Do you see the Bible as intolerant, outdated, out of step with societal norms at best, and a tool of oppression at worst? What if you cleared the deck on your preconceptions of this book and encountered it anew? What if you came with the understanding that your questions are welcome? And what if you approached the Bible as less of a system to figure out and more of a story to step into; a story with more surprising plot twists than you might think?
Bible Gateway interviewed Michael McAfee (@MichaelMcAfee) and Lauren McAfee (@LaurenAMcAfee) about their book, Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need (Zondervan, 2019).
What is the message you’re conveying with the main title of the book?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: The Bible is the most significant book in history, yet because Bible illiteracy is on the rise, many may not know its message. While the Bible is the most read, printed, and debated book of all time, many in our (millennial) generation have never engaged with the text of Scripture. We hope our book provides a conversational invitation inviting our generation to give the Bible a chance.
You write as millennials to millennials about the Bible. Why is that unique and important?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: We’ve heard many voices who’ve expressed their dismay over our generation and we understand their concerns. Research shows that millennials are the least Bible engaged generation in our country, and Gen Z is showing signs they’ll be even less Bible engaged. Yet we wanted to speak as millennials—to our own generation—because we understanding the experiences that have shaped our generation and caused some of these trends. We hope readers will see the empathetic tone, as we’re fellow journeyers wanting to conversationally provide thought-provoking points to encourage reading the Bible.
What are the similarities and differences of how millennials and generation Z respond to the Bible?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: What we see in terms of a lack of Bible engagement among millennials (generally those age 20-35) is only amplified with Gen Z (generally those age 2-19). While millennials had been the least Bible engaged generation living today, the recent research coming out on Gen Z shows even lower numbers. Full reports on Gen Z will continue to change as their generation ages into young adulthood, but the early signs are showing a continual drop in Bible literacy.
What are the biggest concerns and questions about the Bible for today’s generations?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: Many of the points brought up to build a case against the Bible were centered around two categories. We found that many millennials don’t engage in the Bible because of relational experiences and cultural conflict.
In terms of relational experiences: some oppose the Bible and anything surrounded with church or religion because of hurtful or hypocritical interactions with people who claim to hold to its teachings.
For those who site cultural conflict: they see the Bible as irrelevant and outdated, citing that the Bible seems to be oppressive to women, supportive of slavery, and unable to be reconciled with modern living.
The Bible’s message of Truth is at odds with the current post-truth culture. Talk about the dichotomy between the Bible and culture and how it affects the modern reader?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: Our culture has been secularizing for decades. We’re now at the point where a theistic religion is not just amusing, but dangerous. In particular, a theistic religion that claims exclusive truth is not only narrow, but extreme. Millennials have a problem with all truth, not just the Bible. We have an issue with all authority, not just the church. But there’s a specific obstacle to Christianity because not only do we live in a post-truth culture, but Christians have not always stood by the truth we now defend.
If we as Christians are going to engage the next generation, we must own our own sin and the sin of our forefathers on matters of justice which the church has for far too long been silent on.
Why have you devoted an entire chapter to the discipline of reading?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: It may surprise some, but according to Pew Research Center data, millennials read more than any other demographic. We both love to read and were grateful to find that many in our generation do as well. Not all books are of equal value though, and we spend a chapter considering how to approach the content we each consume. With the rise of the internet, social media, smartphones, and ebooks, we can be saturated with content, and it takes a level of discernment to recognize what amount of weight we give to a particular source.
What do you mean when you write, “The Bible is a multifaceted jewel which reveals a message that is equally divine revelation, life manual, and love letter”?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: When we say, “The Bible is multifaceted,” we mean it has complexity to it. The majority of non-Bible readers view the Bible as a rule book. It’s no wonder they don’t read it; who would want to read an ethics book?! (Ahem)
We want to expand people’s understanding of what the Bible is, not by denying that there are commands in the Bible, but showing the Bible is more than a book of morality. It’s more than a love letter from God. It’s more than Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE).
It is, in one sense, all of these things, and it’s much more. Namely, a declaration of good news that God has made a way in Christ for sinful man to be reconciled to him. And a promise that this spiritual resurrection would be accompanied by the filling of the Holy Spirit for all who believe by faith. There’s nothing in the world like the Bible!
How should reading the Bible be like spending time with a friend?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: The story of the Bible is about a relationship. It’s about people, and points to one person: Jesus. It invites us into a relationship with God, through Jesus. Reading the Bible provides guidance in that relationship with God and enables us to deepen our relationship with him. Just like we have to spend time with friends to get to know them on a deeper level, we spend time in the Bible to deepen our relationship with God.
How can a person help someone who is resistant to the Bible?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: It’s helpful to understand where the resistance is coming from. When we take time to understand where people are coming from, we’re able to empathize and better meet them where they’re at. We hope that through our book, we’ll give insight into some of those particular experiences and thoughts that’re causing our generation to be resistant, and can provide a helpful perspective on approaching the conversation.
What simple pattern of Bible reading do you offer in the book to help a person get started?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: The Bible is a book about God. And it culminates with God becoming man and dying on a Roman cross, then raising from the dead and ascending to heaven. While this account doesn’t happen until about three-quarters of the way through the Bible, we recommend you begin with getting to know this Jesus first! Sit down with your Bible and PRAY:
- PRAISE God for who He is and what He’s done
- REPENT of the wrong you have done and the good you have left undone
- ASK God for the Holy Spirit to guide you, and
- YIELD to God’s plans and purpose for your life.
Then, read the Bible! First, to understand what was said to the original readers, then to apply the principle to our modern context. Remember: it’s primarily about Jesus, so read it through that lens.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Lauren McAfee: One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:8 (NIV) which states “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it makes some pretty bold statements! This claim of the Bible’s eternal significance is a beautiful reminder of the Scripture’s value.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: We both love the Bible Gateway tools! We’ve found that engaging with the Bible has become easier than ever before, simply because of the wonderful tools available to aid in access, and understanding. And Bible Gateway is one of those helpful tools!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Michael and Lauren McAfee: Yes! While we wrote Not What You Think to Bible dis-engaged millennials, this book is in many ways for pastors and parents. One of the obstacles the speed of cultural change has presented to the church is a need for translation between generations. Our hope is that this would be a resource for pastors and parents to better understand the concerns and objections of young adults and to provide a blueprint for how to engage them.
Not What You Think is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: As the Director of Bible Engagement for Museum of the Bible, Michael McAfee forges strategic partnerships with faith leaders and nonprofits, speaks to audiences around the country, and leads a team of marketing specialists to support the museum’s mission. After completing his MDiv at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Michael is now a PhD student under Dr. Russell Moore. Michael is married to his Sunday school sweetheart, Lauren, who together wrote Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need, and they live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Lauren Green McAfee is a speaker, writer, and coffee enthusiast with a heart to engage others in the Bible. While pursuing her graduate degrees in pastoral counseling and theology, Lauren worked for her father Steve Green as he founded Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Today Lauren, whose books include Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need and Only One Life: How a Woman’s Every Day Shapes an Eternal Legacy, works at the Hobby Lobby corporate office, and is pursuing a PhD in Ethics and Public Policy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lauren and her husband Michael live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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