Last year a Barna Group study used a series of questions to determine the Bible knowledge level of people in various US cities. It was no surprise that the cities with the highest rate of Bible knowledge were in the South and Southeast. The cities with the lowest percentage of people with Bible knowledge were in the Northeast and the far West, with the Midwest a little more in between the two extremes. None of this data surprises me at all based upon what I know about churches, people and the various subcultures of America.
Here is the question I’d like to see surveyed: “How much does knowledge of the Bible equate with the greatest virtues of the Christian life – faith, hope and love?” What does Bible knowledge mean in terms of involvement with the least and the poorest among us? What does it mean for marriage and family life? What about prayer and contemplation? Sadly, it is my broad experience that many places where Bible knowledge is highest people are far more unlikely to understand that it means to follow the Jesus who is revealed to us in the Gospel narratives of the New Testament.
I realize my observation is biased, at least a little. I also realize that more hard data might reveal something different about people in the areas where Bible knowledge is fairly high but there are some facts to back me up. First, some of the highest divorce rates are in high Bible knowledge-based areas where Christians generally have a higher divorce rate than non-Christians. One can account for this in various ways. One is to realize that Christians are more likely to get married than to live together without marriage thus they are more likely to get divorced. Yet the sad truth is this – divorce among Christians is very high and we all know this is true.
It is also quite revealing that in areas where Bible knowledge is high desire for Christian unity is very low. Denominational and tribal sectarianism is much stronger in the “Bible Belt” than in other parts of the country. I know this because I grew up in the Bible Belt and I spend quite a bit of time there as well.
I can draw one conclusion from these observations. (I am sure there are more.) Knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily create places where love for Jesus is high and where non-Christians deeply respect Christians because of what they know and how they live it out day-by-day. Something is not right when so many people know things revealed in the Bible but find ways to avoid living out the truths they seem to know, at least at a level of some intellectual comprehension.