My hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently was named America’s most “Bible-minded” city, based on a survey conducted by the American Bible Society with The Barna Group, a research organization that tracks spiritual trends across the nation and around the world.
The researchers defined “Bible-minded” people as “respondents who report reading the Bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible.” Having lived here for more than 30 years – and dearly loving this unique community where we raised three daughters – I find this study’s results very interesting. Seems like the good news vs. bad news kind of deal.
|For many of us, the Bible is merely a reference book for |
occasional use, or a space-eater on a bookshelf.
Being one who regularly reads the Bible, almost daily, and strongly believes in the accuracy and validity of the Scriptures, this sounds like good news. However, experience has taught me just reading the Bible – and even affirming the accuracy of what it says – doesn’t necessarily or automatically correlate to a changed life.
For instance, if you surveyed thousands of people and asked if they thought drunk driving was a bad idea, everyone would agree. And yet every day people drive drunk. If you inquired about whether people thought spending less than you earn is wise financial management, you wouldn’t find many in disagreement. Yet the vast majority of people live beyond their means, using credit cards and other forms of indebtedness to satisfy both needs and wants.
The same applies when people wholeheartedly affirm their confidence in the Bible. Take the 10 Commandments, for example: How many people would declare we should steal, should kill, should covet our neighbor’s spouse or possessions, should commit adultery, or should lie? Hardly any – but many of us do some of these things just the same.
And it’s the other commandments that trouble us the most – things like not worshipping any gods other than the God of the Bible; taking the name of God in vain, or observing the Sabbath as a true day of rest.
Sadly, the majority of people who profess to be followers of Jesus – including myself at times – treat the Bible as a general guideline, kind of like the out-of-bounds lines on a football field or basketball court. But sometimes, we think, it’s okay to step out of bounds – for the sake of convenience or expediency.
Other studies have shown so-called “Bible-minded” people might attend worship services more frequently, and they might have a different vocabulary than non-believing friends and neighbors, but in their everyday lives they don’t look much different. We divorce at almost the same rate as non-believers, seem equally seduced by materialism, we conduct business in like manner, and our charitable giving typically doesn’t amount to much more than those who never darken a church’s doors.
As someone has said, many of us are “so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good.”
What’s the solution? First, we need to dispense with our Western way of thinking – the mindset that says we can believe one way, but act quite differently. To truly believe is to act accordingly.
Second, we need to heed James 1:22-25, which admonishes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”
My intent is not to sound judgmental, because apart from the power of Jesus Christ we’re all imperfect and flawed, certain to betray our convictions from time to time. But as the apostle James wrote, it’s not enough to read the Bible and listen to it being taught from a pulpit. We need to do what it says.