Friday, September 11, 2009

Literacy and the Gospel (part 4)

The following are excerpts from an interesting article written by Dr. Philip Ryken, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philidelphia, PA. The full article can be found on Tenth Presbyterian's website

The reason for all this literary illiteracy is not hard to guess. We are living in an accelerated culture of perpetual distraction, the multimedia age of the sound bite and the instant message. Our unprecedented global connectivity gives us an immediate interchange of massive amounts of information. However, most of this information comes in small packages. Everything seems to be getting shorter—articles, paragraphs, sentences, even words. For a reader who is used to rapidly scanning short emails or clicking through news headlines on the Internet, a long text that demands sustained thought can quickly become a source of boredom, impatience, or frustration......

In some respects, a decline in literary reading poses little threat to the church, where literacy has never been a prerequisite for understanding the gospel. In fact, most of the early Christians were unable to read the Bible for themselves. Literacy was a social benefit that only the educated elite were privileged to enjoy. In those days communication generally took place through the spoken rather than the written word. Nevertheless, people could still hear the Bible read in the public worship of the church. They could also understand the Bible. Although the Old and New Testaments contain many deep truths about God, the basic plan of salvation is something even the simplest person can understand. Christianity is not intellectually elitist.

Nevertheless, it still needs to be said that reading the Bible for full comprehension requires a higher level of proficiency than bare literacy. To begin with, the Bible is a long book, and people need to have the confidence to read it in full. Furthermore, nearly all of the literature in the Bible has a rich depth of complexity. The biblical writers are rarely ever content to say only one thing at a time; more typically they invest their stories, poems, histories, epistles, and other literary forms with layers of meaning that require careful scrutiny and quiet reflection for full understanding. The Bible both demands and rewards our best reading and thinking.

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