Posted by: Billy Marsh | April 13, 2008

America’s Favorite Books

A recent Harris Poll reported that the Bible is still number one among American’s “literary pursuits.” Although the poll revealed that the Bible was unquestionably America’s favorite book, the first-runner up was not as obvious. To my delight, The Lord of the Rings for men came in second place, but for women, Gone With the Wind was their next choice. Other interesting, but not surprising, statistics were the second fav’s of the age brakets 18-31 and 32-43 year olds. For 18-31, the Harry Potter series dominated while 32-43 preferred Stephen King’s The Stand and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

For my own part, I was more surprised at how the consensus celebrated the Bible as their favorite book, even amidst all of the antagonistic attitudes that are gaining more and more prominence and popularity among Americans towards the Scriptures as well as Christianity as a whole. With books such as Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus topping off the bestsellers list which seek to undermine the reliability of the biblical text as well as the validity of its witness, America seems to be somewhat “double-minded” (Jam 1:8).

Statistics are very dangerous to interpret and can be manipulated easily to say what you want them to say. They are cold and impersonal facts until someone decides to clothe them in whatever apparrel he or she desires to portray them. But, my own personal observation from this survey confirms in my heart something which I believe is most likely true, that is, that most Americans probably view the Bible just exactly as the poll presents it as, namely, a book; no more, no less. It is purely a “literary pursuit” for many people, not the recorded special revelation of God that is the means by which people come to know Jesus Christ for salvation or to be as Jesus prays in John 17:17, sanctified by God’s Word of truth. Yes, the Bible is a book, and therefore, discerning its meaning takes into account the use of literary analysis. However, it is much more than just another book ready to be shelved on the same level as all other literary works. Gerhard Maier, in his work, Biblical Hermeneutics, gives some basic reasons why the Bible is not simply a book and why its nature entails a “special hermeneutic“:

  1. “In favor of a special biblical hermeneutic is, first, the observation that the Bible-if what it says is true even to a small degree-is the most unusual and unique object there is (21).”
  2. “In favor of a special biblical hermeneutic is, second, the observation that the biblical writers seek consciously to recede into the background. They point away from themselves to God as the author of their message (22).” 
  3. “In favor of a special biblical hermeneutic is, third, the observation that the Bible sets up a singular, unmistakable relation between God and the interpreter. . . . This intended transformation of the interpreter includes, however, the interpreter’s obedience (24).”
  4. “In favor of a special biblical hermeneutic is, fourth, the insoluble difficulties into which the interpreter unavoidably falls (25).” This point alludes to things such as presuppositions and man’s depravity as difficulties that will get in the way of doing justice to the biblical text though they might not interfere in the understanding of a normal book.

What is also interesting about this poll is that the Bible is surrounded by fiction books. I know that probably the main reason why people still cite it as their favorite book has more to do with some type of religious identification or affiliation, but deep down inside I wonder how committed those who were included in this study actually were to the reality of the Bible’s testimony and truth. It seems all to common that despite whether one accepts that there was in fact a historical Jesus, he or she may have already written off the OT as nothing more than Jewish mythology.

Perhaps I’ve been too cynical, but I’m just trying to be honest about the situation. It’s hard for me to believe that the Bible is America’s favorite book because of its divinely-inspired witness to the nature and purpose of God while the NY Times Bestsellers list is filled to the brim with blatant atheistic attacks and deceptive arguments by those wanting to remove the Bible’s supernatural character and God-given authority. I only wish our nation truly did in fact reflect the fact that the Bible is our favorite book, and even more so, that we read it and have believed.


  1. Billy, I absolutely agree with your conclusion here. I believe most folks have an emotional attachment to the Bible, even in the Church. By this I mean folks ONLY have an emotional attachment to the Bible, even in the church. Most folks do not read the Bible, they claim to read the Bible, or remember it fondly from their youth or godly grandma or whatever.
    The degree of biblical illiteracy, especially in the Church, is atrocious.

    I agree with LOTR and Hobbit as favorite books other than the Bible. Other favorites I would include a few history books such as Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War, Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand. American Lit favorite would be Harper Lee’s To kill A Mockingbird.

  2. I agree with Bryan that I think many people today have an emotional attachment to the Bible. I read this report not too long ago where the reporter asked a question like, “if time wasn’t an issue what books would you most like to read?” Something along those lines. The majority said the Bible. The second was Moby Dick I think.

    How much of that sentiment is just cultural influences and how much of it is because those people believe the Bible to be the very words of God?

  3. Superior post.Keep up the smashing work,You should definitely have to keep updating your site

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