|Confidence in the Word represents its author's response to the challenge presented by the outcome of research into the Bible reading habits of Christians in England and Wales.
Two respected Christian organisations - Bible Society and The Good Book Company - have each independently conducted surveys highlighting the same alarming fact that a significant proportion of practising Christians in England and Wales never read their Bibles at all, and of those who do read them, many do so only very infrequently.
Based on a random sample of regular churchgoers in England and Wales, a survey commissioned by this Society in 1997 showed that 16% - fewer than 1 in 5 - were in the habit of personally reading (or hearing read) something from the Bible every day, and that, including those who did read the Bible daily, only 1 in 4 (25%) read the Bible more than once a week. Overall, just over two-thirds (68%) had read at least something from the Bible during the past twelve months.
However, this meant that nearly a third (32%) had either not read anything from the Bible during the twelve months preceding the survey, or had never personally read the Scriptures at any time in their lives.
It needs to be emphasised that these figures relate only to private Bible reading by individuals. They do not include either reading the Bible or hearing it read as, for example, in Church services or study groups.
The full survey results are as follows:
|16% read something from the Bible every day.|
|A further 9% read the Bible several times a week.|
|11% read something from the Bible about once a week.|
|9% read the Bible about once a month.|
|16% read the Bible several times a year.|
|7% had read something from the Bible once in the past year.|
|14% had not read anything from the Bible in the past year.|
|A further 18% have never read anything from the Bible at any time in their lives.|
|Survey conducted by Taylor Nelson AGB, commissioned by Bible Society in May, 1997. 776 people aged 16 or over who attended a Trinitarian Church at least once a month were interviewed face-to-face at home in England and Wales|
Translated into terms of the population of England and Wales as a whole, this means that only 3 out of every 100 adults are in the habit or reading the Bible privately each day, and that nearly two-thirds of the adult population (64% = 26.4 million) have not personally read anything from the Scriptures for a year or more.
[Source: Surveys commissioned by Bible Society between 1995 and 1997, and quoted by kind permission.]
|Although we have been asked not to divulge the exact figures, we can say that similar surveys commissioned by the Bible Society at intervals since the early 1980's show consistently similar results. The low level of personal Bible reading in England and Wales would therefore appear to be a long-standing situation which is showing no sign of improvement, despite the many excellent attempts being made to encourage the individual use of the Scriptures, not least by means of the Wordwide Web.|
(To learn more about the Bible Society, and to visit their website, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
The Good Book Company
An ad-hoc survey conducted by this Christian publisher during a number of Church meetings in 2000 showed that, even in churches described as sound and keen, on average less than 10% of the congregation read the Bible every day, and only 30% - fewer than 1 in 3 - were reading it at all during the week. The survey also reports that the situation was worse with parents reading the Bible with their children - most were not!
[Source: Survey conducted by The Good Book Company, reported in their Bible Study Resource Guide, Winter 2000/1.]
(To learn more about The Good Book Company, and to visit their website, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
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What has brought about the situation in which fewer than a fifth of professing Christians, and only three percent of the entire adult population, read the Bible every day in a part of the world which has more translations of the Scriptures in its principal native language than most others? (We may also remind ourselves that it is the same part of the world which first gave the Bible to the English-speaking peoples in their own tongue, and in which the modern missionary and Bible Society movements both originated.)
Many reasons have been put forward. Here we offer just some of them:
- Among the population as a whole, the demands upon people's time, and the replacement of a predominantly literary culture by a mainly visual, non-book culture are claimed to be largely responsible. It is said that many homes today do not possess any books, let alone a Bible. Again, the use of icons instead of written directions in public places contributes, so it is claimed, to a reduction in the general level of literacy and the development of an increasingly image-based culture. However, Bible Society research indicates that three-quarters of the adult population claims to have at least one Bible in their household, and the current vogue of fantasy adventure books for both adults and children, would also seem to indicate that book ownership is on the increase, rather than decrease.
- Within the Christian church, the trend in recent years towards an increasingly people centred, experiential and feelings orientated spirituality is said to have produced a move away from the former emphasis on knowledge and understanding as the basis for faith. In such a spiritual climate, the reading and exposition of the Scriptures has, in some circles, either been significantly reduced or even dispensed with entirely. It is claimed that many now look upon personal Bible reading as merely an "optional extra". In charismatic churches in particular, the emphasis placed upon non-scriptural worship songs and spontaneous "words from the Lord" are also said to have detracted from the the Bible's former pre-eminence.
