Ranters of Mow Cop

Ranters of Mow Cop

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

What UK evangelicals understand and believe about the Bible

In this post I present another compilation of findings from the 21st Century Evangelicals research programme sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance.
A more easily readable pdf version of this post is available at

There is no doubt that the Bible is of central importance to UK evangelicals
  • 93% strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God. (Baseline survey 2010)
  • 83% of evangelical respondents strongly agreed that the Bible has the supreme
    authority in guiding their beliefs, views and behaviour, compared with only 43% of other respondents surveyed at Christian festivals and churches who did not self define as evangelicals.. (Baseline survey 2010)
  • 99% of evangelicals think every church should faithfully teach the Bible as the word of God. Life in the church? - February 2013
  • 96% agreed or strongly agreed that 'God spoke to people thousands of years ago and that message is recorded accurately in the Bible.' Are we communicating? - August 2011
  • 90% say they study the Bible every day or several times a week Time for discipleship? - November 2013
In Omnibus survey one (August 2013) when asked to locate yourself within the evangelical community and which of the following descriptions they would be happy to use about themselves. The most popular category was "bible-believing Christian" with 53% saying I would often describe myself in this way and a further 34% saying I would accept this as a description of myself.
However they do not limit the voice of God to what is written in the Bible.
• 94% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement 'I believe God often speaks directly to people today not only through the Bible but in other ways.' Are we communicating? - August 2011
Nor do they all claim that the Bible itself is inerrant (a belief that has been a litmus test for orthodoxy in North American Evangelical Fundamentalism). In the Baseline survey -2010 54% of evangelicals agreed a lot and a further 14% agreed a little that The Bible, in its original manuscript, is without error. Thus just over two thirds supported inerrancy. The same statement was used in the survey for the Building Tomorrow's Church today where with a sample of Christians under 35 year old, a lower proportion of 56% agreed or strongly agreed. However among respondents from BME background the figure rose to 72%.

What Evangelicals believe about The Bible

In our survey in Spring 2016, What is Evangelicalism? We asked a series of focussed questions about the four elements of Bebbington's quadrilateral... Table … gives an overview of the responses from 14339 evangelical respondents.

1846 and All That - What is Evangelicalism? - Spring 2016
How far do you believe in these statements

I'm totally convinced
I accept and believe this in general terms
I have some doubts or questions about this
I used to believe this, but can't any longer
I have never believed this

The Bible is the revealed word of God


The Bible is the highest authority in matters of faith and doctrine


It's important for children to have a good knowledge of the Bible


It's important to me to try to read the Bible every day


We should obey the plain teaching of the Bible in every part of our lives


The Bible is a reliable and accurate historical document


The laws of our country should be based on the teachings of the Bible


Every word of the Bible is literally true


The Bible is subject to new understandings and interpretations with each generation

answered question
skipped question

A total of 307 more extensive comments about the Bible were offered by respondents as glosses on this battery of questions. Many touched on the questions of inerrancy, infallibility and authority of the Scriptures. Having tagged and coded them into groups it becomes clear that the largest number (78) major on the idea that "literally true" cannot be applied to a collection of writings which represent diverse literary genres. For example

I believe the Bible is God's word to us, but it includes documents of all kinds including historical accounts and poetry, so it is not all to be taken in a literal way, although it contains absolute truth.
I don't believe poetic, apocalyptic or some OT prophetic parts of the Bible are to be taken literally

I am surprised to see the literally true phrase- given there is poetry song etc, within scripture, where idioms and similes etc abound. An inappropriate term which raises questions about the EA's understanding of Scripture!
"Literally true" is not very helpful. When Jesus said "a man went from Jerusalem to Jericho" that was a story. He really said it. However that story wasn't true. That doesn't mean we can't trust the Bible. I think you need a better question
God intended us to search out the scriptures and infer from them, hence the wide range of styles e.g. poetry, parables etc. Being overly literal leads to legalism.

The phrase "literally true" is meaningless, a trap laid by the Enemy into which so many believers willingly fling themselves. Human speech just doesn't work like that, no-one speaks "literally." Those who most loudly shout about "literally true" don't believe it themselves. If they did they would castrate themselves as did Origen (Matt. 5.29-30)

