By John Pierce
Two recent studies have stirred conversations about the most “Bible-minded” cities in the U.S. Topping the two lists are places where large chunks of my life have been spent: Chattanooga and Atlanta.
The American Bible Society, in a survey conducted by Barna, considered how often residents of 100 American cities read the Bible — as well as their perspectives on the accuracy of scripture. The first is a pretty good measuring stick while the latter, as worded by Barna, is extremely weak.
Regardless of how much individuals read and revere the Bible, and apply its teachings to daily living, such persons can not be considered anything better than “neutral” or “antagonistic” toward the Bible unless they claim the Bible is without error — as if that is the only valid description of biblical inspiration.
Such categorizing falsely equates an honest acknowledgment of clear discrepancies within the biblical canon with a disbelief in the Bible’s inspiration and authority when properly interpreted. So the survey ignores the many faithful readers and followers of the Bible who consider the biblical revelation to be both divinely inspired and trustworthy on the matters that matter, but are unwilling to make claims that the Bible does not make for itself.
Unless the purpose was to stir another endless debate over theories of biblical inspiration, the ABS should ask Barna for a refund until someone with a better understanding of hermeneutics asks the questions.
The survey results were not particularly surprising — though any of the top tier cities could be swapped around. Chattanooga’s top position was held by its neighbor Knoxville in the previous survey. Birmingham came in second. Lynchburg, Va., epicenter of the Falwell empire, came in third.
Of greater interest and reliability, the ABS survey found that 80 percent of Americans consider the Bible to be sacred and that copies abound — averaging 4.4 Bibles per household.
Again, we all know that owning and revering Bibles don’t necessarily equate to good biblical interpretation and application. Much carnage has come from those with high regard for the Bible that they misuse to justify discrimination, injustice and all matters of evil.
A second report is interesting too. A recent Time article noted that the online Bible resource (that I use frequently) biblegateway.com has provided interesting data on its use by those in various cities.
Even when adjusted for population, Atlanta was first in searching the site’s multiple versions of the Bible — with Dallas/Fort Worth and the Washington, D.C. area following.
Of course, there are other online Bible sites and some people still use print-and-paper Bibles and reference books. But such data can be of interest.
However, reading too much into these studies can be misleading. And, as we well know, reading the Bible is easier than living out its reliable and consistent messages of redemption, justice and hope.
It also helps to remember that only individuals can be Christian — not cities or nations. And, as many of us have found, often those who least remind us of the Christ found in the holy texts are those who make the strongest claims on his name and the Bible.
So we would do well to not assume Bible-mindedness equates to Christian faithfulness, though it is wonderful when it does.
However, sociology of religion can be fascinating. The religiosity of some cities is noticeable — and sometimes notably different. It is something I always observe whether in Asheville, Washington, San Antonio or anywhere else.
Mostly, I take note of how often morning conversations at Panera Bread are about church matters or faith issues. That happens a lot in Birmingham, Macon, Chattanooga and other Bible-belted places.
Perhaps more scientific would be for me to start counting the Bibles among the bagels. But like Barna’s errant questioning, there would be holes in my findings too.
Complete rankings from the two studies can be found in this Time article.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.