Ironic, perhaps, that while the Bible is the most popular book of all time, biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. According to a 2014 “State of the Bible” report from the American Bible Society and Barna Group, only 43% of adults could name the Bible’s first five books. In the ABS’s “Americans’ Most Bible-Minded Cities 2015,” only one of the top 10 Bible-minded cities is in the top 25 media markets.

In an article on biblical illiteracy, Kenneth Berding, New Testament professor at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology, suggests that distractions are a big reason many in the church don’t engage more with God’s Word. Texting, social networking, television, and video games are some of the culprits.

Add to illiteracy the increasing influence of a secular worldview and legal challenges to the Bible’s rightful place in society, and one is left wondering how this most popular book is guiding and engaging our culture today.

[quote]“The Bible is for all, whether rich or poor and regardless of ethnicity and gender.”[/quote]

Many pastors, writers, speakers, publishers, Christian retail stores, and business leaders are doing important work to bring the Bible’s timeless truth to bear on the issues and challenges of our day, speaking to the culture in a way it will hear, if it will only listen.

Does the culture know what it needs? And how can we best engage with the culture — not becoming like it but bringing biblical truth to light in meaningful ways? Some might say that engaging our distracted, over-active society is a tall order, but this is the exact conversation that will take place at a general session panel at the 2015 International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, FL June 28–July 1.

Here are just a few examples.

Standing up and speaking out.

Hobby Lobby is taking groundbreaking strides to both defend and proclaim the Bible and its principles.

On June 31, 2014, the Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., voted 5-4 to reverse a rule from the Department of Health and Human Services, and ruled that closely held, for-profit corporations such as family businesses can’t be required to provide coverage for services that the businesss owners find morally objectionable. As a result, corporations like Hobby Lobby received a religious exemption from covering women’s abortifacient drugs (abortion drugs) in company health insurance plans. It was hailed as a landmark victory for religious freedom by many in the evangelical community and elsewhere.

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green is now moving forward in a bold and dynamic way to engage people with the Bible through his $800 million Museum of the Bible project, now under construction in Washington, D.C. Slated to open in November 2017, it will be 430,000 square feet, with 300,000 open to the public—just blocks from the National Mall and the U.S. Capitol. Visitors will enjoy Bible artifacts, exhibits on the Bible’s impact, and interactive features of Bible stories and characters.

The genesis of Green’s strong interest in the Bible stems from his purchase, starting in 2009, of more than 40,000 rare biblical texts and artifacts called the Green Collection. Many will be exhibited at the museum. In 2011, 400 items from the collection were displayed in a traveling exhibit called Passages. Green hopes people of all stripes will visit the museum. “We’ll invite all people to engage with the Bible,” he says. “The Bible is for all, whether rich or poor and regardless of ethnicity and gender.” When it comes to exposing Americans to the Bible, Green likens the role of the museum to that of a journalist: A good one asks good questions and reports just the facts, omitting personal biases. The role of the museum, he says, is similar: to objectively present various kinds of information about the Bible, along with the history of God’s Word.

“If it’s been foundational to our nation, the guidelines our founders built, [the public] ought to know about it,” he says.

For example Green says the assertion that all men are created equal was influenced by the Bible, along with the separation of church and state, and the separation of powers between the three branches of government. He says the founders recognized our sin nature and the need for accountability.

“ The museum has certain limits on what it can and can’t do,” Green says. “It’s more about presenting the information and creating curiosity, with the hope that visitors will have more of an interest in engaging with the Book.”

Green will keynote an ICRS general session panel discussion on engagement on Monday, June 29.

Learn more about the Museum of the Bible at http://www.museumofthebible.org/.

The apologist and the artifacts. marrr_032[7]

It might seem hard to believe, but when he was 19 and an unbeliever, veteran apologist Josh McDowell undertook a mission to disprove Christianity. But on a trip to Europe, things took an unexpected turn.

Staring at an ancient New Testament fragment from John 16 at the Glasgow University library in Scotland, he says “a strange and unexpected feeling washed over me…those words seemed to reach out to me in an almost mystical way.”

In his latest book, God-Breathed: The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture (Barbour Publishing), McDowell reveals God’s truth through his own story, as well as recently acquired scriptural artifacts that verify the reliability of the Bible. He believes that in this Internet age full of doubt and skepticism, “Scripture is reliable using modern tests for any book’s reliability,” he writes.

McDowell believes the Millennial generation is ripe for reaching with the Bible’s message of salvation through Christ. “ This generation wants to find something that’s real—that’s where these fragments can help satisfy that need.”

McDowell is also a panelist at the June 29 ICRS discussion on engaging the culture.

Tell me a story.

In How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart make the point that narrative is the single most common type of literature in Scripture, making up about 40% of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament, especially in the Gospels and the book of Acts.

It seems that we’ve been wired to engage with stories. In fact, God’s great story in Christ is the ultimate one. So it’s not surprising that in a day where Bibles are plentiful but knowledge of its content isn’t, publishers and others are supplying versions of the Bible that teach readers by presenting strong, easy-to-read narratives.

Along these lines, Randy Frazee, senior pastor at Oak Hills Church (San Antonio, TX) has written Believe (Zondervan). He’s carefully selected Scripture based on three categories: 10 key beliefs of the Christian faith, 10 key practices of a follower of Jesus, and 10 virtues that characterize a Jesus follower.

Frazee supplies a running commentary on each section. He calls it a systematic theology. “You’re beginning to form the key ideas with the intent of living them out in everyday life,” he says. An entire church program is available to study what Frazee calls a “full-on Bible engagement experience for 30 weeks, from the baby to the senior citizen.” Frazee will deliver the message at the ICRS Worship Him! service on Sunday, June 28.

– Neil Bartlett