Recap of the Bible Literacy Conference ’21

By Darren Duke

Thirty-five Christian seminary and college professors, bible translators, Bible literacy ministry leaders, pastors, content creators, museum curators, and journalists gathered for the inaugural meeting of the Bible Literacy Coalition, hosted by the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 30–31, 2021.

Participants reviewed statistics on the state of Bible knowledge and engagement in the U.S. and the UK, and discussed evidence and consequences of decline, as well as future opportunities for Bible literacy advocates.

Attendees wrestled with the causes of Bible illiteracy and disengagement within the Church and broader western culture. They also debated the effectiveness of different ways to address it. Bible illiteracy stems from a variety of factors that affect various segments of the population differently. For example,

  • Shifts in worship styles and formats
  • Growing use of electronic devices at the expense of printed books
  • The way modern devotional publications present and employ the Scriptures

have likely all contributed to the current state of Bible illiteracy among western Christians. Outside the Church, the increasingly secular world is deracinated from any particular religious tradition or worldview. The rise of the “Nones”—younger Americans who profess no religion and who lack a biblical worldview—further underscores the challenges facing the contemporary Church.

But even among the faithful, facile understanding of the text and confusion about its reliability in an information-soaked world are sapping the Church’s vigor to declare the gospel and disciple the nations. Christians have a sense of the gospel call to reach out to their neighbors, but without the biblical framework, they lack the basis for making a compelling gospel appeal in many areas of common life.

Conferees began to map out each organization’s audience and goal on the Bible literacy landscape and explored ways that organizations might complement each other. Much great work is already being done by so many. A common view emerged that efforts and resources towards coordination and cooperation would be preferable to establishing another nonprofit organization.

Attendees considered new approaches to Bible literacy with software, virtual reality (VR), and social media (e.g., YouTube). They discussed the role of schools and universities in Bible education. Some members emphasized the need for families and churches to (re-)adopt catechesis for young children. A cross-generational commitment to raising Bible-literate children could help address biblical ignorance in other age groups as older Christians equip themselves to teach younger Christians.

The conference explored the importance of tangible encounters with the biblical world. The Museum of the Bible’s exhibitions were highlighted as exemplifying thoughtful opportunities for public engagement with the Bible. The expansion of free online study of biblical languages, taught without a mediating (and generally European) language, is an exciting development that could strengthen the Church in places where the costs of formal biblical education are prohibitive and where the ignorance of the Bible leaves young churches exposed to false teaching.

Attendees also considered challenges and opportunities for exploring Israel to learn biblical geography. They noted that such exploration establishes the historicity of the biblical record and clarifies the significance of biblical events and personalities. Greater knowledge of lands where biblical events occurred can foster appreciation of the Bible, encouraging more engagement.

Attendees concluded the conference with prayer for God’s help against the scriptural famine before us. All sensed that time was needed to reflect on what was learned and to consider the best way to address an issue of such an expansive scope and depth.

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