Bible films may be raking it in at the box office, but fewer people are reading the original and taking it seriously.
The American Bible Society’s latest State of the Bible survey documents steep skepticism that the Good Book is a God book.
“We are seeing an incredible change in just a few years time,” said Roy Peterson, president of the society.
Jeremy Evans, pastor at Wendell Baptist Church in Wendell and associate professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said popular atheists have greatly influenced the public’s perspective of God and the Bible.
“Thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have encouraged people to read the Bible with the expectation that reading it will give you good reasons for rejecting it! The pages of the text, it is claimed, are littered with God behaving badly and yet He is to be praised. They have a hard time understanding why such a God deserves our devotion.
“Pastors need to be intentional about teaching their church essential Christian doctrine, and in this day pastors need to be trained in apologetics and equipping their churches to answer the objections leveled at reliability and authority of scripture.”
The study, conducted annually by Barna Research, finds:
The most “engaged” readers – who read the Bible almost daily and see it as sacred – are now matched by “skeptics” who say it’s just a book of stories and advice. Both groups measured 19 percent.
While the engaged stayed steady since 2011, skeptics grew by 10 percentage points – since the same survey was conducted in 2011.
Skeptics cut into the number of folks Barna calls “Bible friendly,” those who read the Bible occasionally and see it as inspired by God. The “friendly” demographic fell to 37 percent, down from 45 percent in 2011.
The percentage of people who view the Bible as sacred has dropped to 79 percent, down from 86 percent in 2011.
The study is based on 2,036 interviews with U.S. adults in January and February.
Peterson told Religion News Service on April 9 that the statistics are “sobering but not discouraging.”
The key, he said, is “adjusting our outreach” to reel in the next generation. Millennials, ages 18 to 29, lead the skeptics tally:
64 percent say the Bible is sacred literature, compared with 79 percent of all adults.
35 percent say the Bible offers “everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life,” compared with half of all adults.
39 percent of millennials admit they never read the Bible, compared with 26 percent of adults as a whole.
“We have to find where they are hurting, what questions millennials are asking,” he said.
The society has already started down that road by creating Bible-reading “journeys” to meet people’s needs, he said. On its website, people can key in a word such as “hope,” “parenting,” “job loss” or “loneliness” and be steered to a seven- or 10- or 40-day journey of scripture selections designed to address that concern.
Lee Pigg, pastor at Hopewell Baptist Church in Monroe, said, “My fear is that this rebellion against the Bible as God’s book will only get worse which challenges me to stand even stronger for the truth and light that is found in the Bible.”
There are already more than 90 topics listed, Peterson said, and “we are adding more strategic journeys every day. We’re being invited to youth conferences as a scripture partner. So we take it as a very urgent mission.”
Pigg said, “I believe that the Bible is both a good book and a God book. It has been proven reliable over and again through archeology, medicine, science and history, but most of all morally and spiritually.
“The Bible points us to the God who is constantly reaching down to us but we push Him away over and again, until tragedies occur. We want to ask, ‘Where is God?’ He is exactly where we have allowed Him to be; outside of our schools, not allowed in our homes and even not welcome in many of our churches.”
The data confirms, Peterson said, that “we just can’t hand them a Bible and expect them to find the answers. We have to get out the word to give God’s word a chance. It’s urgent.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media. The BR contributed to this story.)