This afternoon I was in a computer game store when I overheard an insightful conversation.
There were three teens talking to each other - two girls and one boy. One of the girls said to the boy, "Where did you go earlier? You just disappeared." He replied that he had gone home for a few hours. "What did you do at home?" she asked, "Just sit and stare at the TV?"
He didn't respond immediately. She repeated herself and then he answered, "I was reading." He said this almost as if he was embarrassed.
The girl laughed and said, "Reading? What kind of person reads?" I couldn't see the looks on their faces as I had my back to them and was trying to look busy riffling through a stack of discounted games. Evidently the other boy and girl had exchanged concerned looks (I think they were brother and sister) and so the girl did what she thought was a backflip on her previous statement. "There is this girl in my class, I totally don't know how she got in year 8. She can't read at all. She asked my friend how to spell 'it' and she was serious!" Things started to lighten up a bit and the brother/sister combo laughed and the boy said, "yeah, 't.i.' that's how!"
Then the girl continued, "I mean, I can read. Like not a book or anything. But I can read that,” she pointed at the binding of a game that had three words on it. "That's the kind of stuff I read. But, I'm not good at reading books.”
So... She's not the worst reader in her class-which makes her feel good. But, she also wouldn't go home on a school holiday and read a book, because, she can't (or at least it would be too much of a struggle for her).
What are kids learning in school these days? Indeed, how do they get into year 8 without being able to read a block of text? Are we so technologically advanced that we no longer "need" to read, or are we slipping backward into an illiterate society for the poorer classes? Is it just the poor?
As a Christian communicator, this dilemma leads me to a different group of questions. The 1st century Christians were good at converting Jews because they understood their mythology and could answer their longings. They had a harder time leading non-Jews to Jesus because they didn't know how to convince them Jesus was the answer to their needs. Often they attempted to make "Jews" of them first so they could make "Christians" of them. While it is and was important for Christians to have a good understanding of the Old Testament, there was a lot of baggage in the Jewish culture that was not required for Gentiles.
What about today? If we truly are living in a post-literate society, do we need to teach them to read first so they can fully appreciate the Word of God? Or, is there some other way?
We live in a story based culture. People love to share, watch, tell and retell stories. Our very mythology is story based - the transmission of values and concepts is done primarily through story telling by today’s best communicators. Is it possible to introduce and integrate the story of Jesus without written text?
How necessary is the written Word for the growth of the Christian? Can one become a fully committed follower of Jesus without reading His Word? If so, what would this look like? How would it work? How could such a environment be designed, implemented and maintained to grow fully mature followers of Jesus without text?