Culture At Large

Bibliotheca and the real reason we call the Bible boring

Stephen Woodworth

“The Bible is boring.”

As a pastor and professor, I have heard this lament countless times. I have heard it from college students, church members, the lips of my three children and my own mouth. Recognizing this as a growing trend in America, book designer Adam Lewis Greene has set about the task of conducting a new public relations campaign for the “the Good Book” that he’s calling Bibliotheca.

In a Kickstarter video released in mid-July, Greene waxes eloquently about our fascination with good stories, in which we are empowered to control the pace and the characters’ voices, stories that “help the reader feel at home with their own imagination.” Greene asks, “Why is it that people love reading stories so much and yet they view reading the Biblical literature as a chore?” It is a legitimate question, and Greene appears to find at least one answer through the lens of book design, referring to the chapter headings, verse numbers and footnotes in traditional Bibles as “clunky” and “encyclopedic.” His response is Bibliotheca, a “cleaner,” four-volume set of cloth-bound Old and New Testaments that are void of chapters or verses. Proof that Green has struck a nerve is the fact that in 24 hours he had reached his initial goal of $37,000 and continued to soar to well over $1 million in pledges.

Admittedly, the urge to foster a more Biblically literate society has already spawned numerous attempts to “update” the sacred text. The Action Bible, The Black Bible Chronicles and Eugene Peterson’s The Message are a few examples which represent attempts to make the Bible more palatable to consumers from various demographics. In this way, Greene’s project is nothing new or controversial – though perhaps it is misguided.

What makes the Bible such a “chore” for many is the simple fact that it demands as much as it gives.

I have come to believe that the problem many people have with reading Scripture is that they are already attempting to do what Greene suggests: read the Bible as mere story. They want to read it like other literary works of art or classic literature. They want the book of Jonah to read more like Moby Dick or Song of Solomon to be the next Fifty Shades of Grey. The problem, of course, is that the Bible never billed itself as entertainment.

The Bible is not a book which we are invited to “stand over” in the posture of a critic. We are not permitted to deconstruct the text or define the meaning for ourselves. The truth of the Word revealed is not clamoring for increased sales, speaking engagements or acclaim from book reviewers. The sacred text is self-revelation of the divine. Package it however you want, and the gravity of what we are allowed to hold in our fragile and finite hands will not become any less weighty.

I would argue that what makes the Bible such a “chore” for many is the simple fact that it demands as much as it gives. It bestows promises, but it also commands obedience. It empowers and it humbles, it offers rest and demands sacrifice, it blesses and it curses. It extends grace and guarantees judgment. Indeed, there is no other piece of literature, classic or otherwise, that is called “living and active.” There is no novel, memoir or biography we declare to have the power to “divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” Neither is there any shelf in any library that possesses a single volume able to “judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Reading the Bible is boring because we want it to be boring. We want it to be lifeless and inanimate. We want it to be a fairy-tale of age-worn fables that cannot possibly reach into our world and touch our hearts and minds. The alternative, that the Creator of the universe desires to converse with His creatures, is simply too daunting to consider. We would rather simply read a book.

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Theology & The Church, The Bible