Crisis in Biblical Literacy

From Michael S. Horton in a recent White Horse Inn email . . .

There’s a crisis of biblical literacy on three levels:

1. The basic storyline – including famous episodes and characters in Scripture – meet blank stares, even with young people raised in the church.

2. Many who can identify key names and events express confusion about how it all fits together. They might have pieces of the puzzle, but they don’t know the big picture.

3. Still fewer of those who can put it together can explain it to someone else. And because they don’t understand the drama of redemptive history, they unwittingly revise the entire story.

We Need More Cruciform Churches

work_226Those grand and glorious cathedrals built in the Middle Ages may have something to teach us about the way we live the Christian life today.

The medieval church ministered to a culture that had no direct, personal access to the Scriptures in their own language. The church leaders of that era were faced with the challenge of teaching biblical truth to a Bible-less people. One creative way they taught key doctrines was by building object lessons into their church facilities. The cathedral served as “The Poor Man’s Bible,” as historians now call it. Everything about the way a cathedral was built—firm foundations and transcendent towers, storytelling statues of stone, tile mosaics and stained glass windows depicting central biblical stories in full color, and even the way sunlight streamed through those windows—was designed to help folks discern, delight in, and declare the great, biblical doctrines concerning God and the gospel.

The art and architecture of these sanctuaries taught two central biblical truths: God’s just judgment against the sinfulness of mankind; and God’s gracious provision of salvation from his wrath through the life, crucifixioaerial-amiens-cathedral-2-2n, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Cathedrals were intentionally built to teach theology to the people in the pews. And not just random bits and pieces of biblical teaching, but a consistent curriculum of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as he is offered in the gospel. Indeed, the most distinct feature of these cathedrals was their cruciform or “cross-shaped” floor plan. The central doctrine the church building communicated was the gospel, the message of the cross. And since these church buildings were the most prominent and prized buildings, the hope was that through the preaching of the gospel inside the church building and through the presentation of the gospel in its art and architecture, the surrounding population would both see and hear the message of the cross.

Here in the 21st century we need more cruciform churches. Not lavish cathedrals but living communities of disciples being shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. Our best hope is to cooperate with The Architect, who promised he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) as we join him to form our families, small groups, and churches into “cruciform communities.” Such communities visibly show and verbally share the message of the cross because they are made up of people who have been vibrantly shaped by that message.  

Unlike the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, this construction project requires both the building and its building blocks to be cross-shaped. The Apostle Paul taught that both our individual bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the corporate Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) are temples in whom the Spirit and glory of God dwell because of what Jesus did on the cross. The biblical blueprint for a cruciform church calls for every Christian to live what I’m calling “the Cruciform Life,” a life shaped by Christ crucified (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 16:24).

Let us pray with Jesus that through the preaching of the gospel in and by our church communities, and through the presentation of the gospel in our vertical love for God and horizontal love for others, the world would both hear from us and see in us the message of the cross (John 17:14-21).

[This post was adapted from the Introduction to Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. To learn more about the Cruciform Life read Cruciform and this blog.]

Praying for a Cruciform Life (Psalm 119:36)

“Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to selfish gain.” Psalm 119:36

Psalm 119 is my prayer guide for the Cruciform Life.  The psalmist employs about eight different Hebrew words that all refer to the Law of God (laws, commands, precepts, rules, testimonies, etc.).  Jesus said that all of the Law hangs on loving God and loving others (the vertical and horizontal relationships that make up a cruciform or cross-shaped life…see Matthew 22:36-40).  So, whenever I come across these words for the Law as I am praying through Psalm 119, I substitute “loving God and loving others” for “law” or “commands” or “rules” or whatever term is used there.  For example, I would pray Psalm 119:36 this way:

“Father, incline my heart toward loving You and loving the people in my life, and not to selfish, ‘me-first’ gain.  Please Father, by the power of Your Spirit bend my heart toward a greater passion for You and an increasing compassion for people.  Don’t let my heart be set on my own selfish pursuit of comfort and control.  Take my ‘me-first’ heart and make it a ‘you-first heart’ . . . a heart that says ‘you first’ to You and every person I come in contact with today.”

Now, as we pray that God would make us Law-keepers, you and I have to keep in mind that the power to obey the Law of Love comes from the Spirit, whom we receive as we embrace the gospel again and again (see Galatians 3:1-5 where Paul chides the Galatian church for getting the Law cart before the Gospel horse).  So, that means that the inclination of heart to love God and others that Psalm 119:36 asks for is one that only comes when by faith we receive the love of God for us as it is offered to us in the gospel (Galatians 5:6, 1 John 4:19).  We must remember that in the New Covenant, which was ratified by the blood of Christ, God promised His Spirit would dwell in our new hearts and cause us to walk in love for God and people (Ezekiel 36:25-27, Luke 22:20).  Because of Christ’s work for us on the cross we pray the prayers of Psalm 119 from blood-bought, grace-motivated, Spirit-empowered hearts.

It is the grace of God displayed in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ that bends my heart away from self-satisfaction and toward savoring God and serving people (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  So, while I pray the prayers of Psalm 119, asking God to give me a cruciform life, I must remember to ask and then listen.  I must ask for a “you-first” heart while confessing the stiffness of my “me-first” stubborness, and then I must hear Him preach the gospel to me with fresh applications of heart-bending grace.

Cruciform Life Toolkit

Are you looking for a handy tool to help you map out and move into your appointed “section of tables”?

Click on the link below to download a PDF of the “My Section of Tables Card (with instructions)”.

My Section of Tables card

For an extended explanation of what your “section of tables” is and how you can serve there, please see Chapter 5 – “Servants of God: The Shape of the Cross” in Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life.