Summary: Many people who sit in the pews have "no knowledge of God," as Hosea says. Knowing God is possible; it is about living; and knowing God brings hope.
So, if people don’t know basic facts about the Bible, what do you suppose they believe about Jesus? Barna found, among other things, that only 35% of mainline Protestant church members believe Christ was sinless. Barna says, “Millions of Americans who declare themselves to be Christians contend that Jesus was just like the rest of us —fallen, guilty, impure, and Himself in need of a savior.” It can no longer be assumed that the people in the pews know even the basics.
Why has that happened? These writers say that many Christian churches have abandoned serious Bible exposition and theological teaching. “Rather than explaining the historical setting of a passage, texts become springboards for devotional reflection,” they say. “Biblical passages are taken out of context as the preacher searches for stories that evoke the responses or attitudes desired.” As a result, people hear less and less about the Bible.
They suggest that more pastors should emulate the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who forsook the common preaching methods of his day to systematically teach the Bible verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, and book-by-book, paying attention to the historical and grammatical contexts of the passages he was expounding. We need a systematic approach to biblical truth, they say.
Barna says that turning things around will take “a massive, concerted long-term effort.” But we must try. “We must pray for God’s guidance and power to bring about the reformation that He undoubtedly desires for America.”
I want to say two things before I continue on. For the past six years, Sue and I have been preaching through the Bible. It is our attempt to battle the problem of biblical illiteracy. But it is not enough. Even if you heard every one of our sermons and you remembered everything you heard, it is not enough. Just as one hour of sunshine per week is not enough to grow a garden, one hour of Sunday worship is not sufficient to grow a Christian. That is why we provide Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and other opportunities for spiritual nurture.
In the early 1900s, intelligence testing resulted in what we now refer to as the IQ scale. Some of you have probably worried about how high or low your IQ really is, but more important than your IQ is whether or not you are using the gray matter you have. I’m not aware of any good way to measure people’s understanding of God. If we did, we might call it the God Quotient. Where do you think you rank on the scale? Barna and other researchers would say that too many people are on the lower end of the scale.
It is not a new problem. Already back in 750 B.C, when the Old Testament prophet Hosea was preaching, he had some hard words for his listeners in Hosea 4. In fact, using courtroom language, he said that God was bringing an indictment against them. He said “There is no knowledge of God in the land.” He said that because these people had rejected knowledge, He was going to reject them. “They do not know the Lord,” he said.
To make the point clear, God asked Hosea to name his third child Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people” because they no longer knew who God was. And, of course, the people said it wasn’t their fault because their priests hadn’t told them about God. The other problem was that what little they knew, they had forgotten. (4:6)