Five Minutes with Scott Bolinder

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Scott Bolinder worked in Christian publishing for nearly forty years until he retired in March. Most recently he served as executive vice president at Bible publisher and translator Biblica. He attends Thornapple Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What trends do you see in Christian publishing today?

Christian publishing—like all publishing—continues to navigate the disruption of the digital era. But the fundamental role of publishing—connecting a reader and an author in a relationship around content—will prevail. Content will remain primary, but curation of that content will be valued more and more as consumers look for help in sorting through the glut of content that is available. Publishers will be working to find fresh ways to add value in that primary relationship between the author and the reader. When it comes to the Bible, there will be even more innovative attempts—even beyond digital—to connect people to this uniquely sacred text.

Can you tell us about how the Bible selling in today’s market?

One reason the Bible continues to be the bestselling book every year is that Bibles are a lucrative (and worthwhile) business. So there is a large appetite with publishers—especially Christian publishers—to participate in this sector of publishing. But there is also a broad interest in the Bible from multiple vantage points—it is historical, cultural, helpful, sacred, and much more. Sadly, while it is a perennial bestseller, it is increasingly read less and less. Indeed, in North America, there is a silent crisis of people abandoning Bible reading at an alarming rate.

How often are Bible translations updated? What exciting things are happening with biblical research and translations today?

All contemporary translations are updated (in most major languages) for two primary reasons: 1) biblical and archaeological scholarship continues to yield new information that helps Bible translators better understand the meaning of the original, ancient texts (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic); and 2) modern languages continue to change at even faster rates. In order to best transfer the meaning of the original texts into the target contemporary text, translators must never stop translating or else their work will become anachronistic or frozen in time. No one is more attentive to this than the Committee on Bible Translation who are responsible for the New International Version (which is published by Biblica). They meet every year (and have for the past 50 years since they were originally commissioned), and when there is enough evidence gathered to require an updated edition, they will suggest such. The last update to the NIV was in 2011.

This fall Covenant churches will have an opportunity to participate in Community Bible Experience. What is CBE?

Community Bible Experience is a resource and program designed by Biblica to be used in church-wide campaigns during an eight-week period. It begins with the New Testament, using a new format of the Bible that eliminates the modern additives like chapters, verses, footnotes, etc. in order to present the text in a more reader-friendly manner. We also changed the order of the books to facilitate a more useful way to navigate the text. Given that there is really no canonical order for the New Testament, we begin with Luke/Acts—25 percent of the New Testament, written by the same author, telling the story of Jesus and of the early church. We think that helps set the overall context for the rest of the New Testament. Then we follow with Paul’s letters in the order they were written so the reader better grasps Paul’s own spiritual formation, even as he influenced the early church.

CBE is an “elegantly simple” program utilizing existing small group ministry. Participants each receive a copy of The Books of the Bible, New Testament and are asked to read 10-12 pages a day, five days a week. Then they are invited to meet once a week in their small groups, not as a Bible study, but as a “book club,” to simply have a robust conversation about the 50-60 pages they read during the week. The same five questions form the basis of the conversation each week. Questions like: “What’s something you noticed for the first time?” or “Was there anything that bothered you?” or “What did you learn about loving God?” In eight weeks you will have read the entire New Testament together. You will have read big, read real, and read together!

There are also digital resources to accompany your reading experience as you wish, including a daily email/video prompt, an audio edition of the text, and more.

What is gained by reading the Bible this way? What, if anything, is lost?

To begin with, CBE addresses three bad habits that have insidiously crept into our Bible reading. Too often we read the Bible in fragments, out of context, and alone. That isn’t the way the Bible was experienced originally. Rather, it was read more completely—often entire books at a time; it was read in the context of the day; and it was read in community (often orally). CBE invites us to read the Bible more as it was originally intended to be read.

What is lost are some of the bad habits our modern Bibles have unintentionally promoted like “snacking” on the text rather than “feasting.”

Who is it for?

CBE is for anyone interested in a fresh reading experience with the Bible. So far, in its first few years of availability, it has been experienced by people and churches all around the world. More than 750,000 people have read the New Testament, yielding incredible stories of how the text came alive. The evidence suggests that CBE transcends generations (junior high school through octogenarians have joined in), transcends denominations (mainline, evangelical, and Roman Catholic churches), transcends languages (The Books of the Bible, New Testament is currently available in English, Spanish, and many other foreign languages), and transcends cultures.

What has surprised you since CBE launched?

Over my 37-year career in Christian publishing, I have had the privilege of being a part of many amazing resources—book, Bibles, curriculum, etc. Never have I seen such a comprehensive, expansive, and enthusiastic embrace and response of a resource/program as we have seen with Community Bible Experience. It seems that CBE is tapping into people’s desire to understand the Scriptures deeply with an experience that is meeting their need. Reading big, reading in context, and reading in community seems so simple, but it is proving to be profound in terms of fueling a movement of renewed Bible reading.

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