By Jeff Gissing, at jeff.gissing.com.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) reports some incredibly alarming statistics on those seeking ordination:
A total of 127 individuals took the BCE, and the average score was 63.5%, which is about 10-15% lower than historical trends. However, since that average score fell below the minimum requirement, only 36 people (28.3%) scored high enough to receive a “Satisfactory” evaluation on the exam.By way of comparison, for the 12 previous BCE administrations since the exam was moved online in Fall 2009 the average percentage of individuals who scored 70% or higher in a testing cycle was 81.7%.
If I’m reading this correctly, over the last 12exams more than 81.7% of examinees passed (i.e., they met the requirement of a 70% or higher grade on the exam). This year, however, less than 30% on the latest version of the exam.
I don’t know what accounts for the variation. When I took the exam in 2008 it was pretty easy to pass–especially compared with the English Bible exam I took while in the ordination process for another Presbyterian denomination. The latter required the student to be able to outline books of the Bible, identify quotes to chapter and verse and complete fill-in-the-blank questions.
I fear that across the board–regardless of our theological identity–we are becoming biblically illiterate.
I wouldn’t make the leap of biblical illiteracy happening overnight…fact is, the Bible content exam was a joke in years passed. The PCUSA only has (or had) limited amount of questions that would repeat themselves every couple of years. One only had to study the questions from five years back and get an acceptable score. There were even websites dedicated to publishing past exams with the ability to take and score them yourselves!
From what I understand now, the PCUSA no longer distributes the exam after it is taken. So now the only way to get the content of the exam is to question those taking it after the fact. Much more difficult to get the questions.
Bottom line is: PCUSA Inquires have always stunk at biblical knowledge. It has only just now been revealed. Honestly, did you expect better???
As one who has employed a number of PCUSA related seminarians over the years, majority out of Princeton, I would say the general intellectual,academic caliber of the students is on par or even better than my generation. Smart as whips when it come to social media and technology.
Though as an age cohort what I find lacking in millennials, is their emotional capacity to deal with stress, disappointment and a general sense of entitlement. Growing up with helicopter parenting, participation trophies, and always positive encouragement sort of sets them up for disappointment when the harder realities of life come their way.
I would further say that non-PCUSA related seminaries do a far better job than denominational ones for biblical content, and language rigor, as I also have had students from Westminster, Gordon-Conwell. At Princeton on can load up on all sorts of theological liberal nonsenses of identity based theologies, politics of rage, and methodologies of radical change. Really prepares one well for ministry. Also some students I have also encountered at interviews really have no sense of Call . Theological educations is for many a boutique or vanity project, much like taking courses in art history for the sake of personal betterment. Ok
I took the BCE halfway through my first semester at seminary. It was required that we take it at that time. Most of us must have had a good general grasp of what was contained in scripture since most of us passed the first time. However, if I had taken the exam during my senior year, as I did with the rest of the ordination exams, I would have scored much higher. I had no knowledge of the availability of previous tests, much less that questions were repeated at designated intervals. It seems to me most of us in our class found out from taking the BCE so early that we needed more education in biblical content. In my case it was motivation to pay more attention in my classes. I thought I knew a lot. I didn’t. I went to seminary with the same general knowledge of biblical content as most practicing Christians have. I graduated with a lot more knowledge than I thought possible. Given the timing of the test and the vast panorama of scripture, I don’t find it surprising that so many new seminarians have failed. We shouldn’t push the panic button. They go to seminary to learn, and the vast majority of them will do so.
When preparing for ordination, I was counseled to take the exams, including the Bible Content Exam, as late in the process as possible. I was attending a non-Presbyterian Seminary that focused on Biblical literacy, so I figured that between my personal study and my short time in Seminary, I’d have a go at it. I passed with flying colors. Three months later, when I presented my Statement of Faith for the Leadership Development Team (what the Presbytery’s COM was going by at the time), I had Biblical references throughout that, though cited, had one of the ruling elders ask me: “Where do you get this notion that the church is Christ’s Body? What do you mean by that?” At first, I thought it a trick question, but it got a little tense in the room when it was clear that this “elder” had never heard or been taught that common theme in Scripture. I tried to humbly explain to him where the concept derived for various New testament passages, but I walked away thinking, “And THESE are the gate-keepers?”
All that to say, I am not at all surprised at the low scores on Bible Content exams. The youth in my youth group at the time could have scored better than many of my ministry colleagues.
does the falling passing rate coincide with the lack of understanding of the basic texts concerning marriage? is it possible that we are in this place in our denomination because we as a denomination does know the scripture?
What would happen if every lay member of the Presbyterian Church had to take and pass the Bible Content exam with a score of 90% or above just to remain a member? . What impact would this have on our congregations? I wonder.
So, if you’re good at memorization it means you have a heart for Jesus and know how to serve others in his name? What is the general knowledge that’s important? I know Jesus spoke strongly about helping others when he talked about sheep and goats, and I can share with you what it means theologically, but I don’t think I can give you the exact chapter and verse. Is that okay? I certainly know how to look stuff up. For the “gatekeepers,” what knowledge is important? I once knew someone who could win most Bible trivia contests, but had a judgmental, gossip shrouded heart.
You must have failed the exam 🙂
Can you give an unbeliever solid Biblical evidence for why he must turn from his sin to Jesus Christ to be forgiven? Can you give him solid Biblical evidence for the purpose for which believers are saved from their sins?
