The Sudden Drop in Bible Reading

The Sudden Drop in Bible Reading April 26, 2022

In 2021, about 50% of Americans said that they read the Bible at least three or four times during the year.  That percentage has held steady ever since 2011.  But that number dropped by 11% in the 2022 survey, which found that only 39% of Americans reported reading the Bible.  In 2019, 14% of Americans read the Bible every day.  In 2022, that percentage has dropped to 10%.

This is not just a matter of secularization.  Sales of Bibles have actually increased.  People still say that they believe in the Bible.  They just aren’t reading it as much.

In fact, the “most engaged” Bible readers–those who read it often, feel connected to God to God when they read it, and consult it for day-to-day decisions–also read the Bible less.

So reports Christianity Today in an article by Adam Macinnes on the American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible study.

The discussion in both the story and the study blames the sudden drop in Bible reading on COVID.  Specifically, on the decline in church attendance due to the lockdowns.  Though churches are now mostly meeting in person again, attendance has not recovered.  Reportedly, church attendance is down by a third from what it was before the shutdown.

Macinnes draws on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Don Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life:

Isolation from other Christians has “lethal” impact on private Bible reading, he said. When people are not in church, they’re not reminded of the blessings of Scripture and its importance for their lives. And they aren’t encouraged by other Christians sharing about their own Bible reading.

Churches are also the main place that people learn how to read the Bible.

The connection between church, interaction with other Christians, and Bible reading is interesting.  But I wonder if COVID is fully to blame.  During the first part of the lockdown, when people could no longer go to work and were forced to stay at home, some thought that there would now be more time for personal activities, such as Bible reading.  That apparently didn’t fully pan out.  But, according to the study, the drop off didn’t happen until 2021, the time frame covered by the 2022 report.  In 2019 and 2020, when the shutdown was at its tightest, Bible reading stayed at the pre-COVID level.

I would welcome your thoughts on why this happened.

I don’t know that this would show up in any statistics, but, thinking about the long-time Bible readers who stopped reading made me think of what is perhaps a related phenomenon.  When you’ve read the Bible over and over, year after year, you can get the idea after some point that you “know it,” that you aren’t learning any more.  Reading the Bible becomes tedious.  It isn’t that you don’t believe it or appreciate it any more, it’s just that you stop reading it, or at least read it much less.

That came close to happening with me.  But my work with John Kleinig’s translation of Johann Georg Hamann’s The London Writings had me editing his “Biblical Meditations.”  Hamann’s notes as he read the entire Bible soon after his conversion offered a fresh take on Scripture, a radically Christocentric approach in which Hamann considers himself being personally addressed–in a Law and Gospel way–by the Holy Spirit.  His excitement proved infectious.  This got me reading the Bible again with a new zeal.

Here is a hint for bringing your Bible reading back to life:  try a different translation.  It will “defamiliarize” the Bible for you.

I’ve started reading the King James translation.  Its language is supposedly hard to understand, but I’m a specialist in 17th century English literature by trade, so I understand it well enough.  Besides, the point is not just to “understand” the Bible, as if it were just a collection of information to process intellectually.

In fact, I think that assumption looms behind some of our jadedness about Scripture.  The sense that “I know it all by now” can contribute to our neglect of the Word of God.  The fact is, though, that we can never fully “understand” God’s revelation. The point of the Word of God is that while it is, indeed, a revelation of absolute Truth, it is, for those who read and hear it, a means of grace, a personal revelation of the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin and creates faith in the good news of Christ.

What I am appreciating about the KJV is its resonance, the beauty of its language, its preservation of mysterious Hebrew imagery instead of presuming to interpret it for us after the manner of many modern translations.  I also appreciate its archaic quality, which reminds us that the Bible is an ancient, not a modern, book.  I think that’s an important part of its meaning.  For us contemporary readers, we need to enter the Biblical world and its mindset as something very alien to what we are used to today.

At least I do.  Do any of you have any other suggestions?


Image by FotoRieth from Pixabay 

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