interaction with the world. Can this be related to Christianity and the current state of evangelicalism? Consider this…

The Bible has become largely irrelevant to the average Christian. Now we shouldn’t be distracted by the sales of Bibles, or the use of the Bible in evangelical communication. What I am talking about is the relationship of the average Christian to the Bible. It no longer defines his or her worldview in a meaningful way. It is no longer synonymous with God speaking. It is no longer the source of truth. The irrelevance of the Bible to the average Christian isn’t measured in laziness in the discipline of daily Bible reading. The irrelevance is measured in the way the Bible no longer defines, limits, guides or significantly influences thinking. So the average Christian, when looking at any issue, does not have an instinct to discover what does the Bible say and to follow that instinct to a conclusion. No, the typical evangelical simply asks how how he feels, and his feelings are his certain guide to what God has to say.

My young friend was apparently suddenly struck by the oddity that the Bible played no real part in her life as a Christian. Yet she was not disturbed, but merely bemused. In other eras, this would have been a discovery of a flaw so significant it would have called into question one’s entire claim of discipleship. Today, the observation probably never entered her mind again, and certainly my admonition concerning the importance of reading scripture did not make any alteration in her path. I have been telling Christians to be students of the Bible for almost 26 years, and it appears to me that very, very few take this as anything more than yada, yada, yada. Among many Christians, reading of any kind, including the Bible, is seen as a genuine evil. Bor-ing.

One reason my friend doesn’t feel a gaping vacuum where the Bible should be is that she is stuffed full of Christian media of other types. She is a “fan” of contemporary Christian music, a medium that will never be faulted for being bashful in claiming that it contains all the essential vitamins and nutrients for healthy Christianity. Listening to the current crop of Christian alternative rockers, hip-hoppers and rappers, the average Christian young person gets a version of truth that looks something like this: God is my girlfriend, one for whom I have romantic feelings of constant warm fuzziness. He loves me like the ideal girlfriend, except he won’t dump me or ask anything of me. There are no real moral issues or dilemmas that ought to rally my generation, other than we ought to love people and share Jesus with our friends. Staying on a buzz with the Holy Spirit is the real point of worship. Jesus is better than drugs, but only because he feels better. And so on…

Millions of Christians believe this silliness is spiritual nourishment and truth of a kind that makes the Bible practically unnecessary. Listening to interviews with Christian musicians, one can understand why former CCM artist Steve Camp roundly condemned the whole business as vacuous Chicken Soup for the Deceived Soul. My friend is nourished on a diet of junk food masquerading as meat and vegetables. The Bible has assumed the status of  the founder of a college whose picture hangs in the wall, whose books are on the shelf, and who doesn’t matter a bit in the day to day. She sees no connection between her relationship with God and reading the Bible.

Now many of my readers will recognize the utter corruption of CCM as one of my frequent sump topics, so I must do better. And I will. Let’s talk about the Bible as used in preaching, and in evangelical churches in general.

We find ourselves at a place where Sunday morning finds evangelical Christians demanding and being fed “practical” messages. How to’s. Principles for. Ten Ways to. How to succeed and make things work. I need not acquaint any reader of this journal with such preaching. We have all heard it ad nauseum. And, we have heard the Bible used in it. Yet I will contend that such preaching is the very death knell of Biblical literacy.

First, such sermons are not expositions of the Bible’s message and claims, but typically quite secular fare where Bible verses and examples make “guest appearances” to set up or “prove” the principle under discussion. The listener knows no more about the Bible, or the God of the Bible after the sermon than before it. The referencing of the Bible as support for a talk that would be just as true without the Bible is a travesty masquerading as a sermon.

Secondly, the real message here is a construction of the speaker, and the speaker is standing in the place of the Bible. Rather than leading people into scripture, we are listening to Pastor so and so’s material on whatever the topic of the day might be. This is a danger even for good preachers, and the result is a relationship not with the book but with the preacher. (I would even fault Spurgeon on this one. His method of topical preaching did little to promote understanding of Biblical texts as much as understanding Spurgeon’s mind.)

Third, many of these preachers are Biblical illiterates themselves, some quite proudly so. They believe the sermon should demand nothing, spoon feed everything and make it all easy. They do not read the Bible. Instead, they listen to talks about how to grow churches.  (To hear Biblical preaching as it ought to be done, try www.capitolhillbaptist.org.) A thorough grounding in scripture is hardly the concern of a theological education these days. Try church planting, worship leadership or counseling for hot issues. The end of Biblical literacy may not be as pronounced among the clergy as among the laity, but I assure you the current crop of church growth techno-shepherds is not far behind the curve.

