I regularly get to interact with kids in the context of teaching the Bible: here at Frontier Camp, on the road visiting suburban churches as a guest speaker, as a 5th and 6th grade Sunday School teacher, and at our AWANA kid’s club at our local church. So a recent opinion piece written by Jeremiah J. Johnston titled “Why are so many Christians biblically illiterate?” really resonated as confirmation of a negative trend that I have been observing over the past few years. An impromptu survey of my Sparks (K-2nd graders) class recently revealed that more than half of them had never heard of Jonah (nor the whale)! Johnston writes that “…Americans no longer know the Bible. The evidence is overpowering that contemporary Christianity is Bible-ish, at best, and at worst, in some cases, Bible-less (emphasis in the original). He goes on to say that “the challenge of biblical illiteracy in America is not because of a shortage of Bibles, but rather knowledge and appreciation of the Bible’s message.” What can we do?
First, we need to recognize what we are up against. Genesis 3 introduces us to our arch-enemy and his most powerful weapon. How did Satan deceive Eve in the Garden? He questioned God’s word, and then built doubt about God’s goodness and character on that foundation. Does he still try to attack us this way? Yes – multiple times daily! In Matthew 22:29, Jesus tells his skeptics that when they hold ideas that contradict God’s Word, it is because they are deceived, and they don’t understand Scripture.
So how do we teach kids to defend themselves? In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus gives us the key: use God’s Word! And He goes on to reiterate a great spiritual truth: God’s word is spiritual food (vs 4). Without it, our spiritual life will fade into oblivion due to starvation. This is true because God’s word is true, and because, as John 17:17 tells us, its truth sanctifies (sets us apart as we become more like Jesus).
Here is the point – biblical illiteracy has a huge cost; we just don’t really see it that way because it doesn’t lead to physical starvation! Can you imagine if it did? Here at Frontier Camp, we have found that if you show a camper that reading the Bible is exciting and that it really is nourishing, then they will have a new appreciation and desire to start eating! “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (Psalm 119:103)
Here is something else I have noticed – if the child comes from a stable home with an engaged father leading the family, he or she usually defies this negative biblical literacy trend. Unfortunately, a good portion of the blame for the rise in biblical illiteracy can be placed squarely on the doorstep of absent fathers. The decline of fatherhood and the resulting loss of intact families in our culture has left us wandering into the wilderness of “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), adrift without the compass of God’s Word.
Fathers who are pouring themselves into their kids and families deserve our praise, encouragement and support. Furthermore, my hat goes off and my heart goes out to those single moms who are struggling to bring their kids up to know and love Jesus, the Word of God, against all odds. They need Believers, the body of Christ, to come alongside them so that our Heavenly Father can be the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).
This summer at Frontier Camp, we have a wonderful opportunity to help. We are conducting our first-ever “Timothy Camp” for campers who are fatherless. Through the gracious sponsorship of a ministry partner with a heart for this demographic, we are reserving the last week of the summer (August 1 – 6) to connect kids whose dad is deceased or completely absent from their lives with their Heavenly Father – through the power of His Word.
You can help by praying for this week specifically. You can also encourage a kid in your sphere of influence to start feasting on God’s word. This literacy problem is not insurmountable! According to the old African proverb, if everyone brings a fork and knife, the elephant will soon get eaten. “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8a)!