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Bible and Culture

Concerning the Bible, Theodore Roosevelt observed, “No other book of any kind ever written in English has ever so affected the whole life of a people.”

Whichever way you choose to slice or dice it, the Bible is the foundational book of Western culture. Admittedly, it’s influence has maybe declined during the postmodern era, but in the cultural past one bumps up against its impact time and time again. So with posterity in mind, this post is dedicated to highlighting the Bible and culture, i.e. how the Bible’s stories, language, concepts and teachings have permeated every facet of our lives. Here are some examples:

Literature has been profoundly impacted; so much so that some literary scholars suggest that English literature would barely exist without the Bible. While some may argue to the contrary, T.R. Henn says that the Bible “becomes one with the Western tradition, because it is its single greatest source.” This is certainly true for classical writers like Dante, Milton, Melville, Bunyan, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Lewis, Hugo, and Eliot. It’s also true for contemporary authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Archibald MacLeish, Philip Pullman, Michel Tournier, Madeleine L’Engle, Barbara Kingsolver, Yann Martel, Dan Brown, James Frey, and countless others.

Language is woven through with sayings from mainly the KJV Bible like: “Bite the dust” (Psalm 72:9), “Old wives’ fables” (1 Timothy 4:7), “The writings on the wall” (Daniel 5), “By the skin of your teeth” (Job 19:20), “Drop in a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15), “The root of the matter” (Job 19:28), “The salt of the earth” (Mathew 5:19), “In the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52), “Eat, drink, and be merry” (Ecclesiastes 8:15), “The signs of the times” (Matthew 6:13), “Forbidden fruit” (Genesis 3:3), “Go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “How the mighty have fallen” (1 Samuel 1:19), “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), and many more.

The Bible fires and fills the imagination of artists and the world of art is adorned with paintings and sculptures inspired by biblical themes. To name a few of the greats: Da Vinci painted the Last Supper, Picasso painted the Crucifixion, Michelangelo painted The Creation of Adam, Bosch painted The Last Judgment, and Rembrandt painted 60 masterpieces on biblical themes. Michelangelo sculpted David, Epstein sculpted Jacob, and more recently in 2008, the controversial $10 million Golden Calf sculpture, by Damien Hirst.

Politicians, like the Presidents of the United States, are sworn in at their inauguration with their hand placed on a Bible. Political speeches are sometimes laced with references to the Bible. Winston Churchill quoted John 14:2 on five public occasions during his career. When Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech he quoted Amos 5:24, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” And most recently, the Republican, Donald Trump, tripped over himself, sparking laughter at Liberty University, when he attempted to quote from “Two Corinthians”.

Jurisprudence is undergirded by the Ten Commandments and the codes of law are ultimately derived from the Bible. The moral cohesion of society is rooted in the Bible and the equality of all people before the law is another legacy from the Bible.

Films thrive on using content about or from the Bible. To mention a few: The Lion King is loosely inspired by the story of Joseph. Avatar, according to Pui Lan, “Is a cinematic fable, in real 3-D, of how to remythologize biblical stories and interpret them in subversive ways”. According to Christianity Today, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is actually telling the story of Matthew 6:19-24. Grapes of Wrath is about an exodus of farmers from Oklahoma during the Great Depression and their hope to settle in the Promised Land of California. Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor says, “Biblical stories: deadly sibling rivalry, parents at war with children, the isolation of the royal circle” were influences in the telling of this Norse warrior story. And Daniel Mumby in, 50 Films That You Wouldn’t Think Are Christian, But Actually Are, makes the point that, “Christianity runs deeper through cinema than the obvious allegories of Narnia, The Matrix and The Green Mile.”

Music of all genres contains biblical themes. There are many well known, hymns, choruses, psalms and chants, as well as the gamut of Gospel and contemporary Christian music,. There’s the classics like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Cantatas, Haydn’s Creation oratorio, Massiaen’s Les Visions de l’Amen, and more recently there’s Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, Babel by Mumford & Sons, Viva La Vida by Coldplay, and of course there’s U2’s music which some would classify as a marriage of Bible verses and rock music. There are many facets to how the Bible has influenced music. Sarah Shewbert points out in the article, The Bible’s Influence in American Music, that “Lowell Mason, Pete Seeger, and Lady Gaga created music in vastly different eras and styles, but they hold one thing in common. Listeners cannot fully understand their music without knowing the Bible.”

