If the Bible seems complicated to you, you’re in good company, and this conversation with Steve Green will help. In his new book, This Beautiful Book, Green lays out with clarity and simplicity, the big storyline of the Bible. Join us for this discussion of “this beautiful book.”
More About Our Guest
Steve Green is president of Hobby Lobby and co-founder of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: I'm your cohost, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here with our guest today, Steve Green, who may be best known to many of you as President of Hobby Lobby and the co founder of the Museum of the Bible. But the reason we're having him on today is because of his new book entitled, This Beautiful Book: An Exploration of the Bible's Incredible Storyline and Why it Matters Today. So Steve, welcome. Really glad to have you with us.
Steve Green: You bet. I appreciate you having me on.
Scott Rae: Tell us, first of all, what motivated you to write this book on the Bible and you've gotten sort of unique style in this where you're retelling a lot of the major stories of the Bible. Tell us a little bit about why you chose to write it in the way that you did.
Steve Green: Well, I was giving a tour in the museum and we, we look at the Bible in three ways. The Bible Museum, it's history, it's impact and it's narrative. And I had made the comment that on the narrative floor, our effort, our goal is for a person to have a basic understanding of the story of the Bible. Really for the person that doesn't know the Bible story at all. And a prominent pastor made a comment that that's where some scholars may give you some flack, trying to point out that it is a story. And I just have to kind of scratch my head thinking, "They have read this book, haven't they?" And yet there are those that will argue that it's not; that it's just a mishmash of stories, but when you take an honest assessment of the book, it tells a story.
And so what I wanted to do was, really tell the Bible story and highlight how it all comes together to tell one large meta-narrative story that, if it is true, as I believe it is, then it indicates that we're still right in the middle of that story, which is an intriguing thought in itself. But the point is to show that it is a story, and what is that story?
Sean McDowell: So let me see if you can summarize this in a sentence or two, because I love the subtitle of this, "An Exploration of the Bible's Incredible Storyline." So, what is that? For people who may not be familiar with the Bible, how would you summarize that in a sentence?
Steve Green: Yeah, the short of it, is a story of a good creator God that created all things and it was good. But because of man's disobedience, the relationship was lost and he had to send his son to pay the price that that relationship could be restored if we accept it. That's the story of the Bible.
Sean McDowell: All right, so it goes from creation being good, fall, fouling it up, redemption being the story of the restoration of that than what it could be. And then consummation when it all comes together at the end, when the Lord returns.
Steve Green: Exactly, and ultimately when this life is all over, there's a great reunion for those that have accepted that free gift that's been given.
Sean McDowell: So what do you say to people who maybe may question you, why you put so much effort in so much funding into the Museum of the Bible. We have a, I think an incredible level of biblical illiteracy today and indifference to the Bible today. The second half of that subtitle, the, "Why it Matters," part, what would you tell people if they question you about why the Bible matters today and why have you put all this effort into communicating the stuff about the Bible?
Steve Green: Well, this book has had an impact on my life in multiple ways. It has informed our family. I grew up in a Christian home, regularly went to church and in our business. Our very first statement is, "We want to operate our business according to biblical principles." And I've been blessed to be in a nation that our founders look to the Bible to build many of the principles our nation has been built on. They got those from the Bible. That the concept that all men are created equal is a biblical concept. And that's where they got it. And so I've been blessed, multiple times and multiple ways from the nation to our business and our family. None of them are perfect. And yet they have been blessed though, as we have followed the principles and guidelines that have been given in the Bible. And so it is our desire that all people would consider this book. The purpose of the museum that we built is to invite all people to engage with this book. And hopefully as they look into it and learn of it, they will be inspired to get to know it even better and ultimately get to know the author of the book and his son that he sent, that we might have life; Jesus. So it has been such an impact on our lives, on my life. We want to encourage others to consider it.
Sean McDowell: Steve, I work with high school students and a lot of college students, the next generation it seems there's more illiteracy, confusion and just skepticism about the Bible with young people today. And that's across generations as well. What do you say to people who just don't understand it or even more importantly are just skeptical about its importance and why it's even possibly true?
