At the age of 10 I read E. L. Konigsburg beloved novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a story in which two young siblings run away from home and hide away for several days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Ever since, I’ve wondered what museum I’d choose to live in if I were to embark on such an adventure. Now that I’m too old and risk-adverse to try it, I’ve finally found my answer: the Museum of the Bible.
The Museum of a the Bible (MOTB) is a new 430,000-square-foot museum located near the National Mall and the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. that officially opened to the public yesterday. Even if, like the kids in Konigsburg’s novel, you could hide out in the museum for days you still wouldn’t be able to see everything it has to offer; the museum’s curators estimate it’d take nine days to explore every exhibit and artifact. But even if you only have a few hours to spare, here are four reasons why the MOTB is worth your time.
1. The MOTB sets a new standard for evangelical cultural engagement.
There are two types of evangelicals in America: those who embrace the kitschy and cheesy artifacts of Christian culture—WWJD? bracelets, Testamints, prayer of Jabez scented candles—and those who smugly look down on those who enjoy such kitsch.
I’ve always been ashamed about being the second type—an evangelical who is embarrassed by his own religious culture (like a good Pharisee, I’ve been thankful that I’m not like those people). But buried beneath my sinful pride is a genuine yearning for Christians to be the preeminent champions of beauty and excellence. Too often in our past we’ve displayed a disregard for aesthetic quality, forgetting that truth and beauty are closely connected.
The MOTB is a refreshing shift in the right direction. Not only does this new museum hold its own against its nearby neighbors, like the Smithsonian and Hirshhorn, it sets a new standard in museum technology. As The Washington Post’s art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott says, “Every resource of museum design and careful argumentation has been mustered to sweep up these unrelated ideas [that the Bible is enormously influential and that the stories it tells are fundamentally true] in one, big, overwhelming package.”
“It tells this seductive story well, in many places with factual accuracy, and always with an eye to clarity and entertainment,” Kennicott adds. “It is an exciting idea, and an enormously powerful tool for making sense of the world. Unless, of course, you don’t believe it.”
2. The MOTB has something for (almost) everyone.
Kennicott is right that atheists and adherents of the world’s non-Judeo-Christian religions will have some objections to the MOTB’s “master narrative.” But even they are likely to be impressed with the story of how the Bible has changed the world.
Mahatma Gandhi once lamented, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.” The MOTB has numerous exhibits that show exactly how our “battle-torn planet” was changed when Christians (and Jews) treated the Bible as more than literature.
But it also has areas that will be of primary interest to believers. For example, there is a large exhibit that reproduces the village of Nazareth and shows what it would have been like to live there during the time of Jesus. There are also two theaters, one each for the Old and New Testaments, which show high-quality animations explaining how the content of the Bible was collected.
There’s also a children’s area, a theater (currently showing the musical Amazing Grace), a cafeteria serving biblical (and American) foods, and much more. (Click here to take a virtual tour.)
3. The MOTB is a worthwhile cultural artifact.
Had the MOTB been nothing more than an exhibit hall for its nearly 4,000 Bible-related objects, it would have been enough to make it a world-class museum. But in its presentation of the world’s most important cultural artifact—the Bible—the MOTB is an amazing cultural artifact in its own right.
The museum combines technology and design in a way that helps to illuminate its impressive collection. For example, a small exhibit shows which languages the Bible has been translated into already and which languages still need a native translation of Scripture. Information that could be conveyed in an infographic is given more weight by being presented in a floor-to-ceiling, color-coded display containing the actual translations and the ones still in process. It’s a simple, ingenious way of showing how much work we still have to do to share the Word of God with all nations (Matt. 28:18-19).
4. The MOTB will give Christians a deeper appreciation for the Bible as a technological and cultural artifact.
We evangelicals consider ourselves to be “people of the book,” yet we frequently take the book itself—as a book—for granted. Many of us have numerous types of Bibles (study Bibles, reader’s Bibles, children’s Bibles, etc.) in our homes and even carry Scripture on our smartphones. Because of this easy access we overlook the technological achievements required to preserve God’s Word throughout the ages, and how much effort people went through to read, learn, publish, and own Bibles.
The MOTB provides reminders of how much work was sometimes required (such as the pre-Braille Bible for the sight-impaired) and even of how much effort went into obscuring God’s teachings (for example, a Bible printed for American slaves that cut out the book of Exodus and other freedom-promoting passages).
The production of the Bible was the greatest, most ambitious joint project ever carried out between God and his creatures. So it’s surprising that it has taken thousands of years for a world-class museum to be dedicated to this most important of cultural artifacts. But now we have one, and it was worth the wait. MOTB captures the rich and glorious history of the Bible in a way that may not have been possible for a museum to do before now.
Although it’s only been open for one day, the Museum of the Bible has already been criticized both for being too evangelistic and for not focusing enough on Jesus. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings and flaws, though, we should be thankful we now have in our nation’s capital a magnificent new museum that can help us better appreciate God’s holy book.