And this is not to mention the Charismatic churches that have openly devalued scripture by an increasing emphasis on prophets, prophecy, visions, dreams and other current revelation. I have to tell you what some prophet in the pew has to say will usually get a bigger hearing than the book of Ezekiel, even though one is Holy Scripture and one is nonsense on toast.

The chance of hearing anything other than the shortened and edited version of the Reader’s Digest Bible in Contemporary slang on the big screen is virtually zero. Reading a chapter of the Bible in worship would be considered a waste of time. Every new Christian is encouraged to read the Bible, but any new Christian visiting the average evangelical church would be right to assume, well no one else does, why should I? Marcion would be proud.

Even so-called Christian education is surrendering. The typical church is offering a smorgasbord of topical fare all the way from getting out of debt to raising children. Video is the prefered medium, of course.To be fair, many are offering Bible surveys and book studies and other valiant attempts at promoting Biblical literacy, but in all honest, they are attempting to bail out the ocean with a bucket. The tide has turned and Biblical literacy is now valued far, far down a list of priorities in the average church. Yes, we are still carrying Bibles, but don’t be fooled: it’s a nice accessory.

Before I say that television is the primary culprit here, I want to clearly state that I am not advocating some kind of fundamentalistic hatcheting of television. I am simply going to say that television has now altered our relationship to the literate, book-oriented world which came to us up to this juncture. Our minds do not work like they did when we were book-centered. Audio/video communication now dominates our world, and it is ridiculous to say this has had no impact upon not only our attention span, but out actual experience of cognitive reality. Our thinking itself has been bent away from the process of reading. Be afraid- be very afraid.

Television is the culprit. Anyone who teaches young people, as I have for a quarter century now, knows that the video mind and the book mind are most certainly at enmity. While movies and books sometimes interact in a way that increases readers, the more usual result is that hundreds of hours of VCRs, DVD, video games, television, CDs, computers and the rest are at the exclusion of books and the extermination of the concept of the Bible’s foundational role in the Christian life.

This is a major issue for a religion that believes God has communicated to us in written form and our interaction with God is highly influenced by the reading and understanding of texts. God has not made a movie. He has not handed us a set of principles on a Powerpoint presentation. He has not given us an experience or a feeling. He has not chosen music or art as his primary means of communication. Even the incarnation of Jesus must be framed within the boundaries of propositional, verbal communication in scripture. In other words, we are a religion of the book because God is a God of the book. When, as a culture, we move to a mind that is hostile to the printed page and the reading mind, we are in trouble.

Where does all this leave us? In a perilous position that may endanger the actual existence of Christianity in its authentic form. We may be experiencing the emergence of an aggressive gnostic Christianity that places experiences and feelings above scripture. Gnosticism is, of course, a Christian heresy, but it is interesting how many liberals and radical revisionists speak longingly of a reapproachment with our gnostic Christian roots. Freed from the bounds of the practical use of scripture, evangelicals will be floating on a sea of cultural relativism,  without an anchor other than someone’s idea of what Jesus and God ought to be like if they are going to relate to us as we are. Released from the obligation to be literate, logical, propositional and coherent, Christians will become, well…illiterate, illogical, experiential and incoherent. The dregs of postmodernism, so to speak.

What can we do about this? I think we have to talk about it, and not just say “read your Bible more,” but a serious reassessment of the place of the Bible in our lives, our homes, our churches and our education. The cultural war against the mind that is bound by the written word is a war I do not think we can negotiate. We may assimilate all kinds of technological improvments in communication, but we cannot surrender the mind that thinks God’s words as the words I am reading in the Bible. Preaching and Christian education must take the time to define everything in the Christian life in reference to the Bible. Christians must begin reading, out loud, to one another, silently, with a disciplined and intentional method and with the energy of a somewhat desperate repentance.

Otherwise, it will soon be cartoons on Sunday morning. And even worse, the assimilation of Christianity into a new age tidal wave of illiterate spirituality.


  1. “One reason my friend doesn’t feel a gaping vacuum where the Bible should be is that she is stuffed full of Christian media of other types.”

    Oh, I do miss him. The ability to stand within, love, and critique one’s own culture is a rare and precious gift.

    I wish I had eyes that see that clearly.

    • Laura, I still can’t believe he’s gone. I have to keep reminding myself that God knows we feel the loss so strongly.

