Fighting Biblical and Theological Ignorance

I don’t know if any of you listen to “The White Horse Inn” but it is a great radio program that you should check out.

They have started to do a series examining Galatians. To start this new series they went to a conservative, evangelical Bible college and simply asked, “What is the book of Galatians about?”

It was almost jaw dropping to hear some of these responses and how completely wrong they were. One would think they had never read Galatians or that it had been a very, very long time since they had last read it. They gave typical Sunday school answers and answers that people who don’t actually read the Bible believe to be in every book of the Bible.

Here are some responses to the question: What is the central message of Galatians?

How the Christian should live their life.
Community in the church.
I’m not familiar with it.
Strengthening others in Christ.
I haven’t read it all the way through.
I don’t remember.

It was somewhat depressing when I listened to the responses to the question. They asked 12 people and only 2 people gave a half-way right answer. The other 10 simply said, “I don’t know” or gave a typical Sunday school answer, like-“how the christians should live their life.”

One thing is clear, my generation is very theologically and biblically ignorant.

I separate theologically ignorant and biblically ignorant in this way(you don’t have to separate the two):

Theological ignorance- ignorance in some of the key doctrines of the Christian faith(systematic and biblical theology).

Biblical ignorance– ignorance in specific books of the Bible and specific passages.

What can the church do to help turn this around? What can we, as the church, do to help people have a better knowledge and grasp of the Bible and key theological beliefs?

Here are some of my thoughts (I realize that it is not all on the churches shoulders, people do have to take some personal responsibility… But these are things that would certainly help):

1) Preach expositionally(verse by verse)– I know there are a lot of different opinions when it comes to preaching and that many people think it is merely a matter of preference. While some of it comes down to preference it also comes down to- 1) What is most biblical? 2) What best equips the saints?- I know godly men that disagree with me on this and there are great preachers who do more topical preaching than expositional. With that being said I think expositional preaching gives people a better understanding of Scripture than any other form of preaching.

Here are some main reasons why I think Expository preaching gives people a fuller, better understanding of Scripture:

a) Expository preaching doesn’t allow a preacher to skip over tough passages.
b) Expository preaching dives deeper into specific passages(most of the time- there are, of course, exceptions).
c) Expository preaching helps members study the Bibles for themselves.
d) Expository preaching always preaches passages in context of the passages around it and shows the importance of context.
e) Expository preaching makes it easier for people to refer back to things they’ve learned.
f) Expository preaching avoids “proof-texting”- As many have said before me, “we should preach expositionally because of what Scripture is.” Scripture is the word of God and expositional preaching best lets Scripture speak for itself.

2) Don’t be soft on Sundays– Many churches have fallen into this thought process that we have to preach as if everyone is as theologically slow as a turtle. But they aren’t. If we never move beyond a 5th grade level of biblical depth our congregations won’t either. Remember, church is primarily for believers. Colossians 1:9-10 encourages us to grow in the “knowledge of God and to bear fruit in every good work.” Sadly, most sermons do not help people grow in the knowledge of God, but rather merely encourages people to “live good christian lives.” Our transformation is based on what we know about our great God. We can’t grow more intimate with God without growing in our knowledge of him. I can’t grow in love for my wife if I don’t continue to learn about her.

3) Be fearless, but not foolish– Many pastors and churches fear that deep theological study and discussion will cause division. It can, but if it is done correctly it should build unity and love for the savior. If every Thursday night you hold a debate on Calvinism you are being foolish. At the same time it is important for each church to have some place that members who are interested can have a time in which to ask deep theological questions. There ought to be some place that people can study, learn, and discuss tough theological issues.

Too many times pastors and church avoid theology for “the sake of unity.” This is utter garbage that the Apostle Paul knew nothing of. If you disagree with me go read the Pastoral Letters…(1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Paul often used language that shows us we need to “promote sound doctrine, guard sound doctrine, give instruction according to sound doctrine, teach sound doctrine, etc…”  Yet today we see pastors and churches doing otherwise.


