Why Don't People Read the Bible?

Why Doesn’t Anyone Read the Bible Anymore?

Okay, so some people do still read the Bible, but most of them aren’t in mainline churches. And even in the more conservative churches, fewer people are reading the Bible than a generation ago.

In his 2006 book, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America, Ray Suarez points out a peculiar statistic: polls indicate that more Americans than ever before identify themselves are church-goers while, simultaneously, the rate of biblical illiteracy has never been higher. In the mainline churches the situation is almost dismal. The chief researcher for one major denomination recently estimated that only about 6%-8% of the members of his denomination attend any kind of formal bible study in a given year and that only about half have ever been to a Bible study in their lives.

So what gives? Most of these churches who have shown so little interest of late in reading the Bible trace their heritage to the Reformation, where the cry of sola scriptura – “Scripture alone” – fueled the spirit of reform. Or is lack of interest really the problem? I’ve talked with numerous pastors who say that while their members are always asking for Bible studies, when the pastor offers one nobody comes. So either people are just saying they want Bible study but really don’t – which, while not inconceivable doesn’t strike me as probable – or everyday Christians are genuinely interested in Bible study but something keeps them from coming.

I have a hunch that several things contribute to the typical Christian’s lack of motivation to read and study the Bible with any significant effort, but I want to focus on one: embarrassment. Yes, that’s right. I suspect that the typical member of a mainline congregation lives in the embarrassing tension of a) knowing the Bible is important and b) knowing they don’t know much about the Bible. This creates what we might describe as a sense of “free-floating” embarrassment or even shame with regard to Bible study.

So what do you think? I’m writing this blog to explore the way the Bible functions – and might function – in our everyday lives of faith. I have some hunches about some of the other issues contributing to the relative lack of authority or power that Scripture holds in our congregations and lives, and I’ve got some idea about what we can do about it, too. But I’m not that interested in having this blog serve as a one-way venue by which I exposit my ideas. Rather, I’m interested in sparking a conversation about the Bible in everyday life, and I very much hope you’ll consider contributing.

If you’ve got some ideas about why people don’t read the Bible, if you can relate to the issue of feeling embarrassed about what you know or don’t know about the Bible, or if you’ve have stories about your own experience with reading Scripture – positive or negative – that’d you’d be willing to share, please let me know. (While a “comment feature” will soon be added to the Day1 blog pages, for now you can email me at dlose@luthersem.edu.)

Thanks – I look forward to the conversation!