I had the opportunity this week to hear a presentation from Osoba Otaigbe of Bible Society about their Lumino Research Project on attitudes to the Bible. I’d heard the research referenced in passing, but this was the first time I’d looked at it in detail.
If you’ve not come across it, the research is based on YouGov polling, commissioned by Bible Society, which saw 20,000 people interviewed at the end of 2018 about their attitudes to Christianity and the Bible.
This data has then been analysed and the population has been accordingly mapped into 8 ‘personas’, from ‘Bible Loving’ people to ‘Bible Dismissive’ people, but crucially with a whole range in between (Bible Nostalgic, Bible Uncertain, Bible Conflicted, Bible Indifferent and Bible Infrequent).
It’s Bible Society’s belief that around a quarter of the population are ‘open to the Bible and finding out more’ – and the research seeks to draw out these attitudes that we might better engage with these personas as churches.
One of the neat features of the Lumino website is you can enter your post-code and see how your local data compares with the national average (I don’t know how accurate this can be with 20,000 people polled, but it’s interesting nonetheless). Interestingly, Bible Society have undergone a deliberate change in emphasis in their mission, which is to now be a partner with UK churches in mission – and this is key example of this.
Having looked at brief sketches of the data, here are 5 initial reflections:
- Many professing Christians have a confidence problem when it comes to the Bible – which means asking some hard questions. According to the data, uncertainty and a lack of confidence about the Bible amongst professing Christians is very common. The slice of people that the Bible Society deemed to be ‘Bible Loving’ was slim (5%). They attended church very regularly and were generally older than average. In contrast, those who were ‘Bible Infrequent’ (8%) still attended church quite regularly but tended to feel they weren’t sure about the Bible or worried about ‘being wrong’. There were then various groupings that identified as ‘Christian’ but had an increasingly removed relationship with the Bible. For those of us who are church leaders, we need to ask some real questions about how we’re growing confidence in the Bible. Are we facilitating personal engagement with the Bible outside of church services/meetings? Are we leading services and preaching in a way that helps people to read the Bible for themselves? Sadly, this is particularly for pointed for those of us in the Church of England. Bible Infrequent people tended to be Anglicans. Ultimately, closed Bibles on a Sunday at church will surely lead to closed Bibles Monday-Saturday at home.
- We face some real challenges in our cultural moment. Nearly half of the people surveyed (47.5%) said they were ‘not at all interested’ in discovering more about the Bible. Nearly another quarter (23.4%) said they were ‘not very interested’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, reasons given included being ‘not religious’, previous experience of Christians/church, and time capacity. That leads us onto…
- There is a clear need for Bible apologetics. The most common words that people associated with the Bible were Outdated and Contradictory. Other negative though less popular words were Judgmental, Homophobic and Anti-women. How do we respond to these preconceptions? Of course, our lives as Christians should hopefully do a great deal to challenge these, but it strikes me that we do need to tackle these ‘head on’. In our preaching we need to name them and show we understand and identify with them. Rebecca McLaughlin’s excellent book, Confronting Christianity, is a stunning example of this. All that said, 37% of people stated they believed the Bible wouldn’t be relevant to them – which strikes me as an opportunity to prove people wrong!
- Bible Delight has to be at the Heart of the ‘Answer’. I think there’s a strong sense that these perceptions and beliefs about the Bible are only going to be transformed as people ‘taste and see’ for themselves that the Bible is life-giving and life-changing, ultimately because we encounter God through it. If that’s not a church-goer’s weekly experience, then why would they look for that in their day-to-day experience? And why would they expect to see anything different in their unbelieving friends? Preaching and opening up the Scriptures with people isn’t absolutely everything that a church leader is called to do, but it is absolutely essential. Are we working on our preaching? Are we seeking feedback? Are we giving it the time it deserves?
- Moving from Familiar Stories to Finding Our Place in The Story. I’ve written about this before, and I think it’s fair to say I’m passionate about it. Biblical illiteracy is not going to simply be solved by ‘more Bible’. I think the real challenge of biblical illiteracy is moving beyond familiarity with Bible stories to introducing people to the Bible’s big story. It’s always dangerous to make sweeping statements about preaching, but I think bad preaching can make matters worse, failing to help people read the Bible well. We rip verses out of context and don’t help people locate themselves within the vast story of Scripture. And the goal of good preaching isn’t just so that people know how Genesis to Revelation all fits together. We’re doing it because this story of God is the very thing our fractured world needs right now. As an article in the Irish Times put it a few years back, our crisis of identify shows we’re desperate for a ‘meaningful narrative about who we are’. In other words, as we feel the disorientation of a growing cultural unfamiliarity with the Bible, our response shouldn’t be to champion the Scriptures for the sake of Bible trivia, but rather because we want people to see in this book we have the only story of reality that can bear the weight of our personal struggles for meaning and substance.
Come across the Lumino data? What d’ya think?