Clueless in Christendom


“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11)

While most Christians would say that the Bible should be the basis for spirituality, a survey shows that only four out of every ten “born-again” adults actually relies on the Bible or church teachings as their primary source of moral guidance. In a typical week, 22 percent of evangelical Christians do not read the Bible at all. Another 30 percent read it only once or twice a week. Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli cut to the chase: “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it.” Like duh.

You wouldn’t guess any of this from a visit to your local Christian bookstore. Among us God-folk it’s a soul food frenzy. There’s a Bible for every age, taste, and sectual preference. First there are the translations: The King James (Old Faithful), the Revised Standard, and the Amplified Version. Then there are the new versions: the New King James, the New International Version, the New International Readers Version, Today’s New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New Century Version, the New American Standard and (gasp) the newer updated New American Standard version. Tie-dyed folks can go sixties hip with The Message–technically a paraphrase, but the hemp crowd probably won’t care.

Next are the formats to consider: A Quest Bible? A Devotional? A Thompson Chain? A Ryrie Study? A Serenity? An Inductive Study? A MacArthur? A Scofield? A Men’s? A Woman’s? How about an Extreme Teen Bible? Or an Edge? Or a Spirit of the Reformation Bible? Maybe an audio format for easy listening or a CD ROM with 20 versions, multiple Hebrew and Greek texts, and a whole library of reference materials accessible at a click?

Once that’s narrowed down, it’s time to pick the packaging. There’s the Thinline, the Big Print, the Personal size, the Hardcover, or the Paperback. There’s imitation leather, bonded leather, genuine leather, Italian leather, or even a metal Bible for that pierced Goth in the back pew. I think you can even get a Kevlar cover if you’ve got connections.

You’d think that with all these scriptural flavors we’d all be Bible scholars. Yeah, right. Barna Research Group reports that fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. 60 percent of Americans can’t even name five of the Ten Commandments. According to 82 percent of Americans, the adage “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse. (It’s Benjamin Franklin, if you didn’t know.) At least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and a survey of high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A significant number from one poll believed that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

Personally, I find such widespread Biblical illiteracy exciting. Considering my inclinations toward creative scriptural license, the fewer people who read the Good Book the better.


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