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Chattanooga, TN Tops List of 'Most Bible-Minded Cities in U.S.', But that Doesn't Mean It's Gospel-Changed, Say Pastors

( [email protected] ) Jan 21, 2016 10:24 AM EST
The American Bible Society has announced that Chattanooga, Tennessee is the most Bible-minded city in America, as the majority of the city's residents expressed a strong belief in the accuracy of the Bible and reported high levels of regular Bible reading.
Delta Queen riverboat in Chattanooga, TN. Dave Lawrence/Flickr

The American Bible Society has announced that Chattanooga, Tennessee is the most Bible-minded city in America, as the majority of the city's residents expressed a strong belief in the accuracy of the Bible and reported high levels of regular Bible reading.

After dropping down to second place last year from the top spot three years in a row, the Scenic City reclaimed its title with an impressive fifty-two percent of its population qualifying as Bible-minded.

"Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded," the report explains. "This definition captures action and attitude-those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures."

The study, conducted by the Barna Group in partnership with the American Bible Society, is based on interviews with 65,064 adults over a 10-year period and is intended to explore overall openness or resistance to the Bible in various U.S. cities.

"Online rankings consider only one data point-Bible search behavior-while American Bible Society's Bible-Minded Cities survey examines both behavior and attitudes about the Bible to harvest a more authentic survey of each city's population. This provides a more three dimensional view of a city's real Bible mindedness," said Andrew Hood, managing director of communications at American Bible Society.

Chattanooga's ranking isn't altogether surprising, as 8 in 10 the city's 173,000-plus residents identify as Christian and more than half of those as Evangelical. Additionally, the city is home to three megachurches and several religiously affiliated academic institutions, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. 

"Chattanooga certainly has a lot of people that are Biblically minded, and there are a number of churches in this city, and that bleeds into our culture and everyday life," Nathan Grubbs, Director of Youth Ministries at Brainerd Presbyterian Church, told the Gospel Herald. "Christianity is an undercurrent that runs through everything we do in Chattanooga."

He added, "I would say that does make it a little bit harder to minister sometimes; people may be Biblically-minded but not necessarily Gospel-changed. There's a lot of knowledge...But from the church's perspective, people are what Matt Chandler calls 'inoculated to the Gospel' -- you have so much knowledge, but the Gospel hasn't actually changed you."

Eric Duble, pastor of Red Bank Presbyterian Church located just outside the city of Chattanooga, echoed such a sentiment, warning that just because Chattanoogans are Bible-minded doesn't necessarily mean they are filling church pews.

"The percentage of the people who go to church in Chattanooga is no different than anywhere else," he told the Gospel Herald. "This city is still as unchurched as anywhere else. Predominantly, the churches in this city are very small, with a few exceptions."

He added, "Sadly, we're very individualistic in this country, and there is a lot less understanding of the church as a family... The church should be a community that is having an effect on the wider community. If the Bible is this important in the city, why isn't it important to everyone? Why is the Gospel not going out?"

The report notes that unsurprisingly, the South -- frequently referred to as the "Bible Belt" of the United States --  remains the most Bible-minded region of the country overall, with all of the top 10 cities located below the Mason-Dixon line.

In contrast, the least Bible-minded cities were predominantly in the Northeast. Albany, N.Y., Schenectady, N.Y., and Troy, N.Y., earned the lowest spots with 10 percent of residents who met the criteria.

However, believers living in such areas shouldn't be discouraged, said Hood: "This study provides us with a great starting point to understand where people are interacting with Scripture and what their views are of the Bible," he emphasized. "We want to help people continue to grow their engagement with the Bible. Ultimately, we want people to know that, whether they live in one of the most or least Bible-minded cities, the Bible can speak to their needs and challenges and help them make sense of life."