What does it mean to be “Bible-minded”? That term has seen a lot of use in the last week (including by us) in discussions of American Bible Society’s survey of America’s most “Bible-minded” cities. (As followers of our blog know, we’ve responded to the survey by running our own analyses of the top Bible-reading cities in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.)
But what does that term mean? In your opinion, is a “Bible-minded” person someone who…
- …thinks about the Bible a lot?
- …believes that the Bible is God’s Word?
- …believes that the Bible is scientifically and/or historically accurate?
- …obeys Biblical laws and instructions?
- …is a Christian?
- …belongs to a specific Christian denomination, a particular political party, or other group?
- …reads the Bible obsessively?
- …tries to base their actions and lifestyle on certain principles found in the Bible?
- …some, all, or none of the above?
You can probably supply many more possible definitions of the term, but the point is: it’s not immediately obvious what it means to be “Bible-minded.” Because it had to stick to one definition of the term for its survey, American Bible Society chose to define “Bible-minded” as referring to someone who reads the Bible regularly and believes in the Bible’s accuracy. When we ran our companion studies here at Bible Gateway, we looked at the frequency of visits to online Bibles. Some stories reporting on the survey gave the term a different slant, equating “Bible-mindedness” with “godliness.” These different definitions might be interesting or even useful, but none paint a completely satisfying picture of “Bible-mindedness.” And they point to the frustrating vagueness of the original term, as Religion Dispatches writer Brent Plate bluntly observes:
The first sentence of the Barna article explains that the poll was about “the role of the Bible in U.S. Society.” The fine print in the survey suggests something slightly different: “Respondents who report reading the Bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible-minded.’” No suggestions are given that someone might act anything scriptural out, put the Bible to use, or otherwise engage it in real life. What we are left with is the idea that people read the Bible and call it accurate, and thus we know something about society.
The logical leaps here are vast. In reality, the survey is not telling us about any “role” of the Bible. It’s all just a mind game.
Despite the difficulty in defining it, “Bible-mindedness” is neither a bad term nor something we shouldn’t pursue. The Bible itself challenges us to be Bible-minded, and you can be sure that the ancient Israelites who first read or heard these pieces of Scripture asked the same questions we’re asking now:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.” — Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV)
Bind [God’s laws] on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart. — Proverbs 7:3 (NIV)
Whether we call it “Bible-minded,” “Bible-hearted,” or any other term, the questions being asked are: why do we read the Bible, and what effect should it have on our lives?
As Christians, we can point to one obvious reason that we read the Bible: to learn the truth about God and humanity. But why do we keep reading the Bible? Why does the Bible instruct believers to continually read and teach Scripture?
There are a lot of solid answers to that question, but one passage in particular gives us a good picture of what a “Bible-minded” life looks like:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
This passage is very nearly a checklist of how to “apply the Bible to your life” (to use another common, but also frustratingly vague, phrase). When you read the Bible, do you…
- …open your mind to the truths it teaches you?
- …allow it to convict you, when necessary, of sin in your life?
- …respond to that conviction with prayer, repentance, and other Bible-based action?
- …earnestly try to put into practice the teachings and values taught in the Bible, with a goal of pursuing righteousness (as the Bible defines “righteousness”)?
If you pursue those actions when you read the Bible, then you’re on your way to living a “Bible-minded” life: a life convicted and reformed on an ongoing basis by God’s Word. That definition encompasses a million different individual experiences of the Bible, and it’s much too involved a definition for practical use in a survey—but by God’s grace, it’s within reach of all of us.