Jesus was born in Bethlehem between 6 BC and 4 BC. Bethlehem was a totally unassuming place, a small, backwater town of the Roman Empire. After a brief period spent as a refugee in Egypt, Jesus grew up in an even more humble place than where he was born, a village with a bad reputation called Nazareth. When a man named Nathanael, who would later declare Jesus to be the Son of God, heard where Jesus came from, he said, “Can anything good come from there?”
When these details about Jesus’ beginnings are understood, it’s astonishing that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in just 300 years. Today, there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians around the world, making it the largest world religion. Despite these numbers, Western media and celebrity culture today consider Christianity irrelevant. The question is, are they on to something? Are they prophetically pointing to a future where Christianity lies forgotten in the annals of history?
Demographics in the West are certainly shifting. Europe is largely post-Christian, and the number of Americans who identify as Christian declines every year. From an ethnocentric perspective, Christianity’s days certainly seem numbered, but when you look at Christianity from a global perspective, it actually has a very bright future. The number of Christians is declining throughout the West, but it’s skyrocketing elsewhere, particularly in Africa. Today, 1.3 billion Christians live in the “Global South” (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Demographic trends according to the Pew Research Center predict that more than 4 in 10 of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2060.
So, what does this have to do with GQ? The outlet published a list last week of 21 books that, in their estimation, you don’t have to read. Number 12 on this list was the Bible, and Jesse Ball didn’t mince words when expressing his distaste for it.
The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned. If the thing you heard was good about the Bible was the nasty bits, then I propose Agota Kristof's The Notebook, a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough. The subtlety and cruelty of this story is like that famous sword stroke (from below the boat) that plunged upward through the bowels, the lungs, and the throat and into the brain of the rower. —Jesse Ball, 'Census'
While I could spend time discussing how the Bible is repetitive on purpose and that his use of the word "foolish" is in accordance with 1 Corinthians 1:18, the main thing that caught my eye was his sweeping generalization of those who have read the Bible. (Side note: Ball does make a great point about Christians who have not actually read the Bible. If you’ve been a serious Christian for more than a year and haven’t read it, you need to get on that). The idea that “those who have read” the Bible believe it to be a subpar document isn’t true. We’ve established that Christianity is a global phenomenon, and Ball does not have sufficient evidence to say that the 2.2 billion Christians who “rate the Bible highly” have not actually read it, nor does he defend his statement that those who read it reject it. On the contrary, the Bible is a book that millions around the world risk their lives to possess.
According to Open Doors USA, around 215 million Christians experience “high levels of persecution” around the world. Every month, 255 Christians are killed for their faith, 160 are detained without trial and imprisoned and 66 churches are attacked. I personally have done ministry in Mexico with believers who have had their fellow church members targeted and abducted. In many places around the world, being a Christian is dangerous business, but Christians face death for their faith because they know Jesus gives eternal life to those who believe in him.
Years ago, a missionary in China captured footage of Chinese Christians receiving a delivery of their very own Bibles for the first time. These Christians had heard the gospel of Jesus and believed, but had never had Bibles to call their own. It’s hard to describe the joy they exhibit as they clutch their creator’s words to their chests. One woman says through her tears, “This is what we have needed the most.”
2,000 years ago, Nathanael wasn’t quite unlike Jesse Ball. He heard about Jesus of Nazareth and scoffed. But his friend Philip just smiled and said, “Come and see.” Nathanael didn’t know he would encounter the Son of God that day, but he did, and it changed his life forever. Maybe there’s more to the Bible than people are willing to acknowledge. Maybe it’s the greatest document ever produced. Maybe it’s the words of life. Maybe it’s the power of God. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a book you should read.