I trust his opinion. He has been a pastor for over 30 years. He has been involved in cutting edge ministries in the community for as long. His ministry now involves visiting churches to preach the gospel and consult with their leaders on ways to help their churches grow.
So when he says, in his opinion, "this" is the biggest problem in the church today then I stop and listen.
And the "this" is, "Christians today don't know their Bibles." As he travels around Australia he is amazed that people could be attending churches for many years yet struggle to understand how the Bible fits together. That is, the way God's plan of salvation is out worked throughout salvation history. Or to put it another way, how God's plan impacts our lives. And the problem, he explains, is that if you don't know the Bible's central storyline then you don't know God.
God wants a relationship with us. And everything we need to know about Him is revealed in the 66 books of the Bible. The Bible is often described as God "breathed" or "inspired." It has a central theme that builds up to Jesus, who is called the Word (John chapter 1). So the way this relationship grows is through a deeper knowledge of Jesus revealed in the Bible. In fact, one of the main tasks of the Holy Spirit is to help us understand the Bible and the way it points to Jesus (John chapter 14). Or to put it in a negative way, as my friend does, if you don't know your Bible then you don't know Jesus. You are biblically illiterate.
But it goes deeper than just an academic knowledge of the Bible, like memorizing John 3:16. He explains it has to be a knowledge that transforms lives. Imagine you are in a relationship with someone. An academic knowledge of their favourite colour doesn't mean that relationship is rich and deep. But if you know their favourite colour and buy flowers of that colour that shows depth. What my friend is talking about is that as you understand the Bible you grow in your desire to love both God and others. And the outworking of this is a church full of power and influence. Not one that is impotent and dying. It is one that shares the good news in its communities and impacts lives for eternity.
Part of the solution is preaching: it must focus on explaining the books of the Bible and what God wants us to know from them. This is often called exegetical preaching. When my friend preaches he tries to point to the Bible's storyline focusing on Jesus. He avoids a motivational "life coaching" talk that uses a Bible verse to support his ideas but prefers to point to the Bible as the Way to transform lives.
Another solution is for us to take reading the Bible seriously. That is, enjoying reading through a Bible book and understanding the richness of the Old and New Testament contexts. It all points to Jesus and what He has done for us. He described it as like any relationship: if you are serious about it you will get to know the person more deeply and be richly blessed because of it.
Finally, the other part of the solution is living out this knowledge. The apostle Paul talks often about living out the joy of this relationship with Jesus (e.g. Philippians chapter 4). Just as individuals, full of the Spirit of God (John chapter 14), have a transformed life, so too churches that are growing in their relationship with Jesus also will have a transforming effect on their communities. My Pastor friend has a point: we are biblically illiteracy and this makes us weak in our relationship with Jesus. The solution is right there in your hands, the Bible: to be read, enjoyed, studied and used to bring about a richer relationship for His glory.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html