You will not be surprised to learn that I am very happy to see Faithlife trying to revive the Christian magazine business with two offers – Bible Study magazine and for the more serious Bible student and teacher Didactos. Interestingly, these are not purely or solely online magazines. They regularly appear in my seminar box as actual printed hard copies. These magazines come from the people of Bellingham who brought us LOGOS and other useful tools for studying the Word of God, and more recently they have even ventured into the strained and crowded field of book publishing. I was very pleased with the production values of my little Lexham Press book, who is god which focuses on the names attributed to God in the Bible, which have to a real degree been overlooked in favor of all those adjectives also attributed to God. For example, God is love is more than saying that God is loving or lovable or lovable.
But I digress. The magazines are written by a group of contributors ranging from in-house staff like Mark Ward to evangelical pastors, teachers and scholars and involve interviews with all kinds of people.
Here I want to focus briefly on the most recent issue of Bible Study Magazine (March-April 2022), which contains a helpful article on Barna’s recent survey (in 2021) of the state of the Bible in America, even during the pandemic. The article is written by Josh Kelly, author and former pastor. Here are some of the interesting findings. The survey is based on interviews with 3,354 adults and 91 young people aged 15-17 from all 50 states and Washington D.C. Note that it was conducted early this year when COVID was raging again after the season of Christmas. You can download the full detailed report for free at sotb.research.bible . A quote that struck me early in the report by its editor, John Plake, was this: “Our research clearly tells us that an individual’s relationship to the Bible is the biggest influence on his spiritual health, period. Nothing else comes close. In short, no preaching, no small groups, no mission trips, not even worship. As a Bible teacher for over 40 years, this conclusion does not surprise me at all. And for many pastors, this conclusion should serve as a wake-up call. If you want your people to be healthier spiritually, they need to spend more time in the Bible, and what will help is MORE BIBLICALLY CENTERED TEACHING AND PREACHING (see my recent blog post on my pet peeves on preaching tendencies). But of course this presupposes that a pastor knows the Bible well and has studied it, preferably in its original languages, and with the help of good commentaries, Bible monographs and dictionaries, etc.
A few other statistics – half of all Americans read the Bible with some frequency. Interestingly, 37% of those who belong to another religion also read the Bible (what was unclear to me was whether Judaism was classified in this statistic as “another religion” or was- it of non-bibliocentric religions). A quarter of all Americans prefer to read their Bible on a computer or phone or tablet screen, a number that drops rapidly when it comes to baby boomers and other seniors. What are the most common reasons for reading the Bible? 1) to feel closer to God, 2) to find comfort, 3) for wisdom or guidance, 4) out of obligation. Note to teachers: they do not read the Bible primarily out of intellectual curiosity or to do historical research on their faith. For example, the more likely a person is to have been personally impacted by COVID in some way, the more likely a person was to read the Bible for comfort, guidance, comfort, hearing from God, etc. During the early panicked days of the pandemic, and pre-vaccines Bible reading declined, for some reason. Interestingly, Gen Z (ages 9-24) is not only inferior in all measures of faith and thriving in the survey (except financially). This does not bode well for the future. Greater Commitment to Scripture Leads to More Volunteerism, More Charitable Giving, and Overall Pro-Social Behavior As Kelly says, this belies the old adage, too heavenly to be earthly good. In short, reading the Bible changes people, and in particular changes how they relate to their neighbors and what they should be doing in the world. Of the four major groups, Evangelicals, Black Churches, Mainstream Churches, and Catholics, when asked questions like how much do we read our Bibles, why do we read it, do we believe it’s the Word of God, evangelicals and black churches far exceed the other two groups in almost all of these areas. Who tends to give generously? They tend to be older, married, better educated, low income (if we’re talking about donations measured as a percentage and not a gross amount donated). Those who volunteer donate eight times more than those who don’t. Overall, the report concludes that 2021 was the fourth consecutive year in which Bible reading increased. Also of interest, Gen Z saw the biggest drop in church attendance during COVID when a church moved to a strictly online model (15%), followed by Millennials (7%). And here’s an alarming statistic – among the people Americans are most likely to trust, religious leaders are near the bottom of the list, ranking only among government leaders but behind delivery vehicle drivers. The most respected were healthcare workers and firefighters, but they had one of the lowest authority of those listed, and note that the police are not placed higher on the scale than drivers of vehicles! The latter is surely in part because of too many instances of George Floyd in recent years (and for the record, defunding the police is not the solution to our social ills, but better training and cultural sensitivity can help).
Think about these things, as we hopefully move forward into a time when COVID is rampant, but no longer a pandemic.