In Amos 8:11 we read these frightening words: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’.” While it may not be likely that Amos had the 21st Century West in mind, it seems like his words pretty well sum up our situation.
I have written before about our woeful lack of basic biblical knowledge, and how believers today seem more intent on soaking in the latest trendy wit and wisdom of secular humanism than they are on devouring and seeking to master the Word of God. Our knowledge of the Bible today is perhaps at its lowest levels ever.
Yet some recent statistics coming out of America make this situation all the more reprehensible. George Guthrie offered a “Read the Bible for Life” conference these statistics:
“-25 million copies of the Bible are sold in the United States annually.
-Nine out of 10 homes in the U.S. have a Bible.
-More than 400 million copies of all or part of the Bible are distributed through Bible societies each year.”
That’s a lot of Bibles. But he went on to give these frightening figures: Only “16 percent of churchgoers read the Bible daily and 25 percent of churchgoers don’t read the Bible at all. This means that more than 50 percent of people who come through the doors of our churches on a regular basis only read their Bibles occasionally, perhaps one or two times per month, if at all. Even more sobering, only 37 percent of those who attend church regularly say that reading and studying the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives. Only 37 percent.”
And we wonder why Christians are losing the plot, churches are dying, and entire denominations are going the way of Cain. It is not difficult to get some answers here. Simply treat the Bible like an optional extra, to be read or ignored at whim, and there is your recipe for Christian suicide.
These damning statistics are a shameful blight on contemporary Christendom. And I do not doubt for a moment that the same sorts of figures can be found here in Australia. We have Bibles all over the place, but who is actually reading them and studying them?
I have stated before that any believer can read the entire Bible straight through in one year if they simply read three chapters a day. That is a measly 15 minutes a day. Yet I suspect that most believers don’t even read three chapters in a week, maybe even a month.
And the famine for God’s word is certainly not found in your average Christian bookstore. They are awash with Bibles, coming in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, there is a bewildering, and at times ridiculous, range of choices to be found. We have every sort of Bible under the sun.
There are men’s Bibles and women’s Bibles and teen’s Bibles and Spirit-filled study Bibles and eschatology study Bibles and apologetics study Bibles and blond-haired, left-handed vegetarian study Bibles and lower Manhatten 18-20 year old party goer study Bibles, etc.
There is a Bible for everyone and for every group imaginable. But the real question is: are we reading them? Are we studying them? More importantly, are we obeying them? Our accountability as Western Christians is great because we are drowning in Scripture, yet we know little about the Word and do little about the Word.
So how do we turn things around? I would suggest repentance would be a good place to begin. We need to get on our faces before the living God and repent of ignoring one of the most important gifts he has given us. We need to confess our sins here, and ask God to help us get back to his Word, and to give us a renewed love for his Word.
Then we can say with David in Psalm 119:97-99, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.”
At this conference other suggestions were given to buck this trend. Guthrie said this: “First, we need to look at processes in the local church and not just programs of the moment. We need to read and teach people how to read Scripture more effectively and meaningfully. And we need to get into the grand story of Scripture – individually and as a community.
“By doing this, people will begin to realize that ‘this is my story and it has implications for my life.’ This coordinated attempt at changing patterns and processes of interacting with Scripture is a way to help the church be the church and learn to read the Bible well.”
Another conference speaker, pastor David Platt, said. “We walked through the story of Scripture from cover to cover testing out the Read the Bible for Life curriculum. To see the Word come alive through this material and through our church was incredible. As a pastor I’m indebted to this.
“As you unpack the grand narrative of Scripture, you start to realize that the God of Peter, James and John [and] of Isaiah, Moses and Abraham is your God. To have your eyes opened to the fact that God, the consuming fire on the mountain, is the same God we meet with…. it takes our daily routine up to such a higher level when we realize we are a part of something so much greater – a grand story of redemption.”
If a program such as this is needed to turn things around, fine. But the first step must be to come to God in humility and repentance, admitting our guilt here. It is either that or business as usual. I know which direction I would rather take.
As A.W. Tozer so rightly stated, “Whatever keeps me from the Bible is my enemy, however harmless it may appear to be. Whatever engages my attention when I should be meditating on God and things eternal does injury to my soul. Let the cares of life crowd out the Scriptures from my mind and I have suffered loss where I can least afford it.”