John Bradshaw, an IPHC minister, and public school teacher, recently told me the story of when he was teaching world history to a class of eighth graders. As part of the class they were studying Judaism.
When the teacher retold Genesis 22—the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah—a 14-year-old girl on the front row (who normally displayed a lack of attention during the class) sat spellbound.
After finishing the account, the young lady enthusiastically said, “Wow, thank you for telling me that story. No one ever told me that Abraham Lincoln did that to his son!”
When John told me that story I was stunned. On one hand her remark was comical, especially for those of us who know the Bible and assume the context and ending. On the other hand, it was profoundly disheartening and sad to realize that the most basic and elemental aspects of the Bible are no longer widely known in our culture.
In his 2017 book, Generation Z, James Emery White describes the generation of this young lady as the first generation in America to have no collective memory of the Bible. It’s not that they forgot; they have never known. They get “winter breaks” instead of a Christmas vacation, and “spring breaks” instead of the Easter holiday. But they have no clue the celebrations are about the birth or the resurrection of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God.
The loss of biblical consciousness now reaches into classrooms. There are at least 1,200 references (a conservative estimate) of biblical allusions in William Shakespeare’s plays. Sadly, efforts to teach and understand Shakespeare are thwarted by a lack of biblical understanding.
And now, in some universities, political correctness is forcing Shakespeare out of the classroom because it is too “Eurocentric.” On a similar vein as Rev. Bradshaw’s experience, IPHC Chief of Staff Terry Fowler had a similar experience. While on a flight from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, he opened his Bible and began preparing for his upcoming Sunday school lesson.
Next to him was a graduate of a major university in Pennsylvania. The young man kept glancing at the book. He finally asked Terry what he was doing, and what book was he was reading from. In the ensuing conversation,
Terry discovered that the man had never seen a Bible and knew nothing about it. Terry began to talk about the Bible, and more importantly, the message of the Bible. The man had no idea he was a sinner; he had no idea that
God loved him or that Jesus had died for him. The Holy Spirit was at work at 30,000 feet in the air orchestrating a divine appointment. Before they landed Terry had led this man to Jesus Christ!
These two incidents are striking reminders that as Christians we are serving Jesus in a land that has forgotten the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We want righteous and justice but we have forgotten the Source of that righteousness. We are Kingdom people in a foreign land and in a world unmoored from its Source.
Psalm 137:4 is our lament: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
Our current emphasis on the kingdom of God is important considering this reality. During the first months of 2017, Dr. Ryan Jackson has clearly demonstrated the Hebrew background to Jesus’ preaching and teaching on the kingdom of God.
With that Jewish background, we see the nation of Israel called to live as God’s obedient servant among the nations, to witness to the kingdoms of this world about the Kingdom of the King. Israel was called to bless, to worship and to proclaim the reality of the creator King.
That is our role today. The church exists “so that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10 MEV). Though the world may seek to marginalize us, we do not marginalize ourselves by hiding in “holy enclaves.” We do not hide in fear, uncertainty or embarrassment. Instead, we live as salt and light as we publicly follow Jesus.
In many nations, including the United States, knowledge of God’s Word is at a minimum, if present at all. We can easily blame government and media.
But so what? If government refuses to allow the Bible to be taught, or if media distorts its message, we can still teach and live the truth of it. God’s Spirit is not bound by government mandates and social conventions. God’s Spirit can operate at 30,000 feet, or across the two feet of a Starbucks coffee table, or across the few yards separating us from neighbors.
It’s easy to be discouraged and assume all is lost. That is an extreme reaction that should be tempered by several factors, including:
- There is a deep river of God’s presence known to all humanity through our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and through creation (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20).
- There is a strong witness to Christ in social media and contemporary media, including movies, television, YouTube, etc.
- Christianity is growing rapidly in the nations of the global south. Through immigration, many evangelists and church planters from these nations are impacting major cities in the global north.
Lack of knowledge, like the little girl in school or the professional on a plane, is not a reason for laughter, ridicule, and mockery. It is an opportunity to re-connect the old, old story.
In some ways, ignorance of the Bible in or culture may actually be a gift. It may be that the uninformed don’t have negative preconceptions and defenses. They may actually be far more open to transforming truth than we have ever imagined. Oddly enough, the pervasive biblical ignorance may help us convey the new, new story of Jesus and His love.
This article was published in the March 2017 issue of Encourage.