The next most frequent category (65) was around the issue of reading Scripture in double contexts, that of the writers and that of today, as well as in the context of complete passages and narratives. It was not, however, easy to detect an overall consensus in the details of how such hermeneutical issues should be approached.
We have to remember that language changes over time, cultures are different and we need to seek God's guidance in understanding the bible.
A text without a context is a pretext, and the meaning of certain passages (esp OT laws) have to be seen in the appropriate cultural context
An awareness of the cultural language, historical context and narrative aims of the Biblical writers is essential to correctly applying it to today's Christian living. The church is pretty poor at doing this though which leads to unnecessary stances and conflict.
It is all too easy to make mistakes when trying to follow the Bible because we don't usually appreciate the context and culture in which it was written So called plain meanings can be plain wrong because they are too literal and/or too zealous.
New understandings and interpretations only in the context of current day events and application , not in the fundamental truths and beliefs.
Literally true in context. I don't believe you can just pluck a phrase out and say 'this is literally true', e.g. 'there is no God' in the context of 'the fool says in his heart…'
There was some concern also about general hermeneutical issues and the matter of varying translations of the original texts.
Plain teaching' I agreed with, however I am aware that I disagree with many traditionalists on what the 'plain teaching' is.
Multiple versions can cause confusion in some people's understanding of the Bible.
Due to the handed down nature of the Bible, and the fact it's been translated so many times I would not put weight on individual words, but rather on the meaning of a sentence.
I have been trying to learn Greek to read the New Testament, to understand better why there seem to be contradictions.
The Bible is authoritative/ trustworthy in its original manuscripts/languages (Greek, Aramaic, Greek)

A fair number of comments ( 43) addressed the issue of inerrancy directly among which a minority (13) were clearly opposing the concept.
I believe the Bible is perfect in the original autographs but there are a few manuscript errors/controversies.
The Bible as originally revealed is the inerrant word of God.
I take the view that the Bible is infallible not inerrant. (The concept of inerrancy is a recent development resulting from American church politics).
I was a fundamentalist (literally true) in my younger days but have expanded my understanding of Biblical interpretation.
Many comments (51) simply stressed a love of the Bible as the living word of God.
I love it and it is the best book ever written.
If we stick to the Bible, we will be firmly rooted in our faith
It is the living breathing word of God and therefore is always relevant to all generation
........ life-changing book
The Bible is like a signpost for all or most of our decisions as it contains God's wisdom and helps in difficult situations
The word of God is the great means whereby we know the gospel and are saved.

More than a dozen comments spoke about the priority of Jesus as the incarnate word of God
I believe Jesus is a higher authority than the Bible although he is revealed through it.
Jesus is the highest authority. The Bible is a vital revelation about him but has become a god in its own right to some.
While a small number wanted to emphasize the Grand Narrative or "big story" of salvation history.
I believe that the Bible is the living word of God but we need to contextualise and understand the full story of God's people in line with a loving God
and a few others the importance of the Holy Spirit as interpreter of the text.
The bible cannot be understood apart from revelation by the Holy Spirit

The Bible and Church

A majority of evangelicals evaluate and choose churches according to the emphasis placed on and quality of the teaching of the Bible. In our Life in the church? Survey - February 2013
  • 99% of evangelicals think every church should faithfully teach the Bible as the word of God.
  • 74% agreed that Our church leader is excellent at preaching and teaching the Bible
and when asked What do you look for when choosing a church
  • 63% chose among their priorities The depth and relevance of Bible teaching to my personal growth
with significantly higher proportions among those who belonged to very large churches.
More extended comments reinforced this:
I always look for similar qualities in a church, most notably strong Bible-based teaching and genuine, contemporary worship
Churches that preach the Bible clearly and consistently, love each other, pray much and work to serve those around them are the ones that grow.
Though some expressed a measure of disappointment.
In nearly 50 years' experience I feel that many churches deliver very weak Bible teaching.

So how do UK evangelicals actually study and use the Bible? Various surveys gave slightly different statistics based on slightly different questions, but it is clear that a large majority say they make efforts to read the Bible at least a few times a week in their private devotions.
  • According to the Baseline survey 2010, 49% read (or listen to) the Bible on their own daily and a further 26% at least a few times a week.
    • Women were slightly more likely to be daily readers 50% compared with men 47%.
    • Older people were more likely than younger people to read their Bibles each day. Among 12-24 year olds 36% were daily readers and the proportion rose with age so that by the age of 65 and over the figure was around 65% .
    • Church leaders (59%) were more likely than average to be daily readers by about 10 percentage points above the average.
    • 71% said they read (or listen to) the Bible with others, presumably in a church congregation or small group setting at least once a week.
    • When asked In a typical week, how long do you spend reading the Bible?ical week, how long do you spend reading the Bible?
        Less than 30 minutes 15%
        Up to 2 hours 48%
        More than 2 hours 37%

