During Lent this year, I’m listening to the New Testament via the “You’ve Got the Time” program the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is promoting. CBF launched the program in January, hoping that at least 500 of its 1,800 affiliated churches will participate. Bo Prosser, coordinator of spiritual formation for CBF, recently told Associated Baptist Press that about 200 churches have signed up so far.
Although it’s a year-long program, CBF especially encouraged churches to promote the idea during Lent, the 40-day period of reflection or penance that many Christians observe prior to Easter. While traditional Lenten observances often include giving up something during that period, CBF leaders hoped participants would add something — about 28 minutes per day of listening to an audio Bible produced by Faith Comes By Hearing, an organization located in New Mexico that’s dedicated to improving biblical literacy around the world.
Statistics on the Faith Comes By Hearing website suggest that 65 percent of “Bible-believing Christians” have never read the entire New Testament, that 43 percent of Americans function below “basic literacy levels,” and that a survey of 500 pastors showed that 47 percent of them believed “lack of time” is a primary reason people don’t spend more time reading the Bible.
Through the program, churches can order free copies of the MP3 Bibles (including a children’s version) on compact discs, or get “Bible sticks,” small MP3 players with the New Testament pre-loaded, for a small fee. CBF also provides resources for discussion groups or other activities related to the program.
The default translation being offered is the English Standard Version, a largely literal translation that claims to carry on the tradition of the King James Version. As such, the ESV has become a particular favorite among some conservatives, especially Calvinists. Those who prefer can order different translations: Faith Comes By Hearing also has audio versions of the NRSV, NIV, KJV, and CEV — some of which feature British or Australian accents.
The main mission of Faith Comes By Hearing, though, is a missionary enterprise, recording the Bible in as many languages as possible so that more people, including those who are illiterate, can be exposed to scripture. The group’s website says it has recorded the New Testament in 412 languages, with a goal of making it 2,000 by 2016. Although the materials are provided to CBF churches at no cost, it’s clear that the project is also a fund-raiser, as participates are strongly encouraged to contribute to the Faith Comes By Hearing project.
My personal response to the recordings, I confess, is mixed. They strike me as overly dramatic, and the acting/speaking is uneven. The person who plays Jesus pronounces “fulfilled” without the first “l,” which grates a bit, since Jesus frequently announces that “the time is fulfilled.” The women’s parts, especially, come across as frail or frightened rather than strong or determined. All of the narrators are men — not surprising, but disappointing nonetheless. Why couldn’t a woman narrate one of the gospels? It’s obvious that they were among Jesus’ primary supporters.
Quibbles aside, it’s been refreshing to spend the better part of my morning commute listening to the New Testament. Along with the inspiration that comes with hearing the scriptures, there have even been a few unanticipated smiles. The narrator for John’s gospel sounds remarkably like humorist Tom Bodett of the Motel 6 commercials — a nice reminder that in the scriptures, God has left the light on for us.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.