Recently, Gallup released a bulletin that claimed the following:
“Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. That is similar to what Gallup has measured over the last two decades, but down from the 1970s and 1980s. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup’s nearly 40-year history of this question. Another 17% consider the Bible an ancient book of stories recorded by man.”
Those are interesting numbers, but how accurate are they? Curious, I looked at their methodology. Basically, they asked the following question of their respondents:
“Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible — the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, or the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”
In an nutshell, the options were:
- [a] The Bible is the actual Word of God, and [b] we should take it literally
- [a] The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but [b] we should not take everything literally
- [a] The Bible is not the Word of God, but was written by man and [b] contains fables, legends, history, and moral precepts.
My first question was which answer would I have given? Obviously, since the Bible never came by the will of man, #3 is out. So I was left with option #1 or #2. It was at that point that I realized I honestly couldn’t answer the question as given. You see I believe that the Bible is the actual Word of God [#1a], but I don’t think everything in it was intended to be taken literally [#2b]! The Bible contains metaphor, figures of speech, round numbers and poetry. I believe the Bible is the actual AND inspired Word of God [#2a], but I began wondering what Gallup meant by inspired; Biblically, it means God-breathed, but I get the feeling the definition they’re giving to “inspired” would mesh well with a Hallmark greeting card!
In short, this poll created a false dichotomy. There should have been an option that read something like “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, except where context dictates otherwise.” And maybe that’s what they meant.
What this poll underscored for me was the one of the points made by Ken Ham and Greg Hall in their new book, Already Compromised. In that book, he noted how those who were polled for that book often affirmed general statements like “I believe the Bible is God’s actual Word” or that the Bible was inspired, but when they were asked more specific questions, like “Do you believe the Flood was world-wide, local or non-literal?’ or “Do you believe in God creating the world in 6 literal 24-hour days?” that it becomes obvious that many Christians mean different things when they say the Bible is God’s Word or the Bible is inspired or inerrant. As a result, it’s absolutely critical that we ask follow up questions to determine just exactly what they mean by this evangelical newspeak. Given the implications of the data America’s Research Group gleaned for Already Compromised, I can’t help but think that this Gallup poll would have been well-nigh useless [for the lack of follow-up questions] even had they not created a false dichotomy in the phrasing of their question.
Yet one thing is clear: American Christians are confused over the Word of God and what it means… which means that clergy and Christian colleges have absurdly dropped the ball when it comes to preaching sound doctrine and relevant apologetics!