As the new president of the American Bible Society (ABS), Robert Briggs will balance the work of spurring Scriptural engagement in his own country with the ongoing efforts to complete Bible translations around the world.
A 20-year veteran of the ABS and a founding member of the steering committee of Every Tribe Every Nation, Briggs—who was announced as president this week—knows these causes well. He succeeds Bible translation veteran Roy Peterson, who came to ABS in 2014 after leading The Seed Company and Wycliffe USA.
Under his leadership, the society will launch a landmark historical center in Philadelphia designed to showcase the Bible’s role in the lives of the Founding Fathers and early American history. ABS itself exemplifies these connections, with John Jay, Francis Scott Key, and Elias Boudinot among its early leaders.
But its work is not only American. The society partners with national societies in other countries to collaborate toward global goals around speeding up Bible translation and access.
“This is deeply embedded in my heart, to be a part of, really unprecedented translation movement that is bringing God’s word in the entire globe,” he said in an interview this week with CT. “We’re watching a revolution happen right before our eyes.”
The ministry is also looking at digital packaging, social media, and new platforms to bring a revival of Bible engagement in its own country.
After President Donald Trump posed with the book in front of St. John’s Church in Washington D.C., ABS shared a statement about seeing the Bible as more than a symbol and launched a Bible giveaway
“Some of those people were getting Bibles for the first time. That’s really our emphasis—to provide the first Bible that people will actually engage with,” said Briggs. “Somebody might’ve received a Bible as a gift back when they got confirmed or had some events in their lives, but we want to provide the first Bible that people will receive at a moment in their life when they’re motivated to engage with it, consider its content, consider its message and, and live and choose to live in accordance to what they hear.”
What would you say has changed the most with how Americans understand and view the Bible over the past 50 years?
Fifty years ago, the proposition of truth, the declaration of objective truth, was recognized as a foundational lens through which we could understand God’s perspective and God’s view that could inform our lives.
Today, the confidence that there is a singular objective understanding of truth has lessened. Currently, the culture would view perspectives about the Bible is more subjective and more linked to your experience and not linked to definitive, objective truth.
What about with American Christians’ view of the Bible in the same time span?
For American Christians, there is a fresh recognition that this is a book that needs to be lived, not just known. Not that there wasn’t some sort of recognition of that in previous generations, but there was an emphasis on knowing and memorizing and expressing the content of the Bible and believing in so doing this would automatically bleed into the way your life was lived, which to some extent is true.
The emphasis now among the emerging generations is that it’s all well and good to know what the Bible says, but it’s way more important to demonstrate that you are living in a way that aligns and is consistent, at home, in church, at work, across the spans of your life.
Our country is still in the midst of a pandemic. How does this affect the time table of the opening of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center?
The pandemic has caused us to delay the opening. We were aiming for November. We had to shut down construction for several weeks. In light of that it didn’t make sense to open in the middle of winter. Our new target date is the end of April 2021.
We don’t exactly know what to expect, but we’ll be ready to open and facilitate the experience of leveraging the history of the nation, the story of the changemakers of the nation, and examining the ways that their lives have been influenced by the Bible. We’re eager to introduce that narrative here at Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, the heart of the history of the nation.
Frankly, we need to turn the volume up on that narrative. It’s not being adequately communicated and not adequately heard. We want to be able to tell the story of where the nation got it right, where the nation didn’t get it right, and how we need to correct the course on some fronts now in order to move to a more perfect union, which is the path that the founders set out on.
How does the center compare to the Museum of the Bible?
We are so enthusiastic about the Museum of the Bible. It’s so good for the cause. Their vision and their expression is way more comprehensive, and we love what the Museum of the Bible represents. It tells the whole story of the Bible’s history and its impact around the world.
The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is designed to tell a much more targeted and specific story about the influence of the Bible on the development of this nation, the influence that the Bible brought to the changemakers, who established the direction of a nation, and who altered the course of the nation as they exerted their influence. People come to Philadelphia to primarily explore history, so we’re leveraging the historical backdrop of Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Center.
What prompted American Bible society to respond to President Trump’s recent Bible photo op?
We’re always watching for opportunities to promote engagement with the Bible. We weren’t really responding to President Trump as much as we were responding to the conversation going on about the Bible.
Our message was designed signal that while the Bible can certainly be a symbol and that’s not a bad thing, the Bible is way more than a symbol. We wanted to emphasize the fact that the Bible is a message. The Bible is an expression of the heart of God and a way that we can understand God’s character and God’s plan and God’s nature. We want to just continually invite people to not only see the Bible as a symbol, but in addition to that, see the Bible as carrying the content that can change lives and can bring hope and can bring healing, healing into the very kinds of historical times that we are living in and times that require attention to issues of justice and, and addressing issues of racial injustice in particular.