New Relevance for Timeless Words
High-Touch Bibles for New Generations
“The Bible” as we know it — a printed book with numbered chapters and verses — is only a few hundred years old. Is it possible that the Bible of future generations will look and feel very different from ours, while still conveying the same Word of God that has sustained faith in Jesus Christ for two thousand years?
That was the question that animated a select group of Christian leaders from around North America who gathered in Houston, Texas, this spring, for “Scriptorium™,” a three-day conversation about the future of Bible engagement in a society of now omnipresent computer screens, social networks, dizzying busyness, diversity — and spiritual hunger.
Their conclusion? The Bible is as relevant and vibrant as ever, if we will allow the Holy Spirit to guide our imaginations to explore new forms for ancient words.
Convened by the American Bible Society, the group met at a church called Ecclesia that is trying to find new ways to be the church in one of Houston's gritty arts districts — a church where a recording studio, a juried art exhibit, and a coffee shop are just as important for neighborhood outreach as a playground and a Sunday School program.
Ecclesia's pastor Chris Seay wasn't the only one asking whether the Bible will look the same for future generations. Harvard-trained scholar and pastor Christopher R. Smith made a passionate case for rediscovering “the beauty behind the mask” of traditional Bible formats.
A New Old Order
Around the table of 15 leaders were experts in youth ministry, new media and cultural trends — but surprisingly, the consensus was that the most exciting directions in Bible engagement are not high-tech as much as “high-touch.” “Before the rise of mass production,” International Bible Society product development director Glenn Paauw pointed out, “individual Christian communities often created their own Bibles. Why couldn't churches begin to commission artists in their midst to create richly-illustrated, hand-crafted, contemporary versions of the Scriptures?” Careful, lasting craftsmanship could be a powerful witness in a world of disposable consumer products.
The codex form of the book, Paauw pointed out — a bound set of pages like the books we know today — was actually invented by early Christians who needed a new cultural form to reflect the centrality of the Word of God to their worship. Maybe Christians need to ask how the Bible can generate a new and different kind of culture. If so, some of the projects featured at Scriptorium™ may be the kind of creativity that Christians have engaged in throughout history at their very best.
When asked to sum up his experience of Scriptorium, Chris Thyberg, of ABS' Global Scripture Ministries, said:
“It was a wild ride on a common journey.
“Lively discussions ranged from hand-crafting Scriptures, to the interplay of media and in spiritual development; from possibilities for the community of faith to reclaim the Bible from commercialism; to why these ‘kids today' don't really aspire to engage Scripture despite what they tell the pollsters.
“In the end, we came away, as old and new friends, challenged with the task Bible Societies have always pursued: to make room for fresh hearings of the life-changing message of Scripture within the cadences of ever-morphing languages and forms.”
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