On the evening of June 21, 1866, Charles Spurgeon addressed his pastors’ college students on the necessity of reading Scripture:
[The Bible is] the Christian’s book. You may read other books and your mind may thereby be well-furnished with spiritual things, but if you keep to the Word of God, though you may be deficient in many points of a liberal education, you will not be deficient in the education that will fit you for blessed service here, for the service of skies, for communion with God on earth and communion with Christ in glory.
Like believers across the ages, Spurgeon believed that Scripture possesses its own transformative power—that the careful reader will emerge from the encounter changed.
Museum of the Bible opens its doors this year in Washington, D.C. Their hope is the same as Spurgeon’s—that visitors will come to learn about the Bible and be changed by history’s most famous and influential book. The museum was founded by the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain. We are pleased to welcome Museum of the Bible as a partner at TGC’s 2017 National Conference. Please join us in Indianapolis and view dozens of original Reformation era biblical artifacts and antiquities from the Green family's world renowned collection.
Michael McAfee serves as director of Bible engagement for Museum of the Bible. He is married to Lauren Green, daughter of the museum’s board chairman, Steve Green. I asked Michael about the aims of the museum, the unique technology driving its exhibits, and more.
What is Museum of the Bible? How and when did it come about, and what are its purposes?
In November 2017, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in the heart of Washington D.C., Museum of the Bible will open its 40-foot bronze gates to the world for the first time. This is the largest museum currently under construction anywhere in the world. It is eight stories, 430,000 square feet, and is the most technologically advanced museum in the history of the world. There will be a few major floors of artifact space, but visitors will be shocked at how engaging the experience is beyond artifacts. The impact floor above the lobby is dedicated to showing the influence of the Bible, including a flight simulator theme park ride. The narrative floor is a walk-through experience of the Bible’s story, including a recreated Nazareth, Israel. We will have a gorgeous ballroom overlooking D.C. with an unobstructed view of the Capitol, a biblical garden and restaurant on top of the museum, and a world-class theater for Broadway shows such as Amazing Grace and Les Miserables.
The purpose of Museum of the Bible is to invite all people to engage with the Bible. This book has transformed our world more than any other book, person, or event in history. The only person some could argue has changed the world more than the Bible is the One we know of because of the Bible. If you removed the Bible from history, the effect on our world would extend far beyond religion. Hospitals, universities, government, art, and business would all look drastically different. This book has been more heavily scrutinized than any other. For centuries, the Bible’s authenticity and reliability have been the subject of debates. It tells the story of stories. It’s the number one bestseller of all time. We want to share with the world the history, influence, and story of this book, from Genesis to Revelation, through 21st-century media.
You’re using unique technology to get people into the Bible. Talk a bit about that and how you hope to see God use it.
To see, read, and experience everything at Museum of the Bible, it would take nine full days. Museums can be overwhelming. My wife and I had business in Europe last summer and decided to stop in Paris for vacation. When we walked into the Louvre, we made a dash to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” After that, we felt lost. It was fun wandering around trying to find interesting things, but despite maps and helpful museum staff, we didn’t know how to best use our time. For Museum of the Bible we’re developing some incredible technology that visitors will be using to enhance their experience.
For example, using smart tablets we’re creating a one-of-a-kind interactive feature that will curate personalized tours from a list of your favorite speakers and authors. I hope when people come they will not only have their minds engaged, but their hearts as well. This digital touring technology will even track your movement throughout the museum. So if you linger in front of the Gutenberg Bible leaf longer than expected, it will recognize your interest and suggest re-routing your tour to the floor dedicated to the Bible’s history, where you will experience a working replica of the Gutenberg press.
Additionally, the museum is developing a first-class high school curriculum that teaches the Bible with augmented reality (AR) technology. Students will learn the history, influence, and narrative of the Bible through a textbook that comes to life. By holding a tablet with our Museum of the Bible AR app over it, a virtual reality world will spring to life, providing students an engaging experience in a platform they’re accustomed to using. The results from pilot classes in Israeli public schools have been phenomenal. We’ve also seen students with certain special learning needs maintain increased focus with this new platform.
This is a non-sectarian project. What’s the thinking behind making this about the Bible and not a particular denomination or theological approach to God’s Word?
Our mission is to invite those of all faiths and those of no faith to learn more about this wonderful book of books. We are focused solely on presenting the Bible. We believe this approach sets us apart and will attract every type of guest. We appreciate the diversity of support this project has received from many faith traditions. The Bible is valued by so many different people, and we want all to walk into this museum and feel like honored guests. The Bible has changed our world, and we expect millions of people to come into our doors each year. If they leave wanting to read the Bible, we will have accomplished our mission.
Because of this commitment to Scripture alone, we have had support from the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, all branches of Protestants, and many others. We partner with scholars of various faith backgrounds as well. In a time when the world has never seemed more divided, our work is to bring people together to hold up the importance of the Bible historically and to encourage all people to read the Bible today. Not only does this give us an opportunity to have conversations with various groups about the Bible, but it also gives our project undeniable legitimacy.
How has the Museum of the Bible been received so far? What types of events are planned to promote it?
As I mentioned, we’ve had incredibly diverse support, seen most clearly in the One Million Names wall campaign. Our dream is to be a beacon to the world showing that Scripture has not only changed the world in the past, but is also changing it today. When the doors open, we want to take world leaders, church groups, and skeptics to the One Million Names wall. This will display the names of the first one million people who give a gift of any amount declaring they stand with one million others who support the Bible.
We are hosting events all over the country in an effort to collect one million names. My biggest initiative this year will be working with local churches holding their own awareness Sundays. We travel to churches all over the nation to share about the project and its effect. We can also bring samples of our artifacts for people to see evidence of the Bible for themselves at no cost to the local church.
Museum exhibits have already been on tour. What opportunities have you had thus far?
We’ve had Museum of the Bible exhibits around the United States and around the world. Our domestic exhibit, “Passages,” recently had its final stop in the Los Angeles area. We’ve had international exhibits that have gone to Jerusalem, Cuba, and Vatican City. We’ve had thousands experience our exhibits. We’ve had an opportunity to share the story of the Bible with people around the world—many for the first time. We’ve heard countless stories of people who have come through our exhibit and left with a renewed passion for the Bible.
In the past few months, many churches have dedicated a Sunday to focus on the importance of the Bible. The thrill of my job is finding ways Museum of the Bible can partner with and support local churches and pastors.
How can we be praying God will use Museum of the Bible? How can people get involved?
I’d like to ask readers of TGC to pray for three things:
- Pray the museum would be inviting to all people so that they would engage with the Bible. While it’s tempting for Christians to want the museum to be evangelistic, the purpose of this museum is to present the book and find ways to help people engage with the Bible.
- Pray that people would come alongside us with financial gifts in order to demonstrate to the world that the Bible matters to them.
- Pray that the museum would inspire conversations about the Bible. You can join in on conversations happening right now about the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
There are three ways people can get involved:
- Invite me or others to come share the vision with your church. The primary reason I stepped out of full-time Christian ministry into the position of overseeing Museum of the Bible church engagement was to educate the next generation on reasons they can have confidence in the Bible.
- You can give to One Million Names.
- Share about us on social media [Facebook | Instagram | Twitter]. Share this article with your pastor. Ask him to read it and prayerfully consider supporting us. To pastors and church leaders I want say that I am for you. I don’t want to take a single tithe dollar from you or undermine the importance of your ministry in any way. We want to come alongside churches, and draw all people into deeper Bible engagement.