Forming Faith Blog

What is Biblical Fluency?

Free Resource: The Story of Our Lives (Youth Activity)

Illiteracy, Literacy, and Fluency

I am not a language expert. Nerd, yes, expert, no. As a Classical Studies major in college, I studied Latin and Ancient Greek.  However, I barely reached the level of literacy in either language and never even approached fluency. With that admission out of the way, I want to address the topic of biblical fluency. Given that the story of the Bible is central to my work as publisher here at Spirit & Truth Publishing, it’s probably not hard to believe that biblical fluency is near and dear to my heart.

First things first, though. What do I mean by illiteracy, literacy, and fluency? Usually used in terms of languages, illiteracy is not being able to read, write, or speak in that language. Literacy is being able to read, write, and speak in the language. At this level, you are translating your English (or your native language) thoughts into the new language. You’re probably a little stilted in your speech and have to have a dictionary handy when you read or write. Fluency is when you can think and express yourself easily in the new language, even if you are missing some of the vocabulary. Sadly, the only language I’m fluent in is my native one, and at this point, I’m not even literate in another.

Biblical Illiteracy, Literacy, and Fluency

When I’m talking about these three concepts in terms of the Bible, I’m assuming that a person is fluent in the language they’re reading (or hearing) the Bible in. But, what do I mean by biblical illiteracy, literacy, and fluency?

  • Illiteracy: Little or no familiarity with the Bible. If you were to open the Bible, you’d get easily lost and are likely to give up.
  • Literacy: You have the skills to read and study the Bible. You are familiar with the nuts and bolts of Scripture and a basic understanding of who’s who and what happens.
  • Fluency: This is represented in the (semi) common statement, “God’s story, our story.” Biblical literacy is assumed, but fluency goes far beyond facts and figures, nuts and bolts.

These three descriptors are a spectrum, not three distinct settings. But, in another way, biblical literacy and fluency are overlapping concepts as well as progressive ones.

Not Biblical-ese (Church-ese, Theo-language)

Before diving further into biblical fluency, I want to be clear about what I am not talking about. I am not specifically referring to literacy or fluency in what I call “churchy language.” Churchy language is more of a jargon than a language. It’s “insider-speak” that may be more generically Christian or specific to your tradition, denomination, or local congregation. Often, even longtime church members use the language without really understanding what they mean. Biblical-ese is related, where you are able to use specialized words from the Bible in daily life, as is theo-language, which is even more specialized as you can go into depth about soteriology, eschatology, and the difference between justification and sanctification.

Biblical Fluency

When I think of the Bible, I think of it as a story, told by people who have experienced God in profound ways in their specific historical and cultural contexts. Although these people are separated by centuries and cultures, they share an unbroken lineage of faith (and struggle and doubt) in the One whom we call YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That lineage and story do not end with the close of the New Testament writings but continues on to this day in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church across all nations.

Biblical fluency starts with the ability to express the stories, and then the story contained in the Bible. It “ends” with the ability not only to tell the story in the Bible, but to naturally live, think, and express yourself in the story of God. It is the ability to see yourself in the stories of the Bible and to see your life as a continuation of God’s magnificent story. It’s basically about storytelling and acting out that story.

Approaching Fluency

The first step toward fluency is literacy. We need to effectively teach people what and who is in the Bible and how to read and study the Bible in community and on their own. That, in my opinion, is the strength of the Narrative Lectionary (and our related faith formation products). It’s about teaching and practice.

Once a basic literacy is established, you can begin training people in fluency. You don’t even need to wait until full literacy is achieved. This training involves modeling (showing yourself in the stories and story) and engaging (inviting and challenging others to see and “tell” themselves in the stories and story). It is about coaching people to incorporate God’s story into their lives and consciously act out their part. Again, this is our goal in our Living the Word (Narrative Lectionary) faith formation series, to challenge participants to tell their stories as a part of God’s story and act out that story in their daily lives. It’s why I prefer calling them faith formation resources rather than Christian education curricula; they are about more than learning facts and skills. Check out a free activity “The Story of Our Lives” from our Living the Word: Youth curriculum for the upcoming Narrative Lectionary year.

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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