Biblical Literacy -- from the Top Down
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Dr. Doug Oss, director of Cordas C. Burnett Center for Biblical Preaching at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), explains that when people are biblically illiterate, they are not fully aware that the most important truths God has ever revealed to humankind are found only in the Bible.
“Only the Scriptures have the power to guide people to salvation by revealing to them that Jesus alone is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ (John 14:6) Truth is found in the Bible that is incomparable to anything else and is exclusively available on its pages,” Oss says. “When people read the Bible, and learn its truth, the eternal, spiritual reality of the truth is impressed on them by the Holy Spirit. The depth of the wisdom of Scripture is overwhelming like no other. Also, the authority of Scripture to guide us in life and personal morality is made abundantly clear when we read the Bible.”
Dr. Tim Hager, AGTS dean, explains that although the issue of biblical illiteracy is evident in the pew, the antidote begins in the pulpit.
“We need powerful pulpits,” Hager states. “We need ministers who know the culture and context of the Scriptures, who can put God’s Word in the proper light, who can engage their congregations through expository preaching, who understand that historical authenticity differs when preaching out of Psalms or Prophetic Literature or the Epistles.”
In short, Hager believes that for people in the pew to become biblically literate, the man or woman in the pulpit must not only be biblically literate, but also teach and preach in such a manner that creates biblical literacy in the congregation.
Mike Burnette is the pastor of LifePoint Church (AG) in Clarksville, Tennessee. The church was recently named the fastest growing church in the United States by Outreach magazine. Burnette attributes his church’s growth primarily to expository preaching, working through the Bible book by book and passage by passage. Oss and Hager agree that in their experience, today’s generation has a hunger to hear messages that present the teaching of Scripture in straightforward, clear Bible exposition. They are advocates for Bible exposition in the pulpits of AG churches as an antidote to biblical illiteracy. “Congregations read the Bible in the manner that the pastor preaches,” Oss says.
With those observations in mind, Hager and Oss have begun the process at AGTS to refine the mission and reach of the Cordas C. Burnett Center for Biblical Preaching. The goal is not only to assist students who attend in developing their expository and communication skills, but to use the center as a hub from which to send leaders to speak to pastors and other ministers about the importance of, and methods of, biblical preaching.
“If a minister grows as a skilled expositor of Scripture, then he or she can do any other kind of preaching,” Oss says. “Solid exposition is the foundation for any type of sermon. Preaching has impact and authority only to the extent that it captures what the text is actually saying, because only Scripture is God-breathed.”
The drive for biblical literacy by AGTS coincides with AG General Superintendent Doug Clay’s call for biblical literacy in the Assemblies of God.
“We want to help ministers develop their skills in unpacking God’s Word, giving voice to the biblical text,” Hager says. “We want to assist them in bringing the voice of Scripture to life, not adding to it, but bringing out accurately the meaning that is, reasonably, in the text itself.”
Hager and Oss are currently heading up a biblical literacy focus group of leaders from across America to help AGTS and, ultimately, the Assemblies of God provide any additional tools to help ministers explore Scripture, accurately interpret it, and effectively communicate biblical truth to a generation avidly desiring it; a generation hungry for a deeper, authentic relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.