We have a crisis in the church.
Simply put, people don’t know their Bibles. This includes many who have been Christians for decades.
This became evident to me last summer while attending a Christian family camp. One evening, the camp’s guest speaker used a portion of his sermon time to administer a “Bible literacy test.” (I believe he was using the collected data for his Ph.D. research)
The test consisted of twenty multiple-choice questions. For example, one question asked, Who wrote Philemon? The options were Paul, Philemon, Onesimus, or John.
Of the 150 or so people in attendance, most were longtime Christians who had attended the camp for years. Before taking the test, there was a lot of nervous laughter. When we got the results the next day, we found out why.
The camp—on average—failed miserably. This result was eye-opening to me. These weren’t new believers. These were people who grew up in the church, attend church regularly, and love the Lord. Yet, the majority displayed very little knowledge of biblical truth.
Raising Biblically Literate Kids
As a Christian parent, I’m committed to helping my kids know God’s word—His special revelation to us. This isn’t merely about memorizing Bible trivia or getting a good mark on a Bible test. Rather, it is through God’s word that we get to know what God is like. The Bible is primarily a story about God. He is the main character. Over and over, the Bible says, “God loves,” “God hates,” “God says,” “God desires,” “God does.” Every time we read the Bible, we get to know its Author. We get to know His character, His desires, His personality.
This is why Solomon says,
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1–5)
If we want to grow our knowledge of God, then we need to seek, receive, and treasure what’s in God’s word. Of course, this is easier said than done. We get distracted. We get busy. It’s more convenient to flip on Netflix than to flip open the Bible. Over time, God’s people drift from God as they disregard His word—a recurring theme in Scripture.
For instance, the prophet Hosea tells us that “there is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land” because Israel had “forgotten the law of [their] God” (Hosea 4:1, 6).
Here’s the question: What can we do—as parents—to promote biblical literacy at home?
Here are two practical ways to cultivate deeper understanding of God’s word in the hearts of your children.
1. Listen to the Bible as a family.
Reading the Bible seems like a no-brainer. Many families have been successful at making this a regular part of their routine. In my house, this hasn’t always worked very well. My kids have had a hard time paying attention to me reading the Bible, especially if I attempt to read long passages to them. Many times I’d end up spending more time trying to get them to stay focused than actually reading the text. This can be discouraging.
Now we do things a little differently.
My kids love listening to dramatized audiobooks. These are different from most audiobooks. Traditional audiobooks have a single reader reading the book. Dramatized audiobooks—on the other hand—combine the theatrical aspects of film with the content of an audiobook.
For example, Focus on the Family has produced the complete series of The Chronicles of Narnia in this format. The captivating dialogue, dramatic music, and realistic sound effects all serve to immerse the listener in the story. The production is so entertaining that the 22 hours it takes to complete the series flies by.
I’ve lost count of how many times my eight-year-old has gone through this series. At this point, she is able to effortlessly quote large sections of the book. I’ll often catch her saying the lines along with the characters as the audiobook is playing.
Furthermore, on a few occasions, she has made connections between The Chronicles of Narnia and what’s currently happening in her life. She’s said things like, “That was just like when Edmond…” or, “This reminds me of when Aslan said….” It’s as if the details of the story have become a part of her. The words are hidden in her heart, so to speak.
All of this got me thinking. What if there were a dramatized audio Bible that was as enjoyable to listen to as the Narnia series? And what would happen if my kids listened to it over and over again—committing God’s Word to memory?
After some hunting around, I found it.
It’s called Inspired By...The Bible Experience, and it’s awesome!
Using the Today’s New International Version (TNIV), this dramatized audiobook truly brings the Scriptures to life. Right now, we are working through the New Testament, which takes about 20 hours to complete. We listen in the car, before bed, and during lazy afternoons. Sometimes it’s playing in the background as my girls are playing.
I think memorizing individual Bible verses is a good idea. My girls have weekly verses to memorize for their Awana program. But there is a liability to this kind of Bible memorization. The verses are usually memorized without any regard for the actual context of the verse. Our kids end up knowing the verse without understanding how the verse fits into the bigger story. It’s like getting your kids to memorize puzzle pieces without ever showing them how they fit together within the bigger picture.
Listening to large portions of Scripture gives them the bigger picture while also hearing the verses that we want them to memorize. For example, my eldest has memorized Mark 2:17. It says,
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This is a precious truth. But merely memorizing what Jesus said still leaves us with a lot of questions. What exactly did Jesus hear to prompt this response? Who is Jesus responding to? Where is this dialogue happening? None of these questions can be answered without knowing the context.
The practice of routinely listening to The Bible Experience has enabled my kids to see verses in their context as they begin to store up God’s word in their hearts.
To build up biblical literacy, we don’t just want our kids to understand the micro-narratives within each book of the Bible. We also want them to understand the macro-narratives of each book in relation to the whole. This leads to the second practice to promote biblical literacy.
2. Watch the Bible Project together.
The Bible can be a confusing book. That’s because it’s not actually one book. It’s sixty-six God-inspired works that have been combined under one cover. Unfortunately, many Christians have a hard time seeing the Bible as anything more than a disjointed collection of books.
As we read (or listen) through the Bible, it’s easy to get lost in the micro-narrative—the specific details of what’s going on in the story. Don’t get me wrong, getting the details straight is an important part of Bible study. However, this can cause a biblical near-sightedness. We can lose sight of the big picture—or macro-narrative.
I want my kids to understand the big picture of each of the books of the Bible and how each fits into the even larger narrative of the whole Bible.
For example, our kids should understand how the account of the Exodus fits into the larger story of the book of Exodus, and how that fits into the larger story of the Old Testament and the Bible as a whole.
If you want your kids to understand the Bible with the big picture in mind, then I strongly recommend using the fabulous, short videos created by the Bible Project. More specifically, the Bible Project has created visually engaging videos that summarize each book of the Bible.
How do the Psalms fit into the Old Testament? What is Leviticus all about? Why did Paul write Galatians? These are the kinds of questions that get answered as you watch.
In our home, after everyone’s pajamas are on and teeth are brushed, we snuggle up in bed, open YouTube, and watch one of these videos. We are working through the whole Bible, one book at a time.
Our goal is to go through each summary video—from Genesis to Revelation—and then start over.
Like you, I want to raise kids who think and act biblically. But this will only happen if they are biblically literate. They need to know their Bible. And once God’s word is implanted in their hearts and minds, they will be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17).