Youth and the Bible in the 21st Century

By Roger Moses, Headmaster, Wellington College
Board Member, Bible Society New Zealand

It was the dynamic 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who once said memorably that “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t!”

Spurgeon, of course, spoke in an age far removed from the post-modern world of the early 21st century; a world where Christians and non-Christians alike would have been familiar with common Biblical stories and themes that had helped shape the morality and ethics which underpinned Western civilisation.  The stories of creation, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah and the Whale, the Nativity story, Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus would have all been known to the wider populace, even those with no personal commitment to the Christian faith.  Influential writers took for granted the positive influence the Bible had on the world around them.  Charles Dickens, for example, wrote that “The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.”  Abraham Lincoln, the most legendary of all American presidents, said “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this Book.”

The contemporary world of New Zealand however, presents some very different challenges for those who still believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  No longer can we take for granted that the young people we are endeavouring to reach have any knowledge of the scriptures or, indeed, the one who throughout the past two millennia has been known as the Saviour of the world.  In a very real sense, we find ourselves once again in the same circumstances as Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill.  Like Paul, we need to present the Gospel in both the language and context that is meaningful to our audience.

Young people today in New Zealand are as hungry as ever to find genuine meaning and a moral compass that gives direction to their lives.  The fundamental questions are as relevant as ever.  Who am I?  Where do I come from?  What is my purpose?  What happens when I die?  Millions of searchers throughout the centuries have found the answers to those questions in the Bible.  In the words of St Augustine, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”  The challenge for us today is how to communicate that message in a post-modern culture which assumes the relativity of truth and often marginalises historic Christianity as narrow, outmoded and largely irrelevant.  Yet despite the obvious challenges of the day, Charles Colson’s words ring true:

“The Bible-banned, burned, beloved.  More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history.  Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it, dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it.  Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons.  Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.”