July 31, 2014
Why Adam Lewis Greene's Bibliotheca project may not be the answer to people's claims that the Bible is "boring."
I sometimes hear from non-believers they like the Bible, but only as literature. For me this is the clearest sign they're not actually reading the Bible, because the Bible is terrible literature. Awful pacing, jumbled points of view, inconsistent and irrelevant details, overly long, repetitive.... the list goes on. If someone sent the Bible as a manuscript to an agent, there would be no "Good luck in your future endeavors" in the rejection letter, only "Please don't mail us again."
In that sense, I agree the Bible can be very boring- it's not good summer reading. But it's a book that reads and edits *us*, rather than the other way around. In that sense, it's the most exciting (and terrifying) piece I've ever had in my hands.
The Bible's a great read, but not because it reads like other literature. It's a great read because it reveals God. It has some parts that are exciting, others that are maddening, and a few that are quite boring but still important to its purpose.
Thanks for helping me think through these things today, Stephen.
P.S. As for reading the Bible as literature, I prefer to <a href="http://timfall.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/i-read-the-bible-literally/">read Scripture literarily</a>.
Great insight... Our church recently went through "The Story" which took highlights from the Scriptures themselves and pieced them together in a reading format just like this new project. So it was actually refreshing reading it pieced together chronologically to read like a "story". However, we also had study notes, reference books for studying background, history, maps etc. so when reading the story we were studying it. Without understanding context, history etc. - it seems the Bible could even be more confusing or lead to incorrect conclusions just reading it without insight as it isn't fiction or isn't a contemporary story we can use our contemporary understanding to grasp what was happening back then. Anyway, good insight! I am thrilled so many people are getting copies of the Bible, now I hope they do read it and do take the effort to get study guides and helps to understand it better.
Chris & Tim - Thank you for joining the conversation. Many of the ideas driving the Bibliotheca project are worthy of applause, but as you both point out, none of the best aspects of it can help to alleviate what keeps most people away from the Word. Honestly. I wish it really was just the presence of chapter numbers keeping most people from meeting God through the Bible. I really do. But those that have encountered Him in those pages, know differently. We will (and should) tremble in his presence, no matter what form he comes to us in. Thanks again for interacting.
Your assertions about the power of the Word, and why it is so challenging to read, are all correct - but I lost the part where a designer taking a tried and true translation of Scripture and honoring it with excellent design is a bad thing. How is using higher quality paper and designing a readable font and laying it out to be aesthetically pleasing - or at least more accessible - misguided? I am beyond thrilled that so many people are clamoring for a good translation of the Word. Full stop. How is this a bad thing?
Chapter and verses were added much later - and very useful for some purposes and very distracting for others. Profit margins and a desire to make copies affordable to everyone are why our Bibles are so thin and small and disposable. This project isn't some hipster translation of the Bible, it's the ASV! It's strange to me that seeing a person use his particular skills to highly honor these sacred texts is somehow bad. I'm just finishing reading through the whole Bible chronologically - on my Kindle. Is that bad too? I've been studying the Word my whole life and a fresh new way to encounter it - as long as the text is still the actual Bible - only seems good.
Maybe your criticisms would apply to Wangerin's Book of God - but even then it's not like people have to trade in their NIV Study Bibles in order to read another version.
Seems like maybe you're snatching defeat from the jaws of victory here.
PS - The "real reason the Bible is boring" is because people don't read it.
John- Always good to hear from a fellow Think Christian writer. Thanks for taking some time to read and respond. Just to clarify my point a bit, I agree with you completely here that Bibliotheca is a worthy endeavor. At no point in my article do I suggest that the project is faulty in any way. What I believe is "misguided" about it is the premise that changing the outward design of the Bible will make more people read it. I am not convinced, nor does it sound like you are, that the problem with low Biblical literacy is how the pages are laid out, correct? I think many people will buy Bibliotheca, I just hope no one is shocked to find out that all those sales might not correspond to greater readership. Hope that helps to clear things up a bit.
Dan- I really appreciate you taking time to flesh out an example of how the Bibliotheca paradigm could really function well in the life of the church. And I agree that standing on the shoulders of others is part of good ecclesiology. It is why creeds and confessions are so essential. Reading all alone is not something Christians have supported throughout history.
