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The Open Book (Part II)

By David Spriggs.

(This is the second part of a two part article about the Open Book project. The first half of the article appeared in the June 1999 edition of Ministry Today) Read Part I


In the light of this complex challenge, what does The Open Book have to say to the minister as preacher and how can preaching contribute to the Open Book?

Central to The Open Book is essential biblical material. There are 5 key narratives with each of which is associated one of those fundamental human themes, which sparked off the project in the first place. They are:

Creation Human Identity

Exodus Freedom

Exile/Return Justice

The Nativity Hope

Cross/Resurrection Forgiveness

One of the first opportunities for the preacher, therefore, is to introduce people to this content, that is to explore these great biblical stories, to unpack these fundamental biblical (as well as human) themes and to help people see the connections clearly. For the preacher's preparation some help was already available in the 1997 Bible Sunday materials. Much more assistance came in the 1998 materials, Open Book Resource for a Bible Sunday and other occasions, called Opening Hearts and Minds (available on request from Bible Society). Here are resources, not only for preaching but for the crafting of whole services, indeed a rich variety of services. But here also are illustrations which will give a global dimension to preaching.

The preacher has a real contribution to facing people both with the stories and biblical perspectives on the issues. As I have worked through some of the relevant biblical passages, it proved fascinating to discover that when Jesus chose to 'Open the Book' by preaching in Nazareth his sermon covered these same five themes. But what is also a challenge for any preacher is to follow the ministry of Jesus and see just how many ways he used to get his message across; I can count at least ten ways he did it, and there are probably more (see Opening Hearts and Minds pages 9-10). So, a second way the preacher can help The Open Book is by ensuring that his repertoire is as rich as Jesus'. How often do we lead people to explore the content of our sermons by facilitating public debate? If (or should I say when) you preach on Open Book materials, it would be very helpful if you could send us outlines and ideas, so that we can pass them on to others and so enrich their preaching. The Open Book is really about partnership, so please do not keep your good ideas to yourself!

The Bible Studies which I prepared to help plug the gap in people's knowledge of the five Bible stories and to help them with the transition towards their community, known as The Open Book Experience, will also provide the preacher with many ideas which can be developed into sermons on The Open Book core materials. For those with slightly more radical tendencies Reel Issues which explores the five themes as they are mirrored in contemporary films and videos will provide ample contemporary illustrations.


But as Richard Baxter was well aware, the minister's role may begin, but certainly does not end, with preaching. There is a much wider role for the minister to play in opening the Book, but there also several ways in which The Open Book can assist any minister and any church which is wanting to become more missional. For this, as we saw when considering the challenge of The Open Book to our churches, is what lies at the foundation of The Open Book's vision and methodology.

Communicating the vision of The Open Book

The vision of The Open Book is that of fostering a creative and imaginative encounter by our culture with the Bible. Behind this lives a twofold conviction. The Bible is not a private story but a public one, in the sense that it tells the story of God's relationship with everyone, 'God so loved the World'.

Secondly, as the custodians of The Bible, we in the church have to take responsibility for making this story accessible to people, so that the desired encounter can take place. Thus to share this vision is to challenge people to become involved in God's mission to those around us.

Helping the Church understand our culture

In order to help the Church understand why The Open Book is developing as it is, it is necessary to help people begin to understand more clearly how our culture works, particularly in terms of communications. In order for people see how they can make a contribution, how they can become involved in 'doing The Open Book', it is necessary to help them delve into their local culture, not merely in some theoretical way but by discovering it through practical encounter and guided reflection which leads to action. The minister can play a leading role here by example, but also as a permission giver. One way to initiate this is to make use of The Community Bible Survey. This consists of a few basic questions which enable those interviewed to express what they know about the Bible, but also how they view the Bible in relationship to other religious books. Additionally, people have the chance to say how they think the churches could do better in communicating the message of the Bible. It is useful to conduct it in different contexts and compare results, e.g. an owner occupied area and a council area or bed-sit land. Or to survey people as they collect children from school and compare that with an over 60's group. This can help the church see either what different kinds of Open Book activities will suit which group or which groups they should target because, as a church, those are the kind of skills they can provide. Present experience suggests that most Christians will become far more convinced of the need for an 'Open Book' approach when they encounter both the interest in but ignorance of the Bible through conducting this survey.

If churches are smart they will want to make use of the survey in a number of supplementary ways. For instance, why not give out a reward to those people who complete the survey e.g. an invitation to an Open Book event, or a chance to see The Jesus Video, or a Testament video story? Or, if the church is not yet ready to run its Open Book activities, at least permission could be sought to collect names and addresses so that people can be invited to The Open Book events which will come later.

Real Issues

A very important part of the cultural scene is Film. This has at least three manifestations - Large Screen cinema, home videos and TV (with on demand TV channels providing a hybrid between the last two). Many people's views and values will be significantly shaped (or mis-shaped) by the films they see. However, many films are dealing sensitively, as well as powerfully, with important fundamental human issues. So, recently The Open Book published. Reel Issues. Reel Issues, in addition to providing a useful overview of the power of cinema and how to make positive use of this in our Christian context, looks at a dozen or so films as a way of exploring The Open Book issues. Once the basic approach has been absorbed it is easily transferable to other films. So, if you need an excuse (either for your own conscience or your leaders'!) to go and see a film, here is one.

