Next year marks four hundred years since the Authorised Version (King James Version for my North American friends) was published. In the UK, churches are planning to celebrate 2011 as The Year Of The Bible. A major project to support this is called Biblefresh, which seeks to help the church regain confidence in reading the Bible.
That’s a great idea. However, I’ve run into a problem. Last Monday evening, I was at a meeting of representatives from the four churches in this village (not counting the fifth church that thinks it contains the only true Christians), where we discussed how we were going to mark next year’s big anniversary. Some of them had met a few months ago to start thinking and planning. And our difficulty is this: it seems only natural to us to take our celebrations public. However, the Biblefresh focus on renewing the church’s confidence in Bible reading, important as it is, means that an outreach focus isn’t within its purview. You won’t really find much mention of anything like that on their website, except for the odd comment from Elaine Lindridge, a Methodist Evangelism Enabler in the Newcastle District.
So … I’m posting here, there and everywhere in the social media parts of the Internet to see whether other people have ideas. (These include the Facebook pages for BigBible and Biblefresh.) We’d love to be stimulated by creative sparks elsewhere that might inspire our thinking and praying. If you have any ideas, I’d love you to shre them here.
Last night, I went to see a performance at Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, of From Eden To Eternity, a play by Saltmine Trust in support of Wycliffe Bible Translators, whose Bible translation work in Nigeria was movingly featured. It is on a national tour, but played locally as part of this year’s Chelmsford Christian Festival. The acting was first class, and the script was full of humour, pathos and pain – just as an attempt to retell the highlights of the whole Bible should be. For me, the scene depicting Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac almost matched the agony of the crucifixion: it ripped my heart open.
Covering the main themes of the Bible is, of course, an ambitious aim, and it must have been a near impossible task for the playwright to decide what to include and what to omit. Whatever choices s/he made, not everyone would agree. (It might as well have been Fabio Capello choosing an England football team.)
What interested me was that the choices seemed to follow standard traditional evangelical priorities. We got a fairly literal Adam and Eve. There was no exile and return (Tom Wright, where are you when we need you?). There was little or no obvious connection between the Old Testament before the interval and the New Testament afterwards. We had no Incarnation (maybe Christmas is just a necessary prelude to Easter).
Having said that, what would I have dropped in order to make space for what I consider to be other important themes? I wouldn’t have liked to have faced that question. Maybe the extended dialogues between Simon Peter and Andrew could have been cut, but I’m sure they were in to bring some important connections between biblical characters and ordinary twenty-first century people.
So – two questions:
1. Has anyone else seen this production, or are you planning to? If you have seen it, what particularly struck you?
2. If you had the unenviable task of the playwright, what would you have included or excluded, and why? (Sorry if that sounds like an exam question! But I’m interested in your thoughts.)
Meanwhile, here’s a video trailer:
If anything demonstrates a failure to understand different religions today, it’s this story: Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears. Muslims in Leicester had been upset to find the Koran on lower shelves of public libraries. They felt their holy text should be on the top shelf to show that it is above commonplace things. Librarians agreed to their request, but also moved copies of the Bible to the top shelf.
I’m prepared to believe they did so out of good intentions. Perhaps they didn’t want to look like they were favouring Islam over other faiths. Perhaps they thought all holy texts should be treated the same, as if the holy book of a religion occupies the same relative place in each faith. If so, they were adopting an approach that has been used in schools to teach about different religions. It takes the phenomena of various faiths, and directly compares them. It is a flawed approach. For, as reaction to this story shows, religious texts are treated differently. My research supervisor, Richard Bauckham, used to say that the place of the Koran in Islam was more akin to the place of Christ in Christianity, because it is revered as eternal, uncreated and coming down out of heaven.
Christians do not treat the Bible that way, however ‘high’ their doctrine of inspiration. In the story, even the spokesperson for the extremely conservative Christian Institute is concerned that the scriptures are not placed out of reach. They are meant to be within the reach of all, a point understood by the spokesperson for Civitas when he called for libraries to be run on principles of librarianship rather than as places of worship. However much we honour the Bible for its revelation of God, we do not worship it. Only God is to be worshipped. The Bible is a holy tool. Like all tools, it needs to be close at hand.
How ironic this news comes in the same week that the atheist Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that children need to be taught the Bible or they will fail to understand our culture. As a Christian, I would of course want to make much larger claims for the narrative of Scripture than that, arguing that it is the framework to make sense of life, the universe and everything. However, I welcome his comments nonetheless.
Meanwhile, on the personal front, once again family circumstances have meant I’ve achieved none of my sabbatical aims today. I stayed in with Mark this morning while Debbie, Aunt Pat and Rebekah went into town. At lunch-time, Debbie and Pat left for a day trip to Sussex. However, Mark has been full of beans – or, more accurately even more pasta shapes – and we managed his first trip out this afternoon since he became ill. The local library was putting on a James Bond afternoon for children. If I took it seriously, I wouldn’t like it. Although I’m not a convinced pacifist, I don’t believe you talk about guns and poison casually. The visiting speaker was from a military museum, and was showing examples of equipment used by British spies a few decades ago. Thankfully, it went over our children’s heads and they were more keen to take out some of the books to which they normally gravitate.
Finally, I’m trying to install some extras to the Ubuntu Linux partition on my laptop, ready for my next sabbatical jaunt on Monday. Some things install better on that Vista laptop than our Vista desktop – Ubuntu, for one! I might reboot into Windows and see whether the software for my Sony Ericcson Walkman phone will install properly on that machine – it doesn’t on the desktop. Everything so far has been immensely frustrating, because our broadband has slowed to a crawl in the last day or two. I tested it at and it reported a download speed of just 0.1 Mbps. I’ve been trying to find out tonight whether we’ve been throtted by our ISP for over-use, but so far I can’t find anything – not that it’s easy to find out. I’m going to sign off now and try again to find out some answers.
Useful blog and replies here regarding a huge variety of online Bibles. I’ve added to mine. Previously I only had NIV and NRSV. Now I have a whole lot more.
One of the, er, pleasures of being a parent to tiny children is the current devotion to Barney The Purple Dinosaur videos. The current favourite on heavy rotation is Barney’s Good Day, Good Night. Much of it is harmless fun and subtly educational, encouraging good behaviour mixed with a lot of gentle demythologisation (there isn’t a man in the moon and there are no such things as ghosts).
It also contains a song about how children are growing every day. One interesting line thrown in is how they are all growing friendlier day by day. A quick Christian retort to this would be that this involves a lot of post-Enlightenment mythologisation – the myth of progress, to be exact, and that this is totally inadequate. As one teacher put it, “Anybody who doubts the doctrine of original sin hasn’t taught a class of five-year-olds”.
But maybe there is more at stake here. The line also sits with values in the videos where goodness is taught by presenting virtually faultless children. Perhaps the producers don’t want to induce negative copycat behaviour. But it reminded me how refreshing it is that the Bible paints most of its heroes, warts and all. Only one is presented as perfect, and yes, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are to imitate him. Which is more realistic, the values of Barney or the Bible?