4/14/2016 12:58:01 PM
The Millennials: Part 2 - Biblically Illiterate
“Moses? Zacchaeus? Daniel? Paul? Corinthians? Ephesians? You lost me…” Ok, if you read my post from last week, this generality about Millennials will make a lot of sense. Since Millennials have grown up in a post-Christian era in America, it is all but natural that they will be biblically illiterate. In a survey, Thom and Jess Rainer asked Millennials how often they read their Bibles (or other sacred writings, eg. Torah, Koran) and how often they met with a group to study them. Only about 18% said they were in a sacred writing once a week or more (Rainer, The Millennials, p. 238-240). I wonder what the percentage was just for the Bible…10%? So since Millennials have not grown up with the Bible and are not in their Bibles very often if at all, they have no clue about the common Sunday school stories that many of us have grown up knowing. But it’s not just Bible stories that Millennials don’t know, they don’t know Bible terminology. “Sin? Grace? Fellowship? Justification? Sanctification? Inspiration? You lost me…” Yes, this is indeed a problem. How can you evangelize to Millennials if they have little or no Bible knowledge for you to work with? With this post, I want to answer that question for you.
First of all, we need to understand that we are neither in an Acts 2 America or an Acts 17 America, but we are somewhere in between. Now what do I mean by that? In Acts chapter 2, Peter got up on the day of Pentecost and preached a sermon to his audience. That day in Jerusalem, the people in his audience were all Jewish. They had grown up knowing the Old Testament stories and the Old Testament prophecies. Peter only needed to connect their knowledge of the Old Testament with the person Jesus.
In Acts chapter 17, Paul preaches to a completely different audience. Paul is in Athens on Mars Hill where all the Greek philosophers and thinkers met for discussion. They had no clue who David or Abraham were or about the Old Testament sacrifices and prophecies. So what did Paul do? He started with what they did know. They knew there was a god. If you looked around Athens in Paul’s day, you could see all kinds of idols and altars to many gods. In fact to make sure that every god was covered, the Greeks even made an altar to “An Unknown God.” Paul then based his message on the people’s natural knowledge of God. He explained to them that the unknown God was the true God that they needed—that he died and rose from the dead for them.
Millennials are somewhere between the audience of Acts 2 and Acts 17. Since Millennials have grown up in a post-Christian America, Christianity is not unheard of, but is still a little familiar. Most have heard of sin, grace, and Jesus. But they either have misconceptions of what/who they are or they just don’t understand. Pastor Matt Ewart says it this way: “They are ignorant not because they woke up one day and decided the Bible was not important to them. Most of them are ignorant because the Bible doesn’t make sense to them. It’s a foreign language to them. They do not miss what they do not know” (“Preaching to the Biblically Ignorant without Seeming Biblically Arrogant” Preach the Word Vol 19 No. 3. Though this is an article for pastors on preaching, it does have some very good insights for others). So it is not always true that we have no Bible knowledge to work with when we witness to Millennials. We may be able to build off of some knowledge, but more than likely we will need to explain it.
So once again…how do we do that? Well the point I emphasized last week still stands this week—it begins with our own commitment to God and his Word. That should make sense. How are we going to explain biblical stories and truths if we don’t know them very well ourselves?
We all know Jesus died for our sins, but where do we find that? Well, let’s look it up on Google, right? Sure, Google is a great source—type a few words into the search engine and boom!...there it is. But as studies have shown, Google really has ruined learning and knowledge retention. It’s called “The Google Effect” (AKA digital amnesia). In a paper from 2011, Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegnerin described and named “The Google Effect” as the tendency to forget information that can be found readily online by using internet search engines such as Google. Has this happened to you? With the emergence of search engines have you forgotten the references of key Bible passages? Have you forgotten in what book you can find certain stories?
