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Christianity in a Nutshell: Britain's '100-Minute Bible'

Article excerpt

It may be the word of God, but that hasn't spared it from regular man-made tinkering. From 15th-century printers to 20th-century modernists, every age has sought to adapt the Bible.

So now, for the era of restless consumers and fickle attention spans, a British publication distills the original into a form you could read at one sitting. Instead of 780,000 words and 1,200 chapters, there are just 20,000 words in fewer than 60 pages.

Not surprisingly, the "100-Minute Bible" is generating robust debate in Britain, where even Shakespeare is no longer immune to a culture of abbreviation.

Proponents say it is a gateway to the classic, a crash course in Christianity that will provide a useful tool to reach out to the curious, the lapsed, and the ignorant.

But opponents fulminate against such pithiness, muttering about the callous disregard for Biblical virtues such as perseverance, dedication, and deferred gratification. There is, after all, no beatitude that reads: "Blessed are the editors, for they shall make stuff shorter to read."

One contributor to a BBC discussion website grumbled: "What's next? Downloading sermons from iTunes?"

For those behind the project, such criticism misses the point. Publisher Len Budd says that he is struck by how little the average Briton knows about the Christian culture that has underpinned society for centuries. Barely 10 percent of the 40-odd million Britons who cite their faith as Christian regularly attend church. Of those who do, he says, many will have but a hazy sense of biblical chronology.

He devised the project two years ago, and enlisted the help of a retired Anglican priest and headmaster, the Rev. Michael Hinton.

The idea was to reproduce the 66 books into 50 400-word chunks, each taking about two minutes to read. The thin tome, shaped like an envelope and not much heavier than one, should take less than two hours to skip through.

"It's for the man in the street," says Budd. "If he's able to answer a pub quiz question about the Bible afterwards, then good. If he goes on to read the whole thing, even better. And if someone comes to faith as a result of it, even better still."

Mr. Hinton says he used all the modern English versions and his knowledge of ancient Greek to revise the scripture around the central figure of Christ.

"We started by doing the Gospels, and that took up half the space available," he says. "Then I went back to the Old Testament and summarized it in terms of the chronology and prophetic teachings that provided a context for Jesus. And then I did the Acts and Epistles and Revelation to show how they followed on from Jesus."

He admits the work is not exhaustive. There is no book of Ruth, nor much of a reflection on the character of St. Paul. And he says it "sacrifices poetry for clarity."

"We thought it would be good for the fringe inquirer and for active Christians who know their Bible well but don't have a picture of the whole," he says. "Then there are young people in secondary schools, and finally, we thought that it's the ideal read for plane or train. …