Who reads the Bible these days? Its a good question to ask because, if surveys and studies are to be believed, then the answer would be hardly anyone.
Perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement. However, it is not to far off. According to two major surveys conducting in 2014 (Lifeway and ABS), only 1 in 4 read the Bible regularly, and there are just as many people who rarely or never read the Bible as those who do so every day. And this is among those who identify as Christians and attend a local church! Furthermore, one of these studies showed that nearly 40% of Millennials are likely to never read the Bible.
As Evangelicals, we seem to love the Bible (or the idea of it), but seem to read it very little. And as a Reformed Christian, I am disheartened by such studies that show that those who profess "Sola Scriptura" have relegated the biblical text to a cozy spot on the bookshelf to collect dust (along with the other 3.4 Bibles the average American household owns).
With a lack of Bible reading comes a lack of biblical literacy. According to research done by the Barna Group, fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels, many Christians cannot identify more than 2-3 of the disciples, and 60% can't name even five of the ten commandments. And while this may not worry you (unless you are a part of a Bible trivia club), some of the other findings of the group should:
- 81% of professing Christians believe "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse.
- A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one's family.
- 50% of high school seniors thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife
- 12% of those polled believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife
Not only are facts and figures misunderstood, but also the content, themes, and doctrine, and that should worry us.
The question is: Why don't people read their Bible? While some may cite busyness or skepticism, these are merely symptomatic of what I believe to be the central reason: People don't know how. Left to itself, a lack of understanding of how to read the Bible leads to apathy, skepticism of how relevant or applicable the text is, and makes it much easier to crowd it out of our lives.
The solution to this is to improve our understanding of how to read the Bible. For if we fail to address this pressing issue, we will only continue to see the stats on Bible reading, as well as biblical literacy, continue to plummet among future generations, along with a grasp of the gospel and our calling as witnesses of the Kingdom of God.
That being said, I want to lay out two ways that I read and study the Bible in the hope that you may find them helpful for your own Bible reading:
This method is easy to remember, as it is an acronym: Context, Observation, Meaning, Application.
Begin by choosing a book of the Bible to read (yes, a book, not just a random passage) and work through it section by section. This could be a whole chapter or just several verses, but it is important to read it this way because it will help you understand the context. Ask yourself: What kind of book is this (gospel, narrative, poetry, prophetic, etc.)? What is the overall point the author is trying to make? How does this text fit within that? Think about what comes before and after the passage you are reading, as this will also help.
Then, move on to observing the details of the passage. These can be summarized by four questions: Who, what, where, how? These details will help you when you synthesize them with the contextual clues in identifying the meaning of the passage. Ask yourself: What is the main point in this text? Finally, having understood the context, the details of the passage, and its meaning, you can begin to think about its application to your life: How does this passage call me to act in the world as a witness of Christ and the Kingdom?
Another Bible reading/study method I use is a redemptive-historical approach. Often, I integrate this into the COMA Method, because it helps to show the interconnectedness, and progressively unfolding redemptive nature of, the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments). This approach unifies the Bible around the person and work of Jesus Christ and God's covenantal relationship to his people. Some questions to consider with this approach: Where does this passage fit in the redemptive story? How does it reflect the themes of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation? How does the text point to the person and work of Christ (whether the types and shadows of the Old Testament, or their realities in the New)? In what way(s) does the passage relate to the calling of the Church? How am I being called to trust in Christ, live as an ambassador of the Kingdom, or agent of reconciliation?
In laying out these two approaches, I also want to point you to some resources that can help you in discovering the context, historical details, and other points that can be useful in reading the Bible. Check out the Resources page here, and check out the Bible study links. Also, consider reading the Bible with someone else.
It is crucial that we engage the Word of God, and it is my prayer that as you do so, the Spirit will be at work opening your eyes to the depths of its riches, challenging you in your beliefs and actions, and transforming you to more and more reflect Christ and the Kingdom to the world around you. Amen.