One of the more surprising stats to follow the flood of press coverage over Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah film is the direct correlation to an increase in bible reading.
Over last weekend, visits to the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 at online bible app Bible Gateway saw a 223% increase over the previous weekend. What we don't know from these headline numbers is who these readers are, and why they are reading.
It's fair to assume that many will have gone home to check the story they've just watched at the cinema against the plot they remember from their Sunday school bible class. We all do that with any story we see which has been adapted from a book. Often we are disappointed at the disparity, witness the latest Hobbit film!
However, it's also entirely possible in this post Christian, secular age, that large numbers of people are reading the bible for the first time after viewing the Noah movie.
Never before in history has it been possible to generate these kind of mass stats on our hidden bible reading habits. When Mel Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' film was released a decade or so ago, no such online bible reading apps existed. It's quite probable just such an increase in bible reading occurred as people went home to examine the gospel accounts, but we will never know.
Now we do know. And what's more important is that in homes without an actual paper bible on the shelf (up to almost 40% of us in the UK) seekers can simply google the passage in Genesis or download a free app such as Bible Gateway and have the most incredible resource immediately in their hands. At a time when many churches are despairing of decreasing appetite for the scriptures, this is a fact to be celebrated. Beware though - Googling 'Genesis' may result in the unchurched reader inadvertently downloading Phil Collins tracks, but that danger aside, this stat is greatly encouraging!
When we layer this latest research over figures released by Amazon for last year, the trend we find is actually rather encouraging. Bibles, bible reading and books about the bible remain extremely popular. Today's generation simply find these writings in a different place to those of us who grew up before the World Wide Web.
We may find it baffling, even a little unnerving, but this old book is still intriguing, alluring and as popular as ever. As Nicky Gumbel still tells us on the Alpha Course, 'Well, it's such a good book!' This good book may no longer be available in all good book stores because they no longer exist- but it is definitely alive and kicking on the Internet. It cannot be subdued.
Whatever you think of the Noah movie, and I haven't yet seen it - It's worth noting that a film made for a mass market secular audience is at least in some way managing to demonstrate enough of God's redemptive story and mercy, to such an extent that today's lost generation will search out meaning from the old story for themselves. Thank God for the big story of the bible and for the Internet!