The Museum of the Bible opens in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 2017. The Green family, founders of the nationwide chain of Hobby Lobby arts and crafts stores, envision this museum to tell the story of the Bible. Here will be displayed an impressive collection of Bible artifacts, using the latest technology, in a completely new and compelling way.
But why a $500 million “Museum of the Bible?” Like many other cultural observers, the Greens are concerned that Americans are suffering from historical amnesia about the Bible. Despite its cultural importance, biblical illiteracy is extremely low among Americans today, even for many professing Christians. Hopefully, a museum dedicated to educating people about the Bible might help stem back, or even reverse, this trend.
However, folks should know that the museum has its critics, and what they are saying. When the Green family began years ago to travel the world and collect a few Bible artifacts, from antiquity, they really did not know what they were doing. As critical scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden write in their book, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, the Greens eventually had to settle a court dispute by paying a hefty fine and returning thousands of artifacts that had been illegally obtained from their rightful owners.
The Greens have promised that they have learned from these mistakes, but a number of critics still have other issues with the museum. The Museum of the Bible is located just a few blocks from the Washington Mall, raising concerns that the Greens are engaging in a new tactic in the “culture wars,” by casting out their vision of America as a “Christian nation.” The Museum of the Bible is purely a private venture, with no government sponsor. But having a 430,000 square foot exhibition so close to the nation’s public Smithsonian collection of museums, will probably confuse some visitors.
Some of those firmly in the evangelical camp have their own suspicions, from a completely different angle. In a recent Christianity Today magazine review of the museum’s exhibits, we learn that a potential, wealthy donor was dismayed that the Museum of the Bible will not have a “decision” room available, whereby museum visitors nearing the end of the exhibits, might commit their lives to Christ, with counselors standing-by. Because of the absence of such a room, the prospective donor rescinded his offer for support.
Or, as a recent Washington Post article put it, the Museum of the Bible has a whole lot about the Bible, “but not a lot of Jesus.” Steve Green, the chair of the museum, responds that direct evangelism is “not [the Museum’s] role. Its role is to present facts and let people make their own decisions.” The Greens have one primary goal for presenting the Bible to America: Just try reading it!
In addition, evangelical Christians across other parts of the world, may have their own concerns: Is the Bible being captured by Americans, at the exclusion of other cultures, and thus diminishing a more global appreciation of the Bible? Over time, the experience of visitors will largely provide answers to such difficult questions.
However, despite what critics say, the fact remains that the Bible has played an incredibly influential role in the history of America. From the New England Puritan attempts to build a “Bible commonwealth,” in the early Atlantic colonies, to the trauma of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Bible has remained at the center of private and public American life. From Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, and on college campuses, to the eccentric uses of the Bible by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bible is right there in the thick of the American experience.
Unlike the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky, that promotes a view of the Bible that causes controversy within the evangelical Christian movement, the Museum of the Bible promises to promote a more nonsectarian approach to the Bible, which should garner wider support. No matter how well the museum is received by visitors, the display promises to be excellent in quality, engaging and inspiring to those who deeply love the sacred text, and a memorable experience.
If you do not believe me, watch the 3-minute promotion video below (a Biblical prophet, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gutenberg Bible and Luther’s revolution, the Sistine Chapel, the beginnings of modern science, Wesley’s stormy journey across the Atlantic with the Moravians, the American Revolution, Lincoln and the Civil War, emancipation of slavery and Martin Luther King Jr…. breathtaking). If you go to Washington sometime, and stop by to see the museum, drop a comment here on the Veracity blog, and tell us what you think!