As a seminary professor, I do a fair amount of teaching in area churches. Several years ago, I was invited to teach a series of adult Sunday School classes at an Atlanta church—something on patience and waiting for God. The particular class I would be teaching was composed of a group of people that had been meeting weekly and faithfully to study the Bible for something like 40 years. 52 weeks in a year, 40 years: they had, in principle, studied together over 2000 times. “Everybody have a Bible?” I asked? They all held up Bibles—many of which they’d carried with them from home. I asked them to turn to the book of Habakkuk.
Blank stares. Silence. Finally, someone ventured a guess: “Let’s see. That would be in the Old Testament?” “Yes,” I answered, “right between Nahum and Zephaniah.” Blank stares turned incredulous. “Nahum?? You’re making these names up, right?” “No,” I assured them, “these are real books in the rump end of the Old Testament. Try going to Matthew and backing up a bit.” After a bit of searching for Matthew, they honed in on Habakkuk and class began. It was not an auspicious beginning.
I certainly don’t expect every person in the pews to know the contents or even all the names of the various books of the Bible. But this was, as I said, a class that had been meeting regularly for decades, carrying their Bibles with them weekly, and they still weren’t familiar with a good deal of it. And sadly, the folks at that church aren’t alone.
Not too long ago, Bill McKibben noted that roughly 85% of U.S. citizens call themselves Christian. However, only 40% of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, the majority of the population cannot name any of the Gospel writers, 12% believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and ¾’s of Americans believe that the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves”—which is about as close to the opposite of what the New Testament teaches as you can get in one convenient and catchy sentence. Examples like that Sunday school class and statistics like McKibben’s make me wonder whether there is any other form of study anywhere on the earth where more people spend more time learning less than the Sunday schools of the church—or whether there are any group of people so profoundly uninformed who are willing to be so publicly vocal about matters in which they are so determined to be utterly ignorant.
My colleague in Christian education and partner in editing this journal has written a provocative essay on education and assessment—both in the public and in the church—and while her focus may be more on children and youth, it seems to me that her comments are probably generalizable to us adults as well. And the respondents—Bill Brown, David and Carol Bartlett, and Holly Ingles—have each, in their own ways and through their own disciplines, enriched that conversation. This edition, though slow in coming out, manages to make an important conversation both meaningful and enjoyable. We hope you find it useful as well.
A last note: this edition of the journal marks the end of Kathy Dawson’s time as my co-editor. She has been a partner in the creation and continuation of @ This Point from its beginning and, while I’m sorry to see her go, I’m grateful for all that she’s brought to each and every edition we’ve put out over the past four years. We’ll have a new edition out in late fall of 2010, but it will look and feel different, if for no other reason than that Kathy won’t be working on it.