Unfortunately “The Google Effect” has affected the majority of the Millennial generation. Yes, it has even affected me. I personally think this is one reason kids today just don’t retain Bible information. Pastor Ewart said it in his article and I know many other pastors have experienced it too—kids who are coming into Catechism just don’t know common bible stories or terminology. I can even see that in our own church. This year I was trying to teach the 5th Commandment. One of my students had no clue who Cain and Able were. So what do we do about that?
What I want to suggest is that we get off Google—we get off our phones, computers, and tablets—and we just sit down with a very “archaic” item—a traditional paper Bible. And don’t just sit down with any Bible—use your same personal Bible over and over again. There is something interesting about the human brain when you read a book or school notes over and over again, your brain begins to see where on the page the words are. There was a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary that was a master of this. He would give his Bible to the students and tell them to pick any verse and read it. Usually the students would pick a very obscure verse in the Old Testament. When they picked the verse, the professor would say something like: “That verse is in Jeremiah chapter 8 about two-thirds of the way down on the right hand side.” Wow! Now that is someone who knew his Bible. I’m not expecting any one of us will ever be like that. The point is…to know your Bible that well is a wonderful goal to strive for, isn’t it? These are the words that we hold on so dearly for everlasting life. As Christians it would be natural that we would strive for this.
What are some other ways were you can rejuvenate our Bible knowledge? Take time with your family to be in the Word. Set aside a certain time of day, like 15-20 min, to have a family devotion together. Also, don’t just read to your family. Ask your family questions. Get a discussion going. Discuss how that specific section of God’s Word could apply to your life. Parents, especially, take time with your kids. Read a Bible story with them before they go to bed. Talk to them about what that Bible study means for our life and how it is connected to our faith in Jesus.
Right now our synod’s magazine, Forward in Christ, has a great series going on. Pastor Joel Heckendorf has been writing an article each month on “Great Stories of the Bible.” There will be about 12 articles total focusing on twelve Bible stories (You can find past articles here at the WELS website). The purpose of these articles is to take these popular children’s Bible stories and see how they apply to our lives. What I love about these articles is that Pastor Heckendorf usually asked 3-5 questions after the article. Two of those questions are always the same: “1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add? 2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?” Why do I like those questions so much? Because they make you retell the story and think about it. It is really beneficial for us to be able to tell stories ourselves and explain them without having to look them up. These are all ways we can learn and prepare ourselves to share God’s Word and explain it to Millennials who just don’t understand it.
The more and more you are in God’s Word, the more you are prepared to evangelize to Millennials. Maybe now a question comes up in your head: “Will I ever be committed enough or have enough knowledge to evangelize?” If you ever lack confidence like this, remember you are ready right now. Really there is never going to be a time on this earth where we know God’s Word perfectly or can explain it perfectly. A Christian’s life is a continuous study of God’s Word. So what I am encouraging now—as you commit and study God’s Word—evangelize at the same time. Share with others what you have learned and show them how awesome it is and what it means for you (There will be more on this as well in part 7 of this series—Millennials like to experience the truth rather be told what it is).
In general, when you are evangelizing to someone—Millennial or not—you want to ask questions and listen. You want to listen to see how much they know about God and his Word. What is the biblical foundation (if any) that you can build off of? Are they more like the audience of Acts 17 or more in between Acts 17 and Acts 2? When you find that out, talk on their level of knowledge—don’t throw a lot of Bible names, places, terminology at them that will go over their heads. They will look at you like some know-it-all and that you don’t really care. We also must remember that we aren’t just regurgitating information. Our Bible knowledge means something to us so show it. Be authentic when you share God’s Word with someone. Millennials who are biblically illiterate care more about how you say things rather than what you are saying to them (There will be more on that point in part 10 of this series as we look at “authenticity”).
Dear Christians, we have a long road ahead of us, but the Holy Spirit is with us in his Word. America (which includes us) has dug itself a hole where people just don’t know much about the Bible anymore. God’s Word is our source for everything we need—our salvation and Christian living. The Gospel of Jesus motivates us to share it with others. Our mission will be slow and steady—but it is God’s mission for us and he promises to bless us.
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