Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religious Illiteracy

A friend recommended reading Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't, by Stephen Prothero and I've just begun the book. I loved this paragraph:

"When I first began teaching in the early 1990's I was a follower of Dewey and the Progressives [skill based learning vs. information based]. In high school I had come to see the subject of history as nothing more than the mindless accumulation of names and dates, and I vowed upon entering college in the late 1970's that I would study every subject I could manage except history. Happily, I came across a professor who taught me that the vocation of history is not about memorizing names and dates but about forming judgments and contribution to debates about what happened in the past. So when I finished graduate school and became a professor myself, I told students that I didn't care about facts. I cared about having challenging conversations, and I offed my quiz-free classrooms as places to do just that. I soon found, however, that the challenging conversations I coveted were not possible without some common knowledge - common knowledge my students plainly lacked."

We could spend our energies bemoaning religious illiteracy even in the church (which Prothero does point out). More interestingly, I'm wondering what this means for out work in evangelism. We hope to create an environment that encourages challenging spiritual conversations. We encourage people to initiate spiritual conversations with their friends on campus. But how can these conversations take place if we lack the common knowledge, even the common vocabulary, that is essential to conversation. If you doubt we lack the common knowledge, catch a Jay Walking spot on the Leno Show sometime!

The introduction of the book has reinforced for me the need to do a lot of 'pre-evangelism' before we plunge into evangelism. By pre-evangelism I mean exploring the story of Christianity, explaining key words and their meaning (like sin, grace, hope, etc). My question is, how do we effectively engage people in pre-evangelism. Much effort has been spent on developing evangelistic techniques, but what of the initial phase? If you have ideas or resources, send em my way!

2 comments:

no said...

i'm glad you're enjoying it! first, i think that we should include christians as well as non-christians in the group of people who are religiously illiterate. i recently heard that today's christians were labeled the 'veggie tale' generation after a study done through wheaton found that most christians (even at wheaton!) have the religious literacy equivalent to that of small children.

so, i think the best way to start pre-evangelism is to actually teach those who are going to do the pre-evangelism how to do it, because they might be christians but they might have a real lack of religious literacy.

the first thing that comes to mind is that today's young christians need to learn church and religious history. for instance, i'm learning about the apostolic fathers and the didache and its really shaped my view of the biblical canon in a good way AND i think that i could totally get into a much more informed discussion of the validity of the bible now that i've learned about those things. before this class, i had no idea what/who the apostolic fathers were.

longest comment ever but one more thing: what if you held a short seminar on church history? i think something like that would really help with religious illiteracy.

Dan Waugh said...

yes and yes! I actually spoke at the mens' ministry meeting yesterday all about Athanasius! Church history is great is one of the seminars we will be offering in the next few years.