17 July 2009

Methodists take a lead in discovering the nation's Biblical literacy

A Methodist supported biblical literacy study has made headlines around the world.

The National Biblical Literacy Study 2009, which found that knowledge of the Bible is declining with fewer than one in 20 people able to name all the 10 commandments, received two-thirds of its £22,000 funding from the Connexional Team and Methodist related trusts CTVC, the Gibbs family Trust and the Rank Trust.

Seven of the nine churches used as locations for interviewing more than 900 people from faith and non-faith backgrounds were Methodist Churches in Newcastle, Mumbles, Redditch (joint Methodist/URC) Lewisham, Hornchurch, Poole and Sutton.

The project was initiated by Revd Brian D Brown, a Methodist minister and Fellow in Media and Communication at St John's College, Durham University, and Revd Jonathan Kerry, also a Methodist minister and Director of the Guy Chester Centre in Muswell Hill, London.

Brian worked with Revd Dr David Wilkinson, Methodist Principal of St John's College, to establish the Centre for Biblical Literacy at St John's College, Durham University in September 2006 with the help of a grant from the Rank Trust.

Brian said: "The study happened to hit at the right time and we are extremely pleased that there has been so much interest in it. The Church needs this information and needs it now. The Methodist Church saw what we were doing as important.

"I am particularly grateful for the support we have received from the people in the Connexion. Everyone has been very supportive at the grassroots level."

The project's research team also included Brian's son Dr Paul Brown, lecturer and researcher in mathematics at Birkbeck College London.

Jonathan said: "The results confirmed our impression that there is a small residual awareness of the Bible among people in Britain, but the level of real knowledge is quite low."

The survey brought to light the fact that 33 per cent of the under-45s interviewed could not name anything about the Feeding of the 5,000 compared to 12 per cent of over-45s. More positive findings showed that 75 per cent of the interviewees owned a bible and significantly high numbers of them knew central facts about the crucifixion and resurrection stories which are at the heart of the Christian faith.

Methodist minister Revd Dr Peter Phillips has now taken on the baton from Rev Brian Brown and heads up the Centre for Biblical Literacy at St John's College, Durham University, which is part of a larger research institute, Communication in the Digital Environment (CODEC). The Centre will use the data for further research over the next four years.

At the Methodist Conference, Peter seconded a successful notice of motion calling Methodists to make 2011 a year of the Bible. The motion proposed by Rev Ashley Cooper of Swan Bank Methodist Church called for a celebration and promotion of the Bible's impact on British culture alongside the Evangelical Alliance's BibleFresh initiative.

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