Americans generally have a positive view of the Bible—they just don’t read it.
This is according to a new Lifeway survey attempting to shine light on America’s engagement with the Bible. Fifty-three percent of respondents say they’ve read little to none of the Bible while the rest say they’ve read at least half. Unsurprisingly then, when asked about their view of the Bible, 52 percent said it was a good source of morals while 36 percent considered it actually true. This fits a trend frequently reported on this site: Many people like what Christianity can do for them, but resist the idea of it being an authoritative influence on their life.
“Most Americans don’t know first-hand the overall story of the Bible—because they rarely pick it up,” Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said. “Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily. The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”
The research gives evidence to something many pastors find themselves increasingly concerned about: biblical illiteracy. Many pastors were raised in cultures that provided an extensive Bible education but was sometimes legalistic, unconcerned with practical application or unconcerned with effectively evangelizing their communities. Some of these pastors are now attempting to strike a balance between being culturally effective, engaging people in community and growing their churches, while also helping people understand a “one-story” framework of the Bible.
Protestant pastors, in particular, are trying a variety of different ways to get their congregants to engage the Bible, from communal readings, to reading plans, to online activity. Apparently, this emphasis on Scripture is helping Bible-reading numbers. According to LifeWay, “Those with evangelical beliefs are more likely (49 percent) to read a little bit each day than those without evangelical beliefs (16 percent). Protestants (36 percent) are more likely to read every day than Catholics (17 percent).”
The problem, though, is people’s perception of what Bible reading is. According to McConnell, many Americans read the Bible like they exercise. They know it’s important and helpful, but they don’t do it. The key is for churches to help make Bible reading less of a chore and more of a transformational experience.
“Scripture describes itself as ‘living and effective,’ according to the book of Hebrews,” McConnell said. “Those who have a habit of reading through the Bible a little each day say they have experienced this helpful, life-changing quality. Those who approach the book differently tend to say the Bible is positive but much less personal.”
What this could look like is pastors striking a balance between systematic biblical engagement on the weekends—say a series through the book of Philippians or on the story of Abraham—emphasizing how these passages are a part of a bigger biblical narrative that stretches on into our lives today.