Why Don’t We Read the Bible More?
I found the results of a recent poll about patterns of reading the Bible fascinating, discouraging, and not unexpected all at the same time. In short, the survey, conducted by the Barna Group on behalf of the American Bible Society, discovered that while Americans have a very high view of the Bible, they don’t read it much.
As an article put out by the Religious News Service describes it,
More than half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline, yet only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, according to a new survey….
The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles.
But, as the survey demonstrated, whatever high view Americans may hold about the Bible, it doesn’t translate into the actual practice of reading it:
If they do read it, the majority (57 percent) only read their Bibles four times a year or less. Only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week).
So here’s my question to you: do you read the Bible? If so, how often? If infrequently, why not more?
I’ve said for years that Lutherans – and I suspect this holds true for Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians and other “mainline” church-goers – know two things for sure about the Bible. 1) It’s a very important book, and 2) they don’t know it very well. Combining these two things has created a reservoir of embarrassment and even shame in many Christians. Which is why a well-meaning invitation to Bible study has frightened more than a few of our folks from getting more involved in church. As adults, we like being good at things and are remarkably uncomfortable when we feel we lack competence. Hence, whether it’s taking dancing lessons at the request of a partner, learning to shoot digital photography, starting a foreign language, or reading the Bible, we shy away from situations where we think we may be embarrassed.
So what makes you reticent to pick up one of the 4.4 Bibles probably lying around your house? Is it too big, too foreign, too irrelevant, too daunting, what? Or, perhaps more importantly, what would entice you to pick it up? Better education at church, online resources, brief videos that help explain the Bible and set it in context? Other things?
I’m interested to know because I’m committed to helping everyday Christians read and enjoy the Bible more. In fact, I think if we don’t teach the emerging generation to read the Bible in a way that helps them use these stories to make sense of and shape their lives, I’m not sure we have much of a future…or deserve one. In 2009 I published a book called Making Sense of Scripture that a lot of folks have found helpful, both reading it as individuals and in study groups, but I think we need more than just books. I’ve also worked on a website called Enter the Bible, put out by Luther Seminary, that helps folks get oriented to reading the Bible. But now I’m wondering what else we need to do.
So if you have a moment, I’d love to hear what has been challenging, enjoyable, daunting or helpful as you try to read and understand “the greatest story ever told.”