Hey Mike, buy the book by philosophy professor Aaron James. And I passed all exams with flying colors.
Yes, but more likely a conscious decision to ignore on such issues.
I hope seminaries take the power of Scripture seriously, but I fear the
“Inclusive” interpretation atmosphere only confuses the messages and meanings.
Perhaps, candidates who take Scripture seriously and want to up hold the five Solas of reformed faith, may be choosing to attend a more Biblically conservative seminary than PCUSA seminaries for their training and M.Div.
Many conservatives may be called to minister in other denominations than
PCUSA at this time of turmoil. This may be reflected in these results?
If the trend in PCUSA seminaries is away from theological consensus even in the area of evangelism, it is not hard to believe candidates might have some confusion about Biblical teachings.
The Holy Spirit uses the word to convict and lead people and the power of God’s word is primary for changed lives. There is some confusion where we think it is our effort that changes people, but really it is God using the preaching of the WORD with the work of the Holy Spirit (God).
Ultimately it is not about passing a test, but rather it is about FAITH in God’s promises and work explained in Scripture. A desire to know and live humbly under God’s word is key for these candidates and for the church to be effective in doing God’s will. (As opposed to expecting God to do our will and bidding.)
That is why not knowing scripture and wanting to be a pastor/shepherd
of the people is a big deal.
I will predict now that the Biblical Content Exam will be a thing of the past in the not to distant future!
How important is it to know Scripture……and maybe even memorize verses. Here is a quote from a Bible teacher…Lysa Terkeurst
“When you find yourself being tempted, learn from Jesus……
He immediately took his eyes off the temptation and puts them on to God’s Word”. See Matthew 4:1-11
Yes, Jesus used scripture to counter satan’s temptations and stayed focused on God’s ways. Maybe expecting high knowledge of scripture, using Jesus own example, is not so far off the mark.
The optimal approach going forward is for all stakeholders to take a measure of responsibility on this issue. We demand mastery learning in many trades: nuclear engineering and builders, plumbers and aviation mechanics. No one tolerates a leaky roof or planes that fall out of the sky. Mastering the basics promotes the art and science of any profession. Ballet begins with five basic positions. The fundamentals of football include blocking and tackling. Seminary education is founded on mastering basic Bible information: Law, History, Poetry, Major and Minor Prophets; Gospels, Acts, Pauline and General Epistles. Everyone in the process needs to step up. Local Sessions and Presbyteries must vet and identify ministry candidates who do not know their Bibles. Seminaries would serve us better if they required all students to master basic Bible information no later than the end of the first year, preferably by the beginning of the first day of class. The PCC at a minimum must hold the line if not raise the standard to 90%. If the BCE exam is broken (which I doubt), they can fix it. Let’s face REALITY: the next generation of Teaching Elders MUST be grounded in Bible basics if they are to be effective in apologetics and evangelism, required future skills in a society in which nearly 30% do not self-identify as Christian according to Pew Research (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/). The 2016 General Assembly is a perfect forum to discuss future requirements (http://layman.wpengine.com/evangelism-overture-approved-for-ga-consideration-concurring-presbytery-needed-2/) for emerging Teaching Elders.
As one who received a 100% score on the bible exam in 1980 I can tell you that I thought it was too easy back then. Now after years of dumbing down the exam and giving candidates many chances and then voting to ordain them when they can’t even pass the test after many times I can tell you that a church being led by pastors without bible knowledge is not a church at all. If they don’t know scripture what can they offer people in the church. It is like a shepherd having no green pastures for their sheep. The sheep will perish.
Pastor Bob, are you implying that your friend from UC Irvine had Mike in mind when he wrote his book? Insofar as Mike responded to your post with humor and you responded to his post with snarky defensiveness, it seems to me that you may have been the one whom Prof. James was trying to describe. Just saying.
I am encouraged to work harder at doing our best with Sunday School classes and teaching little ones early on about the Bible and its themes. I think problems with Bible scores would probably surface with many American Churches. Bible is best learned when we are little!
I took the exam the first year it was offered. I don’t remember my score (failing memory) but I did pass. I looked at a couple of the last few exams. Many of the questions were obscure and did not really test knowledge. But what is revealed here in many of the comments is anger, superiority, and an attitude that ” I am smart and you are not.”
The purpose of the test is to make sure we don’t ordain ignorant pastors to ministry. Send them back to study and then pass the exam in order to lead.
Maybe we should required a thorough reading of Corinthians where Paul warns about the divisions in churches.
Why the big concern over the lack of biblical knowledge in the pusa? If you don’t intend to follow what it says why does it matter if you know it or not? Just pick a few things that you want to use and the heck with the rest. The biblical writers didn’t know anything about our modern ideas on marriage so why pay any attention to any of it? Hey why not just continue to make it up as we go.
If every member DID have that much scripture knowledge, Robert, we might not be where we are today…because perhaps the members would have thrown out the hierarchy that has brought on the demise of our denomination years ago…because it would have been so very apparent about their abandonment of scripture for worldly standards. Instead, many accept the bastardization of scripture that the national and some liberal ministers present.
…they are indeed
“The purpose of the test is to make sure we don’t ordain ignorant pastors to ministry. Send them back to study and then pass the exam in order to lead.”
Jim, if that’s true, its not working, as there are many pastors who do more eisegesis then exegesis when preparing their sermons for Sunday.
Agree with you, Donnie
Someobody is always telling someone to go read such and such a book….but rarely to go read scripture