  1. says

    great thoughts, matt. i might just suggest that people within the bible belt are probably equally theologically ignorant as those outside of it. i say that because, although they have a familiarity, traditions and localized theologies have a very strong influence. i say that as a product of the bible belt who loves its people. still, and thank God, there are exceptions, good christian folks who have a passion to know God and a habit of absorbing the revelation He has provided us, i.e. scripture. again, good thoughts brother

  2. says

    I thought it was somewhere in Scripture where Sunday mornings was for patty-cake sermons and actual Bible teaching occurred on Sunday night or Wednesday. I can’t remember the verse, but it has to be in the book if so many pastors and churches are practicing it!

  3. says

    I was converted 12-7-57, and my sister gave me a Bible for Chistmas of that year. I still have that Bible after 52 years; its cover is stiff and would break, if an attempt was made to bend it. Many verses are heavily underlined. I used it in my first year of college in Texas, (East Texas Baptist0 my second year of college (St. Louis Baptist), third year (William Jewell & St. Louis Baptist), and on to my first pastorate in 1962. One of the things I began to do was preach sermons which required study, and I had already been reading books of sermons, commentaries, theological works, and in 1963 I began to do research in Baptist Church History which exposed me to how Baptists had studied the Bible across the centuries. That research, and continued research in the Bible, eventually led to my making lists of two-sided and apparently contradictory doctrines (apparently contradictory because the human mind cannot reconcile them – as in human responsibility, Jesus as God/man, the Bible as inspired with Divine and human elements, the trinity and unity of God, etc). It would take more years to realize that God had given a revelation that presented truths adapted to the human mind, truths that produced a a desirable tension in the human mind, which enabled a person to be balanced, flexible, creative and magnetic. More years would pass as I tried to get back to the original teachings and how they were so powerful in producing the First and Second Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions. More time would be invested in learning how the truths of grace are really paradoxical interventions designed to restore to man a sense of responsibility, dignity, and sanity. Yes, total depravity, total inability, even reprobation were designed to be invitations that empower the person who embraces those teachings to respond with a faith that even Jesus commends (Mt.15:21-28). These truths are coming back in power, I trust and pray, in order for us to have and experience another, a Third Great Awakening. God speed the day.

  4. says

    “One thing is clear, my generation is very theologically and biblically ignorant(especially outside the Bible belt).”

    I think you’re being generous Matt. There is plenty of Biblical ignorance inside of the Bible belt as well. For that matter, there is much more theologically and biblical ignorance in the church than there should be. I read books on Biblical exposition; I would wager the majority of church members (SBC church members in my own state included) do not know what exposition is. Haddon Robinson, author of Biblical Preaching, says that “many preachers fail as Christians before they fail as preachers because they do not think biblically.”

    Reading the Bible on a regular basis, and studying it in a systematic fashion of any type, is just not high on the list of priorities for many Christians. We have created a model of worship in our churches that emphasizes so many other things besides the words of scripture. When the band plays for half an hour and then the preacher “says a few things,” that doesn’t put preaching the Word in it’s proper context. Many pastors have given up standing in the center of the church behind a pulpit so that the praise and worship band can fill the stage, and the worship leader can do the rest. We “worship” for 45 minutes and then the preacher speaks. It fills seats; but does not rightly divide the word of truth.

    Wow; sorry. I got wound up on a bit of a rant there. I’m just saying, I think biblical ignorance is more pervasive than you recognize in your post.

  5. says

    Interestingly enough, I have a Sunday School Quarterly from the 1880s from a brethren church. It is interlinear Greek text to Luke’s Gospel with footnotes to be used as aids to the Sunday School Lesson which is the text. Also I have knowledge from my studies in American Social & Intellectual History on the Puritans and how the members took notes on the pastor’s long winded sermons (any where from 1-3 hours???), and I understand there are severa hundreds of volumes of these notebook volumes preserved in the NewEngland states. O yes, by the way, any one remember te four year old Phoebe Bartlett that was converted in Jonathan Edwards’ revival and which he tells about in his Narrative of Surprising Conversions? Well, I came across a report of a Sunday School Convention in the late 1800s where her great grand daughter was giving testimony that Phoebe died a committed Chistian and so did her daughter and grand daughter and the great grand daughter was carrying on as a believer. Ain’t God good? We are gonna win. Jesus said so. So why fret at a few set backs? They were all planned for anyway. Soon this Third Great Awakening will be upon us, and what a day of rejoicing that will bring.