Finally there’s fashion. Stylist Magazine mentions how Monique Lhuillier used the garden of Eden as the inspiration for one of her collections. And designer, Alicia Akrie, created a collection for a fashion contest named, Dinner With The Devil. She says the Bible was her inspiration: “I was looking at Psalm 23, where it talks about preparing a table in the presence of enemies and thought how incredible it would be to know you are going to be seated at dinner with enemies and come out triumphantly.”

Much more could be said. Have your say. Share a comment, insight or a story about the Bible and culture.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Heart Language

For Bible engagement to be effective, people need to connect with the Bible in their heart language. The Apostle Paul alludes to this when he says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” Ephesians 1:18-19 (NIV).

So what is heart language? In essence, it’s something more than language. It’s what unites us at the deepest level and includes our integrated value systems, beliefs, experiences, and the reality of who we are. But that’s not all. Heart language is transactional. It’s something that transcends who we are; it’s about God revealing and communicating His love for us, so that we hear and believe. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified …” Romans 10:10 (NIV).

In the Christian context, heart language is therefore about the human heart and God’s heart coming together. It’s us interacting with the triune God; an intimate relationship between One heart and another.

Which raises a question: What does heart language look like for different people, i.e. for every tribe and tongue and nation? Obviously, very different. In fact, while there may be a similar heart language within a specific culture, it may also be true to say that every individual has a unique heart language. That’s why God joins Himself with groups/communities of faith as well as allying Himself intimately with the thoughts and feelings He’s created in every individual.

But getting back to the opening sentence, and the association between heart language and Bible engagement …

God’s Word changes hearts. It is in and through the transference of God’s Word that our hearts are touched and transformed. When we rely on the power of the Spirit to help us interact with the Word (personally and communally), God speaks into our hearts in ways that nurture us to live only all for Him.

Thus to engage with the Bible we need to enter into the Word – to become part of the grand drama of salvation. This requires humbling and inclining our hearts. We must develop new postures of authenticity and vulnerability. For it is only when we open our hearts fully, that God will fully apply His Word and make us new creations with the capacity to worship Him and do good works.

All told, it is through the deeper work God does in our hearts, as His Word courses through us, that we are eventually redeemed, restored and reconciled to Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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International Day of the Bible

International-Day-of-the-Bible-Info-1

Celebrate the Bible! Today is the International Day of the Bible. You are invited to take a few minutes to share with others, face to face or screen to screen, how much the Bible means in your life.

You can read, sing, act out, draw, paint, organize a flash mob, or do whatever you like to creatively express your love for the Word of God. Do you have a favorite psalm or proverb? Or a life verse or special passage? Or a biblical text that’s carried you through tough times? Share the Scriptures with your friends and family. Let the world know how much the Bible means in your life.

The International Day of the Bible is sponsored by The National Bible Association. Organizations like The American Bible Society, YouVersion, Bible Gateway, Scripture Union, and Bibles for the World are encouraging participation within their own communities.

Use the links below to share and connect:

Hashtag: #BibleCelebration
Twitter: https://twitter.com/IntlDayofBible (@IntlDayofBible)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/internationaldayofthebible
Instagram: @IntlDayofBible
Website: www.internationaldayofthebible.com

 

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Twenty Quotes From the Bible Engagement Blog

Anything I’ve written that may be deemed insightful or informative is solely due to the insight and understanding that comes from God. In fact when my writing seems to be flowing well, those are the times when I’m most conscious of being empowered by God. Conversely, when being a word-smith is a strain, that’s when I’m usually striving in the flesh.

So with thanks to God for the gift of writing, here are my favourite twenty quotes from the Bible Engagement Blog:

Bible engagement is first and foremost about letting the Bible have its way with us.

To know God and be godly, we must know God’s Word intimately. To know God’s Word intimately, we must grow in intimacy with God’s Word.

The Scriptures are best digested if we “eat them” slowly. Take your time. Masticate on each word. Listen for what God is saying. Enjoy the moment. Open your heart. Pause to pray.

We should read the Word with thought given to prayer and pray with thought given to the Word.

God wants us to be doers of the Word. The ultimate goal of Bible reading and reflection isn’t to learn the history of the Bible, to understand doctrine, to enjoy the stories, get our theology straight, or know everything there is to know. Bible engagement must include application. God gave us His Word to give us life and to change lives!

