Penn and Teller are famous illusionists and have entertained thousands of people in Las Vegas. One thing that Penn Jillette said recently disturbs me. It’s not based on fact or research but a very personal sampling of his own experience. He said, “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism. Reading the Bible means starting at ”In the beginning…” and throwing it down with disgust at “…the grace of the lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” I’m sure there are lots of religious people who’ve read the Bible from start to finish and kept their faith, but in my self-selected sample, all the people I know who have done that are atheists.” Did you catch that, “my self-selected sample,” is what he makes this observation upon.
Very real research has shown: “Increasingly, people come to the Bible for answers or comfort. While the majority of people still come to the Scriptures to connect with God, their number is shrinking, from 64% in 2011 to 56% in 2014. Today, people are increasingly likely to come to the Bible for more pragmatic needs: nearly one-third (up from 26% in 2011) say they read the Bible for comfort or to help them address life’s questions. This increase is consistent with last year’s study, which showed that Millennials in particular want to know how the Bible connects to everyday matters like parenting, finances, the workplace, and so on. They are the generation most likely to read the Bible for direction or answers to a problem (25%, compared to 19% of Gen-X, 16% Boomers and 11% [Seniors]).” What people want to know is how the Biblical Word speaks to everyday life, stress, and difficulties.
We are in desperate need of making the Word relevant by the way we live. The fact that society is becoming skeptical is not all bad. Another section of the study stated: “Bible skepticism is now ‘tied’ with Bible engagement. This year’s research reveals that skepticism toward the Bible continues to rise. For the first time since tracking began, Bible skepticism is tied with Bible engagement. The number of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible—who believe that the Bible is ‘just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice’—has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% in just three years. This is now equal to the number of people who are Bible engaged—who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God.
Digging into the population segmentation of Bible skeptics, we find that two-thirds are 48 or younger (28% Millennials, 36% Gen-Xers), and they are twice as likely to be male (68%) than female (32%). They are more likely to identify as Catholic than any other single denomination or affiliation (30%) and are the most-likely segment not to have attended church (87%) or prayed (63%) during the previous week. They are also most likely not to have made a commitment to Jesus that is important in their life today (76%).” Perhaps what we need to do is work harder at helping people to see the value of this “Book of Faith.” We have perhaps made the Book idolatrous and forgotten that it communicates the Word in very relevant ways to help people grow in faith and live their life productively.
As a famous ad campaign once said, “Jesus came to take away our sins, not our brains.”