Monday, September 17, 2007

The state of Bible Knowledge Today!

If there is anyone out there who reads this blog and is in my Intro to the NT class at BCNZ, please don't take this personally.

The truth is I have just marked a set of content tests examining the student's knowledge of the Pauline epistles. There were 30 questions all with four possible answers (multiple choice). The students had 4 weeks to prepare and were told what was involved. Read through the Paulines, take note of the themes and remember where stuff is found. In class I have told them that Hebrews is not one of these; no Hebrew's scholar has argued for Pauline authorship in the last 50 years. To make the test interesting and to narrow down options I threw a few obviously false alternatives like 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, Acts etc. I also threw in 'Elijah' as one options.

Would you believe it, but a HUGE number of students chose these options! I am in a state of shock. No one got them all right, the best mark was 27 and most were between 16-23. I would have thought that if I was given this test before I started bible college study I would have got between 15-20. I would have thought many would have done so.

What is going on? Firstly, how is it that BCNZ students come to college with such a poor biblical knowledge? Secondy, how is it that even when given clear directions as to how to study, many cannot do it? It seems, they don't know how to read the text!

My reading of the situation is that the NZ evangelical church is not built on the basic idea of teaching and knowing the Word as it was. Expository preaching is out the door, replaced by Christian wisdom for living. Small groups are built on relationship and not on bible study. Many I think have never studied the bible and don't realise how important it is.

We have to raise the standard. If we call ourselves Christian, we should know our book which tells our story better than any book in the world. We should read life through it. We need to know it so we can check out the rubbish that many are propounding today, like prosperity teaching. We need to know it to pass it on so that the faith stays strong. For BCNZ students, knowing the text of Scripture, the big story, its background and how to put it together; is foundational! Every other area of study including every arm of theology, the world and life itself is to be read in the light of God revealed in and through his written word; we know the Living Word through the written word.

So if you read this; learn the story! Come on BCNZ; we should lead the nation in this!

17 comments:

Stephen G said...

Hi Mark, I'm in broad agreement with you but I'm not too surprised by your results for a variety of reasons (I don't think there's a single reason). Here's some random thoughts.

1. Some of the students I've encountered come to places like BCNZ because they have no experience with the Bible and want to know more. Hitting diploma and degree level work is a real shock. I now assume that no one knows anything much about the Bible (especially the OT) and go from there.

2. The demographics of where students come from has changed over time. There are less, perhaps, from mainline churches where the Bible was a regular, formal part of worship - not just the sermon, but readings, liturgy, even rote-learning in Sunday School. (I did a quick survey of churches people came from in a class a while back - only one Anglican, and a couple of Presbyterians) Are there ecclesiastical dimensions to the loss of basic Bible knowledge?

3. There's still a strong strand of anti-intellectualism present among some who come to College (bizarre, but true). That affects their academic engagement with things like your test.

4. Which leads in the point that maybe it's not that they "can't study" (which is true for some), but that they choose not to put more effort into it. Which all teachers throughout history have commented on.

5. The disconnection of the Bible from other areas of study. For example, how many students take their Bibles to missions or theology classes?

6. I'm not sure that more expository preaching it the answer - that can tend to isolate the text being preached from from other texts. Raises the question of whether the point of the sermon is teaching or proclamation of the Good News (the latter would engage with the Biblical text both specifically and broadly, but not primarily as education). Of course, the application of expository preaching needs to be drawn out too - which does become a form of Christian wisdom. Maybe, more preachers need to show they 'exegetical underwear' while preaching.

Will stop now. Many more thoughts percolating but no time to jot them down.

Pax, Stephen.

Judy Redman said...

I'd like to enlarge on Stephen's point 4 - in my experience there has been a significant increase over the last several decades in the proportion of students for whom a pass is a good enough mark, so spending the amount of time needed to get 100% is not a worthwhile effort in their eyes.

I must admit to being disappointed that I wasn't offered the opportunity to test my own biblical knowledge with 30 multiple choice questions about Paul, though. :-)

Sean said...

Hey Mark, why didn't you tell me you had your own blog? SHA!

Anyway, I was wondering if you could post the questions. That would be fun!

Take care, I'll be seeing you soon - hopefully mid next year!

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