Always remember that God’s Word is far more important than anything we can ever say about it. The primary aim of all preaching and teaching should be to equip others to actively indwell, engage and get caught up in receiving and reenacting the Word.

The message should master the messenger. Christians should be living epistles!

To embrace a relationship with Christ that matters deeply requires a deep commitment to the Scriptures.

Belief matters! When people love Christ, they will love His Word.

The Bible desires to be known, dares us to chase after it, invites us to connect with it, and challenges us to be immersed in it.

We don’t need a Bible reading revival, we need a Jesus revival! For when people start falling in love with Christ, they can’t help themselves from falling in love with His Word.

If we read the Bible to know the Word of God, yet don’t read it to know the God of the Word, we miss the mark!

What’s ultimately important isn’t the Bible study method; it’s whether or not we’re engaging, internalising and incarnating the Word of God.

When the Bible is reduced to a handbook for church dogma, a moral rule book, a depository of propositional truth, or a collection of wise sayings to guide people through life; it is easy to take it or leave it. But when the Bible is shared, in the power of the Spirit, as the Story which runs deeper than the world’s stories, it invites us to enter into a different world and see ourselves in a different light, that is, to share God’s view of the world.

So what is the best English version of the Bible? The one that gets read!

In what Leonard Sweet describes as “the Age of Participation” it is unlikely that non-Bible readers will read the Bible if we do not cultivate ways for them to interact with it. People need to be helped to connect with the Story in relationally interdependent frameworks where there is a participatory flow of imaginative reason and metaphor.

Let the Bible read you. The Bible is more than a book – it’s alive and active (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Given permission, the Bible will weigh and measure you, and then, finding you wanting, will proceed to fill your heart with faith, hope and love.

As Bible engagement goes, so goes the nation. When our Bibles start falling apart, society will stop falling apart! If we want to see renewal and revival we must read the Word for all it’s worth and live it out for all to see.

God’s Word must lodge inside us and burst out through us! It should whisper in our spirit and trumpet through everything we say and do. It should be in our hearts, but also in our hands. In our minds, but also on our lips. In the privacy of our homes, but also in the public square.

So read the Bible, but not as an end in itself. Read it as a means to an end. Read it to find life and fullness of life in Christ (cf. John 10:10). Read it to see and know the Person behind the text. And read it to be like-minded, have the same love, to be one in spirit and of one mind with Christ (cf. Philippians 2:1-4).

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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J.I. Packer on Bible Engagement

J.I. Packer, the British-born Canadian theologian, is considered one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America. His most popular book, Knowing God, has been read by more than a million people and was listed 5th by Christianity Today on their list of “The Top Fifty Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.” Here are ten Bible engagement statements from Knowing God:

God has spoken to man, and the Bible is His Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation.

We must seek, in studying God, to be led by God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it.

Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself.

Do we apply the authority of the Bible, and live by the Bible, whatever men may say against it, recognising that God’s Word cannot but be true, and that what God has said He certainly means, and will stand to? If not, we dishonour the Holy Spirit, who gave us the Bible.

The word which God addresses directly to us is an instrument, not only of government, but also of fellowship.

God sends His word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.

The claim of the word of God upon us is absolute: the word is to be received, trusted, and obeyed, because it is the word of God the king … We are to believe and obey it, not only because He tells us to, but also, and primarily, because it is a true word.

What is a Christian? … He is a man who acknowledges and lives under the word of God … believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. His eyes are to the God of the Bible as his Father, and the Christ of the Bible as his Saviour. He will tell you … that the word of God has both convinced him of sin and assured him of forgiveness. His conscience … is captive to the word of God, and he aspires … to have his whole life brought into line with it.

The wise man reads the Bible as a book of life … as the book of the church … and as God’s personal letter to each of his spiritual children.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Opening the 4/14 Window

A friend recently introduced me to the 4/14 Global Missions Movement. When I visited the 4/14 website I was struck by the fact that nearly 50% of the world’s population are under 20 years of age – indicating that children are the largest people group in the world yet to be connected with Christ!

In Canada, 65% of Canadian Christian adults came to faith in Christ before they were 12 years old and 80% came to faith in Christ before they were 19 years old (Child Evangelism Fellowship). Worldwide, 71% of Christians commit their lives to Christ before the age of 15 and an additional 10% before the age of 19. Only 19% of Christians come to faith in Christ as adults (Based on a study by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1996).