- Taken together, both of the foregoing tend to work against not only Christianity, but also Judaism, since both faiths rely primarily on an objective literary revelation rather than subjective mystical or emotional experiences. Indeed, the God of the Bible expressly forbids the making of images (Exodus 20:4) since he can be understood as existing only as Word, and therefore reveals himself to mankind through words, not images (John 1:1 (NIV)).
In saying this, however, we have no intention of denying that God has also revealed his nature through creation (Romans 1:19-20), nor that in his incarnation Jesus Christ was indeed the Word of God made visible and tangible in the form of a human being (John 1:14 (NIV) and Colossians 1:15).
- The religious diversity arising from the influx of other races into Britain, and the active promotion of pluralism in our schools, colleges and society in the name of "cultural diversity" and "racial tolerance", has detracted from the perception of Christianity as a unique faith, and in particular the conviction that the Bible is God's only authentic written revelation to mankind. In such a pluralistic environment the Bible becomes merely one holy book among many, and is considered to be on a par with the holy writings of other faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism.
- Three further reasons advanced, more particularly by some evangelicals, are:
- The progressive "downgrading" of the Scriptures at the hands of liberal theologians. This began in the nineteenth century and continues unabated up to the present day. It is said to have been responsible for many thinking people (Christian as well as non-Christian) entertaining serious doubts about the Bible's authority and reliability;
- The idea, put forward in more recent years, that the Bible contains the Word of God, but is not itself the Word of God, in the way as a fruitbowl may contain apples or oranges, but is not itself the fruit. Discernment given by the Holy Spirit, it is said, is required to distinguish between those parts of the Bible which are the authentic Word of God and those which are merely the receptacle (ie those parts which merely reflect the cultural situation at the time of writing and which, therefore, no longer apply to contemporary society). According to this view, Scripture becomes the Word of God to the reader only as the Holy Spirit shows it to be such.
- The inference, given by some Bible expositors, that it is only the theologically trained who can properly understand and interpret the Scriptures. As a letter to Evangelicals Now expressed it, the outcome is that, ...the Reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is wrested away from the ordinary Christian, who becomes dependent on a 'Priest-caste' of (historically critical) scholars.[Source: Letter from Mr J Barrett, London, in Evangelicals Now, March 1998.]
(To visit the Evangelicals Now website, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
Some consider that what has happened is that the pre-reformation believer's dependence on the sacrificing priest of Roman Catholicism has been replaced in some Protestant traditions by a similar dependence on specialist Bible teachers - a dependence, so it is claimed, largely generated by the teachers themselves in order to justify their position and enhance their status and influence.
We hasten to add that, although these may all be valid contributory reasons for the low level of personal Bible reading in England and Wales at the present time, we do not offer them as criticisms of any group or tradition within the Christian Church. They are recorded here simply as observations.
As we emphasisein the introduction to our Home Page, whatever other factors may or may not be involved, the author of this website has formed the settled conviction that the underlying reason why such a small proportion of people in England and Wales (including habitual churchgoers) privately read the Bible (or hear it read) with any degree of regularity, is because they have suffered a fundamental loss of confidence in the Bible as the divinely inspired and completely trustworthy Word of God. This loss of confidence has affected many otherwise deeply committed Christians - men and women, young and old, ordained and lay alike. This is confirmed by John Grayston, Scripture Union's Director of Bible Ministries, who recently stated that, as a result of the modern scholastic approach to the Bible, there has been a loss of credibility in the scriptures themselves, which has left people wondering whether they are believable. [Source: news item entitled The forgotten practice of reading the Bible, in The Church of England Newspaper (online version), 12 December, 2002].
The author is equally convinced the loss of confidence in the Bible as the Word of God has been accompanied by a loss of confidence on the part of many Christians, including many ministers, in their ability (and indeed their right) to read, understand and apply the Bible for themselves as their daily guide and nourishment for the life of faith, under the direction of the Holy Spirit alone.
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(To view the current online version of The Church of England Newspaper, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
(To visit the Scripture Union website, please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
The picture revealed by the research he has consulted, the reasons he has seen offered to explain the present situation, together with the convictions he has formed as the result of his own experience and reflection, have given rise to the author's abiding concern to help his fellow Christians to strengthen their individual Confidence in the Word, so they may personally read and benefit from the Bible every day of their lives.
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