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Sodom and Gomorrah Were Married????

Bible Knowledge.jpgIt certainly comes as no surprise that people don't know much about Christianity, or even religion in general.  According to a recent USA Today article (Click here: Americans get an 'F' in religion -, when asked, 50% of high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple!  60% couldn't name even five of the Ten Commandments. 

As to the latter, that's actually better than the results White Horse Inn producer, Shane Rosenthal got when he asked these same questions at the Christian Bookseller's convention some years ago.  My guess is that those who could name only some of the commandments, named only "second table" commands, like those prohibiting adultery, theft and murder.  They probably don't know enough about God to know any of the first four commandments.

OK, so we all know this is the case.  Why another article (or post) on this?  The author of a new book addressing the topic of the general ignorance of religion in America (Stephen Prothro, from Boston University, who describes himself as a "confused Christian" -- of course, he was raised Episcopalian), makes an important point.  Ignorance of these things is not just sad, it is dangerous.  His solution is to sell his book (Religious Literacy:  What Every American Needs to Know)!  That's not quite mine.

Prothro does make the important point that ignorance of Christianity and other world religions is no longer an item of trivia or a sad commentary on American morality.  It is now a dangerous thing when most people don't know even the basic differences (doctrine, history and culture) between Christianity and Islam, or between Islam and Judaism.  Not knowing these things, how then can they understand why the Shias and Sunnis are fighting over Baghdad?  Why are Muslims so dead set against Israel occupying Palestine and especially the city of Jerusalem?  And what about all the religious images invoked on the evening news from the apocalyptic zealot who runs Iran (and may soon have the bomb), to something seemingly mundane, like Bush misquoting the Bible to make a political point?

While the debate rages about how to teach religion in the public schools--a sign to me that we are deeply in trouble--Protho's thesis is important.  For the well-being of the American republic, people need to know these things!  People who don't know these things, nevertheless still vote and determine public policy as well as foreign policy.

Meanwhile, it is vital that churches get to work.  We must do our best to ensure that Christians know the Scriptures, that they are catechized in the great doctrines of the faith, and that they are taught basic apologetics along with the tools of evangelism.  But churches should also be equipping their members to know the  doctrinal, historical and cultural differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism!  The secular public has an excuse.  We do not.

So, when 50% of high-schoolers think Sodom and Gomorrah were married, its more than a sign of ignorance--it is a warning.  Especially, when I notice the new Mosque down the street is packed out on Friday afternoons and I know they are not taking these matters lightly.

Your thoughts? 

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  • Response
    This has been a difficult area for me. I went to a Christian school for most of my formative years ,which left me with a skewed view of religious training, if not an outright phobia.While the Christian education was not exactly faith-affirming for me ...

Reader Comments (47)

They weren't married? No wonder God took them out, they were living in adultery. Or maybe they were siblings.- evil twins.

but joking aside, you wrote;

"We must do our best to ensure that Christians know the Scriptures, that they are catechized in the great doctrines of the faith, and that they are taught basic apologetics along with the tools of evangelism. But churches also should to be equipping their members to know the doctrinal, historical and cultural differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism! "

Amen brother, it is certainly "a time for truth."
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris Sherman
Relax. Nothing to worry about. Everyone back to sleep.
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterwalt
SCARY KIM!! Are we in a spiritual battle or what! All I can say is that we are soooo glad that God is sovereign.....The true church needs to dig in, stand firm on our faith He has given us, and hold on tight, we could be in for a bumpy ride.
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterplw
In a high school math class of mine, the teacher came in with a bowl of ice cream after lunch, which he set on the table in the front of him. One of the students went to grab it, and sneak a bite, when the teacher said, "Thou shalt not steal your teacher's ice cream." The smartie AP student snided, "aha, shakespeare I see." My teacher (an unapologetic atheist) replied, "NO, that would be the Bible." He then somewhat mocked the student for having no Bible knowledge, and told us all how culturally important it is to know this stuff. That's just one example of many that I've witnessed coming from the high school demographic concerning religion. It's embarrasing.


