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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



AGTV Video
Connections: Lamar Vest

Bible Literacy: Addressing the Decline

Dr. R. Lamar Vest is the president of the American Bible Society. He has also served as the general overseer of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) and as president of Lee University. Vest spoke recently with Editor Ken Horn.

evangel: Tell us about your ministry in the Church of God.
VEST: I served 16 years on the Church of God General Executive Committee, and we saw some phenomenal growth. I think for me the most exciting thing was the revival that took place among the young people in those days. That’s what I long to see again.

evangel: How did God direct your personal journey in ministry?
VEST: I was born into the Church of God, fourth generation. My great-grandfather was one of the pioneers. I can’t remember ever not knowing that I was called to ministry. It was something that I just grew up with. It’s been a lifetime journey.

evangel: You also served as the chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals.
VEST:
Yes. The National Association of Evangelicals brings together all of those churches who identify themselves as evangelical. When I was chairman we estimated that there were about 20 million evangelicals who were involved in some way with the NAE.

evangel: How did you get involved in the American Bible Society?
VEST:
I was elected to the board of trustees while I was serving as chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals, about 19 years ago, and have been involved with ABS ever since.

evangel: What is the American Bible Society?
VEST:
The American Bible Society is one of the oldest Christian not-for-profit organizations in this country. It was founded in 1816 with a primary purpose of covering the earth with God’s Word.

The history of the ABS is almost like reading early American history because so many of the founding fathers and those who were involved in shaping our nation were involved in it. The first president was Elias Boudinot, who was president of the Continental Congress before there ever was a United States. The second president was John Jay, the nation’s first Supreme Court Chief Justice. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem, was involved in the ABS, as was John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, and several other U.S. presidents. So the American Bible Society is tightly connected with the formation and the foundation of this nation.

It screams out to those revisionists of history who want to tell us that we were not really founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The American Bible Society was formed to help get Bibles printed and distributed throughout the United States, but now, around the world.

evangel: Are you concerned about Bible literacy in our nation?
VEST:
Bible knowledge in this country is on a downward slide. I don’t think any of us realized that it was moving downward as quickly as it is. But, if you look at the statistics, Bible knowledge has almost been drained out of this culture in the past 50 years. There was a time when even our educational system taught Scripture. There was prayer in schools; there was Bible reading. Now there’s none of that. And unfortunately, there is little Bible reading in many churches anymore. The World War II generation had about a 59.6 percent biblical worldview. Today’s new generation, for the first time ever, may be in single digits of holding a biblical worldview. By the year 2040 the culture in which we live could be considered biblically illiterate.

evangel: So in the space of a little over half a century we’ve gone from where a biblical worldview predominates in a nation to where it’s virtually nonexistent.
VEST:
Absolutely. And we’re asking ourselves, why are we having so much crime? Why are we having so much terrible conditions in our world? I think you can trace it to the loss of Bible knowledge.

evangel: We’re seeing Christians respond in recent years to a host of compassion needs. The American Bible Society has recently addressed this with the Poverty and Justice Bible. Could you talk about that?
VEST:
The Poverty and Justice Bible was first produced in Great Britain by the British and Foreign Bible Society. We partnered with them and decided to do one here in the U.S.A. It’s very simple. We had scholars go through the Bible and highlight every Scripture that speaks about poverty and justice. There were more than 2,100 passages.

We did a survey with Harris Interactive Survey, a polling organization, and presented Scriptures that speak about poverty, caring for the poor, caring for the helpless. We asked, “Who do you think said this?” About 54 percent of the people attributed the Bible verses to people like Bono, Angelina Jolie, the Dalai Lama. Some 16 percent of the people surveyed attributed those Scripture verses to President Obama. Only 13 percent of the people surveyed recognized them as coming from the Bible.

What a wonderful nation it is when people from Hollywood, rock music stars and politicians get involved in caring for the poor. That’s great. But, what we’re trying to say through the Poverty and Justice Bible is God got there first. This was His idea. And all the way from Genesis through Revelation He talks about how important it is for us to provide for those who are in need — to show compassion to those who are not always given justice. (Visit bibles.com for more information.) There’s no separation between evangelizing and helping people who are in need. It’s our responsibility.

evangel: Any final thoughts?
VEST:
The tragedy that I’m finding is that so many Christians have gotten out of the habit of reading God’s Word. Much of the research we’ve done recently indicates that just going to church or participating in religious activity does not necessarily impact the way one lives. But people who are engaged with the Bible at least four times a week see a marked difference in their lives.

The Bible is the Bread of Life; it’s water; it’s food from God. And what we are trying to do at the American Bible Society is once again to say that our primary objective is not just to hand you a Bible or to see that you have another Bible on your shelf. Our responsibility and our passion is to get you to open that Bible and read it on a daily basis. My encouragement to you is get into the Book and do it on a daily basis. For several Scripture reading plans, visit americanbible.org.

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