Since 2011, the American Bible Society (ABS) has been issuing an annual report entitled State of the Bible USA. Earlier this month, ABS released the first installment of its 2023 report, which tracks key metrics about Scripture engagement, Bible use, and perceptions of the Bible in America. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the newly released report shows a continued downward trajectory in Scripture engagement, which is not good for America in just about any way we can think of. The good news is that this is a reversible trend.
While our founders and founding documents were undoubtedly very influenced by Christian principles, sadly, over the years, our nation has become less and less overtly Christian, and part of that is because of the diminishing influence of the Bible in every aspect of our culture.Christianity cannot thrive when its definitive authority, the Bible, is not accepted and genuinely adhered to by the faith’s followers.
We’ve known for years that biblical literacy is waning. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down any compulsory Bible reading in public schools. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court also decided public schools couldn’t display the Ten Commandments in a classroom or anywhere else in a school.
These Supreme Court decisions along with a number of other cultural happenings, including the breakdown of the family unit, pretty much ensured that upcoming generations would be unfamiliar with biblical teachings and disengaged from Scripture.
The State of the Bible USA report documents these unfortunate realities. Putting people into three broad categories—Bible Disengaged, Moveable Middle, and Scripture Engaged—the report looks for trends, both favorable and unfavorable. This year, the first chapter of the report says the data collected suggests three things. First, when people engage deeply with the Bible, their lives and relationships are better. In other words, they flourish. Second, fewer people in America are engaging with the Bible. Scripture engagement is not rising yet; it continues on a downward trajectory. And third, there are signs of hope. The Movable Middle has rebounded, and Bible disengagement has fallen in the past year.
The reality is America cannot sustain its republican form of government with “we the people” as the central characters, its free-enterprise, capitalistic economy, and its unprecedented wealth and freedom long-term without the influence of the Bible and its clear teachings on what true Christianity is. John Adams told us early on that “[o]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” At that time, Adams knew people understood he was talking about Christianity and the Bible when he referenced “a moral and religious people.”
Thankfully, the loss of the influence of the Bible in our country can be reversed. That reversing won’t happen in public schools, to be sure, even if the courts decided to reverse course on Bible reading and posting of the Ten Commandments in those schools. However, as dads and moms make the Bible an integral part of their personal and their family’s daily lives, the next generation will become more biblically literate and more Scripturally engaged. Churches should help families in this area in really practical ways; but ultimately, we reverse this dangerous trend one family at a time.