A survey on biblical literacy by the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) has reaffirmed that it is crucial for churches to have biblically sound teaching and theologically knowledgeable pastors.
The results of this biblical literacy survey were released yesterday at an event held at the Lonehill Village Church in Johannesburg. SATS, a large distance learning theological seminary, hopes that they will raise awareness of the importance of continuing to profile biblical literacy in the church and encourage church leaders to work to reinforce the teachings of Scripture and their relevance today.
“We keep hearing that Christians do not know, read, or believe the Bible like they used to,” said Kevin Smith, vice principal of SATS. “Apparently this is true in some parts of the world, but we wanted to know if this is also the case in South Africa.”
The survey, which involved 4 151 respondents, was designed by the quantitative research specialists at Supertron Technologies, a local IT and business strategy and implementation consultancy.
In general, the responses showed a high level of commitment to read the Bible as the Word of God and to live by its teachings. Some 67 percent of the respondents read the Bible daily, with 75 percent having read all or most of the Old Testament, and 88 percent all or most of the New Testament.
A high level of agreement with statements of biblical belief and morality was noted, as well as a high commitment to searching the Word of God for wisdom in dealing with daily life. Some 98 percent believe that the entire Bible is the Word of God, 99 percent that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins, and 96 percent that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to go to heaven. Additionally, 98 percent believe that the Bible is relevant for today, and addresses the problems modern people face.
“We found that what is taught from the pulpit is greatly influential on the way Christians understand the Bible’s teachings, and significantly influences their beliefs about life and godliness,” said Smith. “Most Christians believe that their church leaders know the Bible well and preach it faithfully. This makes training biblically and theologically knowledgeable church leaders critical.”
Areas of concern
There were, however, some trends in the data that raised concerns. For example, it was found that the younger believers are, the less likely they are to read the Bible every day. Additionally, only 21 percent of the respondents’ families read the Bible together every day, and in the 20–29 year age bracket the figure drops to 8 percent. “We need to gain insight into this pattern and work to reverse it,” Smith said.
More areas of concern were the statistically significant minority that disagreed that the Bible prohibits cohabitation and homosexual practices as well as the small but significant minority of respondents who expressed a belief that there are errors in the Bible.
“We recognise the subtle influence of unbiblical views regarding marriage and sexuality on Christians, and we intend to work to clarify and affirm the Bible’s teachings about sexuality,” said Smith.
“We also acknowledge that many Christians are grappling with confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture, and we intend to intensify our efforts to assure all our students of its complete truthfulness,” he added.
SATS recognises that results are not fully representative of the entire Christian community in South Africa and that there remains a need for the church in South Africa to comprehensively understand the extent to which Christians read, know, and believe the Bible. “However, the results are significant and provide us as a Christian learning institution with some leading insights,” said Smith.
He added that he would like to see similar studies conducted amongst all churches and all people in South Africa.
“We would gladly work with Christians who share this desire, and would make the instrument we developed available to them,” he said.