      And regarding the quote you chose, I wonder if the non-readers would feel as I do if they were readers- that nothing has substance like the Bible. If you are a reader, you know there is very little as satisfying as the written word. As much as I like certain movies and shows on tv, I tend to feel the need for substance afterward. It just doesn’t engage me like a book.

      A Christian I know who was an atheist in a concentration camp calls the Bible God’s love letter to us. I don’t think that can be conveyed in film.

  2. As an 18 year old and a frequent reader of everything I can get my hands on, I do agree with this blog. I find that books seem to cause the reader to actually think while television, movies, and, to some extent, music, spoon feed you. However, I do have a question:

    Would it be good if the Bible was put into a movie audio form (such as books on tape or, more tech-savvy, an ebook or audiobook)? What are other’s thoughts?

    By the way, I must confess that I do get extremely mad when people choose not to read at all and do what they want to do. I heard a quote once: “You’re the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for three things: the people you meet, the places you go, the books you read, and the Scripture you memorize.” -Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University

    So yeah…

    • Hunter, people I talk to who don’t read tend to think of reading as work. They haven’t discovered the worlds that open up to readers.

      I wonder if giving non-readers a visual experience that requires the work of thinking would make an impression at all. It may be that becoming a person who reads requires a sort of mental fitness program, in which you make yourself keep doing it until it becomes natural. That sounds ridiculous doesn’t it. I can remember being in the third grade and checking out whole stacks of books. I was afraid to be without something to read.

      • Christopher Lake says

        Carol, as a child in the late ’70s/early ’80s, I was the same– a voracious reader, checking out books, reading everything from the Hardy Boys to Edgar Allan Poe. However, even at the time, I think that I was a bit unusual, among my age group, and now, such a mentality would probably be near-alien. I hope not, but that is my fear. I sense that less and less people, of *any* age group, are discovering “the worlds that open up to readers.”

        The above scenario is unquestionably not good for America, as a country, and for Protestantism in America. In my darker moments, I think that we are on the verge of a New Barbarism, wherein the culture becomes less and less literate, and more and more given to being enslaved to any form of visual/auditory/physical stimulation– until finally, the culture either collapses from within or is conquered by hostile forces.

        What would this mean for American Protestantism? It might mean a severe, daily, lived-out “exile” of sorts for a lengthy period of time. Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism would also be in very tough places, respectively, but perhaps not quite as much as Protestantism, because they have never been *dependent* on large numbers of the laity being highly literate Bible readers. (Contrary to popular opinion though, the Catholic Church does encourage its members to read the Bible. Individual priests and Bishops have sometimes given contradictory messages here, but the official teaching of the Church has been consistent.)

    • Lukas db says

      The bible has been made into an e-book. ‘Inspired by…’ made a CD set called ‘The Bible Experience,’ an unabridged reading of the Bible complete with soundtrack, sound effects, and different actors for each major character/narrator, most of whom are celebrities of some order.

  3. Again, a very relevant message.

    I have a few ideas, as much as they are worth (a cent maybe), about why things are the way they are. In my own experiences, this is what I have found.

    First, scripture is no longer seen as divine or revered as from God. And when it is, the reverence is in such an irrational and overdone matter that it makes reading scripture akin to signing up for the Radicals R Us. In efforts to understand the culture and languages of biblical history, scripture seems demystified and no longer special. It is understood, mastered and antiquated, neatly dissected and catagorized. A bible is no big deal.

    Second, the Bible does not have answers that science provides and science seeems much more current and factual than scripture. In essence, science IS the truth and scripture WAS the truth and mankind has evolved.

    Third, the views of the Biblical writers do not match the developed cultural and political undersanding of life. For example, it is a collection of books written mostly by male authors to mostly male audiences. What the Bible says does not match the reality of matters like gender equality, pornography and technology. And if it does have an answer it is not a politically expedient one.

    Fourth, translating scripture is now easy and convenient. The barriage of bible translations and the politics involved (i.e. the evangelical NIV and liberal NRSV) just wears me out to the point where I would rather read a book about scripture than scripture itself.

    These are merely some of my observations from my own life and the lives of others.

    • “Third, the views of the Biblical writers do not match the developed cultural and political undersanding of life. For example, it is a collection of books written mostly by male authors to mostly male audiences. What the Bible says does not match the reality of matters like gender equality, pornography and technology. And if it does have an answer it is not a politically expedient one.”

      In what sense is any of this true?

