Sure, you are reading at the moment. But are we as a people who locate their authority in the written word (namely, God’s Word) readers?
Kathleen C. Boone, in her book The Bible Tells Them So, demonstrates the centrality of the Bible to fundamentalism. While she uses the label fundamentalism, her analysis slides between evangelicals and fundamentalists. Moreover, the book’s implications aid one in understanding evangelicalism as well as fundamentalism.
“If fundamentalism is a preeminently verbal system, one which takes a text as its starting point, it is clear that fundamentalism offers textual critics a fascinating object of investigation. Fundamentalists and literary scholars alike are devoted to questions of textual interpretation” (12).
Boone is using a literary approach in order to understand fundamentalists and the way they read their Bibles. And because fundamentalists use a text as their authority she finds them to be an intriguing group to investigate. The centrality of the written word to fundamentalists has other implications as well. Boone continues:
“As Peshkin discovered, English is considered, after religion, the second most important subject in the Christian school curriculum: in order to read the Word of God competently, one must be literate” (12).
Fundamentalists (and evangelicals too) have every reason to be highly literate. Christians of the past have recognized this. Consider one of the most literate cultures ever, the New England Puritans. The New England Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, is said to have encouraged a friend “that his son ‘begin to Read, before he is Two years old’” (David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment, 36). Another Puritan, John Barnard, recalled reading through the entire Bible three times by the time he was six (Worlds of Wonder, 36). This emphasis upon the importance of reading was directly related to their religious conviction that Christians must be readers, particularly readers of scripture.
Another reason why Christians (in Boone’s case, fundamentalists) have such a high view of reading and solid interpretation is due to the eternal consequences of the practice. Boone explains:
“Going their secular counterparts [namely, scholars who place a premium on good interpretation of texts] one better, fundamentalists are bound to view correct interpretation as a matter of eternal life or death. If one’s eternal destiny depends on a right relationship with God, and if that God is reliably known only through the Bible, it follows that one must read, and read correctly. Put another way, there is no comparison between the risk of publishing a dimwitted scholarly article and the danger of burning in hell” (12-13).
So, the question remains: Are we reading? Are we cultivating a culture of literacy in our churches? To be sure, the task is a difficult one. After all, black symbols on a white page (or screen) are hardly a match for the moving, colorful, and hi-def images swirling around us. But should we give that modest black ink on a page attention, we will find ourselves engaging in a task that gives great rewards. Moreover, we will train our minds to better understand God’s communication to us, namely, the Bible.