Steve Green: Well, at first I would say I understand. It is a challenging read. There's challenging parts of it, so if somebody were to just try to read through it, they can get to some pretty challenging parts right off the bat. And then, we live in a skeptical world. There are many out there that would try to discredit the Bible that would try to say it says something different than what it says. And so there's a lot of questions out there and we don't teach it in our schools as we once did. Therefore, we are probably more ignorant of this book than we've ever been as a nation. So I get it and I understand, and that's why I've felt like it would be of value to say, "Well, let's set all that aside for a moment. Let's just first of all understand, what is this book's story and what is it saying?" And then it's a great starting point for a person versus hearing a lot of the chatter and the stuff that goes on out there. And that's what I was wanting to do with the book.
Sean McDowell: Well, that makes a lot of sense because I work with high school students and so many students understand the story of Samson, David, Jesus, but they have no idea how the big picture kind of fits together. For somebody who's just starting, where would you suggest they begin in reading the Bible? Do they start with Genesis and work the way through? Start with the Gospels? If you had someone who just didn't know much about the scriptures, where would you say, "You know what, here's a good place to start"?
Steve Green: Yeah, I think that there potentially is different answers for different people, but I would think that getting a good foundation in Genesis and Exodus and understanding the challenging challenges that the Bible explains much of the struggles that we face in life, and then maybe jump to a Book of John or one of the Gospels, to see some of the culmination, but there's a lot of good stuff in between as well, but that might be a good place for somebody to start.
Scott Rae: Steve, I love the challenge that you issue to those people who are confused or skeptical about the Bible and why it matters. And that is just simply, to read it. I mean, Sean and I both come across lots of people who are critical of the Bible and we are stunned to find out how many of those critics have never read the Bible, not to mention all the way through, but are really minimally exposed to a lot of the Bible. And so I think that challenge that is throughout your book, may be one of the most impactful things that you say throughout the book. I take it you've had several critics of your work on the Bible and on the museum, that have never read the book seriously for themselves.
Steve Green: Well, and even scholars. There was a scholar in an interview that made the comment, to make the New Testament seem as if it's a continuation of the Old Testament is a Christian view of the Bible. And it just makes me think, "Well, it is a Christian view of the Bible. It should be an honest atheist view of the Bible because it is a biblical view of the Bible." The Bible itself is saying, when Jesus in the New Testament says, he, "Came to fulfill all [inaudible] the prophets." He's tying it all together and when you have prophecies in the Old Testament that are clearly pointing to Jesus, an honest assessment of this book is that it is telling a continuous story. So yes, there are those that will scoff and say, "Well, that's just my perspective. It's a Christian perspective." But I would argue, "No, it's an honest perspective of the Bible. If we just let it speak for itself."
Sean McDowell: One of my favorite floors at the Museum of the Bible, I got to visit with my son about a year and a half ago, was the floor that just shows how wildly influential the Bible has been in literature, in history and art and so on. And I'm curious if you could explain some of that to a skeptic who goes, "Well, I don't believe in miracles. I don't believe the Bible is true." How would you make the case that somebody should still take the Bible seriously even if they begin with an assumption that God doesn't exist, miracles don't happen and they don't buy the Christian story?
Steve Green: Yeah. Well, the Narrative Floor, as I said is where we just are trying to tell the story of the Bible for the person that doesn't know any of the Bible story. And then the history and the Impact Floor really are addressing two questions. One is, is this book true? And there are those that argue it's not. It's a fable, made up. And then there are those that argue it's been the scourge of the earth created all the wars and so forth. And the impact floor is to address that. Has this book been good for society or not? And when you give it an honest assessment, it has had an impact in every area of life. And it has been good for mankind in every area. Yes, there have been those that have taken God's word and used. It for their own selfish ill intent, but my argument is not to blame the Bible for man's misuse of it.
When we follow the principles of this book as designed that it's been good for mankind in every area, and that's what we're trying to show in the Impact Floor, is that it has been a force for good in our world.
Scott Rae: Yeah, some of the critics I think don't often make the distinction between what the Bible teaches and sometimes our inability to live up to the Bible's ideals and sometimes they blame our inability to live up to those ideals as a criticism of the ideals. And so I think, that's a helpful distinction to make when it comes to the impact of the Bible. Really interesting. [crosstalk] Go ahead.
Steve Green: And really only reaffirms, what the Bible teaches and that is that, we are all fallen, we are all imperfect, and therefore it would be expected that we're going to make mistakes and mess up. And even once we've accepted Christ, we still are imperfect people that make mistakes and it just shows that the Bible has that right as well.
Scott Rae: You have a really interesting section in the book on the Bible's significance. Something that I was not familiar with. It was the list of the top 100 events of the last thousand years. Tell us a little bit about that list and what sits at the top of the list?
