Many Christians struggle through reading the Bible. The issue of Bible literacy is a growing topic of discussion and debate. Kenneth Berding, professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology says biblical illiteracy has reached a crisis point.
“All the research indicates that biblical literacy in America is at an all-time low,” Berding said in an interview with the Christian Post. “My own experience teaching a class of new college freshmen every year for the past 15 years suggests to me that although students 15 years ago knew little about the Bible upon entering my classes, today’s students on average know even less about the Bible.”
Recent studies show that most Americans, even Evangelicals who love and quote Scripture have little understanding of the Bible. According to a report by Barna Group and American Bible Society, majority of U.S. adults said they considered themselves “highly, moderately or somewhat knowledgeable of the Bible,” but less than half of the group were able to name the first five books of the Bible, and in previous reports even fewer knew that John the Baptist was not one of the 12. When you ask many Christians how often they engage with the Bible, they will say often but engage with it very little outside of the context of church, and daily emailed Scripture. We can’t deny that many Christians have trouble reading the Bible. But why?
Some experts believe that the decline in Biblical literacy is because of the changing ways Americans view the Bible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There was a time when Christians were known as ‘people of the book’. They were often engulfed in the Bible, memorizing it, meditating on it, and sharing that Scripture with others. In today’s age, our world is so fast-paced, and our attention spans are so short that many Christians don’t spend time engaging in the Bible like we used to. This is so common that many Christians don’t know basic facts about the Bible or even Jesus’ teachings. Another reason is because many Christians don’t think of the Bible as an authoritative voice but more as a book filled with one-liner wisdom. “Many Americans don’t consider the Bible to be authoritative, that is, they don’t consider the Bible to place a claim on their lives,” Berding said. “They may consider the Bible to be important in a general sort of way, but this is a far cry from believing that God has communicated His will through this book and therefore it is binding upon your actions.” If this is the case, and I believe that is, it’s no wonder that people aren’t taking the time to engage with the Bible. Statistics show that just a little over a third of Americans read the Bible once a week or more and over a quarter of Americans never read the Bible. Many Christians don’t view reading the Bible as an essential part of Christian life. Too often we find Christians lightly engaged and disengaged with the Bible because they don’t view the Bible as a solution to their problems.
Another reason Christians have so much trouble reading the Bible is because of the distractions around them. Many Christians say they want to read the Bible more, or plan on engaging with the Bible more but they are simply “too busy.” Because of our society’s busyness, we find ourselves hurried with little time to focus on God. The Bible warns us about this. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” As Christians, we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in the distractions of this world. God wants us to eliminate hurriedness from our lives so we can better be connected with Him.
Technology is also a factor that can’t be excluded or ignored. There are hundreds of Bible search and study websites all over the internet and more than 1,000 Bible-related apps that encourage the nearly two billion Smartphone users around the world to search and share Scripture with just the tap of the screen. It’s easy. It’s convenient. And much good has come from this digitization – including mass distribution of God’s word. A 2015 American Bible Society ‘State of the Bible’ study found that 50 percent of Americans read the Bible online, and Scripture is being shared in mass numbers more than ever on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. While these statistics sound encouraging, there is something that is now missing through the mass digitization and distribution of Scripture through likes and shares online: Bible engagement, which is crucial to Bible literacy and our relationship with God. Unfortunately, Bible engagement isn’t happening the way many would expect in our digital age, and it’s doing major harm than good to Bible reading. With incredible digital access to Scripture on our mobile devices and the ability to broadcast Scripture, people have become disconnected from engaging whole-heartedly in Scripture. Today’s Christians are doing a lot more sharing and a lot less reading. The digital space has not helped us. People have shorter attention spans, and want to read less. Many people of faith would much rather have a relationship with God’s Word by consuming a line or two of shared Scripture than they would engaging in what now seems like never-ending chapters.