Back to the Future

Dr. Lamar Vest discusses his vision for ABS

Dr. Lamar Vest is the former presiding bishop of the Church of God. Photo by Jon Simon

For the Record engages Dr. Lamar Vest, executive vice president for Global Scripture Ministries, in a conversation about his years of service with the American Bible Society and asks what's on tap for 2016.

Q: What do you think about the state of Bible ministry in the world?

A: Well, one can always look at the issues that keep you awake at night, and one of them for me is the increasing biblical illiteracy in this nation. We've spent a lot of time thinking and praying about how the Bible Society can and should help turn around this downward slide. We feel that we have an obligation and a responsibility to be sure we engage the new generation — to awaken them to the power of God's Word.

Q: Do you have a vision for change?

A: We are moving into digital media because we need to compete with the world, and we need to speak to the sight-and-sound generation. We want children and teens to make a daily habit of listening to Scriptures and watching Scripture-based videos.

It is our conviction — working with and through the body of Christ — that words matter and God's Word matters most. It's time for Christians to take seriously the competitive words of our surrounding culture. In the end, God will have the last word; as it says in Matthew 24.35 (CEV): “The sky and the earth won't last forever, but my words will.”

Q: You were invited to serve on the board in 1991, and then you were chairman from 2001 to 2006. Is there a key accomplishment from those 16 years you'd like to mention?

A: Helping shepherd the American Bible Society “back to the future” — away from a publication and distribution orientation toward an emphasis on engagement with Scripture. That was our Founders' passion. This sense of engagement is expressed through the addition of eight words to the mission statement: “so all may experience its life-changing message,” referring to the Bible.

Q: Are there any ways to see that engagement at work?

A: There are lots of examples. Take a look at In June, we began uploading video testimonies there. Also, Tonya Wilder-Butts has an important story about what she is doing with youth rehabilitation in Texas.

Q: Now you're on staff. What projects are you working on?

A: So far, we have integrated international and domestic ministries into one area called Global Scripture Ministries. With the advent of digital communication our means of exchanging ideas has broadened, and the most important opportunity is to connect a new generation with the Scriptures.

Q: What's the goal for the bicentennial in 2016?

A: We believe the American Bible Society is called to meet the future with the same confident faith and creativity that the Founders evidenced in 1816. They summarized this beautifully the day the Bible Society came into existence: “We shall do our part toward the expansion and intensity of light divine, which shall visit, in its progress, the palaces of the great, and the hamlets of the small, until the ‘whole earth be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea!' ” (Habakkuk 2.14)

By 2016, I can see translating, recording and delivering, in many ways, the Bible in at least 2,000 languages, which will reach 97 percent of the world's speakers. We are striving to reach tens of millions in the U.S. and hundreds of millions worldwide who have never encountered the Bible.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

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