Steve Green: Yeah. Life Magazine in the year 2000, at the millennium came out with this publication, "The 100 most important events of the millennium," for the last thousand years and things like Columbus, discovering America, Germ Theory, Hitler coming to power. So it was not necessarily good; it was good or bad, which makes me think the term, "Important," probably wasn't right. I think that, "Impactful," would have been a better term because I wouldn't argue that Hitler coming to power was important, but it impacted our world. But number one on that list was, "Gutenberg prints the Bible." And I think it's important to note, it wasn't the Gutenberg press, it was, "Gutenberg the Bible." That changed our world. And I suspect that most people would not think of Gutenberg printing the Bible being such an impact in our world. And yet it has had an impact and impacted our world in as Life Magazine, the most important event of a millennial.
So if it's had such an impact on our world, I think that it's important that people know it. Why, did it have such an impact? Was that impact for good or for ill? And is it something that we should continue to look to, to have an impact on our world or reject, like Hitler coming to power? So I think there's great value in understanding its impact and being curious as to find out why.
Sean McDowell: I think just from a historical and cultural perspective, I think so many people fail to just understand the reach that the Bible's had. And that's what I appreciate about the museum so much. Even though I've grown up in Christian circles and been trained [inaudible] and Theology, I was stunned at how deep and far and wide the Bible's influence is. But let me ask you a personal question about that. For me, my favorite stories in the Bible are David and Goliath, and then when Jesus stands before Pilot and Pilot says, "I have a choice over your life or death," and Jesus looks at him battered and bruised and says, "You have no power over me." I love those two instances in the Bible. Do you have a favorite book or story that just speaks to you personally from the scripture?
Steve Green: Oh, there's different ones at different times. One that, especially as I've been writing this particular book, that's trying to show that it is a story is this interesting encounter that Jesus has on the day of his resurrection. He comes upon a couple of people walking on a road their heading to [inaudible] and asks them, "What are you guys talking about?" And they're kind of dumbfounded. "Don't you know what just happened is that this person that we thought was the Messiah was crucified," and it says that Jesus goes on to tell them how that through all of the law and the prophets about him and how he had to do that to fulfill what was predicted of him. And you just are left thinking, "Oh, if we could only have sat there and heard Jesus explain through all of the law and the prophets how that it all pointed to him." And as we read the Old Testament with that eye saying, "Where and how is this pointing to Jesus?" And the first one, you could go back to Genesis Chapter Three, where this prophecy is pointing to Jesus and what he was going to do on the cross. And just over and over again, it just is an intriguing thought that these two guys got to hear Jesus himself pointing all of that out. And oh, to have been a fly on the wall to hear that conversation.
Scott Rae: You know, Steve, I suspect many of our listeners have not been to the Museum of the Bible. Shame on them for not. And they may not even be familiar with it. So tell us a little bit about the museum. Why was this such a burden for you to be one of the co founders and what do you hope that it actually accomplishes, say, 10 years from now?
Steve Green: Well, it was originally a group that wanted to put in a museum in Dallas and asked for our help and said that we would consider that. And then we started collecting in 2009, during a time when the economy was struggling and some opportunities presented themselves. And as our collection grew, the family just felt the sense of responsibility that maybe we needed to make sure that this dream became a reality? We were having a collection that was growing from a single item that was bought at a auction to a collector that had collected for 30 years and had roughly 10,000 items in his collection. And so as the collection grew, we just said we needed make sure it happened. It was not a foreign concept. My brother that had started a Christian bookstore, had mentioned throughout the years the idea of putting in a Bible museum, so it was not foreign and it was like we just saw God's hand in it, time and time again that he was directing and showing us the way and it was an exciting venture or us and a lot to learn, mistakes made and having to adjust.
But it has just been really an exciting journey that we saw God's hand in it from time to time again and continue to see God using the museum and excited about all that it can be. We're, brand new, we're rookies at it, but a lot for us to learn, but a lot of good things going on there with the museum.
Sean McDowell: One of the things that really surprised me in a good way is just walking through the museum, how much it took to put this together from marketing to architecture to getting the different archeological finds that are there. I mean, what a task it was. From beginning to now, I'm curious, what surprised you most in being a part of putting this museum together? And that could be anything. It could be good, it could be a challenge, what was something that you got through it and just thought, "Man, I did not anticipate this in building a museum." And how did you guys respond to it?
