According to the Pew Research Center, atheists get the gold star for knowledge about religion.
In a recent survey, they correctly answered 18 of 32 questions on the meaning of Easter, doctrine of the Trinity, symbolism of communion and basic questions about other faiths. Agnostics finished second with 17 correct answers, while Christians got 14.2 right. Those who described their religion as “nothing in particular,” came in fourth with 11.4 right.
One survey proves nothing, and knowing about religion is not the same as knowing Jesus.
But there are more troubling trends.
LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Americans on how often they read the Bible. More than half have read little or none of it. Findings are about the same for churchgoers.
“The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli also sounded the alarm.
“Americans revere the Bible, but by and large don’t read it,” they wrote. “And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of Biblical illiterates.”
How does that translate into real life? We can’t obey what we don’t know. It’s easy to drift when we don’t know what God says about life and faith.
What we don’t know matters:
Less than half of churched adults can name the four Gospels.
Many Christians cannot identify more than three disciples.
Sixty percent of Americans can’t name five of the Ten Commandments. Pollster George Barna said, “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are.”
Eighty-two percent of Americans believe the saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” is in the Bible. Contrary to what many believe, the Bible does not say, “Moderation in all things,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” “God works in mysterious ways,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” “Let go and let God,” or the classic, “Everything happens for a reason.”
A majority of adults surveyed think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of family. Not true. The most important purpose of life is to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Other responses are amusing but sad.
Twelve percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
Fifty percent of graduating high school seniors believe Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
Some believe that evangelist Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
We should know better. Christians believe the Bible is God’s Word. They know it is good, and that they should study it.
Yet 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible.
Excuses are so lame. I know. I’ve used a few.
Sure, the Bible can be overwhelming. It’s more than 1,000 pages. It can seem ancient. It was written 2,000 years ago. It’s dogmatic. It tells us how to live. It points to the truth that we cannot save ourselves. Though it can be hard to understand at times, there are a ton of Bible resources and translations to make it easier to understand.
The Bible is powerful. It explains God’s will for our lives. It helps us understand life. It helps us understand God. It gives direction. It infuses hope and gives courage. It helps us overcome life’s problems and have hope when the problems don’t go away in this life. It is packed with God’s promises.
As a new Christian, I could never get enough. My Bible was red-lined and dog-eared, with margins full of notes and pages flipped so many times they began to fall out. Eventually the whole Bible was held together with rubber bands. I was desperate to know God; He always showed up.
I wish everyone could see how those who are not free to worship God in their country view the Bible.
In a deep, booming voice, a young man in South Sudan recited a favorite Bible verse to me. I loved hearing it and gave a few of my favorites. Conversation stopped. It took a minute for me to figure out why.
I asked if he had a Bible.
He said his friends, a group of 20-some young men who survived genocide and live together, share parts of a Bible. They exchange pages someone gave them, memorize them and trade with someone else.
In China, East Lisu people cried as they held the first Bible in their language. The first New Testaments in an Eritrean dialect were loaded on camels to take to waiting believers in remote villages.
Their reverence made me think about my careless disregard and neglect of the Bible.
We enjoy incredible freedom to own and read God’s Word. After returning from a country where owning a Bible is dangerous, I am reading every day. And every time I open it, I wonder why on earth I neglected it a day.
Ruth Schenk is a contributing writer for The Outlook and has been a member of Southeast Christian Church since 1992.