Many Questions About the Bible
As a pastor and missionary, I can assure you people have asked all kinds of questions about the Bible. The one for today has nothing to do with social agendas, flags, or court decisions. It’s intensely personal and very challenging. It can be posed to anyone, but my audience is mostly believers and we must answer this question!
The question for today seems appropriate regarding some of my personal struggles as well as some recent research. I confess I sometimes get discouraged writing a teaching/devotional blog when I know the number of people interested in such things is continually declining. It can seem self-defeating.
I’ve been preparing a series on prayer. Research for that series turned up some disturbing results. It’s possible to find out how many internet searches are done for particular terms. Google Trends is a good tool for that. I typed ‘prayer’ in the search box. The results came back by region (essentially by country).
The top region is assigned the number 100. As the number of inquiries per region decrease, each region is assigned a lower number. The U.S. ‘region’ scored 22 out of 100. That’s way down on the list. Do we have all the answers and don’t need to ask questions? My experiences, and recent events, would not lead to that conclusion. Since the Bible says a great deal about prayer, those statistics might say a lot about our belief in the Bible. (Let your mouse ‘hover’ over areas of the map below.)
It’s so basic you will be tempted to dismiss the question as well as the thought-provoking article by Ed Stetzer. Please don’t do that. Everything we have expereinced lately, the work done by Dr. Stetzer, and your own experience points to the necessity of the question:
The Bible: Do We Believe It?
I edited the article for length and noted that fact where appropriate. A link is included for the entire article. And I must say the comments about small groups are spot on. That is being proven true in our own local church ministry as well as many others.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The Sad Statistics
Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. [Edited] Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.
Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it. To understand the effects, we can look to statistics of another Western country: the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn’t choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn’t know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible.
British parents didn’t do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don’t know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.
[Edited] Our lack of biblical literacy has led to a lack of biblical doctrine. LifeWay Research found that while 67 percent of Americans believe heaven is a real place, 45 percent believe there are many ways to get there—including 1 in 5 evangelical Christians. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent) believe the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being—in contrast to the orthodox biblical teaching of the Trinity being three Persons in one God. As a whole, Americans, including many Christians, hold unbiblical views on hell, sin, salvation, Jesus, humanity, and the Bible itself.
[Edited] Christians desire to become more mature followers of Christ. LifeWay Research found 90 percent of churchgoers “desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do.” Almost 60 percent agree with the statement, “Throughout the day, I find myself thinking about biblical truths.” It’s striking that while most of us desire to please Jesus, few of us take the time to check the Bible to find out if we are actually doing it. Clearly, there’s a disconnect.
How to Combat this Negative Trend
So how do we get people to pull the Bible off their bookshelves and put it into their lives? [Edited] Here are the eight predictors of biblical engagement:
- Confessing sins and wrongdoings to God and asking for forgiveness
- Following Jesus Christ for years
- Being willing to obey God, no matter the cost
- Praying for the spiritual status of unbelievers
- Reading a book about increasing spiritual growth
- Being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian
- Memorizing Bible verses
- Attending a small group focused on Bible study
Notice the last factor: Small groups are key to combating and changing the epidemic of biblical illiteracy. Our research shows that as Christians increase their participation in small groups, their Bible engagement scores go up.
[Edited] We found that group attenders were much more likely than non-group members to read their Bible regularly—67 percent compared to only 27 percent. Being involved in a small group made it more than twice as likely a Christian would be regularly reading God’s Word.
On top of that, we found involvement in small groups made Christians more likely to pray for others and confess sins to God—both of which are predictors of biblical engagement. It’s no wonder we concluded quite simply: groups matter.
[Edited] Here are four important facets of small groups:
1. Connect: Small groups connect people in relationships. According to William Hendricks in Exit Interviews, one common reason given by people who leave churches is a failure to connect in relationship. In addition, LifeWay Research found 1 in 5 young adults who left church said they did not feel connected to the people at their church. Small groups must provide a comfortable environment for people to connect.
2. Reproduce: In human growth, multiplication allows a cell to become multiple cells, which allows change and growth to occur. Similarly, for growth to occur in the church, people groups must continuously grow and multiply. Small groups must multiply and reproduce so more and more people can experience one.
3. Assimilate: Small groups assimilate members to ministry through service. As people in small groups grow in relationship together, they will readily serve alongside others and integrate into ministry opportunities. Whether the small group serves together or helps group members find ways to serve on their own, small groups should launch people into ministry in and outside the church.
4. Transform: Small groups allow individuals to experience faster and deeper personal transformation through authentic community. With a focus on Bible study and applying God’s truth to life, small groups help group members experience real life change. For seekers, small groups provide a safe setting to ask questions in a community of people who also wrestle and struggle. They also provide a safe place for Christians to wrestle with faith issues and apply God’s Word.
Small groups with these four characteristics connect people in genuine relationships in an environment where the Bible is taught, discussed, valued, and practiced. Having people in a large church gathering is great, but having them also involved in an intimate group setting is better. We must move people beyond merely sitting in rows in pews to sitting in circles in groups. It’s there that people mature in their faith as they respect, appreciate, and hear those in community alongside them. Biblical illiteracy is best combated in those small group circles—whether they meet on Sunday morning in a church classroom or Tuesday night in a living room.
Through groups, people are inspired to read the Bible more, not necessarily because it’s an expected duty, but because they know the joy that comes from connecting personally with God through his Word. Groups matter—especially when it comes to how well we read, know, and live the Bible.