LifeWay Research has recently released an alarming statistic: less than 20% of churchgoers read the bible daily.
I have two problems with this. The first is ‘statistic’ and the second is the sense of ‘alarm’. I have addressed both of these concerns before. We are drawn to the seeming irrefutability of statistics and we seem to be only motivated by the sense of alarm that those stats can raise.
I find that when I am inundated with stats and alarm that I become numb to both. Lacking the tools to evaluate the methodology of the statistic purveyors, I am inclined to mostly ignore them.
But this study raises a more critical question. I really don’t doubt the general concept the study has measured: that few Christians read their bibles on a consistently regular basis. It’s been measured before, but common experience shows it to be true. My question here is not with the reality, but with the conclusion – that this is somehow an alarming thing.
Should we see this not as a measure of a crisis but the identification of a reality, akin to the fact that 99% of people who jump in pools, and 100% of them without scuba gear, get wet? That people do not and have not and may never read their bibles should not alarm us but be accepted as a simple reality. In this case, perhaps the question should not be ‘What can we do about this?’ but rather ‘Why are we surprised or concerned about this?’
Perhaps we should be willing to say that people do not read the bible and that is, generally, an okay thing.
Ed Stetzer of LifeWay, in discussing this study, doesn’t quite seem to know what language to use in addressing his concern. The study addresses ‘bible reading’ but he speaks of ‘bible engagement’. Maybe his term, akin perhaps to Donald Whitney’s ‘bible intake’, is purposely chosen to make room in the spiritual spectrum for the illiterate. Stetzer asks the question, “…if tangible life changes are statistically related to bible engagement in the life of a disciple of Christ, why aren’t more reading and studying the bible?” A reasonable answer might be that reading and studying are not the only ways, and perhaps not the primary way, by which people receive God’s word.
Few, I suppose, would disagree that the goal of the Christian life, and of bible reading, is to know God. And few would disagree that the book through which God has revealed himself is, in fact, important to that goal. But if spiritual growth occurred for fifteen hundred years before the printing press, and if maturity still somehow happens in cultures where literacy is low, and if, in fact, people who read their bibles infrequently still come to know God with depth and devotion, is it not reasonable to ask whether we have put too much emphasis upon the ‘necessity’ of individual, private bible reading? Is it possible that we focus here because bible reading is measurable and knowledge of God is not?
I ask this as a serious question and am interested in genuine responses. Do we put too much emphasis upon the idea of individual, private bible reading?