I participate in surveys. I enjoy giving my opinion on everything from soap to politics to travel.
Last winter I recall one electronic survey I participated in that asked about bible reading habits.
“Whoa,” I thought, “this is new!”
It wasn’t until early May that I learned that the survey I participated in was part of a much larger survey by the Canadian Bible Forum on scripture reading habits of Canadians.
The Canadian Bible Forum is composed of nine organizations including the Canadian Bible Society, the Gideons and the Bible League of Canada.
According to their web site, The Canadian Bible Forum promotes collaboration and cooperation amongst Bible Agencies with a shared vision of working together to maximize the access and impact of God’s Word in Canada and the world. Their collaboration includes strengthening of inter-agency understanding and relationships, undertaking strategic national or international initiatives, advocating for the centrality of God's Word in life and mission, and most recently formulating and facilitating the Canadian Bible Engagement Study.
According to the survey, one is seven Canadians, or 14%, read the Bible at least once a week. But the majority of Canadians, including those who identify themselves as Christian, read the Bible either seldom or never. Age doesn’t matter. People just are not reading the Bible.
In an interesting twist, although few read the Bible, almost two thirds of Canadians (64%) and six in ten Christians agree that all of the major world religions teach essentially the same things. There is also a strong tendency to disregard the texts and search for a common ethic of social peace behind the texts.
The survey also has some important things to say about the role of the Bible in individual lives. Only one in ten Canadians and two in ten Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives at least a few times per week. Those who do are more likely to read the Bible frequently and twice as likely to attend worship services as those who reflect less often.
Canadians also don’t talk about the Bible. Only 6% of Canadians and 11% of Christians talk to others about the Bible outside of religious services. Those who do reflect on the Bible have a much more robust engagement with the Bible and worship.
There is also a large lack of confidence in the Bible. The survey suggests that this is because Canadians simply do not know the Bible and the stories it tells.
Perhaps the most telling conclusion of the survey is that the Bible is not directly shaping much of the Christian Church in Canada. People, including identified Christians, are foundationally illiterate in regard to the Bible and do not trust it to speak to them.
Is it any wonder, then, that Canadian churches find themselves on a rapid downward curve of attendance and support?
The survey is not all gloom and doom. The Canadian Bible Forum is taking a long view. They believe that it’s possible to bring change and Biblical literacy to Canadians. They have a web site with lots of tools for individual and group study. One resource is called “Taste and See”, which is an engaging sampler of bible stories and conversation starters. It looks at things like “Why is there suffering?”, based on a section of the story of Job. You can find it at www.biblengagementstudy.ca and look under recommended resources.
Engaging the Bible is going to be a long piece of work. But I think it’s an important task all of us can do. Belief doesn’t matter. Just get to know the stories and ask if they fit your life.
I’ll bet they will.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.