Dorothy Sayers made the following remarks which another author has put in context (I think her remarks are an atypical but true diagnosis of the state of our times):

the average person has a boundless ignorance of Christianity, rooted in their laziness and thoughtlessness. "Nine people out of ten in this country are ignorant heathens," she said in 1939. "I do not so much mind the heathendom, but the ignorance is really alarming." And a few years later, when a broadcaster asked her to write a short letter explaining Christianity for the average person, Sayers spat back:
"The only letter I ever want to address to 'average people' is one that says — I do not care whether you believe in Christianity or not, but I do resent your being so ignorant, lazy, and unintelligent. Why don't you take the trouble to find out what is Christianity and what isn't? Why, when you can bestir yourself to mug up technical terms about electricity, won't you do as much for theology before you begin to argue about it? … You would be ashamed to know as little about internal combustion as you do about the Nicene Creed.

March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterrandom poster
Speaking of ignorance of biblical truth, I actually came across someone the other day that thought the end of sin and the defeat of death and the final judgment will not occur until ... 1000 years after Jesus' return! One person even suggested that Calvinists must be premillennial! What's this world coming to?

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Rohde
Maybe one of the problems is that, at least from the right-wing side, evangelicals focus too much on politics and cultural change through government policy, as opposed to being "salt and light." As I tell my students on a regular basis, how can you identify falst teaching? Know the truth. How can you know the truth? Know God's Word.
Jesus, in his high priestly prayer, asked of his Father: "Sanctify them by the truth, Thy Word is truth."
If you leave a church service better informed on who to vote for, but not having been told your sinful status according to the Law and your need for redemption through the atoning blood of Christ, then can we wander about the ignorance rampant in American Christianity?
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermholst
Anybody who is surprised by this must not stand in supermarket checkout lines. If the magazines are any measure of this nation's intellect and education,we are doomed.

I would be happy however, to think it is ignorance that gives voice in high places to statements like "Islam is a religion of peace" and "Christians and Muslims worship the same God".

I am not sure it is ignorance...I think it is appeasement, cowardice, and perhaps oil politics- at best. At worst it is blasphemy- from those who profess Jesus Christ as God, and from those the world looks at, positively or negatively, as representing bible believing Christians.

Pray for our leaders.
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commentercarolyn
Well said, Carolyn.
March 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterwalt
mholst, nice post.

fair points, all, and worthy for consideration.

however, for my part, i tend away from any suggestions or tones that "the world is going to hell in a handbasket." i rather take the view eccl. 9:1-14 suggests. man has always been the same sinful beast, there is nothing new under the sun, and the world is not getting any better (postmil and modernistic fanatsies) or worse (premil expectations to stoke the idea that ours is the last generation) as time either progresses or retreats. and, no walt, this is not a "oh, well, go back to sleep" suggestion at all. it is rather to suggest that instead of holding us to two radical and unuseful responses (the sky is falling or an apathetic shoulder shrug), there is a third option which is more sober. (walt, you just finished hortons' great work GOP, in which he talks about how there is a third category of regard for creation in the reformed tradition that is distinguished from fundamentalism and liberalism...i would suggest that in the same way, when it comes to *responding* to our world, there is a better way that takes its cue, once again, from our wonderful reformed tradition).

every generation seems to have a "gasp!" take on one element or another of its cultural condition. leno did his guy in the street routine last night, and ironically enough, he asked basic bible questions. and, as per expetctation, we got to see all the idiots. makes for good tv, but i tend to doubt that pop cultural commentary is all that useful. and whatever one might find in USAToday is about one or two rungs up from leno, i think. we americans love to revel in the ideas that our time is like no other, but i am never convinced. granted, every place in history has its dimensions that make it unique from others, but the more things change the more they stay the same.

