San Antonio, Texas, Pastor Randy Frazee says a recent study revealing how little Christians know about their own faith, let alone other faiths, is good news.
"It's a good wake-up call for us. It brings to light one of the challenges for the contemporary Christian church," the senior minister of Oak Hills Church explained to The Christian Post.
Biblical illiteracy is a problem he and others in ministry have seen for quite some time now, he said. He calls it the "dirty little secret" in the church.
This week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a nationwide poll that measured how knowledgeable Americans are when it comes to religion. The poll found that compared to other faith groups, atheists and agnostics knew most about the Bible, church history, world religions and religion in public life. Protestants trailed in religious knowledge behind not only atheists but also Jews and Mormons.
It's "a game that we should have won," Frazee said, though he wasn't surprised by the results.
The poll reminded the 49-year-old pastor of a time when legendary football coach Vince Lombardi took his team back to the basics of football. "This is a football," the coach famously said.
Taking cues from Lombardi, Frazee said pastors and teachers need to get back to their homefield, hold up a Bible and say "this is a Bible."
"I think what this Pew study is showing us is maybe we have shortcutted the inner transformational process and are maybe looking at how can we grow the fastest," he said. "I think that we're going to need to get back to some of the basics again."
And he doesn't want church leaders to just "react" to the study. He wants them to "intentionally, positively act."
Helping Christians to be biblically grounded and setting them up so that they can continue to grow spiritually without being spoon-fed by pastors has been a passion of Frazee's for 22 years.
"Part of my passion is for the church not just to engage in attractional activity – maybe topical messages with sound bites of Scripture that attract ... a big crowd," he explained. "But we really are looking for a more deeply-rooted approach which basically says if our people are biblically grounded and spiritually growing it will create the kind of outcome that will not only grow numerically but will also bring about life transformation."
In the last two years, just after taking the helm of Oak Hills Church, he has helped his congregation of 9,000 – which he leads with well-known pastor Max Lucado – become dramatically more confident with Scripture and comfortable with biblical literacy. Moreover, the congregation's satisfaction level with spiritual growth is off the charts, he added.
For the average Christian, the Bible can be very daunting, Frazee recognized, especially if there's no one to guide the believer through the 66 books – which are topically and not chronologically organized, Frazee pointed out.
Offering one pointer for reading Scripture, he suggested that Christians first understand the "one story" of God before diving into the details.
The Bible isn't "thousands of ancient, unrelated stories that have no relevancy to us today," said Frazee, who previously served as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. "But it's actually one overarching story of God's intense love, chapter by chapter, of his pursuit to get us back and to bring us into an eternal relationship with Him."
He noted that there is an admiration for those who believe simply by faith. Still, there is value in and a need to have basic literacy not only of the Christian faith but also of other religions.
"I think a broad knowledge of world religions helps us to converse and be tolerant in a pluralistic society. I think that just shows respect for someone else to have a basic literacy of the sandals that they wear spiritually," Frazee said.
Moreover, if younger believers are not exposed to broader world religions, they're going to be shocked when they do run into them and wonder why they were never told about them.
"It might unnerve their faith particularly if they're not biblically literate at the same time," the Texas pastor cautioned.
The Pew study was conducted in May and June among more than 3,400 Americans. The poll asked respondents to identify Mother Teresa's religion, the dominant religion in Pakistan, the figure who inspired the Reformation, the Islamic holy book, and the four Gospels, among other things.