LifeWay Research: Americans Are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read it

The Bible, the most influential book in American history, has fallen on hard times. According to a recent Lifeway Research survey, while Americans respect and many venerate the bible, it seems most never open one.

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Christian scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today.

However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.

Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

You might see in these words, if you are a Christian, that the problem is that most Americans don’t read the Bible. Even more disconcerting, however, is that people think the Bible is about “moral lessons,” which isn’t surprising given people generally equate religion with morality.

The reason Americans think this is because for most of them their religion is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton introduced the term in their 2005 book, Soul Searching. Here is the definition from Smith’s follow-up book (with Patricia Snell), Souls in Transition:

  • First, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • Second, God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • Third, the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • Fourth, God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Fifth, good people go to heaven when they die.

The Bible isn’t necessary in such a religion. Those who embrace MTD, whether they could articulate it or not, would likely be repelled by the real message of the Bible. The reason is that the Bible condemns them as dead sinners in need of a Savior. Their good works to a holy God are as filthy rags. They would learn that not all good people go to heaven when they die because there are none who are good, none who do good. Real Christianity is not particularly flattering to sinful human beings.

And not only can we not do any works that will ingratiate us to a holy God, we all stand condemned by his just judgement and deserve his wrath (a word not heard in many Christian churches nowadays). In fact, when Jesus was telling his disciples that the work of God is to believe on him, and that he is the bread of life they said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” And many deserted him that day.

The bottom line is that the Bible isn’t about us. Rather it is about what God has done for us in Christ. That means, the whole of the Bible, from the first words of Genesis, to the last words of Revelation, is about Jesus Christ. Jesus rebukes the disciples he meets on the Road to Emmaus after his resurrection because they didn’t realize the whole Old Testament is about him:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

A little further down in Luke 24 we read:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

The whole of the Old Testament points forward to Christ, the whole of the New Testament points back to Christ. Now that is a Bible worth reading!