I know that when the project first started spreading several people from our home group enthusiastically said they wanted it. I do believe that there will be some additional reading of it simply because of the aesthetics. I don't suspect throngs of unbelievers will now suddenly be drawn to the Word because of the aesthetics, but I do know several Christians who are regular studiers of the Word that plan to engage it in this way.
I see it as a useful project that sits on the shelf next to several other translations and is occasionally read more as a book than as a collection of verses. I think that's cool.
It's essentially the opposite of the version most of us are reading most often - which is the app on our phones. Again - I think the YouVersion app is great and I use it all the time, but not for extended reading. I think that the Bibliotheca project will be good for that. Bottom line, though, I really think it is very good news that a project designed to honor the text of the Holy Scriptures is becoming so popular. I don't see a downside.
I agree with you about the specialness of the bible, but I do think this format has a big advantage you haven't mentioned. While chapter-verse designations can be useful for studying and reference, they have the unfortunate side effect of Christians chopping up the Bible into semi-coherent pieces and not reading verses in context. This seems like a good way to encourage folks to take larger sections at once and not loose so much textual context.
There have been so many great comments to this already, but I just have to share a few thoughts too. I'll try to be brief.
One of my pet peeves about popular Bible studies is that they tend to major on those parts of the Bible that lend themselves to "easy" storytelling--Joseph, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, portions of the historical books and the Gospels--while sidelining those really dense, challenging parts of Scripture that don't so easily fit into our narrative preoccupations. When was the last time you heard a pastor preach a really engaging Sunday morning sermon on 1 Chronicles 1-9, for instance? That the Bible spends 9 "chapters" (recognizing these were added later) on what, to the modern reader, seems like a boring list of names indicates a purpose other than narrative--a preoccupation with something other than continuous plot motion. When we step back and see the big picture, though, we see that from the eternal perspective such a lengthy genealogy reveals a majestic story of salvation being worked out by a God for whom every generation is part of the same chosen people.
I like to think that the Bible--being a unique and peculiar literary work that only One as wise and all-understanding as the Holy Spirit could compose--challenges our concept of what story means in the first place.
I'm really looking forward to this.
I'm going to weigh in here as a young gen y'er who has grown up on digital technology and has attention issues. I like to see the Bible as a reference guide, and want to choose passages of scripture that reflect my current situation and help get me out of hard times. Problem is, without going to church or having any direction on where to look I just don't know what I should read. Now, if the Bible was set out more like a wiki page but having hints and suggestions at which passages to read with a brief summary about what certain passages are about - I'm seeing it as an app that e-mails you suggested passages - that would help me and younger readers out greatly.
Actually, I might just look this up on Google Play to see if it doesn't already exist.
It could even be set out like a school textbook with exam-like sections. Kind of like a Bible study Bible. But it needs to be set out in a way that is engaging and can get people with a busy schedule to choose something to read and take time to reflect on it, because it would have been the right passage for them to read.
I know it probably feels like a desecration to modify the Bible in any way (even though the original scriptures were modified to make way for what we hold in our hands today) but not everyone can just sit down and know what chapters to read, and some people don't even want to bother with it if they don't know what they should read. I rely heavily on Re-frame media e-mails to get a dose of scripture. And sometimes I find something really inspiring, other times it doesn't affect me at all.
The world is changing. The younger generation is getting even more impatient with a shorter attention span. Time to adapt to it.
I know the Bible isn't a storybook to be read front to back, but I do like reading 1-3 chapters at a time to get a bigger scope of the story. I'm a writer. I like stories.
The problem that needs to be addressed is not that the Bible is boring for too many people, but rather that too many people want to be entertained all of the time.
We do not adapt the holy text of God's Word to changing cultural ideals but we, as a church, should be diligent to read and study God's Word. It takes self-discipline and commitment.
And if I may, I'd like to say to Spy, our young Gen Y'er, that there are study Bibles out there that have done what you ask - the Thompson Chain Reference, e.g.. You might also want to look into a topical bible.
But, you are still going to need to set apart quiet time with the Lord in his Word if you want the Bible to come alive for you.
And Spy, please elaborate on what you meant by saying the "original scriptures were modified to make way for what we hold in our hands today".
I hope you haven't been reading only the skeptical scholars, like Bart Ehrman, in the field of textual criticism. Rest asured, my friend, God has preserved his Word.
I guess what I'm really trying to say here is that the more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more exciting and joyful our times in the Word will be. It's not an attention or time issue, it is an obedience issue.
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