Working together - locally

Another important contribution which can be made by local churches is to work together on The Open Book. For instance, a group of churches could well decide that between them they will cover all five stories/issues in a year. This does not, of course, mean that people from each church have to be involved in every event, although such an approach is possible. Perhaps, a more effective use of our resources is for each church to be responsible for one story, and seek to communicate it using their own strengths. So one with a strong music tradition could present one of the stories this way, even writing their own musical. Another with good links into the community might generate a debate in a creative way, on another theme. A third with good technical equipment and skills could use Reel Issues, a fourth with strong links into schools could explore a remaining story in this context, whilst the final material could be presented by a church leading a campaign on a local or national concern which relates to this. If such a collaborative approach is adopted, it would still be very important for there to be cohesion in, for instance, the promotional literature, liaison with the media and press, and for mutual support and openness to each other's contribution through prayer and skills sharing where appropriate. It seems to me that such a way forward provides us with the potential for re-invigorating many a CTE group by functioning missionally rather than structurally.

Responding locally to National initiatives

Yet another way in which the minister can promote and support The Open Book is by helping the local church to implement locally what is happening nationally. A good illustration of this is the Mansfield Road Baptist Church's poster about God being able to forgive, even David Beckham, coming as it did after England's exit from the 1998 World Cup and the response from Bible Society which appeared in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail (and which was further amplified by radio and TV interviews and several newspaper 'essays' on forgiveness). This was a marvellous complement to our work, which then received its own national media coverage. More and more as we move into the public arena after AD2000, there will be opportunities to work with us like this, not because we orchestrate it, but because you and the local church are alert to the opportunities and work in partnership with us. The combination of local and national (viz. Alpha) is a powerful mechanism in our contemporary situation.


Listening: Getting real about Church Life

Hopefully, this paper will have communicated already that The Open Book takes seriously the irreplaceable contribution of local churches to the project. It cannot achieve its purposes without an ever-increasing participation by the churches. During 1998-99 it has sought, and I believe succeeded to a remarkable extent, to put into effect the hopes of The Advisory Council, which represented the churches at a national level. However, we have also been consulting widely and listening careful to the views of people who work at the local level. We have learnt that the affirmation of the vision of The Open Book, now needs to be translated into action. In order to facilitate this process, which is already beginning to gain momentum, we need to give churches more confidence they can be part of the Open Book, and a greater sense of competence so that they can implement it in appropriate ways. Next year's work with churches will therefore operate under the banner of The Church Enabling Programme.

The Church Enabling Programme

There are three main strands to this programme. First, we will be running day workshops for groups of local churches, which will be geared to service that locality's context. In other words, we shall depend on the local organising group's expertise to decide which activities are most appropriate for them. The 'menu' will include The Bible Studies, Reel Issues, Story Telling, specific events, making best use of the media, Performed Reading, the 'Ten Events' series and others as they become available.

Producing relevant, useable resources

Second, we will be producing new Open Book Resources. Among the first to appear will be the first three in the 'Ten Events' series. These are 1) For Rural contexts, 2) For churches among Asian communities and 3) For 20-40 year olds. Each set will be produced by experts in that field who are conversant with The Open Book. They will be presented more as a practical 'how to' guide, so as to assist implementation by churches. I also expect a 'Story Telling' Guide to be available within the year. If you see a gap in our product range, please let us know. If you wish to help by hosting a workshop we would be delighted to hear from you.

User Friendly products

Third, we have plans to reformat parts of the original Resource Pack in a more 'user friendly' way. We do want them to be used. Bible Society see no value whatsoever in marketing products which do not help us get the job done. Our focus therefore will be on practical outcomes. We also want their presentation style to be 'friendly'. This means there will need to be less text, more diagrams and illustrations and they will be sold at a sensible price!

The immediate future

We hope through this programme to give a real boost to the good work which is already going on. We have lots more ideas. Especially we want to find effective ways of making the local activities and expertise available country-wide. We are also turning our attention to wooing the younger generation. Our involvement with the Archbishops' Millennium Youth Event, The Time of Our Lives, was a good example of how we are making a start on this. Through it we had the opportunity to engage 5,000 young Anglicans (100 from each diocese). It will also become increasingly important that we give access to our growing expertise in the Arts, Media, Politics and Education, to the churches. For instance, a possible way to do this in the Education field, will be to encourage informed involvement by churches in the 'Values' statements that schools will be required to produce and then live by.


Imagining To-morrow - a wild dream or a Kingdom opportunity?

All of us working in The Open Book team at Bible Society are becoming steadily more convinced of two realities. The first is that The Open Book is an exciting, imaginative, stimulating and God-honouring project which can significantly help our churches engage more effectively with their communities. The second reality is that because The Open Book actually grapples with very deep, long term problems both within our churches and the wider culture, it is going to be a long process which demands endurance, commitment, faith and partnership with all God's people. I therefore invite you to consider its value and consider your involvement with us. We do need your prayers and we do need your financial support. As we begin to challenge the apathy towards the Bible we must expect, indeed we are already beginning to experience, the interference of the Enemy. Prayer is urgent. Financially, our desire is to engage our nation with the Bible without having to reduce our support to the International ministry of the Society. We can only do this if additional money flows in because people are captivated by the vision of The Open Book. Bible Society is leading the way in a battle which involves us all. This is the battle for the truth and relevance of God's word in our ever-changing world. We cannot gain the victory God wants without the full support of the churches.

The Revd Dr David Spriggs is Open Book Project Director with Bible Society. He was formerly Secretary for Prayer and Evangelism with the Evangelical Alliance.

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You are reading The Open Book (Part II) by David Spriggs, part of Issue 17 of Ministry Today, published in October 1999.

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