Extra! Extra! Don’t read about it. Most churchgoers do not read anything from a Bible during the week. But why? When this disturbing trend was initially discovered, many thought Bible reading would rebound. Sadly, they were wrong . . . ! The underlying problem is not just that the Bible was removed from the educational system, but that textbooks were. If people are unable to read a textbook, then they will not read a Bible either. Here’s a glimpse of an eye-opening trend that’s here to stay with some brainstorming of ideas to engage the issue with potential results.
You can read. . . . Does dad know?
Open your textbooks to chapter three.
And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.
(2 Kings 22:8)
Enjoyment of coffee,1 watching movies,2 and reading are what I (Andrew) tell students about myself on the first day of class each semester. Anyone who has visited my office can’t help but notice I like reading. My general interests are Bible and science. And since the Bible talks about everything and there is a science to everything, I have a wide range of Dewey decimal numbers on my shelf. What’s more striking than the size of my current collection (or its variety) is that I passionately hated reading all through elementary, middle, and high school. I never read anything outside of school, except maybe newspaper comics. Summer reading for honors classes was like pulling teeth. Read a Bible . . .? (Was it on the test?) It was never required reading, and no one in my formative years encouraged me to read it. While I (Andrew) didn’t grow up in a Bible-believing church, my journey through God’s Word began during my first year of university. Given my deep-seated hatred for reading combined with never being encouraged in God’s Word, reading the Bible was especially hard work. I distinctly remember many struggles reading the Bible and (admittedly) still face some, but I had received some basic reading comprehension tools to engage Bible reading simply because of the timing for when I attended K–12 schooling. Children receiving a K–12 education today (public, private, or homeschool) are not reading the Bible because they are lacking these basic skills. I wouldn’t believe what I’m writing were it not for some experiences I’ve had recently coming from personal observations and professional instruction at the college level. Grab some coffee and pull up a chair. . .
In 2019, I (Andrew) had an opportunity unlike any I thought I might ever have because I am an outspoken biblical creationist.3 I was allowed to speak about the university where I was working to my son’s public high school biology class. I didn’t need to thump a Bible. I represented the university and described my research on E. coli with them (hoping to ignite an interest in doing research). After I finished my spiel in the first class, I noticed, off in the corner, something really bizarre. All the biology textbooks were on the floor, neatly arranged in a pile, organized, and collecting dust. It took me about three years to make sense of what I saw. While trying to process this observation inside the school, I was also hearing laments from other parents, wondering where the textbooks had gone from their children’s bookbags—like the ones we used to bring home when we were kids. But those textbooks were gone. I finally came to the realization that using a textbook was no longer required. Textbooks are becoming relics today.4
Reading is something most Americans assume to be an important skill. So we fully realize how outlandish our conclusions would seem if we were wrong. We are fully aware that people can read, and we understand how insulting it would be to suggest someone couldn’t. But I (Andrew) had to confirm what I thought was true.
I (Andrew) embarked on a series of conversations with students. To be clear, I’m not suggesting people don’t know how to read. The real question is whether people know how to read a textbook. I met with students in my office in groups of two to four for something I called recitation.5 I still remember the first student in recitation. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t insult the student, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to uncover something needing major attention. I was delicate in my word choice, but I ended up explaining to the student that I knew that they didn’t know how to read a textbook. The student agreed with me, and I gave a few pointers.
But something else happened with the next student where I (Andrew) accidentally blurted out how I knew that the student didn’t know how to read a textbook. Immediately, the student’s eyes opened wide, and then the student very directly told me, “You get me.” I’ll never forget that moment, because I subsequently learned that every native-born American I spoke with on this matter would agree with my assessment.6 Each student I asked admitted that s/he did not know how to read a textbook.
I (Andrew) quit asking this question after nearly two years’ worth of students agreeing with my assessment. But what about those students that tell me they are readers—some students like reading books for fun? We recently decided to formalize our results and potentially understand some of the reasons students may have.
Students were emailed an online survey that was approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB).7 Our survey asked students to score the following items on a scale from 1 to 10 based on how much they value each item (the number 1 indicates very little value, and the number 10 indicates a lot of value). While the primary interest was the relationship between the categories “Reading (anything)” and “Bible,” we added distractors for the sake of avoiding typical Sunday school answers like Bible, Jesus, and God for everything.
Before obtaining official IRB approval, I (Andrew) gave a nearly identical survey over three semesters to students face-to-face as well as online. Those preliminary survey results were used in obtaining IRB approval.8 The survey link was emailed to six (6) different courses during the spring 2023 semester. A total of 32 students took the IRB-approved survey (19 females; 13 males). See the footnote below and the table of demographics for more information about the students in the survey results.9
|Total students emailed||137|
|Total respondents (% responded)||32 (23.36%)|
|Male (%)||13 (40.62%)|
|Female (%)||19 (59.38%)|
Results from the survey are presented in the bar graph form below. Each of the 14 items in the survey appear along the bottom axis and the height of each rectangle represents the relative level of how much students valued each item (admittedly, the 14 items are not exhaustive of everything we value). Part of the survey design included certain value items that seemed likely to serve as a positive control (i.e., strong high numbers) confirming our preconceptions based on interacting with students. Surprising to us, one of the positive controls scored lower than the rest (i.e., Legos ).10 Also, it was extremely encouraging that they highly valued prayer because there’s nothing formulaic about prayer (i.e., we can take it with us anywhere, and it’s more important that the praying is happening as opposed to not happening). Valuing “Bible” 40.47% more than “Reading (anything)” was calculated from the difference between the two over the score for “Bible.” We also realized there was more information that could be mined from the data collected.
