It may surprise you to learn that America is decidedly pro-Bible. For research commissioned by American Bible Society, Barna Research polled 2,000 Americans and discovered that nine out of 10 households own a Bible. A full 86 percent of people surveyed indicated that they consider the Bible to be sacred or holy. That’s the good news.
But this positive view of the Bible and high rate of Bible ownership in America begs a question: what are Americans doing with all these Bibles? To put it another way, is the Bible simply sitting on our shelves or is it being read? And what difference does it make in our society if we’re not actually reading the Bible?
To look at popular depictions of American society—a jaded, faithless people too sophisticated for belief in God—it would seem there is a decided disconnect between what we say we believe about the Bible and how it impacts—or doesn’t impact—our lives.
More than half of the people surveyed as part of the American Bible Society study reported that they had an average knowledge of the Bible, while nearly a quarter of U.S. adults considered themselves quite knowledgeable on the topic. Two-thirds of adults correctly identified what "3" means in John 3:16 (chapter), indicating a working knowledge of the Bible's basic construction. Seven out of 10 responding described the Bible as the inspired Word of God.
But are people are overestimating their connection with the Bible?
After all, if people were reading their Bible on a consistent basis, wouldn’t the world look a little better?
Consider the facts:
- According to recent U.S. Census data (May 2011), approximately one in two first marriages end in divorce.
- 42 percent of Americans believe gambling is not an issue.
- 23 percent believe telling a lie to spare someone's feelings is morally acceptable.
- At least 1,500 men, women and children are seriously injured or killed each year in the U.S. as a result of senseless traffic disputes and altercations (source: AAA).
So if we are a society of Bible believers, how do we explain the prevalence of behaviors falling beneath the Bible’s highest standards? Do we really believe in our beliefs?
What would America look like if our actions did a better job of reflecting what most of us acknowledge as God's Word?
Would we, as Jesus instructs, resolve conflict more peacefully by turning the other cheek?
Would we love our neighbor as ourselves—even if it meant checking our frustration with the driver slowing down our commute?
Would we take thetime to offer a kind word? Ask about a sick neighbor? Keep an eye on an elderly widow? Visit a prisoner?
We see a lot of media stories about someone complaining about a prayer offered at a graduation, the mention of God by a public official, or the presence of a cross in a military memorial. We’re often left with the impression that Americans want religion to stay out of everyday life.
But the research doesn’t support this.
In fact, 54 percent of those surveyed think that the Bible has too little influence in U.S. society today. They recognize, as do I, that the influence of the Bible can bring about positive changes in our society.
The big, sweeping narrative of the Bible is, in fact, dialed into our highest hopes and aspirations. All that we long to see in our world—love, forgiveness, compassion and humility—can be found in the Word.
So how do we achieve a better alignment of our reported beliefs and observable actions?
A good start is to move from being a Bible owner to a Bible reader. The presence of a dusty Bible on the shelf won’t make a person live more biblically any more than the presence of a diet book in the home will make one live more healthily. For the Bible to get into our hearts and lives, we need to get into the Bible.
As we actively engage with Scripture, I believe we’ll begin to become people whose lives—not just words—reflect what it says.
Lamar Vest is the President and CEO of the American Bible Society. Founded in 1816, the American Bible Society exists to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message.