Steve and Jackie Green have written This Dangerous Book: How the Bible Has Shaped Our World and Why It Still Matters Today (with some assistance from my friend, Bill High), in which three stories are intertwined with one another: the story of this husband and wife team’s life together; the story of the Bible; and the story of the Museum of the Bible which they and their family have founded.
All three involve a certain amount of what they call ‘danger’. The enemies of the Bible treat it as a dangerous book in many ways – oppressive, misogynist, genocidal, et cetera. But the Greens mean that the Bible is dangerous in different ways than the New Atheists claim.
First, the Bible is dangerous to ignore. If the Bible is the truth, then ignoring it is ignoring the truth. Contempt for it is contempt for the truth. Hostility to it is hostility to the truth. And there is nothing more dangerous to a person than to build a life on hostility to the truth. To be at war with reality is to be always at war, and always losing. The Bible presents itself this way; as a living book which blesses those who hear and heed its message. In this way, it is a two-edged sword which can cut for us or against us.
C.S. Lewis once argued that Jesus of Nazareth was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. By speaking this way, he dismissed lukewarm notions of Jesus as a wise man who was not what he claimed to be. But, Lewis argued, if Jesus was not what he claimed to be—the Messiah and equal with God—then he was neither wise nor good. A wise man who is not God, does not believe that he is God. Many mentally ill people believed that they were Napoleon. Only one was correct.
The Bible is kind of like that. It has inspired many of the greatest men and women in the history of Western civilization. Some of those people went on to improve other civilizations (for more on this see the work of my friend Robert Woodbury, who engaged in rigorous statistical reasoning to establish correlations between the presence of missionaries and subsequent measures of human flourishing and freedom). Some people who believed the Bible went to other civilizations and used their superior technological power to exploit and oppress. Unfortunately, only that second part of the story is widely disseminated. But even in those cases, we often see that the formerly oppressed cultures have tended to show comparative progress relative to those which were isolated from the civilization shaped by the Bible.
But the point is that the most advanced civilization of the modern world is the one shaped by the Bible; this would be true whether the power that comes from that advancement is used for good or ill. If the only book which can actually be recognized by the title “The Book” (Bible, biblios, means ‘book’) is the primitive, immoral, superstitious screed which the new atheists claim it is, then one has to wonder: How has it led to so much good? Were Bach and Michelangelo taken in by something ugly? Were Father Damien of the Lepers and Florence Nightingale (the Angel of Mercy) and Mother Theresa of Calcutta inspired by the moral monster that Richard Dawkins claims is described in the Bible? Were John Locke and James Madison and Martin Luther King, Jr. and both the British and American abolitionists animated by a book with the spirit of tyranny? This Dangerous Book tells a lot of the story of the good done under the influence of the Bible. This is a healthy corrective to the unholy trinity of Crusade, Inquisition, and witch burning that seem to be the only historical narrative about the Bible which modernism permits. The Good Book has wrought great good (and some harm, by those who twisted its message), which puts it in a similar position to the Lewis Jesus. It may be lies, or lunacy… or it may be the word of the Lord. But it can hardly be a pretty good book. It may be many things, but ‘meh’ isn’t one of them.
The Greens tell the story of how the Book became dangerous in their own lives, leading them to decide to downsize drastically when they were struggling financially. (Despite being the son of Hobby Lobby founder David Green, Steve was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. For more see my column about David Green’s Giving it All Away.) And it led them later to adopt a child despite already having a large family to care for. Though these decisions felt risky at the time, the Greens’ acts of obedience turned out to be blessings to them. So, while following the Bible seemed dangerous at the time, they acknowledge that, in fact, not following it would have been far more dangerous.
One of the dangerous things the Green family has done is to build, from scratch, a museum. A fortune which could have been spent on yachts and mansions was instead spent on building a museum in Washington, D.C. filled with rare and valuable Biblical artifacts. And that most valuable of commodities, time, was also spent on it. This has exposed the family to ridicule and also to false charges in the press of being ‘smugglers’ (more on that in a future column). It has cost time, treasure, talent, and reputation.
I knew some of the family story from my interview with David Green and from his book. I knew much of the story of the Bible in history from 37 years of study of my own. Nevertheless, I still learned much from reading This Dangerous Book. This mix of memoir and historical information about the Bible makes This Dangerous Book an easy read.
Read more at Is The Bible Dangerous?