On March 1, I featured a post on biblical illiteracy.  It explained that poor or nonexistent knowledge of Scripture can leave a nominal Christian vulnerable to error and even heresy.

In October 2009, the Barna Group conducted a survey of biblical literacy in the United States, breaking it down by generations as follows:

For the purposes of this research, the Mosaic generation refers to adults who are currently ages 18 to 25; Busters are those ages 26 to 44; Boomers are 45 to 63; and Elders are 64-plus.  

Results are somewhat concerning:

–  Less Sacred – While most Americans of all ages identify the Bible as sacred, the drop-off among the youngest adults is striking: 9 out of 10 Boomers and Elders described the Bible as sacred, which compares to 8 out of 10 Busters (81%) and just 2 out of 3 Mosaics (67%).

Less Accurate – Young adults are significantly less likely than older adults to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. Just 30% of Mosaics and 39% of Busters firmly embraced this view, compared with 46% of Boomers and 58% of Elders.

More Universalism – Among Mosaics, a majority (56%) believes the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as other sacred texts, which compares with 4 out of 10 Busters and Boomers, and one-third of Elders.

Less Engagement – While many young adults are active users of the Bible, the pattern shows a clear generational drop-off – the younger the person, the less likely then are to read the Bible. In particular, Busters and Mosaics are less likely than average to have spent time alone in the last week praying and reading the Bible for at least 15 minutes. Interestingly, none of the four generations were particularly likely to say they aspired to read the Bible more as a means of improving their spiritual lives.

I recall being rather sceptical when I was younger.  Not lacking faith but doubting the veracity of Scripture.  There is something about young adulthood that makes one feel invincible, independent and knowledgeable.  It can lead to a lot of confusion, though.  If the red letter Bible — Jesus’s ‘love and charity’ verses alone — is true, how come the rest isn’t?  Who or what decides why some verses are ‘truer’ than others?  In the end, it seemed a bit too convenient that we pick and choose, discarding the ‘hard sayings’ (John 6:53-60)  in favour of all those about ‘love’ and ‘charity’. 

However, there is some good news! 

Bible Appetite – Despite the generational decline in many Bible metrics, one departure from the typical pattern is the fact that younger adults, especially Mosaics (19%), express a slightly above-average interest in gaining additional Bible knowledge. This compares with 12% of Boomers and 9% of Elders.

The problem with such a limited knowledge of Scripture, however, is that we can get into all sorts of issues in being unable to debate with so-called Christians who try to distort the truth.  More on this tomorrow.

You can view Barna’s questions and full results in their graphic below:

The Revd Albert Mohler, a Baptist, has more, going back five years.  In ‘The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem’, he writes:

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”

Mohler quotes more from Barna’s earlier 2005 survey:

A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

… at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

We are indeed.  Let’s dust off the Good Book and get going!  I’ve got online resources, should you need them.