Losing our first love
Biblical illiteracy is a problem in the U.S.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” —Ephesians 4:11–14
“You are from this world, but I am not.”
When asked who said those words, only 48 percent of Americans answered “Jesus Christ.” Almost as many—40 percent—thought the quote came from Han Solo of “Star Wars” fame, according to the American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible 2018.
Other surveys in recent years have shown that fewer than half of all adults in America can name the four Gospels or more than two or three of Christ’s disciples. In more extreme examples, some Americans believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, Sodom & Gomorrah were a married couple, and that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
George Barna, whose Barna Research Group prepares the State of the Bible report each year, said, “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”
The report found that just 14 percent of the adult population in America uses the Bible daily. When Americans were asked to rank four daily necessities, the Bible (16 percent) ranked behind coffee (37 percent), something sweet (28 percent), and social media (19 percent).
There once was a time when people went to church and Sunday school as a family, but that is no longer a guarantee. Kids would sit and listen as a teacher explained the Bible’s greatest stories using a flannel board and felt characters. Those days seem to be a relic of the past. Sunday school attendance has plummeted in recent decades. The problem has gotten so bad that several public schools have recently proposed adding biblical literacy classes as an elective.
The United States, particularly the Northeast, is becoming more “post–Christian.” In fact, eight of the top 10 cities in this category are in the USA Eastern Territory (see map.) Barna’s research took into account 16 factors, which include whether people identify as atheist, the number of unsaved people in a community, church attendance, and weekly Bible reading.
In 2017, Barna named Portland, Maine, as the most post–Christian city in the country. That fact was on the minds of Envoys Steve and Sharon Bussey, who lead Pier Praise at the Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Camp Meetings every summer just outside Portland. The best Salvationist singers, dancers, actors, and others evangelize the crowds.
“It’s considered the most unreached city in the entire United States. To think we have an opportunity to share the gospel on this scale is true to the bones what it means to be a Salvationist,” Steve Bussey said last year in the midst of the huge evangelistic outreach. “This group, by all logic, should not be listening to the gospel. Yet there are hundreds of people here who are sitting and listening to the gospel message, again and again and again.”
In this issue of SAconnects magazine, you’ll discover several people like the Busseys who are doing all they can to combat biblical illiteracy. The Salvation Army is first and foremost a church and dedicated to bringing people to Christ and improving biblical literacy.
For example, Majors Carol Ditmer of the Ocean County Citadel Corps in Toms River, N.J., and Susan Hinzman in Lexington, Ky., are well aware of the problem and have started Bible studies.
You’ll also enter “Man Cave Mondays” in Pittsburgh, where men and women come to fellowship and study the Bible. Major Barbara Duperree, the corps officer in Toledo, Ohio, shares an 8–point plan for Christian education.
The challenge of biblical illiteracy is real, but the officers of The Salvation Army are stepping up to remind everyone of the words of Christ, who said the “gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Church.
by Robert Mitchell
According to Barna Research data, the most post–Christian region in the United States is Portland–Auburn, Maine. In fact, New England and the Northeast—considered the home base of religion in this country—figure prominently. Eight of the most post–Christian city/regions are in the USA Eastern Territory.