Bible illiteracy, Ken Berding interview

Dr. Ken Berding is tackling a pressing issue to today’s church: biblical literacy and the staggering lack thereof. If you’re the kind of person who frequents this blog, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Dr. Berding before. He’s the one who wrote that killer article on the “Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy” that made its rounds on the interwebs this summer. He’s also a professor at Talbot School of Theology (where he’s been teaching since 2002).

And now he and his team have pulled off something incredible: Bible Fluency: Sing it, See it, Study it.

You read that right: see, study, and sing. Dr. Berding has put together study guides, graphics, and catchy melodies to help the church get to know the Bible. The whole Bible.

I took a spin through the material. It’s awesome. And again, if you’re the kind of person who likes to hang out on this blog—thanks for the company, by the way!—you gotta check this out.

Dr. Berding was kind enough to let me interview him on Bible literacy, BibleFluency.com, and tips for studying the Bible. Here’s what he has to say:

 

Interview with Dr. Ken Berding

 

Jeffrey Kranz: How would you define biblical literacy?

Dr. Ken Berding:

Biblical literacy is knowing where the most important events, characters, and themes are found in the Bible and knowing how it fits together into a cohesive whole.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: One of the hardest parts of becoming Bible-literate is just finding a place to start (it’s a big book). At which book(s) of the Bible would you recommend someone begin?

Dr. Ken Berding:

There are a few different activities that need to be pursued if one wants to attain Bible literacy. The most basic, of course, is that you need to pick up the Bible and simply read it (…and read it a lot). Lifeway Research did a survey a couple years ago about how often Protestant church-goers actually read the Bible. Here’s what they learned:

  • Only 19% say they read the Bible every day
  • 26% a few times a week
  • 14% once a week
  • 22% at least once a month
  • 18% say they rarely or never read it.

This means that 54% of people who actually attend church have little to no engagement with the Bible.

Where to start? My recommendation is to read through Matthew first, and then Genesis, and then aim to read through both Old and New Testaments. For new readers, it is more important to build up the habit of reading the Bible consistently, so perhaps at first you might want to only commit to reading one chapter a day and writing down in a journal one insight you have discovered. The writing down will make sure you are actually thinking about what you are reading. Then after a few months, try to build up your time. I see no reason why most Christians couldn’t eventually reconfigure their schedules so that they could read their Bibles a half hour a day or more. For most of us living in the twenty-first century, this simply means turning off the television or closing our computer screen a bit more frequently…

I would also recommend that people start memorizing a chapter in the Bible. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote a couple years ago that might help. It’s entitled The Easiest Way to Memorize the Bible. Use the simple method found at that site to memorize your favorite chapter in the Bible—or even your favorite entire book of the Bible.

Finally, you should learn where the most important events, characters, and themes are located in the Bible. That’s the reason I developed Bible Fluency: Sing it, See it, Study it. See more on this below.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: If I know the basic message of the gospel, why should I invest so much time in knowing the ins-and-outs of the whole Bible? Wouldn’t that time be better invested in spreading the gospel?
Don’t worry folks: this was a devil’s advocate question. ;-)

Dr. Ken Berding:

Knowing the gospel and communicating it to others is great. But let me give you four reasons why you should invest time in learning the Bible well:

  1. The Bible itself clearly instructs us to go beyond just the “milk” of the Word and to progress to the “meat” (Hebrews 6:11-7:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
  2. It is impossible to obey the Bible’s command to “meditate” on the Word of God without memorizing it, since memorization was presupposed in an oral cultural setting where people did not personally own biblical scrolls.
  3. You will never learn how to think “Christianly” about life, purpose, problems, decisions—or anything for that matter—unless you are filling your mind with the words God inspired to teach about himself and his ways.
  4. You will be unable to recognize false teaching when it comes into the church, whether from cults (like Jehovah’s Witnesses), false religions (like Islam), or notions popular among secular postmoderns (such as “all truth is relative”) unless you really know the Bible and what it teaches.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: It’s hard to pick a favorite book of the Bible, but which document are you most drawn to? Why?

Dr. Ken Berding:

Currently, the book I spend the most time in and in which I am finding the greatest amount of help, comfort, challenge, and direction is the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Some things in that letter are deep—even hard to understand—but, oh, what incredible benefit there is in reading it!—coming to know the nature of sin, the redemption that has come through Christ’s substitutionary death in my place, what it means to live as one freed from sin and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and about God’s grand plan when he “grafted” us Gentiles in with Jews.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: What would you say is the most underrated section of the Bible?

Dr. Ken Berding:

I think that the most underrated books of the Bible are the prophets (Isaiah–Malachi). I recently asked 70 freshman college students—Christians all!—whether they had ever read through the prophetic books, and discovered that only 15% of those students have even read them! But the message of the prophets is relevant for us today, just as it was a few thousand years ago. The four main themes of the prophets (see the Prophets song at biblefluency.com):

  1. Rebellion toward God
  2. The judgment of God
  3. The grace of God
  4. The kingdom of God

… are all key issues that need to be highlighted in our day and age. In contemporary society, sin has been relativized, the idea that God will judge the world is considered intolerant, moralism among many religious people has muted the marvelous message of God’s grace, and hope (that is, hope for a coming kingdom) is considered by many to be a pipe-dream. The message of the prophets is needed today; but especially because the message of the prophets will highlight how much people really and truly need a Savior … Jesus.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: Bible Fluency: Sing it, See it, Study it (biblefluency.com) represents an enormous amount of work. How long did it take to make all these songs, flashcards, handouts, etc.?

Dr. Ken Berding:

I wrote the first lines for the first Bible Fluency song in 1999. I was scheduled to teach an Old Testament Survey class at a college on the East Coast, and I wanted my students not just to leave having learned ideas about the Bible, but also to actually learn how to think their way through the Bible. I had already experimented—successfully—with using music in teaching Greek grammar, so I thought that it might help people not only to learn, but also to remember over the long run what they had learned, particularly the most important characters, events, and themes in the Bible. Over the course of the following 15 years, more songs were composed and many other resources besides the songs were developed to help people navigate their way through the 400 most important ideas in the Bible. Many other creative people—from graphic artists to singers to music and video engineers—have shared their talents to turn these ideas into a creative resource that can be used by people who desire to become “Bible fluent.” Most of these talented people have been associated either with Redemption Hill Church, a multi-site church centered in Whittier, California (where I serve as an overseer), or Biola University (where I teach biblical studies and biblical Greek). You will discover a long list of people who have shared their creative talents on this project here.

 

Jeffrey Kranz: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Ken Berding:

I would love for people to avail themselves of the resources at biblefluency.com—along with the resources at The Overview Bible Project!—to increasingly grow into learning, loving, and living out the Word of God.

Thank you so much for inviting me to join you for this interview today!

Conclusion

Dr. Berding has put together a hypervaluable resource for the church today. We desperately need to know and understand and love and accurately handle the Word of Truth, and the BibleFluency.com team has given us some terrific tools to help us do so. I suggest you check it out. Share it with your pastor, your KidMin leader, your curious neighbor—someone who wants to know the Bible better and help others do so, too.

And here’s the kicker: this awesome content is free.

But if you’re the gift-giving type and you love what he’s doing, please consider an end-of-year gift to him and his church. You’ll be helping people know the Bible better!

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