Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians


This piece I post not without some trepidation. I throw it out into the blogosphere nevertheless. For what it is worth.

I was listening to a podcast this morning by an atheist, turned Christian apologist, who commented that an “overwhelming number” of American Christians do not know what scripture says about key issues, including salvation. The comment stood out to me, so I googled it.

I found a Lifeway article that doesn’t focus on Christians, per se, but on Americans generally[1]. (We’re supposedly a Christian nation, right?) The article focused not on the content, but on how much of the Bible people have read. While the article didn’t focus on people who call themselves Christians, it began to paint the picture.

A whopping 53% of the people polled had read no more than “several passages” or “a few stories”. Twenty three percent (23%) had read no more than “only a few sentences”, and ten percent (10%) of the people polled hadn’t read a single word of the Bible.

I am not completely surprised, though I would love to see the percentage of those people who have a strong opinion about what the Bible says.

About fifteen percent (15%) of the people polled said they had read “at least half” of the Bible. Another twelve percent (12%) said they had read “almost all of it. Only twenty percent (20%) of the people polled said they had read all of the Bible, but only nine percent (9%) had read all of it more than once.

Clearly, we are not very Bible literate as a nation, though we have strong opinions on what we think the Bible says. That goes for people who have strong positive opinions and strong negative opinions.

Interestingly, I found an article written by a well-known atheist that suggests most Christians don’t understand the fundamentals of their faith.[2] He concludes, “This survey shows that a lot of people take on a particular religious label, not because they have a full understanding of what that faith believes, but for other more superficial reasons. Maybe their parents raised them in it. Maybe they were led to that religion by a friend. Maybe they attended a service and found it welcoming and inspiring.” Anecdotally, I see some truth in that statement.

It’s not just atheists making that observation. An article by the Barna Group, a Christian organization, finds that most churchgoers have “never heard of” the Great Commission.[3] Another article commenting on a similar survey concludes that most Americans are heretics and claims the results show that even “those who wear Christianity on their sleeve” … “Christmas-treed the survey, espousing all kinds of unorthodox views”.[4]

I found many articles by Christian leaders expressing concern about Bible illiteracy among people who consider themselves Christians (calling it a big problem[5], a scandal[6] a crisis[7] and an epidemic[8]), so it seems there truly are an “overwhelming number” of American Christians who do not know what scripture says about key issues – to circle back to where I started. And, where do I get off this feedback loop?

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