Roy Peterson is president and CEO of American Bible Society. He has also served as president of two other Bible translation ministries, The Seed Company and Wycliffe USA. He spent eight years in Ecuador and Guatemala serving in leadership positions with Wycliffe organizations. Peterson holds a master’s degree from Azusa Pacific University.
Americans need God’s Word just as much as they ever have; yet research shows they are reading Scripture less. Just like so many in the Church, we long to see a renewal of Scripture engagement in America.
Four years ago, American Bible Society embarked on an annual survey of American adults to gauge their beliefs about the Bible, their knowledge of Scripture and their time spent in God’s Word. The State of the Bible research shows some alarming trends in the past four years. For example, while the overwhelming majority of Americans (88 percent, the same in 2011 and 2014) own a Bible, fewer people today are likely to view it as sacred. In 2011, 86 percent of Americans said they believe the Bible is a sacred book compared with 79 percent in 2014. In addition, there is a growing chasm between Bible lovers and Bible skeptics.
For the first time, the 2014 study found the percentage of Americans considered Bible lovers equaled the percentage considered Bible skeptics. Driving this decline are America’s youngest adults. Millennials, those aged 18-29, place less value on Scripture than the majority of American adults. While 50 percent of all adults believe the Bible has too little influence in society, only 30 percent of Millennials agree. And while half of all adults believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life, just 35 percent of Millennials express the same belief.
Another important finding from the research is the majority of Americans overestimate their own Bible knowledge. While 81 percent of American adults consider themselves at least somewhat knowledgeable about Scripture, just 43 percent can name the first five books of the Bible.
While these statistics provide a clear snapshot of the reality we face, they do not tell the full story of how God is already using the Bible to change lives in the United States and around the world. Along with our partners, American Bible Society is working to provide customized Scripture engagement resources that will help reverse our nation’s drift away from the Bible. Whether it is the E100 (an introduction to the Bible for members of the Armed Services), Bible Journeys (daily Bible devotionals focused on topics that most affect the lives of Americans), or the BibleMinded App to help with the memorization of Scripture, American Bible Society is constantly creating new tools to help people connect with God’s Word at any age or stage of life.
The State of the Bible research underlines the urgency of the work before us. Across the United States, there are people who are searching desperately for the salvation, hope, healing, purpose and joy that can only be found through an encounter with the God of the Bible.
Scripture tells us, “The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” But the Bible will only do its work when it comes off of the shelf and into people’s lives.
This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.