Thursday, October 20, 2011

Warning: Bible Reading Can Be Dangerous To Political Stereotypes

Nearly everyone I know has a Bible, in fact, usually several Bibles.  I also know a lot of people who believe that the Bible tells us what we need to know about God and life.  I know some people who even have pretty firm convictions about God and life with Bible verses to back them up.  But the number of people I know who actually read the Bible in a systematic way - reading regularly, reading full passages rather than just favorite verses, and reading to let God "speak" to their life in what they read - is actually fairly small.

No need to point the finger here.  Just look at how much of the Bible you have read without commentary in the past three days.

A recent article in Christianity Today, based on research by Baylor University and  LifeWay Research identified some unexpected outcomes on beliefs and behaviors for people who read the Bible regularly.  It's worth reading and pondering the entire article - Click Here To Do That - but here are some highlight statements I have gleaned from the larger article.
In 2007, the Baylor Religion Survey asked Americans how often they read the Bible on their own. (It was a five-point scale in this study, ranging from "never" to "several times a week.")

Frequent Bible reading influences views on criminal justice. As might be expected, respondents who were more politically liberal were prone to disagree with the statement, "The government should punish criminals more harshly." Unexpectedly (at least given the conservative stereotype), the more frequently people read the Bible, the more they too are prone to disagree with the statement. This is not an anomalous finding: Support for abolishing the death penalty increased by about 45 percent for each increase on the five-point scale measuring Bible-reading frequency.

The more someone reads the Bible, the more likely he or she is to believe science and religion are compatible. (For each increase on the five-point scale, the odds that they see religion and science as incompatible decrease by 22 percent.)

"How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" .  .  .  Those who read the Bible more often were more likely to agree. Indeed, they were almost 35 percent more likely to agree at each point on Baylor's five-point scale. .  .  .   A reading, politically conservative literalist is only slightly less supportive than a non-reading, politically liberal non-literalist.

The survey asked whether one must consume or use fewer goods in order to be a good person. Political liberals and frequent Bible readers are more likely to say yes. .  .  .  . think of it this way: Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you'll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living. Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you'll have a 44 percent chance they'll say so. It's still not a majority, but the swing is dramatic.

Frequent Bible readers don't just see the Bible as personal. They also see it as authoritative, written by an author who had a specific context and intent, and they want to conform to its message. After all, why read the Bible with no desire to embrace what it teaches?
In short, sometimes reading the Bible can change views and attitudes because readers are surprised by what's in it. Other times, it's just a matter of discipleship.

Interesting, eh?  I hope this motivates you to take a bit more time to read the article in its entirety.  Click Here to do that.  Most of all, I hope it motivates you to build some time into your daily schedule to actually read the Bible, and let God shape your heart and mind however He chooses.

Here are some suggestions for regular Bible reading:
  • I encourage people to read the Bible with "Gospel Eyes," that is to say, read in order to see the Gospel of grace in every passage.  Click Here for a blog post that digs into this a bit.
  • Get a reading plan.  You can find reading plans at a Christian Bookstore, or my favorite online option is - Click Here to look at a wide variety of customizable reading plans.
  • If you are new at this, don't make it harder than it needs to be.  
    • First, find a good easy to read Bible - either translation or paraphrase.  My suggestion: Go purchase a paperback version of The Message.
    • Second, begin by reading John - the 4th book of the New Testament.  When you finish that, read it again.  Finished a second time?  How about a third time?  That is a great place to dig in and really get to know a good broad look at Jesus.  Learn one well, then build from there.
  • Get someone to provide some accountability and encouragement.  Tell them what you want to do, ask them to ask you from time to time how you are doing it.  Maybe you go through the same reading plan together.  And get together over coffee once a week to talk about what you read.  In fact, I'll make that offer to anyone who regularly worships at Christ Covenant.  And I'll buy the coffee.


  1. Bill,

    I applaud your effort to encourage people to systematically read the Bible. The only way to truly know God is to read his word and more believers should spend more time reading. I do it almost every day using Prof. Horner's Bible Reading plan (which I have used for about 2.5 years now). There are many good reading plans available. People just have to find the one that works best for them. God's word transforms his people and time spent in it will be time well spent.

    With that said, I wish you would edit your post and suggest an actual Bible translation and not a bad paraphrase like the Message. There are many very good translations that are easy to read available and the reader will get actual Scripture. Some examples are the ESV, HSCB, or the 1984 NIV (not the 2011 NIV). I know many people like the Message but there are better options available so why not begin with one of them.

    Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on the matter,

  2. Tom,
    I have no reservations about recommending any of the translations you mention - or the Message. For me, it's very much about getting non-Bible readers connected as readers. I could modify my suggestions to "read John in a variety of translations." Over time, I would hope that would happen.

    BTW - when I finish up my own reading of the ESV from "Gen to Rev" in December, I'm hoping to work with the Prof Horner plan that you mention. I've just come across it, and will be anxious to give it a run.


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