Bible in Age of Questioning Quest Study Group Is Listening to What Is Asked

Article excerpt

Back in the good old days of the 1960s, a few church-life experts started warning pastors to preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

Today, clergy need a Bible in one hand and a map of the information superhighway in the other. After all, people in the pews have been swamped with information and images from magazines, newsletters, CDs, videos and cable, computer and radio networks.

More than anything else, the information age teaches people to ask questions about everything they see and hear, said the Rev. Marshall Shelley, editor of a new entry in a marketplace crowded with user-friendly Bibles. This is true whether they're listening to Connie Chung or their beloved pastor, whether they're opening Newsweek or the Bible.

No one can begin to provide answers, today, until they have listened to people's questions. Thus, the team that assembled the Quest Study Bible rounded up thousands of questions about the Bible by using - this is the 1990s - surveys and "focus groups."

"A well-phrased question is a fascinating form of literature," said Shelley, editorial vice president for Christianity Today. "Just overhearing thoughtful questions is an education in itself. And so we sort of co-opted the press conference format."

The result is a rarity in an age when legions of publishers produce thousands of versions of the Bible, year after year. Most modern study Bibles focus on increasingly narrow niches of readers, from MTV viewers to grandparents, from alcoholics to workaholics. The Quest Bible's question-and-answer reference materials have dared to plow common ground.

Work began with small groups - no preachers or Bible professionals allowed - in Philadelphia, Denver and the Chicago area. Then researchers mailed out 2,000 surveys asking participants to read a small part of Scripture and then share the first questions that came into their minds.

"It was the pattern of those questions that . . . knocked my socks off," said Shelley. …