sorry to take the wind from your sails, but that's just what i think. one of the (many, many) things i think the best of our reformed tradition has is a sober view of our world, which tends away being overly impressed with tabloid news, which itself is designed to make folks unduly excited either positively or negatively. do our times present challenges? of course. but that's nothing at all new.

also, much as she had plenty of good things to say, how does dorothy sayers' comments comport with what i believe is the current theme on WHI, namely, civility in public discourse?

ok, start tearing me to shreds!! :)

March 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzrim
Good call. The Reformed doctrine of total depravity should lead us never to be in doubt about just how sinful mankind is. And it also answers, at least in part, why mankind has "always" been ignorant of spiritual matters, for apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, "no man seeks after God" (Rom 3).
At the same time, because Christ has promised that "the gates of hell will not prevail against the church" we can have the hope that God will always preserve His remnant and will be faithful to His promises. That is why a book like Josh McDowell's latest entitled "The Last Christian Generation" is a horrible title, and while I'm sure he doesn't mean to question God's integrity, a title like that sounds like if we don't do something quick, all is lost. As if God could not send another Reformation/Revival right now if He so chose!
March 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermholst
"The Last Christian Generation"? Now that is indeed crazy. It should be titled "The Last Generation of Christendom", thanks to God, Christianity is alive, just a little silent, if He decides to light a match again in America/China/South America wherever whenever, then so it will be.
March 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSomeoneElse
I was curious if anyone had any resources that they would recommend for a class or study on comparative religion. Any help would be appreciated.
March 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBob

This is a book by a pagan named Huston Smith. I'm not calling him a pagan flippantly. He really is a pagan if ever the was one. His book will teach you lots and lots about all the various world religions (making it a helpful, accessible resource), and then he will proceed to explain how Christianity is just like them (making it the mouthpiece of Satan.)

So of course, don't use ONLY this book, because it does not exemplify the uniqueness of Christianity. But I think if you are educated about what Christianity is, even a casual glance at his book will make his gross mischaracterization of Christianity patently obvious.

So it will be a good way for you to actually bring out the uniqueness of Christianity, because it is decidedly NOT what he says it is.

Also, if you want to understand paganism VERY well, read the book that inspired Star Wars and the Matrix:

This is a book by Joseph Campbell, who seeks to show that every civilization on earth is telling the same story. Fascinating stuff, because movies start to make a lot more sense, like the Lord of the Rings, for example.

But again, it will highlight the difference between Christianity and paganism for you in stark relief, assuming you understand Christianity very well, which I hope you do.

If you find either of these books shaking your faith in any way, the best place to turn is the Bible itself, as well as the reformed confessions, all of which will paint a picture in stark contrast to what is in these books. So don't let your faith be shaken, but these books will give you a great deal of insight into the pagan mind. And in fact, it will help you understand much of the errors of the Roman church and the Liberal churches of our day. In fact, some of the more mainline fanatics, like the extreme liberal Methodists or PCUSA folks would align themselves very neatly with what Huston Smith is doing, and would find a lot in common with Joseph Campbell too.

These books will show you the different religions, but will highlight the continuity in them. It is my hope that when you understand this clearly, you will come to understand Christianity even more clearly as being DIFFERENT from all other religions.

The gospel is the huge difference, or I should say the biggest difference. How God is actually to be approached in worship is vastly different for us than for the other religions. We are the only ones who seek to approach him on HIS terms. But again the biggest difference is the gospel, because Jesus fulfills the covenant of works FOR US, ushering in the covenant of grace. This is totally and completely unique. You won't see this repeated anywhere. And a thousand other things.

March 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEcho_ohcE

Regarding this post in general, I have two comments.

1) On the one hand, that people don't understand the uniqueness of Christianity is very bad, because they might confuse us with Muslims. I don't know how, but I sure don't want to be lumped in with them. If people are growing in their fear of religion in general, that's a very bad thing, and will certainly hinder the spread of the gospel.