With these statistics in mind, one would think that the majority of the efforts to connect people with Christ would be child focused. But they’re not. Most of what we do is geared to adults. Look at any local church budget and you’ll see that pastor’s salaries (those who are teaching/preaching adults), buildings (where the largest and “most important” space with the best audio visual system is the place where the adults meet), and adult related programs are the big ticket items.

Our priorities are back to front. A new focus is needed for a new era. How long will it be until we wake up to the fact that each successive generation in the Western world has fewer Christians than the previous generation? And what will it take for us to hear Christ, really hear Him, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” Matthew 19:14 (NIV).

It’s time to act. For those who would move forward, consideration must be given to how we can “reach, rescue, root, and release children into relationship with Jesus Christ …” (the goal of the Global Missions Movement).

Of course, Bible engagement should be an essential component of any and all missional strategies to connect children and youth with Jesus. If children are going to have a relationship with Christ that matters deeply, then we must do everything we can to help them acquire a deep commitment to the Scriptures. But that’s easier said than done. From the vantage point of a CEO/Executive Director charged with leading an organization that works to connect Canadians with Jesus and His Story, I’m keenly aware that we have a long way to go.

So a question for my colleagues in the Bible agency world. How should the 4/14 Window figure into our plans? Historically, most Bible agencies, translators, publishers and distributors have invested the lion’s share of operating capital into developing resources for adults. Maybe it’s time to take stock. Do we need more English versions of the Bible for adults? Isn’t 800+ versions more than enough! Why, like the Titanic, do we continue full steam ahead with developing new Bible Apps, resources and delivery systems for adults? Especially when we know that “women’s Bibles, men’s Bibles, student Bibles, even software Bibles or the Bible on-line have not increased the numbers of people reading (the Bible).” (cf. Barna).

Opening the 4/14 window. There are 3 billion children and youth. Can we reach them together? Developmentally speaking, children between 8-12 years old are more inclined to matters of faith than at any other stage of life. Imagine what could be done if the budgets of all the entities producing Bibles or Bible related resources were restructured to develop resources that would significantly help “reach, rescue, root, and release children into relationship with Jesus Christ.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Looking For A Good Bible Engagement Read?

So it’s 2015 and you’re ready to get your teeth into some good reading. Yes? Here are some recent blog posts and articles on Bible engagement that are informative, interesting, timely, practical, and edifying:

Faith Today Blog – The Silver Lining, Rick Hiemstra –  http://blog.faithtoday.ca/the-silver-lining/#more-337

Converge – The Decline of the Bible, Kyle Stiemsma – http://convergemagazine.com/the-decline-of-the-bible-14940/

Christian Week – Lingering on the Edge of  Forgetfulness, Thomas Froese – http://www.christianweek.org/lingering-edge-forgetfulness/

Faith Today Blog – Reasons to Read the Bible Well, Patricia Paddey – http://blog.faithtoday.ca/reasons-to-read-the-bible-well/#more-365

Re-engaging With the Bible, Rick Reed – http://rickandlindareed.com/2014/11/25/re-engaging-with-the-bible/?utm_content=buffer009bf&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The Washington Times – A Call to Reengage With the Bible, Geoff Tunnicliffe and C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell – http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/11/the-bibles-influence-a-call-for-the-church-to-reen/

Light Magazine – Reading the Bible Today, Keri Langley – http://lightmagazine.ca/2014/09/481/

So these are the Canadian writers I’m recommending. Who would you recommend for a good article on Bible engagement?

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Top 3 Picks For 2014

Here are the top 3 Bible Engagement Blog picks for 2014:

1. In Love With The Author

International Evangelist, Ken Terhoven, my late father-in-law, used to tell this story . . . Read more at:  https://www.jumpintotheword.com/2014/08/19/in-love-with-the-author/

2. Inviting Non-Bible Readers To Read The Bible

How do we invite non-Bible readers to read the Bible? Here are six important things we need to think about and do . . . Read more at: https://www.jumpintotheword.com/2014/01/15/inviting-non-bible-readers-to-read-the-bible/

3. Bible Reading in Canada

According to the Canadian Bible Engagement Study (May 2014), 55% of Canadians never read the Bible, 28% seldom read the Bible, 7% read it a few times a year, and 11% read it once a week or more frequently. How do these statistics compare with Bible reading in the past? . . . Read more at: https://www.jumpintotheword.com/2014/05/14/bible-reading-in-canada/

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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4/14 Bible Engagement

“Connecting children with Jesus and His Story should be the priority of the church today!” This, according to the keynote message at the December 2014 Forum of Bible Agencies- North America meeting in Niagara Falls.

