State Of The Bible

USA 2023

The American Bible Society (ABS) just published its research report on 202

3’s State of Bible in the US, delivering a rich panorama of Americans’ engagement—and non-engagement—with Scripture. The findings are sobering in many respects, but there also is the prospect of getting more people to use the Bible with innovative approaches that touch people’s lives and demonstrate and unleash the immense power of the Bible as a font of personal change— indeed transformation.

There is steady decline in the number of Americans using Scripture. Today, 63 million US adults, or 25 percent of the total, use the Bible on their own, outside of church services, at least once a week. That is a sizeable share of the population, but the numbers are down compared to adults who were thus using the Bible during the pandemic, when the figure was 50 percent.

Just 39 percent of Americans last year used the Bible three or more times, while 138 million US adults were Bible disengaged, a sharp drop from the 119 million who were Bible disengaged in 2020 and the 100 million in that category in 2021. Overall, Scripture engagement dropped by 4 percent in 2023, for a total of 47 million, down from 49 million in 2022. Evangelicals were most likely (53 percent) to use the Bible on a weekly basis or more often, while Catholics are the least likely to do so (21percent).

On a positive note, 11 million Bible disengaged US adults joined the so-called Moving Middle category, adults who say they are Christians but either don’t attend church or don’t think their faith is very important in their lives. There are 76 million Christians in the Movable Middle and they have some kind of relationship with the Bible, however tenuous. These adults are a target for evangelization to bring them into the Bible engaged cohort.

The ABS report includes a striking finding: more than half of Americans (52 percent) wish they read the Bible more often, but only 7 percent say they have stepped up their Bible reading in 2023. The report suggests that this finding indicates that the Christian faith and Scripture still have “significant cultural support in the US,” even though nearly half of all Americans dismiss or simply ignore the Bible and 24 percent of Americans say they are not Christian. It must be noted that the Catholic Church and Protestant Churches in 2023 lost 20 percent of their adherents, who became either agnostics, atheists or nones.

Here is a great opportunity. Christian leadership can engage and inspire the millions who still respect Scripture but don’t engage with it is by making creative use of what the report presents as the Human Flourishing Index. Turns out that Americans who regularly engage with Scripture are happier, more fulfilled people.

Borrowing the template from Harvard University, ABS researchers polled Bible engaged adults, as well as Bible disengaged adults to see how they rank on the Human Flourishing Index in key areas: happiness & life satisfaction; mental & physical health; meaning & purpose; character & virtue; close social relationships; financial & material stability.

Jesus, the report says, promised “abundant life” to those who follow him. This is borne out by the results of the study: Scripture engaged adults scored higher than Scripture disengaged adults in all the domains that determine human flourishing, especially regarding happiness & life satisfaction and meaning & purpose.

The report says that people who “make Scripture an important part of their lives have a greater sense of purpose. They sense that their daily activities are worthwhile because they’re following Jesus.” “Their lives and relationships are better.” They live more purposeful lives. This is a great selling point for an embrace of Scripture. Many people are seeking happiness and purpose through pursuing an enormous variety of self-help gurus as well as countless products and services that promise healing and self-improvement. But no source is as powerful as Scripture.

In Scripture the individual encounters the living God in the person of Jesus Christ, who promises supernatural grace to help individuals live truly purposeful lives. That is the power of the Bible. The challenge is to make human flourishing tangible as the blessing of Bible engagement. This is something pastors and priests must reflect on. One way might be to organize events at which people of all walks of life testify to the transformation of their lives through Scripture. Demonstrating the power of Scripture is bound to attract the lukewarm and the Bible disengaged.

The ABS deserves praise for its in-depth, wide-ranging and innovative research that point the way to a much-needed revival of Scripture engagement.

Mario J. Paredes is a member of the Board of Directors of the Latin American Academy of Catholic Leaders and a Member of the Board of the American Bible Society. He is CEO of SOMOS Community Care, a network of 3,200 independent physicians—most of them primary care providers—serving close to a million of New York City’s most vulnerable Medicaid patients