We use the Bible as a manual or answer book. We look to it as a talisman or horoscope. We proof-text, cherry-pick, and impose our own biases. The sins against Scripture are numerous and, according to Glenn R. Paauw of the Institute for Bible Reading, endemic. And don’t get him started on what the Good Book has suffered at the hand of translators and publishers.
Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well is Paauw's jeremiad against our tendency to distort, misuse, and misrepresent the Bible. All this mistreatment, Paauw argues, has left us with stunted Scriptures. CTPastors.com senior editor Drew Dyck spoke with Paauw about his quest for a bigger Bible.
Why does the Bible need saving?
God took a risk with the Bible—he gave it to us. It’s in our hands, and we’re free to do with it what we will. We shape it culturally. We shape the actual look and feel of it as an artifact, and we form practices around it. We are capable of imprisoning the Bible, of diminishing its impact. And if we don’t do right by the Bible, the Bible itself suffers.
Also, the research is pretty clear that the Bible needs saving. Sure, we say great things about it, but the fact is that it’s not having the impact it could. It’s being misused a lot, and it needs rescuing.
A lot of people will agree that the Bible needs saving, but from outsiders: critics and skeptics. But that’s not what you’re talking about.
Yeah, that’s the easy out. The easy thing would be to say, “Well, it’s really sad that so many people live their lives without the Bible or are ignorant of it.” And that is sad, but the more dangerous fact is that even those people who think they are doing right by the Bible often aren’t. What if those of us who have a high view of Scripture are, in practice, not doing it justice?
We have more Bibles than ever and more tools to study it. So why the ignorance and misuse of Scripture?
When I first started working at the International Bible Society, known today as Biblica, researcher George Barna came to one of our meetings. He said, “I appreciate your work, especially your translation work, giving people access to the Bible. It’s a big need in many places. But for all the Bibles we have here and Bible resources like never before, there is a huge connection problem. Even people who want to read their Bible, they just don’t do a good job of it.”
That started me on my journey. I said, if I’m here for a long time, I’m going to go after this problem. I didn’t want George Barna Jr. coming back in 30 years and saying that people still aren’t engaging Scripture. It’s not hard to sell Bibles. It’s the bestseller every single year. But we have to do something about this engagement issue.
You write that a lot of people are disappointed by their experience with the Bible, which creates guilt. Why the disappointment?
We’re not honest with people about the Bible. There’s this fear that if we admit it’s a difficult and challenging book, we’ll scare people off. We want to tell people, especially new Christians, about all the great things that will happen to them by reading it.
Since we’re not honest about what kind of book the Bible is, and how it’s supposed to work, when people start reading for themselves, they encounter all kinds of crazy material that doesn’t fit the paradigm that we’ve given them. They find stuff from ancient cultures, from different parts of the world, and they don’t understand it immediately. And it’s hard for them to get something they can apply to their lives every single day from just reading through the Bible. So it leads to cherry-picking verses. Because there are these gems, these verses that seem to contain important spiritual truths.