By Jim Eichenberger
A lot has changed in the past 100 years, but biblical illiteracy is still a problem.
And at the heart of this problem, in many instances, is society’s lack of respect for the Bible’s authority.
Today the challenge to biblical authority comes as radical individualism—what the Bible says to me. How God speaks to my heart. But 100-plus years ago, the challenge came from an academic elite that questioned not only the Bible but also anything supernatural. Today the Bible can mean anything depending upon the reader. Back then the Bible meant nothing because it was seen merely as legends from primitive intellects.
Both of those approaches result in a lack of serious study of Scripture, which in turn results in biblical illiteracy.
The Church’s Vital Need for Biblical Literacy
It is one thing for the public at large to be biblically illiterate. It is another thing for the people in our churches to lack understanding of Scripture.
How can we call others to the message given to us by God if many of our own brothers and sisters in the faith do not have a good working knowledge of the Bible? When we speak to a culture that measures truth existentially and experientially, can we truly know what Jesus would do without knowing what Scripture says?
Church leaders must be trained to present the Bible as ever relevant. With boldness, authenticity, and intellect, they must be prepared to lift up the truth of the Bible to a skeptical, multicultural audience.
Christian-education programs are widely cited as the solution. But are they enough? If elders or other volunteer leaders choose teaching materials for such programs, do they have the biblical knowledge to pick good ones? Even if the best curriculum is in place, what happens when a volunteer teacher or leader is forced “off script?” And how does a church ensure that peer-led home groups do not deteriorate into mere sharing of opinion—or worse, sharing of biblical ignorance?
What should a church do about this? What should be the first step?
A True-to-the-Bible Solution
One hundred-plus years ago, Herbert Moninger offered a solution: the systematic training of Bible teachers, complete with a certification system. [Read our sidebar about his book, Training for Service, which has been updated and republished several times since it was first published in 1907.]
And though such training wasn’t enough back then, and it isn’t enough now, a church that offers a vigorous and well-vetted, true-to-the-Bible survey class to its attendees—or to its teachers and group leaders, at the very least—is inarguably taking a positive first step to improving biblical literacy.
And what exactly does the term biblical literacy mean? It can be hard to define, but it certainly consists of the following:
• The ability to tell the Bible story from creation to completion using the words of Scripture
• Competence in navigating through the different types of literature that comprises Scripture to tell that story
• An understanding of the core doctrines held by the Christian church from the days of the apostles to today
What percentage of people in your church can do these things?
An honest assessment can’t help but lead one to conclude that, even as society and culture have changed, training Bible teachers is still a key component to improving biblical literacy.
Editor’s Note: As we planned this issue in February, we wanted to emphasize the importance of biblical literacy, and we could think of no better person to write on this topic than Jim Eichenberger. Jim had worked for Standard Publishing for more than 21 years. In 2011, Jim revised Training for Service, Standard Publishing’s tool for combatting biblical illiteracy.
David C Cook purchased many Standard Publishing lines in 2015, after which Jim worked in a freelance capacity with Cook’s Standard Lesson Commentary editorial team. Jim also remained a friend of Christian Standard and The Lookout, which were not part of that sale.
On March 2, 2019, Jim passed from this life following complications from surgery.
Jim had written a number of articles on biblical illiteracy, including an article first published in Christian Standard September 4, 2011, which we’ve adapted for this current issue.
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Training for Service:
Providing Well-Rounded Bible Knowledge for 112 Years
In the early 1900s, Herbert Moninger created a formal approach to teaching Scripture and measuring the effectiveness of what was taught.
A key aspect of Moninger’s solution hinged on something that was growing in popularity in the world of manufacturing, medicine, law, and education: certification. If an attorney, physician, or engineer must demonstrate a baseline of understanding in his or her field, Moninger thought, should anything less be expected of those who handle the Word of God?
Moninger created a course of study that gave Christian workers a basic understanding of the unfolding of God’s plan as revealed in the pages of Scripture.
He first presented his course to more than 150 eager learners who gathered for the better part of a year for the Northside Union Teacher-training Class in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the conclusion of the course, a certification examination was given. As a result, 122 members of that group received diplomas from the Ohio Sunday School Association. In the years that followed, Moninger offered the course again and again, training more than 500 students representing 102 churches in the Cincinnati area.
In 1907, Standard Publishing put Moninger’s study into book form. In the preface of the first edition of this book, Training for Service, Moninger referred to his first graduates: “If this book has any value, it will largely be because these lessons were tested before being printed.” In the decades that followed, the value of the book was even more dramatically demonstrated. More than 1 million Bible students joined the original 122 by being trained using this book!
Over the years, the book was revised and updated again and again.
Cecil James “C. J.” Sharp, a minister, church planter, and high school principal, wrote New Training for Service in 1934, retaining Moninger’s basic outlines and content. Orrin Root, an editor, writer, and Christian educator, authored the second major revision, Training for Service—A Survey of the Bible, in 1964. Root distilled the 40 original lessons into 26.
Another prominent Christian educator, Eleanor Daniel, revised the book once more in 1983. And in 2011, Jim Eichenberger, then an editor with Standard Publishing, authored the most recent revision.
Most things about Training for Service have remained constant through the years.
Content is clearly arranged in five units—The Bible, Old Testament Geography and History, Old Testament Institutions, The Christ, and The Church. Old Testament history is woven around 16 leading characters arranged in chronological order. The life of Christ is presented in 7 periods that can be easily memorized and used as a structure for understanding the work of our Savior. Map studies help root the Bible story firmly in time and space. And those who successfully complete the final exam can still receive a certificate testifying to that accomplishment.
More than 100 years have passed since its introduction, but this Bible survey elective continues to provide well-rounded Bible knowledge . . . and with an added bonus of motivating students to commit to Christian service.