January 9, 2009
Biblical Literacy Reaches New Low
Why "John 3:16" being the top Google search isn't something to celebrate.
by Brian Lowery
Today, Friday, January 9, 2009 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America has officially become utterly and inexcusably biblically illiterate. Let me explain.
Each Friday, over on the Preaching Today blog, I write up a weekly pop culture roundup. It's a way to help preachers know what folks are watching, reading, listening to, and learning about. I list the top-five movies, the top-five books, the top-five albums, the top-five songs, and the top-five search items on that particular Friday morning - all with a bit of hyper-linked commentary.
Of all the material I gather for the roundup, I'm almost always most intrigued by the top-five search items. I go to Google Trends, find the day's date, and just like that, I know what people are obsessing over as they begin their Friday.
Today's top-five list was a bit unexpected:
1. John 3 16
2. Mary Lynn Rajskub
3. Windows 7 beta download
4. All inclusive vacations
5. Ana Ortiz
You read number one right. As Friday, January 9th, was just getting rolling, the top search item on Google was John 3:16. Why? Oddly, because of last night's BCS Championship football game between the Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners. Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, came out to play the game with "John 3:16" written on his eye black ("John" under one eye," "3:16" under the other - hopefully in the right order).
Now, there are two things that interest me about this one. First of all, according to the article linked above, Tebow did this because he "is the son of Christian missionaries and, with the opportunity to play before a national TV audience of millions and millions, he wanted to do his part in saving some souls." Of course, that's what the article says. I can only assume they've got their facts straight - which is a big assumption when it comes to today's journalism. If they are being factual about his reasons for doing what he did, I suspect most of us will immediately choose a side in the great debate of whether or not Tebow is Billy Graham with shoulder pads.
Some will argue this was one of the great apologetic moments in history. Millions were watching; maybe millions were saved. Others will say the only thing Tebow has in common with Billy Graham is that they've both given a shout-out to perhaps the most popular New Testament text in a packed stadium, arguing, "Really? A textual reference on eye black made someone sitting in front of their television set toss the Pringles aside, leap to their feet, and cry, 'What must I do to be saved?'" I suppose no matter where you land, you do sort of have to admit that Tebow's case for Christ worked - sort of. John 3:16 was the number one search item when the day began.
But then, I'm not entirely sure we ought to be offering an apologetic for or against Tebow's apologetic. There's probably something else we ought to think about. Isn't it awfully telling that people actually had to look up John 3:16 on Google to know what it says?
Before you think I'm an idiot, let me be clear that I know America is biblically illiterate. But have we reached a new low? It used to be that you could bank on people knowing at least a few biblical texts, and John 3:16 was one of them. It has, after all, been broadcast at pretty much every professional game long before Tebow smeared it on his face - often on poster boards, and usually by a guy wearing a rainbow wig. People saw it and thought, Yeah, yeah, yeah. 'For God so loved the world.' I get it. Now, was that a first down? But last night a good part of America saw the text and thought, What the heck does that mean?
I don't need a Barna survey to tell me we're in new territory here.
So what does it mean? We've talked about biblical illiteracy before. Entire books have been written about it, all for the sake of new ministry methodology and even a new homiletic. But I suspect most methodologies and theories still had a working presupposition - whether they would admit or not - that there was a line of understanding and knowledge that most people had already crossed - one that thought, Well, they don't know the complexity of soteriology and ecclesiology and pneumatology, but they probably know Noah and Moses and of course, Jesus. And surely they at least know Genesis 1?3 and Psalm 23 and John 3:16. But the line has moved. Again. And that's something to consider on this Friday, January 9, 2009, the day John 3:16 was the top search item at 8:00am.
Oh - and in case you were wondering about those other items: Mary Lynn Rajskub plays "Chloe" on 24 (new season starts Sunday!), Windows 7 Beta Download is a new program from Microsoft, we all know what "all-inclusive vacations" are, and Ana Ortiz is a television star (Ugly Betty) that's pregnant.