Abysmal scores on the Bible exam

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%.

Source: http://www.pcusa.org/blogs/prep4min/2015/9/4/bible-content-exam-results/

If I’m reading this correctly, over the last twelve exams 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.

4 Replies to “Abysmal scores on the Bible exam”

  1. While I appreciate the remark made on Facebook in response to this that the change in scoring may be a function of the testing instrument, BCE has had the lowest passing grade of all the exams for some time.

    I wonder if this is related to the change in the test takers. Two generations ago, they were young men and women raised in the church, recently graduated from college, who were on their way to 30+ year ministries.

    Beginning with my generation, we began to see the rise of the second career person, who may or may not have been nurtured by the church; some have returned to faith and the church (perhaps) but the long term discipline of Scripture reading that makes passing BCE relatively simple may not have been in place.

    I suspect this is another aspect of the cultural tsunami we find ourselves in.


  2. Jeff, I would be interested to see the breakdown of passes by seminary. There was a time when Gordon-Conwell (a non-PCUSA seminary) had the highest passing rates of all the seminaries and Fuller (another non-PCUSA seminary) wasn’t far behind. I find that to be an extraordinary coincidence — particularly if the stats still hold today.


  3. 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://www.layman.org/evangelism-overture-approved-for-ga-consideration-concurring-presbytery-needed-2/) for emerging Teaching Elders.


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