  4. The biggest surprise I have had as a Christian is sitting in a Theology class at a Christian University and realizing that half the class do not read the Bible in any regular way and the other half read the Bible in a way that mirrors the thoughts and priorities of their Ministers (learning and faith by osmosis). In both cases neither group applies any intellectual commitment or critical thinking. Even worse they leave no room for the Spirit. I think that it goes further than filling up our mind with ‘Christianese’. There is little point in reading Scripture if you don’t engage your brain and invite the Spirit. Maybe it is time that Church leavers and teachers moved from filling the brain with ‘Christianese’ and taught and modeled a more rigorous approach to Scripture. How many Christians even know what a literary Genre is, let alone how it impacts how we understand God’s word?

    • Christopher Lake says

      In a strange, and from what I can tell, particularly American way, many U.S. evangelicals seem suspicious (fearful?) of looking into topics such as “literary genres of the Bible.” Do they see such an idea as being more “art” and less “Bible”? I don’t know. Obviously, the Bible *is* composed of different literary genres– one being historical, but not the only one.

      In my university days, I majored in English and minored in philosophy and religion. Though this move hasn’t done wonders for my career life, I am still grateful, as I learned to read very carefully and to think logically and critically. Alas, these traits are often not highly valued in certain evangelical circles. Still less valued is an appreciation for great art….

      Simply put, Bible readers who don’t know how to read and understand literary genres will soon become Bible *misreaders*– or they will fall prey to church leaders who misread and misuse the Bible.

      Now, If one subscribes to the concept of the divine teaching authority of a Magisterium, that takes care of part of the problem, but not entirely, as one still must listen to and discern the messages of one’s local priest….

  5. In Australia (where Christians are far more educated than the general population) large parts of the Church are very biblically literate.

    Although we may lament the decline of biblical literacy, I’m not lamenting too much the shift away from books to audiovisual communitaction. The Bible was written in the language and format of its time, and just as we translate it to the languages of our time, I think it’s OK to have the Scriptures in videos, comic books, all genres of music, Braille, SMS-style abbrevs, etc. We should still get people to read the plain book form (and for a small minority, the original languages), but we need to use the style of communication that people use.

    (Last Sunday our sermon was about God speaking every language, so that was on my mind).

    In Australia I would say that we need to get better at living the bible than reading it. Better to be showing the fruit of the Spirit than simply to be able to quote the list from Galatians.

  6. Anybody know how long ago Michael posted this? I hadn’t read it before, but it is right on target.
    I guess that in an age of highly-processed food, sound bites masquerading as news, entertainment on demand and Cliff Notes instead of authentic education, it is not surprising that the Body has lost its brain. But then, even Jesus Himself drew a bigger crowd when He did miracles.
    Today I was talking with a friend about the dearth of good Bible curriculum for children in our churches. I’m sure that many churches face this problem, so maybe one of the readers has some suggestions.
    1. Does anyone have any suggestions that have both a strong chronological Bible content and are relevant to our culture?
    2. How do we engage the older children/teens who have done the Bible “stories” in their earlier years and think they’ve “been there, done that”?

    • I am a secondary teacher so I can only offer this perspective. Children are offered more than stories as a means of learning quite young at school because while these are good for young learners they can only go so far in teaching at any depth. Jesus used parables but they aren’t prominent in the later books of the Bible. Why? Because at some point Christians need meat, not baby food. I think ‘stories’ need to be used less than they are. They are easy to teach but not taught well, are shallow and they easily become about us, not God (Joseph avoiding temptation instead of God’s faithfulness to Joseph and His plans for him). Why not use some of the techniques that teachers use to try and get rich learning out of activities (depth, meaning, problem solving). This is not my teaching area but instead of basing teaching on a story, let the teenagers do their own learning. Pick an issue to debate (should Christians care for the environment, for example), get them into groups, ask them to brainstorm with a few Bibles and diverse resources, send them away for a week and get them to ask others and do some reading/thinking for themselves and then have them debate. Even better get them to do it in front of interested Church members. Everyone might be surprised. They might learn something, they might become more independent learners and seeker of God’s will. They might even teach a few people a thing or two. They might also see that the Bible is not a formula. They cannot rely on others to pour God into them. They must seek Him and using their mind is an act of love and worship.
      If we want future Christians to be Cultural leaders and strong is their faith we desperately need to switch their brains on. If not they will default to the world.
      All the best!

      • “They cannot rely on others to pour God into them.”
        Thank you, Melanie. Point well-made. That applies to adults as well as children.

