As people draft New Year's resolutions, many Christians are adopting plans to read the entire Bible in 2011.
That would be a good resolution given a study by the Center for Bible Engagement, an arm of Back to the Bible, which found Christians simply do not read the Bible enough. The Center's study found that only one-third of Americans read the Bible every week, and even fewer, 13.9 percent, do so on most days of the week. According to the CIA World Factbook, 76.8 percent of the U.S. population is Christian.
"The one thing we've found through all of our studies is that nothing, not small group or church attendance, helps a person grow spiritually like the Bible," Dr. Arnie Cole, Back to the Bible CEO and director of Research & Development for the Center of Bible Engagement, told The Christian Post.
Back to the Bible offers several Bible reading plans, from reading the events of the Bible in chronological order to reading the Old Testament and New Testament simultaneously.
Cole said it's not so important which Bible reading plan or Bible translation people choose, but how often they plan to engage the Bible every week.
Results showed that Christians who read the Bible less than four days out of the week are just as likely as those who don't read the Bible at all to get drunk and have sex outside of marriage.
But those who read the Scripture at least four times a week not only have lower rates of immoral behavior, but also spend less time dwelling on temptation.
"Bible engagement is receiving what the Bible has to say, reflecting on it and applying it to your daily life," explained Cole. "It makes your spiritual life completely different because you are having a relationship with Jesus Christ."
For Christians who want to read the Bible daily but may be short on time, the Center for Bible Engagement has developed a website www.mybibletool.com that allows users to receive scripture by voice recording or text messages. They can also opt to receive customized verses according to their area of struggle, such as addiction, sex, or money.
"Our goal is not for you to depend on the tool but to build an appetite for Bible reading," said Cole.
Dr. Denny Burk, dean of Boyce College and associate professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said bible illiteracy is tied to the decline of biblical preaching in the churches.
He told The Christian Post that more pastors are delivering devotional meditations or self-help messages than explaining what the Bible actually says.
"You tend to find less serious Bible readers in churches where there is less serious Bible preachers. [Christians] don't see it modeled for them in the pulpit," Burk said.
Burk said Bible reading plans help keep Christians accountable to finishing the Bible within a year.
He followed Robert Murray M'Cheyne's Calendar for Daily Readings last year, which outlined daily readings from different sections of the Bible.
This year, he created his own plan ( www.dennyburk.com ) where he will read all the books of the Bible in canonical order. The plan, he said, helps him to get a better picture of scripture without juggling different storylines from various books.
Without reading the Bible, Christians are unable to have the divine contact that allows them to be "changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit the way Jesus intended," said Burk.
For those who don't know where to start this year, many Christians in the blogosphere recommend Professor Grant Horner's Bible Reading System, in which readers read ten chapters a day, one chapter from each of the ten lists provided.
Grant Horner, associate Professor of English at The Master's College in Southern California, has over 10,000 fans on Facebook who are following the program, but he estimates that hundreds of thousands worldwide are using the system.
"The best thing about it is that it does not tend to lead to discouragement," he said. "It rotates through numerous books and genres, is not tied to dates, is highly adaptable, and feeds the soul thoroughly."
Burk said that reading the entire Bible shouldn't just be a New Year's resolution for 2011, but for every year.
Everyone, according to Burk, can find time to read the Bible no matter how busy they say they are.
"If you have time for television then you have time for the Bible," he said.