Bringing Fun to Serious Bible Engagement

Finally a Museum Devoted to the Book

"Please, Daddy, can we go to the big museum where learning is fun?" I said that many times as a child, and heard it repeatedly from my own children years later.

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(By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.

The renowned Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (CMSI) has inspired me for decades. My parents brought me and my siblings there several times. Raising our own children in the Chicago area for ten years, we visited CMSI as a family a few times a year. Our children would beg to go. And what is the great attraction of CMSI? What made each of our visits to CMSI exciting, engaging, and educational for our children, and also for their mother and father?

All the dozens of CMSI exhibits are exciting, interactive, appealing, and full of adventure – even engrossing – including several vibrant walk-in displays, such as a coal mine, a human heart, a submarine, and a mirror maze engaging the visitor to discover the numerical patterns in nature.

Over the years, I have often privately wondered what it would be like to have such an exciting museum to embody instead the greater fun and excitement of excellent Bible engagement. This vision of the concrete fun, interactivity, adventure, and thrilling discovery that are part of vibrant Bible engagement was one of the reasons we developed the "7WordWonders" Curriculum.

The long-standing CMSI is a place where curiosity is fed well, where learning is intensely enjoyable, and where practical imagination is released and emboldened. Similarly, I am confident that the developing Museum of the Bible (MOTB) being built in Washington, DC – three blocks from the Capitol – will fulfill similar purposes. It will be a place of meaningful adventure, discovery, and serious fun in learning for everyone who visits!

Most of us agree that our leaders in Washington could wisely give much more attention to the Bible — and so the MOTB programs will devote 430,000 square feet completely to the Bible. The Biblical spirituality of many of the United States' past national leaders has often been celebrated. Led in part by the visionary and generous Steve Green family of the Hobby Lobby fame, MOTB will remind all of us — including especially present and future leaders in Washington — of the redemptive and liberating power of Biblical revelation to encourage leaders to develop stronger convictions for Godly hope, justice, liberty, forgiveness, and compassion.

MOTB, scheduled to open in November 2017, promises to be a divinely electrifying place to explore the exciting history, engaging context, riveting purposes, dynamic social and cultural influences, towering literary leadership, transformational impact, and the enduring spiritual power of the Bible.

When I was in Washington recently for our annual meeting of the National Evangelical-Jewish Conference (NEJC), I was able to accept an earlier invitation from the president of MOTB, Dr. Cary Summers, to a hard-hat tour of the present construction of this important, spiritual project. An existing building is being totally reconstructed for MOTB. The adjoining photo helps document my exciting and prayer-filled visit. The photo includes Shannon Bennett, Director of Community Relations of MOTB and Adam Byrd, a manager for Clark Construction, and me wearing the MOTB hardhat. You can see the scaffolding for the reconstruction of the Capitol Dome in the background.

One of our main Jewish leaders of the NEJC also met with MOTB representatives, and he was very pleased, too. Our report to the whole NEJC gathering elicited great interest.

Already, 60 construction workers are on the scene every day, and that number will soon increase dramatically. The whole timely project will cost about $450 million. Thank God for the visionary leaders and numerous generous donors — and the wonderful, Godly mission and vision that drive them.

When it opens in 2017, each floor will certainly enhance the visitors' Biblical imaginations — for adults, youth, and children. The experience of MOTB will make their own daily Bible engagement all the more meaningful and appealing for years to come.

(Courtesy of Paul de Vries)(l-r) Shannon Bennett, Director of Community Relations of Museum of the Bible; Paul de Vries, and Adam Byrd, a manager for Clark Construction during the hard-hat tour of the construction site of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

One floor of the Museum will be devoted to vivid reminders of the impact of the Bible on society, government, and culture — on every continent. Another floor will include an engaging history of the Bible — with many fascinating artifacts. On yet another floor, many of the awesome stories of the Bible will be presented through vivid electronic reproduction — as well as full-sized, livable scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures. We all will also be able to walk into a life-sized, reproduced setting within the Nazareth Jesus knew in his childhood, youth, and much of his adult life and ministry. The walk-in scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are separated — both (1) to honor fully the Hebrew roots of the Bible, and also (2) to keep clear the Christian distinctions between the Old and New Testaments. Leading Jewish and Christian scholars and spiritual leaders are advising MOTB leaders and are pleased with its mission and plans. MOTB's commitment to science and scholarship is excellent as is also its commitment to interactive discovery, adventure, and engagement for everyone who visits the Museum.

In my mind, the comparisons between CMSI and MOTB remain instructive. The very fitting, long-standing motto for CMSI has been "We bring fun to science." Even though MOTB is already sponsoring some of the highest level Biblical scholarship and MOTB's purposes are totally and deeply serious, I still predict that MOTB will also bring fun to Bible engagement — for all the adults, youth, and children who visit.

Those of us who cherish the Bible as the Word of God justifiably are upset, even bewildered, by the current continuing assault on the Bible's place in our culture. Clearly, we live in a time of attempted Bible degradation — with university professors mocking it, media ignoring it, most Christians rarely reading it, and many seminaries giving it diminished attention. In the brief three years from 2011 to 2014, according to the Barna Group, the percentage of American people that believe that the Bible is "just another book" has nearly doubled from 10% to 19%. In that same brief three year time frame, Americans have become less oriented to believe that the Bible is "sacred," dropping from 86% to 79%.

However, having the Museum of the Bible on the horizon is a truly exciting gift that can help to change these percentages and attitudes. And of all places, it is being developed in Washington, DC – in the shadow of the Capitol building!

Tragically, some people have thought of "church" as "museum"—with only thrilling stories of yesteryear, dead displays looking alive, and with a "do not touch" attitude toward vibrant spiritual empowerment. Elsewhere, I have called this pathological attitude "formaldehyde faith". Formaldehyde faith is the opposite of genuine, vibrant faith — a failure we should avoid like the plague.

Just as vital churches are not "museums," the well prayed-over and wisely planned Museum of the Bible will be a vibrant place that will serve the purposes of the living Lord and his vibrant Church.

So please pray that this special Museum will be another effectual tool for bringing discovery, adventure, and fun back into serious Bible engagement — for the sake of our churches, ministries, families, and personal lives. Now where did I put my MOTB hard-hat?

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.