To rank the items from most valued to least valued, we performed additional statistical analyses since the error bars were so large.11 Results of this analysis are listed in the table below from most valued to least valued with the corresponding averages and standard deviation. Furthermore, asterisks indicate those valued items that share the same weight of statistical significance as determined by a p-value less than 0.05.
While the official amount of data collected was small and of a select population (students in a Christian college), we feel some beneficial observations can be made from the limited survey.
Students value “Bible” nearly 40% more than “Reading (anything).” When I (Andrew) first confronted the face-to-face students about it, I remarked that I only knew to value my Bible by reading it. But I wanted to be open-minded that they might have alternative explanations. Their response was deafening silence. Later, a couple students confided that I nailed it on the head (loosely paraphrased). However, my training in science has taught me to get creative with alternative explanations for observations that do not necessarily fit my preconceived ideas. To that end, we brainstormed other verbs that can reasonably be associated with various activities to do with the Bible, such as preaching, memorizing, learning, reciting, and so on, that the students may have been thinking in the survey.
We learn certain things better by doing them rather than reading a textbook in a school setting, but is the Bible an exception? If our goal is learning the Bible, should we view it as a textbook?
Do the words Bible and textbook even belong together in a sentence? Admittedly, textbook has a lot of negative connotations associated with it. Bear with us a second and let’s look at the idea of a textbook a little further.
According to Dictionary.com, the first definition listed for textbook is, “a book used by students as a standard work for a particular branch of study.”20 Even more than the definition, the idea of the Bible being a textbook becomes clearer when looking in a thesaurus. On Thesaurus.com, the synonyms listed for textbook are extensive, but the Bible being a textbook becomes obvious when the “Words Related to Textbook” appears next. The subsequent list of synonyms makes it clear the Bible is a textbook.
Though the first related word is archetypal, the second related word (authority) arrests our attention, because the first word listed under the authority heading is the word Bible. Furthermore, the third related word for textbook is the word book, which also has Bible listed as the first word under its heading. Based on this, calling the Bible a textbook is another way of communicating that the Bible is authoritative for the things it describes.
Calling the Bible a textbook is nothing new—it was done at least a hundred years ago! This forgotten idea was mentioned by the person who wrote Webster’s Dictionary. Many don’t realize that Noah Webster was a God-fearing man who wrote his dictionary in the 1800s and often used Bible verses in his example sentences. He is quoted as saying:
Education is useless without the Bible. The Bible was America’s basic textbook in all fields. God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.21
If we truly hold to biblical authority, the Bible must be our most valued and basic textbook.
So the Bible is the textbook in the classroom of life. In Scripture, Jesus is called “life” (John 14:6) and “the Word” (John 1:1). If we truly hold to biblical authority, the Bible must be our most valued and basic textbook (else we rely on man’s word instead).
When Jesus walked this earth, the written Word of God was rare because it was handwritten on scrolls or parchments. By the Protestant Reformation with the invention of the printing press, the Bible became less rare. Today, we can engage God’s Word using websites or apps on our smartphones. Yet there remains a famine in the land as in the days of Amos (8:11) and Isaiah (29:11–14). The only way we can adequately address the famine is to start with our own nutritional needs.
Just like taking care of our physical bodies means eating right and exercising, we might need to change some of our spiritual habits in similar ways.
Just like taking care of our physical bodies means eating right and exercising, we might need to change some of our spiritual habits in similar ways. Here are three concepts we check ourselves with.
Many of us think, “I’m not a theologian.” However, all of us must be theologians to a certain extent. As believers, our theology is limited by how much we read and understand Scripture. There’s a sense about where the American church has looked at the Bible as hard to read or understand and has given up before giving it a fair attempt (we have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater). Even though we’re sinners living in a sinful world, we can be encouraged and filled with hope that comes when we, as believers, engage the Bible on a regular basis. Timothy warns believers in 2 Timothy 4:3–4 (NASB) that “the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine . . . and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” In a world filled with so much untruth, life certainly can get overbearing at times. But it is reassuring to know what the Word says and be able to use it, as Timothy says, “For teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 NASB). The only way to gain the reassurance it provides is by being familiar with it. But can we be familiar with something that we don’t spend time with? Make it a goal today to find at least one minute engaged with God’s Word. And tomorrow, do it again. Build yourself up to maybe spending five minutes, and then more.