Steve Green: I think that, one of the questions we had early on is, "If we build it, will they come? Is there an interest in a museum?" And we engaged a gentleman to do a survey and ask a hundred questions of a thousand people across the country, and the primary one was, "If we build it with the come?" And he made the comment, it was overwhelmingly positive. It was over 80% had a positive view of a Bible museum. And so, I don't know that I was expecting that. And he made the comment that, "You have a winning concept on your hand." And I remember thinking, "That is great. Restaurants are a winning concept, but they go out of business all day long." So it's not that you have a winning concept, you still have to do it well and do it right. And so we engaged some of the leading design firms around the country to help us make sure that we told this story in an engaging way.
They built presidential libraries to work with Disney and each were kind of given a specific portion of the museum and a task to take that and make it the best it can be. And they did a great job. And the other thing that comes to mind was just the response we had in DC which, I was a bit concerned how, how's DC going to respond to a Bible museum? But at one point, one of our advisors made a comment that they had never seen a project go through all the committee approvals with a hundred percent approval, and ours had. So that was a surprise to us as well. But we just believed God was going before us and we saw his hand in a time and time again. And that being an example.
Scott Rae: Well after all, given how the Bible impacted the founding fathers, that would be sort of odd to have people in Washington DC give you grief about a museum of the Bible.
Steve Green: I was going to say, there's been times that we've been somewhat criticized because we put it in DC, as if all we're there for is to influence Congress. And of course I'm thinking, "Who's not in DC to try to influence Congress? And what would be wrong if that was part of our motivation?" We do hope that Congress comes in and understands the influence this book has had on our nation. But it was selected because, of the three cities we were looking at, it showed that is where it would be best attended because it's just the hub of museums in our nation. And it just made sense that we would be in DC because we want to be where museum goers are going. And that's DC.
Scott Rae: So Steve, tell us a little bit more about how your work with the museum has impacted your own faith and particularly your appreciation of the Bible.
Steve Green: Well, I grew up with an appreciation, but it was not at a scholarly level. I was a layman. I am a layman, I attend church, but I've never had any biblical training. But this venture, this journey has allowed me to rub shoulders with some of the leading scholars in the world. And as though the more I have learned some of the challenges and some of the depth of what we have; the archeological evidence, the manuscript evidence, it has really given me a greater appreciation for this book and how incredible of a book that we have.
The evidence is overwhelming, there are those that have set out to prove scripture wrong, that, when they are willing to go where the evidence leads it causes them to say, "For me not to believe this, takes greater faith and to believe it." And so, the more I've learned, the more I've studied, the deeper my faith has been and the greater appreciation I have had for this book. And so the journey has been a learning experience for me that has been a great value for me and my family.
Sean McDowell: In my life. One of the reasons I have such respect and love for the authority of scripture is just parents who believed it, lived it. My father has been a [inaudible] and he would write books and defend it. And would read it and just model and live it in their life. I'm curious, what are the things in your life that has given you just a love and respect for the scriptures?
Steve Green: Well, I would point back to your dad's book as well. I remember I was in high school and getting a copy and reading it and it deepening my faith. Of course, raised in a Christian home, so there was that foundation going to church. We would go to youth camps regularly and I remember those being strengthening times for my faith as well as conferences that, after I got married we would go to, and those are times where you, you set aside some time alone that you kind of are turning the world off and you're just focusing on God for a concentrated period of time. I have found those to be important times in my life. And so there's a lot of factors. My own personal reading and scripture is, as I'm hearing from God, I teach a Sunday school lesson, rotate with a couple of others, and those are opportunities for me to go deep in sections, and learn and hear from God. So there's many disciplines like that, that have informed my life.
Scott Rae: Steve, I think for many of our listeners, especially who have not been exposed to your book yet, you may be best known for being President of Hobby Lobby. And you mentioned a few minutes ago that you, early on in your business devoted yourself to running the business according to biblical principles and you've seen how that's functioned in your business. But it would be interesting just to hear you say a little bit more about how you see the business of Hobby Lobby connecting with your Christian faith?
Steve Green: I think that it starts with that first statement of purpose is that, "We operate our business, we strive to operate our business according to biblical principles." And then I go back to a lesson that Dad taught us years ago and he still teaches today, he's still active in the business, is that, in 1986 he had a family meeting and sat us down and told us he did not know how the company would survive. Because '85 was the one year in our history where we lost money. And so '86 was a very tough year. Our profits were typically all made in the fourth quarter at that time. And we were facing some slow months. And Dad got to a point where he didn't see that he'd be able to pay the bills. So he spent a lot of time crying out to God during those months of 1986 and the year wound up being almost double the best profit year we had ever had.
