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The Cultural Challenge
Besides the influential support of Blake, Hayford and Rodriguez (whose organization represents 16 million Hispanic believers), Charisma Media is partnering with other large entities such as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), OneHope, YouVersion and Bible Gateway. And with leaders trumpeting the MEV's uniqueness, the momentum is certainly there for this translation to make waves in the Christian community and with a new generation of Bible readers.
Yet that is only part of the battle when it comes to re-engaging America with a modern translation of God's Word. On one hand, Christians have reason to celebrate: the Bible is now available in 2,287 languages and downloaded or shared hundreds of millions of times on mobile devices across the social media spectrum. Even Hollywood has developed a fascination with God's Word and is producing a wave of Bible-themed movies, TV shows and game shows.
The full reality of today's "state of the Bible," however, is best told through the optics of the American Bible Society's State of the Bible 2014. This annual study, designed by the Barna Group, signals a cause for concern in considering how shifting societal and generational trends are impacting the Bible's place in U.S. culture. The report found that while 79 percent of Americans cite the Bible as a holy book or sacred literature, only 46 percent read it more than a couple times a year.
"The typical American actually has 4.7 Bibles, yet only 37 percent of Americans use the Bible in a typical month," says David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. "So we have a huge gap between awareness, penetration and usage of Scripture."
With the vast majority of adults living in households with a Bible, it's easy to assume that most dorms, apartments and homes have a Bible sitting on a shelf. But that's just the problem: The Bible remains on the shelf. Regardless of the version—KJV, NIV, ESV or any other—just over a quarter of adults admit to never reading God's Word, according to this year's State of the Bible study. These are the challenging realities facing the Christian community today.
"Can you imagine a Bible-less Christianity?" asks Roy Peterson, president of the American Bible Society (ABS). "Of course not. But when you look at the deep declines of Scripture engagement here in our nation, you start to consider this as an actual possibility. Think about the fact that despite the many, many Americans who are friendly to the Bible, only one in five are regular readers of it [reading it four or more times each week]. That represents about half the number of people attending our churches in the last month. Add to this the almost meteoric rise of Bible skeptics in our nation—numbers that have effectively doubled in just the last four years—and you begin to see the scope of the problem."
Millennials: From Society Shapers to Scriptural Skeptics
The nation's developing Bible illiteracy points to a drastic shift, and no segment of today's culture embodies this more than millennials. By sheer numbers alone, this demographic group is shaping America's attitudes about the Bible. At 95 million strong, millennials (those born between 1978 and 2000) make up the largest generation in the U.S., compared to the nation's 78 million Baby Boomers. Millennials' approach to the Bible, however, is worlds apart from their parents' and grandparents' generations. For the MEV's creators, these differing paradigms are a major factor in whether this new Bible translation can impact society outside Christendom.
"[Millennials] are less likely to say the Bible is sacred literature that's inspired by God," Kinnaman says. "They're also much less likely to have read the Scriptures like most older generations, even when those generations were the same age as millennials are today and approach it with much more skepticism."
Though such skepticism about the Bible isn't new, the rate at which it's currently growing is alarming. In 2011, the State of the Bible study found that 10 percent of respondents said they were skeptical of the Bible; today the number has almost doubled. This year's study shows that 19 percent of Americans feel the Bible is irrelevant, while 19 percent engage with it. This means that for the first time the number of people who are skeptics has caught up with those who actively engage with the Scripture.
Perhaps more troubling is that this trend is markedly more pronounced among younger Americans. According to ABS's study, millennials are:
Ultimately, America's future movers and shapers are becoming defined by an absence of Scripture, as they increasingly view God's Word as outdated on current issues and no longer a source of truth.
"A critical question for so many within this rising generations is this: 'Why does the Bible actually matter?'" Peterson says. "And perhaps more pointedly: 'Prove that it does, right here in the hard stuff of my world.' That is the heart of the challenge we face, inviting the words of life in the Bible to become the center of life in our world today."
So how can a new Bible translation like the MEV possibly change this?
The answer is actually more hopeful than many believe—and is found in the silver lining from Barna's research. Though millennials are more skeptical of Scripture than other generations, they're also hungrier for how biblical truth might apply to everyday living—including topics like sex, finances and parenting.
"There is a huge opportunity for us to help millennials see the truth of Scripture with a new lens, a new set of eyes," Kinnaman says. "But in many ways millennials are looking for the Living Word to be more than just words on a page. They truly want to experience Scripture, understanding how it applies and how to respond to it. They want to hear the voice of God through the pages of Scripture. I think the Church and the Christian community have an amazing opportunity to respond."
Whether millennials hear God's voice depends on their understanding Scripture as they engage with it, and vital to that is the actual language used—which is where the modern language of a translation like the MEV comes in.
"Part of what we need to embrace as Christians is that updating the language of the Bible should be normative for us," says Jason McMullen, publishing director for the MEV. "While it's not like an oil change, happening at set intervals, it is our responsibility as believers to those who come behind to update language so spiritual formation can continue to happen. Some people wonder why we need another translation when there are already so many, but from a missional standpoint, it's vital—especially considering the millennial thread. It's our time now, and it will be their time to do the same thing later."
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