In the book 12 Rules for Life by renowned secular psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, he states that you should “treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”22 What does this mean? Put yourself in the shoes of an outsider “analyzing” yourself. What would be good to help this person (yourself)? What advice should this person (yourself) follow? Well . . . take some of your own advice.
The prophet Jeremiah said that we are supposed to “take heed to yourselves” (Jeremiah 17:21 KJV). Although many churchgoers know they should be reading the Bible, we hear about obstacles like, “I just can’t understand it” or “reading isn’t my thing.” Well, “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NASB) is not in your sin-filled nature either, so should we give up on loving our neighbors? No (much like Romans 6:1). We love our neighbors (and enemies for that matter) because the text says to do so. Do the thing, even if you aren’t good at it or don’t always understand everything.23 Jesus says in John 14:15 (NASB95), “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” So one way we show our love for him is by being in the Word. Spend the time, even when it is hard, and accept responsibility for treating yourself as someone you are responsible for helping.
Next time you pick up your Bible, remind yourself how the Creator God of the universe is seeking to have a relationship with you.
Sometimes Bible reading can become a checklist item done out of duty, which is dangerous (think: familiarity breeds contempt). Every bit of Scripture is God-breathed and inspired.24 Next time you pick up your Bible, remind yourself how the Creator God of the universe is seeking to have a relationship with you. Here are three great questions to help you really think about the text instead of simply reading it:
Multiple choice: Which of the following type of learner are you?
Trick question. None of us are completely one over any of the rest. There is no current scientific data supporting the idea that we fall into only one of these categories. The truth is that certain tasks are learned better one way than another, but the best way learning happens is when we engage all our senses. But you might be wondering: how does a textbook engage all our senses?
We definitely use our eyes when we read off the printed page.25 We hear the turning of the pages. While the sense of smell doesn’t seem to be engaged, it has been shown that there are parts of our brain that light up on an MRI when smells are associated with learning.26 Right now, I could make your brain light up if we hooked up an MRI and told you the following: smell of old books. (Kind of weird that you’re reading this article online, and you may have experienced the smell of old books simply because we mentioned it.) And there’s no doubt that turning a page requires the sense of touch.27
Since the famine days of Amos and Isaiah, we have made considerable scientific advancements in the field of neuroscience. Insights from neuroscience have informed what we know about learning and have provided important tools for approaching Scripture.28
So, let’s put all this into practice and start a revival of biblical literacy. The following section, also in pdf form for quick printing and reference, is a suggested list of things to start with on your journey of loving the Lord your God with all your mind by reading the all-sufficient Word he has given us in his love and wisdom.
When I (Andrew) was convicted from the Lord to teach myself Hebrew a few years ago, I knew what I had to do. I pulled out a pad of paper and began writing the letters of the alphabet over and over until I had them committed to memory. I’m certainly no Hebrew scholar, but I’m making progress toward understanding the language far better than I used to. Writing things out by hand is how the learning happened (think: neuroscience in practice).
Instead of going to church services and sitting there passively, take notes. Some pastors distribute their notes, some with fill-in-the-blanks, some with just Roman numerals, etc. These practices are commendable because at least they are trying to get you engaged. Similarly, when I (Andrew) sit down in my office with my boss, I take a pad of paper with me and write everything down. The neuroscience very clearly supports the idea that handwriting notes the old-fashioned way causes synapses to form that are indicative of deep neural processing (or simply stated: learning). This also shows respect for my boss—how much more respect should we show the Creator of the universe?
When memorizing Scripture, I (Andrew) write out the verses by hand over and over. The idea of sitting kids down to repeat as many verses as possible in a short period of time during a midweek service gets something inside their heads, but the neuroscience does not recommend that practice because it does not become deeply engrained in our memory banks. Maybe try writing down a verse (or part of a verse) where you emphasize a different word each time in all caps. Consider the pattern below and emphasize it many times for each line. It’s a challenge that will really highlight every word in Scripture.
The Lord is my shepherd.
THE Lord is my shepherd.
The LORD is my shepherd.
The Lord IS my shepherd.
The Lord is MY shepherd.
The Lord is my SHEPHERD.
Get rid of all distractions from whatever task you use to engage Scripture. The field of cognitive psychology is overwhelmingly clear that we cannot multitask. At best, we do something else called task-switching, and it takes longer to switch between tasks than to do one task at a time. The issue is about focus—we only have so much of it. When distracted, we perform worse.29 There’s no need to be trying to read something and expect to understand it really well if there are sounds happening in the background. Don’t put your cell phone on silent during a church service, put it away entirely so you (or the person you’re sitting next to) cannot see it when notifications pop up. Focus is a precious commodity that is undervalued in today’s culture.
In looking at seemingly insurmountable tasks in life, they can easily become stifling to the point of throwing in the towel. The Bible may be overwhelming to someone that struggles with reading. Although it may still be daunting, I (Andrew) ask my kids when they’re facing a challenge: how do you eat an elephant? And the answer: one bite at a time. It’s okay that you don’t complete a “read the Bible in a year” challenge; what’s more important is you are reading, learning, and letting God use Scripture to change your life.