Most Christians do not read the Bible. At least not very much. That’s what my own anecdotal experience tells me, and various studies (for example, the ones cited in this 4/4/13 HuffPost article) confirm it, though the exact figures vary.
This is kind of surprising since the Bible has been the best-selling book in the history of printing, with up to 6 billion copies sold. (That’s about 6 times more than the combined total of the next nine best-selling books.)
Why don’t people read this incredibly popular and generally respected book? Specifically, why don’t Christians read the Bible? I’ve got a few theories:
Honestly, I think a lot of Christians put the Bible in the same category as other literary classics, like War and Peace, or the book version of Roots, or anything by Shakespeare. We have a vague sense that we should read it in order to consider ourselves “informed,” but we can’t cite any specific, practical difference it would make. It’s hard to prove that reading the Bible does any measurable good. After all, there are plenty of nice, successful people who don’t read the Bible. And there are plenty of jerks, racists, and annoying people who do. I think many of us secretly wonder if Bible-reading makes any difference.
Whether it’s their own priest or pastor, or a celebrity theologian like Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, most American Christians are consumers just like the rest of modern society. We would rather be fed Biblical truths than feed ourselves. And it’s true, religious professionals are probably better at gleaning, understanding, and teaching those truths than we ordinary amateurs. So why not just outsource our Bible-reading to them? As religion becomes more adept at packaging itself in market-driven, user-friendly trappings, its adherents become more dependent and less self-sufficient.
Even when Christians do resolve to spend more time reading the Bible, most of us will fail because we won’t put a support system in place. Many American Christians believe that “personal devotions” should be, well, personal. So we try to go it alone. But the Bible is meant to be read in community. It’s more authentic that way, more effective, and more fun, and it’s far more likely to actually happen—because of the natural accountability a support system provides.
4. We’re hypocrites.
I’m guilty of this. I mean, I do believe that the Bible is full of living power. I’ve seen it change people’s lives dramatically. I’ve relied on it for advice, direction, peace, and hope. I’ve read it cover-to-cover more than once; I’ve studied it in groups and on my own; I’ve come back to it again and again because those old, familiar words take on new layers of meaning when I read them through different experiences. And yet, when I get busy or depressed or lazy, Bible-reading is one of the first habits I drop. I say it’s essential, but I give it up so easily. I’m a hypocrite.
But I’m trying again. I’m setting my doubts and hypocrisy aside, I’m refusing to let professional Christians take over this task, and I’m putting myself in the company of others who are curious about what the Bible really says. I’m reading the Bible.
Want to join me? Let me know. I could use your help.