by Rod D. Martin
September 18, 2015
A major study has found that reading the Bible four days or more per week greatly affects the behavior of the reader. But the bad news for Sunday Christians is, reading the Bible three days a week or less barely affects behavior at all.
The study, produced by the Center for Bible Engagement, examined data from over 40,000 Americans ranging in age from eight to more than 80 over a period of several years. Surveys included both random samples of the general population and of self-identified Christians, with participants from virtually every walk of life.
Though nine out of ten Americans own a Bible, and a clear majority of Americans believe it is the inspired Word of God, a clear majority in every age group reads it sporadically at best. Only between a fifth and a quarter read it one to three days a week; just 15% read the Bible four days a week or more.
Among self-identified Born Again Christians the numbers are better, but not so much as one might hope. Roughly a third told the researchers that they virtually never read the Bible, while 45% of teens and 32% of adults read it one to three days per week. On the good side, almost 40% of Born Again teens and adults read the Bible four days per week or more.
For that group, Christianity clearly changed lives. It turns out that listening to God makes an enormous, measurable difference in how one lives.
Controlling for other factors such as age, sex, church attendance and so forth, those reading the Word most days of the week were 57% less likely to get drunk, 61% less likely to use pornography, 68% less likely to engage in sex outside of marriage, and 74% less likely to gamble. They were also 228% more likely to share their faith, 231% more likely to disciple another person, and 407% more likely to memorize Scripture.
The big question, of course, is “more or less likely” than whom? Perhaps the study’s most striking result is that it doesn’t matter. For many key behaviors including extramarital sex, there is no statistically significant difference between people who read the Bible one to three days a week and people who never bother to read it at all.
In other words, regular Bible reading can do more to change your life than anything but regeneration itself, but if you’re doing it haphazardly (as most Christians do), you’re kidding yourself. You might as well just be a pagan.
That finding, no doubt, will be about as popular as the one that tells us walking 5 minutes a day, three days a month won’t actually improve fitness; or that blowing off your algebra class all semester and cramming for the final doesn’t improve one’s understanding of math. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Interestingly enough, the study found far less correlation between behavior, whether good or bad, and other spiritual measures such as church attendance and prayer. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Self-reported “prayer” means different things to different people; and church attendance, while important, has never been enough. The term “Sunday Christian” exists precisely because we know that for faith to be real believers must live it beyond the church door.
Regular Bible reading actually transforms us. It’s not just one of those things we ought to get around to: it is itself life. If our bondage is to sin, what the CBE study shows is that Jesus wasn’t speaking in platitudes when He said that “if you continue in My Word…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
This article was originally published as part of my Beyond the Church Door series in the Florida Baptist Witness.