My initial interest in biblical literacy was sparked by an unexpected find in the library.
In 2008, I was finishing my first year of seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
One day while browsing the stacks in the teaching section of the campus library, I came across a few books by J.M. Price. He was the founder of what became known as the School of Educational Ministries.
In A Survey of Religious Education, Price and the other writers described the state of religious education in the United States.
It was just a brief statement. But it caught my eye.
“. . . the spiritual illiteracy in the land is indeed appalling.”A Survey of Religious Education. J.M. Price
The most striking fact about that statement is not what was said. No, as we’ve seen, that kind of thing has been talked about for years.
What was most striking, shocking, and amazing was when it was said.
That book was published in 1940.
J.M. Price said — in 1940 — that the “spiritual illiteracy” in the United States was “appalling.”
That was before the “turbulent” decade of the 1960s, cultural upheavals, moral changes, war protests, and court decisions about the use of prayer and the Bible in public schools.
Before all of that, a Christian educator observed the United States and declared that “spiritual illiteracy” in the country was “appalling.”
What did he see? What led him to that conclusion in 1940?
Price cited several different things to support his claim.
One example was the “Sunday school teacher who had graduated from a Christian college [who] did not know whether the book of Ephesians was in the Old Testament or the New.”
Others research from the 40s and 30s
Gallup actually reported on another survey from the late 1940s that supports Price’s observation, saying, “the average American’s religious thinking had not advanced beyond the Sunday-school level” (The Gallup Report: Religion in America: 50 Years: 1935–1985).
Author and teacher Finley Edge wrote a book called Teaching for Results and presented additional surveys that all reported similar statistics:
- Bennett Survey (1959)
- Pageant Survey (1949)
- Miller Survey (1932)
As unsettling as this is, evidence exists that indicates biblical illiteracy was a problem even longer ago than the 1930s.
A Serious Look at Biblical Literacy