Cultural obstacles to Bible use

Four reasons Western Christians struggle to read the Bible

Most Christians struggle to read the Bible

We surveyed more than 250 Christians from different denominations and churches in Australia. When we asked people whether they were satisfied with their level of Bible use, 76% said they wished they read the Bible more.

So what’s stopping us?

Why we think we don’t read the Bible

We ran focus groups at different Australian churches. Each group discussed their perspectives on the biggest obstacles to Bible use in their church communities. Here are some of the most common answers:

But these problems are often symptoms of deeper cultural attitudes. Let’s explore four parts of Western Christian culture that make Bible reading hard.

1. We idolise busyness


We live in a frantic-paced society, and our actions often perpetuate that busyness. We treat the busiest people as most important, and if we ever have a day off, we feel guilty about it.

As churches, we often encourage busyness without even trying. We’re always talking about church activities and ways to volunteer. But we don’t often model slowing down and taking the time to listen to God speak to us through the Bible.

With so many factors encouraging us to live busy, distracted lives, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to find the time to read the Bible. But what can we do about it?

When it comes down to it, ‘I don’t have time to read the Bible’, really means, ‘It’s not a priority.’ If you wanted to prioritise a healthy lifestyle, you’d set some goals, find a group of like-minded people to keep you accountable, and try to build some good habits. And these same tips have some value for Bible use. But if you want to succeed at making Bible use a priority, you also need spiritual hunger.

Spiritual hunger is the work of God’s Spirit. You can’t manufacture it.

So if you want to prioritise Bible use, a good first step is to talk to God. ‘God, please make me hungry for you and your word.’

2. We idolise individual spirituality


We all know that we in the West are an individualistic, consumerist society. But we don’t often ask how these cultural values influence our attitudes as Christians.

When you think about Bible use, what’s the first picture that comes to mind? Is it an individual setting aside time each day to read and study a written Bible on their own? If so, you’re not alone.

We often treat private Bible times as the highest form of engagement with God’s word.

But let’s reflect for a moment… In the entire history of God’s people, private Bible reading has been impossible for most of the population until the last 600 years. For the vast majority of the history of God’s people, the ‘normal’ way to engage with the Scriptures has been in community.

When we engage with the Bible in community, we help protect ourselves against false teaching, and we see how God speaks through the Bible to people of all different backgrounds. And when we hear people share their experiences of God speaking to them through the Bible, it can encourage us in our own Bible use. To read more about this, check out 5 tips for reading the Bible in community.

When we emphasise private Bible reading at the expense of community Bible engagement, we try to shoulder the burden of disciplined Bible use alone, and silently carry our guilt when we fall short of our lofty aspirations.

If you find Bible reading confusing or frustrating, it might be a symptom of this cultural obstacle. Why not tell someone in your church how you feel, and share the burden with your Christian community? Our research says you won’t be the only one in your church who feels that way.

3. We’ve turned the Bible into a reference book


We’d never say this out loud, but we often treat the Bible as nothing more than a reference book. We think of it as something to put on the shelf, and only reach for when we want to look something up. Perhaps someone who’s dedicated their life to studying the Bible might read it regularly. But we feel that’s too much to ask of an ordinary person.

One key contributor to this attitude is the fact that the modern Bible is formatted as a reference book. What other book do we print in such small type, with narrow columns and cluttered pages, obscuring the natural genre of the text?

Studying the Bible is great. But the Bible is more than a reference book. At its heart, the Bible is a collection of documents that are begging to be read.

So get your hands on a Bible that makes reading easy.

We recommend Immerse: the Reading Bible as a Bible that removes unnecessary distractions and makes Bible reading stress-free and enjoyable again.

4. We don’t really believe in transformation


We say that God transforms people through his word. But when we pick up a Bible, do we actually expect God to transform us? Maybe our Bible reading has become dry and uninspiring, or maybe we can’t remember the last time we felt God really speaking to us through the Bible.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten the power of God’s living word.

We serve the God who created the entire universe from nothing.

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right
or show him the path of justice?
(Isaiah 40, NLT)

The apostle Paul describes the Bible as ‘God-breathed’, evoking pictures from the creation story, when God breathed life into humans. And the author of Hebrews describes God’s word as alive and powerful, exposing our thoughts and desires. God is powerful, and when he speaks, it’s effective.

Like the ancient Israelites, we need to remind ourselves of our history: what God has done for us, and how he’s spoken to us. God still speaks through the Bible today, and still transforms lives and communities.

God is sovereign, and he will accomplish his purposes.

So as we pray for spiritual hunger in our communities, let’s build one another up by sharing our encouragements and burdens. And as we pray and seek God through the Bible, let’s expect the Holy Spirit to transform us and our communities so we can live as disciples of Jesus through his word.

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Further reading

Image credits

Torn pages: Michael Dziedzic
Cluttered table with laptops: Marvin Meyer
Woman with hands crossed on chest: Giulia Bertelli
Stack of old books: Prateek Katyal
People in church: Sincerely Media