How the Bible continues a downward slide in use and comprehension in both society and the church.
Former Newsday and New York Times religion editor Briggs (Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns, 2006, etc.) explores the place held by Christian Scripture in modern America. “After centuries of highlighting the printed Word,” writes the author, “the specter of Bibleless Christianity, or something close to it, looms on the horizon.” Briggs assumes an American Christianity that, until the 1960s, placed a great deal of emphasis on Bible reading and study and a culture immersed in scriptural literacy. From that height, the Bible’s role in America has plummeted by comparison. Though Bibles still sell well, they are not widely read. Briggs explains at length that Bibles are still purchased as gifts in high numbers and that digital versions of the Bible are downloaded by the millions. However, fewer churches are encouraging, let alone expecting, regular Bible reading. The author also spends time exploring the trend away from biblical literalism in American Christianity and how that has affected Bible use. In a related vein, he looks at the continuing divide between academia and clergy in how the Bible is read, interpreted, and taught. Increasingly, academics have studied the Bible not as a sacred work but as a piece of literature to be examined using critical principles. This does little to assist the preacher or the people in the pews who hope to glean life lessons, hope, and ethical direction from the text. Briggs also explores the role that the digital age has had on Bible reading and distribution. A commendable mark of Briggs’ work is his ever present use of anecdotal stories. Though on their own they cannot fully form an argument about nationwide Scripture use, they do put needed faces on the trends that the author describes.
A somewhat depressing but knowledgeable account of how the Bible lumbers on in America, not as widely read but still precious to a core of believers.