According to the survey, about 3 out of 10 Americans continue to profess belief in a literal Bible today, which accounts a 10% drop over the past three decades. More than 1,000 adults were asked to describe their view about the Bible with 28% responding that the Bible is the "actual Word of God and is to be taken literally."
Poll results see a 45% to 49% increase among those who say the Bible is the inspired Word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally. However, the survey also records a larger increase of Americans who say the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man (13% to 19%).
Gallup breaks down the surveyed sample to subgroups and finds that younger people are less likely to profess belief in the Bible, word for word. Results show 23% of Americans aged between 18 and 29 years believe in the actual Word of God compared to 36% of the more elderly bunch aged 65 and older. The unlikelihood of believing in the Bible literally also parallels with education. Only 10% of postgraduates say the Bible is the actual Word of God while 39% of people with a high school or less education have the same affirmation. Belief in the literal Bible is also highest among those living in the South and lowest in the West.
The young and highly educated are highest with 58% in the belief that the Bible is inspired and that not everything is to be taken literally.
Now, depending how the questions was worded, I'm willing to grant that even someone like myself, who takes the Bible literally, might still have responded that not everything should be taken literally (God is neither a rock nor a bird, for instance). Still, it's likely that those who responded don't think that everything in the Bible that is literal is really literal, and it's not hard to see how someone who believes in a non-literal Bible can explain away things they don't like or agree with, whether it be God's restrictions on sex, the existence of Hell, or even man as a sinner. And isn't this exactly what's happened with mainline denominations?
But I also wonder if it's starting to creep into all churches. It makes the following question from this post by James Spurgeon at Pyromaniacs interesting: Why don't pastors preach about the reality of Hell anymore? Perhaps some just don't believe in that reality anymore. And, if I can get a bit personal for a moment, I might just ask myself (as well as you readers), what difference does my strong belief in the horror of the reality of Hell have on my evangelistic efforts? I'll leave you to ponder that on your own.
It's probably not news to anyone that more education seems to go hand-in-hand with less belief in the Bible. What may suprise you, however, is that this is not just a modern problem. Here's a quote from William Tyndale, writing in the 16th Century, on the effects of an Oxford education:
[They] ordained that no man shall look in the Scripture until he be nooselled in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false principles with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of Scripture.
Some maintain that education provides a release from the shackles of belief in supernatural saviors and other such nonesense. Many others take a more moderate approach, trying to fuse the best of the Bible with the wisdom of the world (see this, for instance). Believers, though, much always treat the Bible as the true measure of wisdom, rather than trying to use their wisdom to measure Scripture.