When I speak about getting the Bible back into the public arena, I'm often asked if I want to encourage giving out tracts, or a street preaching campaign, or taking out advertisements at railway stations to display scripture. I actually think all these examples of public engagement are capable, by God’s grace, of being missionally significant – not least because the Bible speaks for itself in powerful and fruitful ways (Isaiah 55:8-11).

Let’s consider the evidence. We know from the 2015 Talking Jesus research that engagement with the Bible is one of the main ways in which people come to faith. Yet around 60% of the population never read the Bible at all. Those non-churchgoers who might be interested in reading it don’t know where to start and wonder whether it’s really relevant to their lives.

Despite the UK being home to William Tyndale and other martyrs who fought to make the Bible available to the ordinary person, there is now a widespread ignorance of God’s Word. In Britain, we have fought for the Bible and then forgotten it. For example, when Bible Society surveyed UK Bible literacy in 2014, a staggering one in four adults thought the Superman storyline might be in the Bible, and nearly half failed to recognise Noah’s Ark as a Bible story.

All of this has happened in a context where our legal rights to freedom of speech and religion have been intact, far more so than in other parts of the world. Certainly, it has been the mantra of secular humanism that religious language and speech has no place in public discourse, but this mantra is not the reality of the law. We should resist this perceived pressure to be silent, because if the Bible has no voice in public, we quickly begin to believe it has no relevance to our public lives. The cultural context in which we present the Bible, however, means that our posture needs to be both confident and winsome.

"In Britain, we have fought for the Bible and then forgotten it."

So, at Bible Society we are on a campaign to demonstrate the power and relevance of the Bible for the lives of ordinary people. Our research indicates that around 12 million non-churchgoing Britons are open to the Bible’s message if it can be presented in accessible ways, and during the pandemic, that number has grown to around 15 million. Presenting the Bible well requires us to make a real effort to understand this audience who are open.

Our approach is based on three main principles:

  1. Present the scripture in contexts where the audience is already engaging. This might mean finding ways of presenting the Bible in wellbeing and spirituality’ settings on social media, or embodying Psalm 23 as a garden that can be experienced at the Chelsea Flower Show and in local community settings.
  2. Always lead people to engage with the Bible directly, rather than just telling them about it. Even at Bible Society, we’re often surprised by how much people find the actual words of the Bible stories far more engaging than our summary of them!
  3. We focus our main efforts on those who are open and seeking, not on those who want to have an argument with us. It’s really important to take genuine intellectual questions seriously, but too much attention has been given to the very vocal hostile minority at the expense of those – of all faiths and none – who are truly seeking for God in some way.

All of us are in contact with people who are searching for God in some way. They might be those in real need because of poverty, debt, addictions and family breakdown. Perhaps it’s people at key life transitions experiencing grief and suffering, or the joy of marriage or childbirth. They could be people seeking spiritual connection and meaning, particularly those seeking wisdom and creativity to solve real world problems in their workplaces and political communities. The Bible is capable of revealing Jesus and bringing life into all of these circumstances. For most people, though, it’s an unwieldy, inaccessible and unknown classic that they vaguely respect but have never read. We think that’s something to see changed in our generation.

So, at Bible Society, we’re committed to listening well to these spiritually open audiences, helping them engage with the Bible for themselves, and using all the creativity and care we can to do that. All of this is about loving our neighbours and practising obedient discipleship, but at the end of the day, God is the One who works through His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. And He does this in the most likely and unlikely of ways – even when we put a text on an advertising hoarding on the Underground (check out Charlie Mackesy’s story here).

As you’ve been reading this, perhaps someone has come to mind. Someone who you know is going through a hard time or facing a season of change. I’d encourage you to pray into this, asking God to highlight the people in your life who may be open to engaging with the Bible. What role could you play in presenting the Bible confidently and creatively to others?