  7. Eric, I am in Australia but this is not my observation. I agree that knowing verse by heart is not the goal. I would prefer to see Christians reading, hearing or watching representations of Scripture and thinking at the same time. It is very difficult to see Scripture lived out if it enters the ears/eyes and goes no further into the head or heart or even worse, never finds the eyes or ears! I am also not sure where your statement that Christians are far more educated than the general population here.

  8. I was born in1935 and never saw T.V. until the early 1950s.When you read your imagination fills in the blanks, when you watch T.V. you get someone elses ideas. I always was disappointed with their ideas, mine were better. You look at T.V. today and it’s pretty mediocre. When I read the Bible often I get new insights from familiar passages. The human mind is a terrible thing to waste, and depending on present day video productions is not intellectually stimulating.

    • Vern, I like your point. The problem with visual media is that they do our imagining for us. The Bible promises to bless not only those who read it, but those who meditate on it. Grasping biblical facts or memorizing passages is only the first step in understanding Scripture. I believe God calls us to be a contemplative people, learning to view ourselves as actually living in the Bible’s story. Therefore, God gave us a big, complex book of stories, poems, wisdom literature, prophecies, letters, and so on, so that we can soak ourselves in its world and learn to trust God and walk with Jesus in ours.

      • Well said, Chaplain. I know many evangelicals think of monks as just folks who sit around wasting their time, but I see the writings of some of the greatest monks and nuns as showing insights and transformed lives that came from deep contemplation that took time and effort.

  9. I wonder about a culture becoming deadened because the most horrifying things can be viewed at home on the computer. We are, if we choose to be, exposed to cruelty until it ceases to impact us. And, of course, young people don’t know anything else. This is the way the world is now. Unlimited access.

  10. The question was “does it matter?” My admittedly, provocative answer is that the most fundamental level it doesn’t matter.

    Many of our Christian brothers and sisters who went before us either had no access to the written word or the ability to read it, and yet I’ve never looked upon them as any less a Christian than the person that empties a highlighter marking passages in their multi-translation Bible. Didn’t the leadership of the church attack the distribution of the English-language from Wycliffe?

    To bemoan non-printed forms of Biblical passages feels more like clinging to what we grew up with than any thoughtful analysis of their effectiveness. My grown children learn in ways that are foreign to me, and communicate with their peers in ways I cannot even begin to understand. I have missionary friends in Asia using pictographic Bible stories to share the Gospel with remote people groups. Even Michael Spencer himself solicited, received and used Mark Driscoll’s video series on “Vintage Jesus”. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that the Spirit ultimately delivers the truth of the message, regardless of the form of the message.

    • To cling to what you grew up with is comforting. Video messages and comic book Christianity is a good start, but if you leave it there it’s just feel good superficial “Christianity” Martin Luther said the Bible alone is the standard for our lives.Without daily study of the Bible and a prayer life we miss the point of Jesus’s gift to us.

  11. The English-language church I attend (I also help with a Spanish-speaking congregation within our denomination, as my wife is from Mexico) is doing a survey of the books of the Bible on Wednesday nights this year. Each week, they’ll take one or more books and do an overview of the main personalities and themes presented in the book(s). This is part of their plan to combat Biblical illiteracy, and familiarize members with books of the Bible that may no be part of their regular devotional reading.

    Also, the Sunday school class I’m in has spent the last two years working through Luke and Romans (6 months of the year on each — we’re a couple of weeks away from finishing Romans, then pick back up in Luke). The teacher will give us some questions about the passage we’re on that day, then we’ll discuss them at our tables, and then people from each table will present to the whole class what their thoughts are. It’s really helping us dig deeper.

  12. Props to the Imonk for going after Spurgeon! I am a huge Spurgeon fan. I love his books and own several. However, I do think that this problem does go back at least that far and it was an area in which Spurgeon was weaker. “Christians must begin reading, out loud, to one another, silently, with a disciplined and intentional method and with the energy of a somewhat desperate repentance.”
    Couldn’t have been said better by anyone else. Ultimately it’s God’s spirit at work within and among us that produces true spirituality, but to insist that said spirituality should be devoid of intense scriptural devotion is plain silly.

  13. i agree, and that’s why i created Billy’s Bible Reading Scheme. it’s the Bible Reading Plan that gets results! see more here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag6oMs77peg

    on a serious note. as a youth pastor i realize there literally isn’t anyone encouraging me or holding me accountable in reading and knowing the Scriptures. and this is my job. i have found that i have to hold myself accountable in this area and have found reading through the Bible every year to be a worthy endeavor.

