How many churched people read their Bibles? How many read outside their daily studies? Or weekly study? Or Sunday message?
I grew up in a mildly evangelical but otherwise not terribly fundamentalist church in white suburbia. This involved Sunday School every Sunday it was on, and since this was before the widespread trend of running that at the same time as the morning service, I also got to spend time in the church service with my parents. So I heard many many Bible stories told and re-told in many different ways over the years.
I am also a voracious reader. I was brought up to enjoy reading and being an Introvert, reading was for the longest time the best way I had to disconnect from the world around me (still is). But I didn’t always remember to have a book to read at church during a sermon that was usually too long and boring for a kid to understand.
So I read my Bible.
My first Bible was a Children’s Living Bible. I have no idea where it is; it may well have fallen apart by now (I had a habit of wearing Bibles out when I was a child). The trend for putting section headings through the text hadn’t been made popular yet – as far as I remember, the Good News Bible popularised that, and that was published later. Or, at least, I never saw a copy of it until later. My childhood Bible, though, had short topic summaries in the header of the pages, generally no more than half-a-dozen words describing what the current page’s text was about. This meant I got to read vast tracts of Scripture without any unnecessary textual interruptions. I actually remember the delight I had the day I discovered that the stories of David were hiding in the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. Explained why I could never find them in the “book of David” (which, of course, doesn’t exist)!
Later, when I was high school, I discovered I had a much better than usual knowledge of the Bible. I discovered this because what passed for Sunday School for a while when I was thirteen or so was a weekly trivia contest. I and the Pastor’s youngest (who was a year older than me) were streets ahead of everyone else – and I was usually better than him. Better than the leaders, too, who started sourcing older, rarer books to ask their Bible trivia from. Of course, being a teenager, I revelled in the adulation, but never once thought to ask just why my fellow Sunday School attendees were so far behind.
Fast-forward to a year or so ago.
There are two young ladies in my current church who did not grow up in a Christian home and have not been in the position to having gone to church all their lives. They don’t know their Bible at all well and don’t automatically know how a lot of the stories fit together. And they are not huge readers, either. In a way, they are the opposite of me: there are big slabs of their Bibles that they have simply never read (or only read once).
I wondered for the first time today just what is more usual. A comment on this blog post by Fred Clark set me wondering. So much invective by church-goers against other church-goers is based on faulty knowledge of not just the other party, but also of their own scriptures. And by “faulty”, I mean how many of them read it instead of just regurgitating the teachings of their pastor? I have railed against church teaching that stays firmly within the canonical scriptures, ignoring not only the archaeological and textual evidence about where Israel and Yahweh came from, but also new ways of looking at Jesus and Paul. However, maybe this is more difficult than I realize if most church-goers simply do not, in fact, know their way around the Bible.
I don’t have an answer to that.