It’s our anniversary coming up soon, so I thought we would celebrate it by looking at other people’s wedding albums.
It would be an odd thing to do, don’t you think? And yet many of the 400th anniversary celebrations of the King James Version have featured quotations from its descendants. In my church we are memorising 50 Bible verses – none of them from the KJV. We have held a photographic competition where people illustrated a Bible verse with camera – and out of 68 verses illustrated, probably two were from the KJV. We held a 12-hour Bible reading marathon on the pavement outside the church. There were 48 readings, with 40 readers covering 143 chapters of the Bible but less than 10 % of those readings were from the KJV.
Is this ingratitude, laziness, theo-cultural vandalism, or something else entirely?
Before answering that question, I turn to another literary phenomenon, no longer new, but entering a new incarnation – namely, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. With all seven books written and all eight films screened, what hope for the future of the boy wizard? In July, Rowling answered that question by launching ‘Pottermore’ – an interactive website featuring the world of Harry Potter and friends. In her introductory remarks, she said the following:
“It is the same story with a few crucial additions, and the most important one is you.”
By encouraging Potter fans to interact with the story rather than to be passive recipients of it, Rowling is ensuring its future for a long time to come.
When I ran the Bible photo competition, there was one question I was asked repeatedly: were people asked to think of a verse and then illustrate it, or to capture an image and then think of an accompanying verse? The honest answer was ‘both/and’. If the whole exercise made people interpret the world biblically or the Bible visually, it was a good thing which ever way round it came In the end, as Rowling has noted, a story’s future lies in its ability to encourage an ongoing engagement.
When I wrote to my readers for the Bible Reading Marathon, their instructions included not only practical advice but also:
Please feel free to read from whichever version of the Bible you usually use – this is a celebration of the Bible’s place in our lives, not a celebration of the King James Version as such.
The creative, imaginative and downright wacky ideas which have celebrated the KJV in this anniversary year are there to celebrate that we have a Bible, rather than to mark the 400th birthday of this particular Bible. Projects like the ones described above are designed to encourage an ongoing engagement, rather than sealing a historical attachment. In short, they are more to do with how we will read the Bible rather than how we have read it.
As a preacher I tend to read the Bible on my own terms. I prepare it, study it, articulate it and communicate it in a purpose built church environment. Reading it outside on the pavement with the traffic rolling by was a different prospect altogether. It reminded me that the Bible is not guaranteed a hearing on account of its historical pedigree alone. It must earn its right to be heard, and I must earn my right to voice it. To do so, I must engage with it again and again – creatively, hungrily, imaginatively and hopefully. As the old hymn puts it, “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from His word.”