  14. hmmm I am typically raising the banner for MORE visual and audio communication, though not in the form of Television, powerpoint, etc. I’m think of high church liturgy.

    I think, too, that most Christians are contently biblically illiterate. There is a tendency to blame pastors, but I do not think it is their fault. If a Christian wants to become more biblically literate, they could start by learning how to read the Bible beyond morning devotions. Why do the self help books sell more than the books written by people doing an actual exegesis?

    I have given up on sermons, personally.

  15. Jeff Lee says

    Of course, at the end of the day, truth is not propositional. Truth is a person. The problem is when we replace propositions, or TV, or music, or anything else, for that person. The advent of the Bible being available for everyone on their bookshelf (or computer) was truly powerful, but its a bit odd(and anachronistic) to posit that this availability is somehow critical for the Christian faith.

  16. Randy Thompson says

    “Does it matter that I don’t read the Bible?”
    Yes, I think it does.
    It matters for the same reason that it matters if you don’t know French and live in France. The Bible, if you will, is the language of heaven. It gives us a vocabulary (e.g., “grace,” “righteous,” “creation,” etc.) and it teaches us grammar, which is about using language in a way that makes sense, only Biblical grammar is about a (Christian) life making sense. For example, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies is about living in a way that makes sense in light of God’s grace in Christ. If my allegiance is to the Kingdom of Heaven, to use Matthew’s term, then it’s essential that I know the language of heaven so I can represent God’s Kingdom properly on earth. If you don’t know heaven’s language, you’re left speechless, and, increasingly, mindless. Knowing God’s language makes it a lot easier to keep your head clear in a sick society where propaganda is king.

  17. Like Kat (above) I would like the original post date of these iMonk classics.

    I’m tempted to think that literacy is … was? … an anomaly in the life of the Church, that can’t even fairly be dated to the Reformation. It’s more recent than that but, in proper perspective, a flash in the pan.

  18. I was a student at the ‘little christian school’ that Mike references, years before he got there. There is a requirement for graduation that you take a Bible class in High School, usually your Senior year. During my years as a student, the main Bible teacher was a man named Mr. Smith. I’ll come back to him in a minute.

    A feature of student life at the school was the daily chapel services. I went to the school as a Christian, but these services, for the most part felt like a 45-minute bludgeoning with a hymn or 2 thrown in for spice. I can’t count the number of times that I heard that I was going to hell, or that God was disappointed in me for not witnessing to my roomates until they were saved. Even as a teenager, my faith was an intensely private thing, and rarely shared verbally except among very close friends. Enter Mr. Smith. On the days that he spoke, I paid rapt attention. Not only did he preach from an entire chapter (once he did the entire book of 3 John, but in the course of the sermon he would constantly refer back to the Greek or Hebrew for definitions of words. It was fascinating, and a more valuable insight than I had ever had in the ‘God speaks KJV’ church I grew up in. Not to slam the KJV, but there was frighteningly little actual exegesis at that church.

    (Interesting aside: I took Mr Smith for my Bible class. One day I forgot mine and asked to borrow his for a test. He smiled and said ‘Sure. Good luck!’ It was in Greek. Turns out he usually read to us in class from the Greek or Hebrew, translating on the fly, which is why what he was reading never quite matched up with what was on my page.)

    The closest thing I have ever seen to that is later, when I was on the faculty of that school. Mike was the chaplain, and his sermons weren’t “What does the Bible say to you”, but rather “What does the Bible say”. I didn’t get the distinction until years later when in a discipleship group the discussion devolved to an argument about what each person got out of the reading and why they were right, rather than what the reading actually said.

    As one who read constantly (and still does) I can see the effect our culture’s media diet has on our collective brains in general, not to mention in churches. I will refer to an idea in a classic work that I read years ago only to be met with blank stares. Then I have to explain the idea, and the supporting arguments, and the original comment gets lost in the details. Sometimes I think my kids are more aware that my co-workers.

    The next argument in this chain of thought, one that we must by any means necessary conduct with all civility, is what to read. There are so many versions avaliable, and many different flavors of ‘study’ Bibles that we can yet again get sidetracked by the ‘right’ Bible to read. I’m sure that’s a topic for another day 🙂

    (I never mean for these posts to be so long, but dang it, they make me think! That Monk was a devious dude)