“God’s Word for a Young World”, the theme of the FOBA-NA meeting, centered attention on the importance of reaching children and youth. “A new focus is needed for a new era . . . what we’ve done in the past will not cut it in the future . . . each successive generation (in the Western world) has fewer Christians than the previous generation . . . we must do all we can to share the Scriptures with our children and grand-children while we still can!”

These impassioned comments were fuelled by the injunction in God’s Word to “Impress them (the Scriptures) on your childrenDeuteronomy 6:7 (NIV). Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased this verse in The Message, the task is to first “Get them (the Scriptures) inside of you and then get them inside your children.”

The call to connect children and youth with the Bible is amplified by research. According to the Pew Research Centre, the religious unaffiliated in Canada has gone from 4% in 1970 to 24% in 2011 and in the USA from 5% in 1970 to 20% in 2011. Couple the rise of the “Nones” with the growth of other religions in North America and the need to impress the Scriptures on our children is more urgent than ever before.

So how do we do Bible engagement with a special concern for children? Forum members were encouraged to review, revise and restructure their operational budgets. Finances could then be used to envision and develop new resources. The work should not be done in isolation. Collaboration and working partnerships with children’s/youth agencies should be integral to the efforts as well as the creation of innovative marketing/promotions that invite and encourage children and youth to engage with the Bible.

But the challenge to connect children with the Bible involves much more than the creation of, distribution or marketing of resources. Stress was placed on the fact that “Belief matters! When people love Christ, they will love His Word.” A correlation of findings from Bible engagement studies revealed that most people who intentionally engage with the Bible are people who embrace Christ by faith. Bible engagement paradigms must therefore include evangelism, specifically child evangelism, as a core component of a 4/14 Bible engagement strategy.

With the above in mind, the concluding comment of the opening address was, “The decline in Bible engagement is primarily a relational problem – people aren’t getting connected to Jesus . . . we need more than a Bible reading revival – we need a Jesus revival!”

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Why We Should Read The Bible Every Day

There are many good reasons and one essential reason why we should read the Bible every day.

First, several good reasons:

  • to fuel our faith
  • to inform our world view
  • to direct our activities
  • to nurture wisdom
  • to reflect on life
  • to strengthen our convictions
  • to incline our hearts to righteousness

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible. People have told me they read it; “To know what to do”, “To be changed internally”, “To enjoy God’s grace”, “To think more accurately”, “To get a word from heaven”, “To be emotionally and psychologically nourished” and so on. If you’re a regular Bible reader you probably have a few more reasons why you make it a priority to read/listen to the Word.

While there are hundreds of reasons why people read the Bible, there is one essential reason why we should read it every day – to meet with God.

Why should the essential reason for reading the Bible be to meet with God? An analogy with marriage helps answer this question:

A marriage thrives when it’s constantly being renewed. Chatting with one’s spouse once or twice a week simply doesn’t cut it! It’s expected, understood, implicit to the laws of relationships that married couples listen and talk to each other regularly.

Karen and I have been hanging out with each other nearly every day for more than thirty years. During our time together we’ve been able to ‘read’ and ‘re-read’ every ‘page’ of each other’s ‘books’ to the extent that our ‘books’ have sort of become one ‘book’.

When I came to faith in Christ I made a marriage type commitment to love, obey and serve Him for the rest of my life. If I don’t connect with Christ for a couple of days the relationship suffers. My communion with Christ needs to be constantly renewed. Meeting with Him daily is nonnegotiable. For my relationship to thrive I must spend time ‘reading’ and ‘re-reading’ His Book and allowing it to ‘read’ me.

Life is a dash from the cradle to the grave. With the passing of years, I’ll soon be dead. When I come to the winter of my life I doubt I’ll be thinking I should have written better blog posts, spent more time gardening, or gone for longer walks. No, when death rolls in I suspect I’ll be thinking about my relationships.

So remember your mortality. Remember your relationships. And read the Bible to meet with Christ every day.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014