Overcoming the challenges of Biblical illiteracy
Educators are deeply concerned about the steep decline in literacy, with multiple studies reporting that over 50% of U.S. adults have reading comprehension skills below a 6th-grade level. Over the past 20 years, social media has trained society to ingest small portions of text alongside graphic depictions. This has resulted in a severe decrease in reading comprehension among children and adults alike. The decline in reading skills is a contributing factor to the increase in Bible disengagement, especially among millennials and teens.
The following are a few of the ways that the comic format helps to overcome Biblical illiteracy, promote Biblical engagement, and communicate God's redemptive truth.
Comics impart meaning through the reader’s active engagement with written language and juxtaposed sequential images. The reader must actively make meaning from the interplay of text and images, as well as by filling in the gaps between panels. Since this text-image composition conveys large amounts of information in a condensed format, a graphic Bible reader can discover the major themes and stories of the Scriptures in a relatively brief span of time.
Neurological experiments have shown that we process text and images in different areas of the brain known as the Dual Coding Theory of Cognition. These experiments also indicate that pairing an image with text leads to increased memory retention for both. With visuals, students not only learn the material faster, they also learn it better.
Though the comics were originally designed to engage youth in the critical 10 to 14 age window, we receive testimonies of the graphic Bible bringing parents back to the faith and setting solid frameworks of Biblical understanding in children as young as five years of age. The graphical adaption of Scripture provides reference verses at the bottom of each page so the reader can find the passage in a Bible for further engagement.
Graphic media has proven extremely effective for teaching content in primary subject areas, such as science, math, and social studies. Slow, reluctant readers and those with learning disabilities gravitate to graphic materials.
Graphic novels and comics add an enjoyment factor to education. Libraries are increasingly purchasing graphic novels as they seek to re-engage the next generation of readers. Even schools and elite colleges are growing utilizers of graphic novels, with West Point military academy requiring graphic novels for reading that effectively stimulate the imagination and provoke conversations around possible scenarios of future threats and warfare.
Intricate and well-designed comic art are a compelling format for an unchurched or non-religious person to pick up and peruse. The Bible, containing difficult words, sayings, and events in far-removed cultural contexts, can be intimidating to a novice seeker of religion. The graphic adaptation of the Scriptures provides an enticing gateway to the gospel and Biblical understanding while offering an attractive medium for personal and social media sharing.
When seeking to help a culture understand a message, it is best to present it in forms that are familiar to them. The mediums of comics and film are highly transcultural. Everyday billions of people worldwide read and understand the visual story medium that is known as “comics” in the western world. In other countries and cultures, they are called manga, manwha, bande dessinnee (or BD), komika, bilderstreifen, historietas, quadrinhos (or HQ), tabeos, foto novella, funetti, or by some other term. No matter the name, comics are one of the most widely read and popular forms of literature.
Wycliffe reports that of the 7,378 languages in the world, only 717 have a completed Bible. This leaves around 6,000 living languages without a full Bible translation in their heart language.
The graphical and animated explanations of the Holy Scriptures fast-track the delivery and dissemination of a holistic overview of God's Word from Genesis to Revelation in languages without the Scriptures. One Bible translator described the 1,800-page graphic Bible as, "the most comprehensive evangelism tract ever." The graphic Bible can be used to set a framework of Biblical understanding for a people group and the mother-tongue translators as the textual Scriptures are being translated into their heart language.