By Alli Hill
Sixty-five percent of adults who identify themselves as readers of the Bible have never read the entire New Testament, a recent Gallup poll found. The statistic is not surprising to Dr. George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry professor of Bible.
Guthrie has been teaching New Testament Survey and Introduction to Bible Study classes for years at Union. Each year he gives his New Testament class a brief biblical literacy quiz to see how well the students understand Scripture.
He said he has found most of the incoming students do not know the Bible at all. Equally alarming is the number of students who have not been trained to read their Bibles.
“Ever since I started teaching the Introduction to Bible Study class, I have always asked my students how many of them have been in a church that offered a basic course of how to read and study the Bible,” Guthrie said. “I have never had more than seven hands raised, and I usually get around three. This semester, however, there were none.”
Guthrie said he has seen a pattern in the church of neglecting Scripture reading.
“We don’t give training in how to interact with the Word of God personally,” he said.
With the alarming statistics of how a lack of biblical literacy is becoming more of a problem in today’s culture and churches, Guthrie decided to meet with Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and Brad Waggoner, president and publisher of Broadman and Holman Publishing Group.
He presented them with an idea of a yearlong, free-access podcast series of clips from his Introduction to Bible Study class on how to study the Bible. They agreed to the idea, which eventually developed into something bigger — a training initiative within the church.
“The Biblical Literacy Initiative is not about a book or an event,” Guthrie said. “It is about how we can shift the way people interface with the Bible in personal and church life.”
The initiative includes four main tools, each written by Guthrie. The centerpiece is a book titled, “Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word.” The book is written in the narrative-interview style, in which Guthrie interviews approximately 16 of today’s leading Bible scholars, pastors and other Christian leaders.
A video curriculum, hosted by Guthrie, accompanies the book and is intended for small- group settings. Both the book and the video curriculum will be released in January. They will be followed in October 2011 with two additional tools: “Reading God’s Story: A One-Year Chronological Bible” and “A Reader’s Guide to the Bible.”
The reader’s guide coaches Christians on how to read Scripture well and apply it to their lives. Guthrie said Dr. David Platt, senior pastor of Brookhills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., used the guide with his church members after talking with Guthrie about it last fall.
“David had been planning on something similar to the reader’s guide for his church throughout the year of 2010,” Guthrie said. “I believe it was a divine appointment, and they have had over 2,000 people using the guide and field-testing it while David has preached the stories of Scripture on Sunday mornings.”
Northbrook Church in Jackson, where Guthrie serves as an elder, began field-testing the video curriculum Oct. 3. He said he is also using the material in his Introduction to Bible Study class.
Kevin Ung, junior sports ministry major, said he is in the class and highly recommends it for every student at Union.
“It is really practical and fun,” Ung said. “It is like you are sitting in the room with Dr. Guthrie while he is interviewing a scholar.”