2) On the other hand, there is a benefit to this. When people actually get exposed to the gospel for the first time, it will be unlike anything they've ever heard before, and it will be all the more dramatic. I'd frankly prefer to minister to someone who knows nothing but wants to learn, or at least is interested, than to someone who thinks they know everything already. Few things will hinder the advancement of the gospel than hearts who think they have no need to hear it because they've heard it already. Many people mourn for the decline of the influence of the church, but I for one think that it is a sign that God is continuing to purify his church. Knowing what Sodom and Gomorrah were doesn't get anyone into heaven, but some think it does.

Perhaps far scarier a statistic would be if people were asked this question: if you died today, would you go to heaven, why or why not?

If you were able to find someone who said that they were justified by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, I'd be shocked. What is the percentage of reformed people in this country? 1%, maybe 2%? How many people are trusting partly at least in themselves for salvation?

God always has a remnant, but even if the whole world appeared to be Christian, there'd still only be a remnant. People don't want salvation that depends on someone else. They never have, even if they go to church for some false assurance.

March 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEcho_ohcE

March 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermholst
"(walt, you just finished hortons' great work GOP, in which he talks about how there is a third category of regard for creation in the reformed tradition that is distinguished from fundamentalism and liberalism...i would suggest that in the same way, when it comes to *responding* to our world, there is a better way that takes its cue, once again, from our wonderful reformed tradition)."

I actually haven't finished it, I've only read about 30 pages of it. My understanding of the amill position has always been that the world will get progressively more evil until the second coming. All of the Old Testament typology of the day of judgment suggests the same thing. My reading of both KR's books leads me to the same conclusion. "Like a woman in birth pains," or "as in the days of Noah." Maybe he'll weigh in on this one, however.

BTW, both Calvin and Luther had a response to the advance of Islam in their day. Luther called it the army of the beast, and Calvin thought Mohammed was one of the two horns of the antichrist. Sadly, we're citizens of this world as well.
March 18, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterwalt
This post brings Romans 1 to mind.
March 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterModern Day Magi
walt said, "My understanding of the amill position has always been that the world will get progressively more evil until the second coming."

really? i am going to have to dig a little deeper then, because i have understood that to be more in keeping with premil views (while postmil sees the world as getting better, the golden age being manifest before the return). see page 119 (i think) of GOP.

my read of amil has been to suggest that during the church age all the "wars and rumors of wars" as it were are necessary identifiers of the present church age, so that every generation, while seeming to look different really isn't from one to the next. it also seems to keep us from trying to discern all sorts of signs and make predictions, etc. it makes us put our heads down and attend to our tasks, both temporal and eternal. one thing KR has seemed to signal in terms of a possible sign is the mass conversion of the jews. beyond that, i have read the amil view to be pretty level headed and sober, simple, in keeping with so much of the reformation tradition in these ways.

March 19, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzrim
here also is how i have read a dimension of amil:

Amillennialism also teaches that the binding of Satan described in Revelation has already occurred; he has been prevented from "deceiving the nations" by preventing the spread of the gospel. This is the only binding he will suffer in history: the forces of Satan will not be gradually pushed back by the Kingdom of God as history progresses but will remain just as active as always up until the second coming of Christ, and therefore good and evil will remain mixed in strength throughout history and even in the church, according to the amillennial understanding of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares."

i have always read such a take to necessarily keep us from thinking either the world is getting worse and worse or better and better: "there is nothing new under the sun."

March 19, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzrim
You bet its time - OR - should of been doing this long ago!
Going to a so called Reformed church - we get nothing but a sermon(which is not expository) but categories or topical.
No catechism/SS is a joke!
Theres a man in church who has been going there forever and his idea of salvation is (by his book) to behave and works will get you in. Knows not how to defend or tell ya what faith is - be it Justification, etc.
What does that tell ya - its just duty - no reality - go thru the motions.
Theres what the problem is - Kims right - the Pastors and Elders need to 2Tim 3:14-17. We need to do our own work as well and be aware in and out of church what is and is not.
The church is where missions need be.
And I hear no where else (so far) what we need to know than on the WHInn! agree??

March 19, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdoulos

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