Cristian Romocea is a Senior Bible Advocate and Head of IBAC at British and Foreign Bible Society. Cristian has a background in public theology and international relations.
At the end of last year, IBAC commissioned a survey among 53 Bible Societies across six continents. The results suggest that Bible advocacy continues to be a missional priority in the UBS fellowship. The majority of the Bible Societies who took part in the survey indicated that they had run a Bible advocacy initiative in the past, and whereas interest in Bible advocacy remained high, only over 20 per cent of these Bible Societies were currently running any such initiatives. However, looking at the projects and activities these Bible Societies listed under the rubric “Bible advocacy”,
it’s obvious that confusion looms over what constitutes Bible advocacy, how is it different from Bible engagement, and what shape does it take in different contexts.
It is therefore unsurprising that one of the questions I get most often asked is: what is Bible advocacy? On the IBAC website, you will read that we define Bible advocacy to mean ‘translating' the Bible into the language of culture. Part of this work includes encouraging audiences to consider the relevance of the Bible in their lives and communities by breaking down barriers, misconceptions and apathy towards the Bible. The definition reflects the Latin connotation of the term ‘advocacy’; it means ‘to speak on behalf of’ or ‘stand up for’ somebody or something. Where this something is the Bible, speaking on behalf of it may mean keeping the public square open, or ensuring the right of the Bible to be heard in that space. Thus, Bible advocacy can be defined as ‘a range of activities which shift public perceptions towards a positive view of the Bible.’
What is the difference between Bible advocacy and engagement, you might ask? Bible engagement is about encountering the living Word through interaction with the written word. Therefore the activities associated with Bible engagement relate to inviting into the narrative world of the Bible those people who think they already know the end of the story, those who don’t expect the Bible to engage them in fresh ways, those who experience the Bible as an oppressive and moralising text in which they’ll encounter anything but the truth that makes us free, or those people who approach the Bible cognitively, without engaging their emotions, senses, or imagination. A lot of this work involves working with churches, developing fresh approaches to the Bible, or generating surprising new activities that enable people to encounter Christ in the salvation narrative of the Scriptures.
Bible advocacy is not trying to keep Jesus out of the Bible, but we recognize that several public campaigns and initiatives we developed would be jeopardised if we displayed evangelistic tendencies or a particular theological 'take' or tradition. We can say that the Bible is the written word that reveals or bears witness to the living Word of God, Jesus. We can add that the world needs the Scriptures because the world needs Jesus, but we should not say we are working to bring people into a relationship with Jesus. It's not that evangelism, apologetics or theological traditions are not vitally important, it's just that this is not the main target of Bible advocacy.
Bible advocacy is about highlighting the Bible’s great cultural, moral, ethical, social and spiritual importance, but doing so by using culturally relevant techniques.
Bible advocacy speaks into issues of poverty and justice in society and creates a desire for non-Christians to engage with it as a credible source of values (human rights, dignity, etc.), but the focus remains firmly on the Bible.
We sometimes refer to Bible advocacy as ‘translating’ the Bible into the language of culture. This translation is not usually linguistic, but stylistic – it involves offering the Scriptures in a new way for a new audience. To have real and meaningful impact, this offer must meet people where they are, and engage with them in a way that is culturally relevant. This means showing up in places of strategic cultural importance, building relationships with people who influence others and facilitating open conversation about the value of the Bible. In developing this work, we take our cue from forerunners like William Wilberforce, who fought to get the slave trade abolished because he came to faith by reading the Bible; or from people like Dr Martin Luther King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who have fought for democracy, equality, justice and tolerance, inspired by the Bible; or from people like Florence Nightingale, the famous ‘lady with the lamp’ who founded the modern nursing, and was an avid Bible reader.
Understood in this way, Bible advocacy has relevance worldwide, because in each cultural context, although the methodologies and audiences will differ, there will always be barriers to the Bible, be they cultural or ideological. In every culture in which we work as Bible Societies, there are misconceptions or lack of understanding about the Bible’s contribution to governance, education, medicine, law, and so on. Bible advocacy projects can meet these challenges by educating the public through cultural projects, strategic alliances, networking with cultural gatekeepers and in this way (re)build the physical, intellectual, interpersonal and spiritual capital for the Bible in culture.
At IBAC, we exist to advocate for the place of the Bible in the public square and to support and inspire others to do the same. We work with like-minded individuals and organisations involved in Bible advocacy around the world; sharing different approaches, best practices and research.
This focus on collaboration enables us to learn from the experiences of those in different contexts, to encourage each other and to grow our impact.
IBAC is an initiative of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and we work particularly with the United Bible Societies Fellowship, offering funding and consultancy to partner organisations as well as managing some projects directly. Thanks for checking out our blogs, online resources and news regularly and for registering online to access our catalogue of relevant projects and resources.
Although IBAC exists to foster conversations on Bible advocacy-related issues, the views or opinions represented in this blog are solely those of the author