One of the most well-known names in Bible literacy research is George Barna of the Barna Group.
Barna’s study of the American church covers the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. He declared the situation a crisis:
The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most church-going adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?
Barna group: Religious Beliefs vary widely by denomination – June 25, 2001 (from Internet archive)Another voice expressing concern about biblical illiteracy during this period of time was Gary Burge, a professor at Wheaton.
In 1999, Christianity Today published his article about how his college had been testing incoming freshmen’s knowledge of the Bible and theology for the previous four years. Burge said:
These students are intellectually ambitious and spiritually passionate. They represent almost every Protestant denomination and every state in the country. Most come from strong evangelical churches and possess a long history of personal devotion and Christian involvement (regular church attendance, youth groups, camps, missions, etc.). They use the Bible regularly — but curiously, few genuinely know its stories.
The Greatest Story Never Read: Recovering Biblical Literacy in the Church by Gary M. Burge (Christianity Today)Burge’s students had trouble with the names of the apostles, the content of some of the books of the Bible, and being able to put events into chronological order—very similar to what Kenneth Berding wrote about in 2014.
And similar to what Ed Stetzer said in 2014, Burge declared, “obviously, we live in a postbiblical era where general knowledge of the Bible cannot be assumed.”
That brings up a question: When could general knowledge of the Bible be assumed?
As we continue this trip back in time, it’ll be obvious this is not an easy question to answer.
So that was the state of Bible literacy in the 1990s.
But, before all that, there was George Gallup.
A Serious Look at Biblical Literacy