  • In Time for discipleship? - November 2013, 88% agreed it is important for every Christian to read or study the Bible on a daily basis (of these 50% strongly agree). However, In practice, just over half (50.5%) say they engage with the Bible daily and a further 40% at least several times a week. In the same survey 42% said that they find it difficult to find time on a regular disciplined basis to pray and read the Bible. In this survey Ten to 20 minutes is the most common length of time people claim to spend studying their Bible.
    • Less than 10 minutes (16%)
    • Between 10 and 20 minutes (43%)
    • Between 20 and 30 minutes (20%)
    • Between 30 minutes and an hour (17%)
    • More than an hour (3%)
    • N/A - I don't do any regular Bible reading or study (1%)d helpful

IAccording to Omnibus Survey 3 among the evangelicals in the panel 70% said they read the Bible in private daily and a further 22% more than once a week. (This highest figure is probably best explained by the possibility that this survey which was presented without a clear topical focus was completed by the most loyal members of our research panel combined with the question appearing in the form of a grid – both factors which might affect the results in this way).
  • According to the 2016 report Building Tomorrow's Church Today, based on a survey of Christians (not all of whom identified as evangelicals) aged 35 or under, Bible-reading seems to be less popular with younger adults – with just 25% reading their Bible every day, and 41% a few times a week. Young Christians from Black and Ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to read the Bible at least several times each week (74% compared to 65% of white British), and men are more likely to read it daily than women (31% versus 23%).
  • While the traditional picture of a Victorian Christian household involved a daily ritual of formal family prayers and Bible reading our How's the family? - survey of November 2011, found that within families we can assume to be Christian, just 40% report praying together daily, but only 12-15% reading the Bible together. There was little evidence of a significant change in these figures across the generations still living.

In the Omnibus 2 survey on May 2014 we asked
How significant have the following factors been in developing your personal walk with Christ?
Personal Bible study/daily devotions was Very significant for 63% and of some significance for another 33%
and What are the most important elements you would hope to find in attending a regular small group within your church?
Bible study was rated as Very Important by 77% and of some importance by 22% (only very slightly less important than prayer support)
In Are we communicating? - survey conducted August 2011, we asked How recently have you read or heard something from the Bible that caused you to change something significant in your life

Today 11%
In the last week 34%
In the last month 30%
Less recently 26%
Never 0.3%
In Time for discipleship? - November 2013
  • 82% (perhaps unsurprisingly) said they find it hard to live up to the commandments and challenges found in the Bible.
  • 55 % find it hard to understand what the Bible says (at least sometimes).
  • 48% admit they find it hard to understand how God could order or allow some of the things recorded in the Bible.
Martha was the Biblical character most often identified with, with 43% of the panel and 58% of the women identifying with her. She was selected almost three times more than her contemplative sister Mary, indicating that busy lifestyles are a widespread feature of contemporary discipleship. Simon Peter is also popular with just over a third identifying with him. Paul was the third most selected figure with 27%. Some 35% of men and 13% of women selected him.
In the same survey we asked about BIBLE STUDY AIDS that were in use
Bible commentaries or other books 50%
Printed Bible study notes 43%
A Bible app on your phone or other mobile device 33%
A Bible-reading plan 29%
A Bible website 28%
Emails from a Bible study organisation 20%
Podcasts or other audio recordings
from a Bible study organisation 13%
None of these, just an open Bible 12%
DVDs or other video resources 11%

The Bible in Public life

In the midst of academic debates about how far secularisation has gone and with many suggesting that we now live in a post-secular or de-secularising age it is perhaps surprising that UK evangelicals are far from confident about asserting the relevance and importance of Scripture to public life.
In our Faith in politics? survey conducted in August/September 2014
  • 74% agreed or strongly agreed that "My political views and the way I vote have been greatly influenced by my reading of the Bible"
However, few respondents made a direct connection between Scripture texts and policies and still less voting for a party. More typical quotes were these.
I have absolutely no idea what the Bible teaches or does not teach about politics.
The Bible tells us we should care for the poor and vulnerable – this requires a political as well as charitable response to tackle the root causes.
I don't think the Bible talks directly about politics, but it does talk about how we should treat others and how we should live in community, so its principles would inform my views.
In the British Values- survey conducted in May 2015 we asked
    Which of (a list of 12) values or principles are important for being British and should be taught in British schools?

A good knowledge of the Bible was seen as the least important with only 48% of respondents believing it should be compulsory.

Should be compulsory
A good knowledge of the Bible
Loyalty to Queen and country
A good basic understanding of all religions widely practised in Britain
The right to object to government policy and make a peaceful protest
Tolerance of different faiths and beliefs
Not to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and disability
An understanding of the contribution of Christianity to our heritage and institutions
A good knowledge of British history
Support for democracy
The right to religious freedom
Respect for other people, their opinions and beliefs
Accepting the rule of law

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