And Dad will say to this day that, a clear lesson to him is that this is not our business. And he was crying out to God to intervene. We believe he did. And the lesson is that: this is his business. We are only stewards of it and we are called to operate it according to the principles that he's given to us. And that was very formative. And this idea, this concept that God owns it, we're just stewards of it was and is foundational to how we strive to operate the business.
Scott Rae: I've thought I thought a bit about this just as, as we've been thinking about the chance to have a conversation with you. I remember when my kids were young, the number of projects that we got involved with that began with a purchase at Hobby Lobby and there was an enormous amount of relational capital that I built up with my kids when they were young, that began with a trip to Hobby Lobby to get a project that we were going to work on together. And I thought about how many hundreds of thousands if not millions of conversations and connections between parents and kids started with a dad and a son or a mother and a daughter who walked into a Hobby Lobby together to buy something that, we might think, doesn't have a lot of lasting value, but it was the beginning of maybe some really impactful conversations and relationship building that occurred between parents and kids.
And it just struck me that, that's a really significant part of the ministry of Hobby Lobby and the kingdom service that the very business itself, yeah, how you run it matters too, but the very stuff you were selling actually has the potential to have that kind of relational capital built up between parents and kids. Did you ever think about what the ministry of Hobby Lobby could be in basically the products that you sold?
Steve Green: I don't know that that was some of the thoughts going into the business, but kind of in hindsight, you think of some of those ramifications. We just happened to be in a business that is unique. You talk about having left brain, right brain, the creative mind and the more the orderly mind and we're catering to the creative mind and there are many out there that are creative, and God made us a creative being. He is a creator God. And in the Old Testament, he called upon the artisans that were skilled in their art to help build the temple and tabernacle. So God celebrates the creative mind and it is, as you mentioned, a great opportunity for family development and development of the being that God has created, especially those that are creative. I don't claim to be very creative myself, but again, some of that is not necessarily the thoughts when you're first going into it. It's a business and it's a way to make a profit, but kind of in hindsight, you think of that and you see how that God was in it the whole time.
Sean McDowell: Steve, I have a final question for you that I hope is okay. You obviously know as well as anybody that we live in a time when there's a lot of discussion, even concern amongst Christians about religious liberty. And we were rooting for and thrilled about the Supreme Court case that came down in the past two or three years in favor of Hobby Lobby. Moving forward, do you have any concerns further that are looming or how do you process just kind of the moment we live in culturally, and your rights to operate a business according to principles that it was founded on?
Steve Green: I think that during that time, everywhere we went, we had different engagements at different places. We had people over the country that said that they were praying for us. And so we owe a debt of gratitude to people all over our nation that was praying for our case. And we appreciate that. And when we had the win, the Supreme Court, it really was, you had this sense of gratitude for the nation and our founders and the religious freedoms that they enshrined in out Constitution. But I also think of the movie of Amazing Grace. It's a movie about William Wilberforce and his fight to end slavery in Europe. And it kind of ends with his great celebration because a Bill was passed and it was like, "And they lived happily ever after."
But the problem is there, there's never on this Earth, a living happily ever after. We are always going to have to fight our enemy. Those that would try to fight against God in his kingdom. And there has always been and always will be a need for a William Wilberforce. So while, while we won; the fight's not over there. There are still battles out there. And sometimes I have been surprised; I thought our case settled some of that issue, but that battle still goes on and we have to be vigilant in standing for truth as one of our founders made a comment, I'm paraphrasing, that, "The only thing for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing." And so good men have to constantly be in the fight fighting for good.
Scott Rae: Steve, we want to say a special thanks for being with us. It's been a rich conversation during our time, and I want to commend to our listeners not only your new book called, This Beautiful Book: An Exploration of the Bible's Incredible Storyline and Why it Matters Today, but also if our listeners are not familiar with the Museum of the Bible, to go online and to visit in person whenever possible. It's a wonderful place and you've just done a wonderful thing by providing that, not only for the Christian community, but for the culture at large. So we're very grateful for your being on with us today. [crosstalk 00:00:33:29].
Steve Green: Thank you both for having me.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Steve Green and his book entitled, This Beautiful Book: An Exploration of the Bible's Incredible Story Line and Why It Matters Today. And to find more episodes of our podcast, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically that's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and be sure to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember: think biblically about everything.