James Catford has been Chief Executive of the British and Foreign Bible Society since 2002. Previously , James was Publishing Director for Hodder Headline and later HarperCollins. In his final position at HarperCollins he was responsible for biographies and autobiographies.
He is a member of the Board of Renovaré (founded by Richard Foster), is Chair of Renovaré Britain and Ireland and a trustee of InterVarsity Press (IVP).
CEV - Contemporary English Version - Poverty and Justice Bible
The Poverty and Justice Bible
Social activist Jim Wallis once told me about an unexpected encounter he had in the United States when out cycling one day. While on a retreat, he literally bumped into the leader of one of the many new courses introducing people to Christianity that have mushroomed in the last few years.
‘So, what's your introductory course to Christianity about then?' asked Jim. ‘Well, it's about the basics of the Gospel. You know, the fundamentals of our belief, that's what it's about' came the answer.
‘Oh, so you mean the basics like standing up for the poor and the marginalized in our society and around the world? The elderly, the sick, the psychologically scarred and the homeless. Is that the sort of basics you're talking about?' Jim asked his cycling companion.
‘No, no, no' came the emphatic reply. ‘No, not the poor, just the basics.'
This story still sends a shiver down my spine, even though I've told it a few times now. How could caring for the poor not be part of the basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did our Lord not tell us to care for the ‘least of these'?
In an interview with Christianity Today magazine in the US, Rick Warren has stated that there are over two thousand verses in the Bible that refer to the poor. Bashfully, he said that he'd been to Bible College, studied the Bible for many years and is the pastor of a successful church that people admire. ‘So, how did I miss it?' he asked after a visit to Africa with World Vision. Only when he was confronted with the reality of poverty did he understand for himself that our God has a heart for the poor.
Now Evangelicals in both American and Britain are waking up to poverty. It's become the cool thing to do. Perhaps it's the likes of Wallis and Warren who have shaken us, or the widely reported speech by singer Bono to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2006 which has put the issue front and centre in people's minds.
If true, this new emphasis has been a long while coming. It was back in July 1974 that the Lausanne Covenant first landed on the Evangelical world with its controversial clause five on ‘Christian social responsibility'. Inaugurated by Billy Graham, its gender exclusive language sounds politically incorrect to the reader of today, but it still packs a punch in its strident call to justice.
‘We affirm that God is both the Creator and the judge of all men' says the statement boldly. And it goes on ‘we therefore should share His concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression'. Under the measured hand of John Stott who chaired the drafting committee, the Lausanne Covenant shook the Evangelical world every bit as much as Bono did when he fixed his eye on George W Bush at the National Prayer Breakfast two years ago.
Wallis says there are over 2,000 verses on the subject of poverty in the Bible. Bono puts it at over 2,100 and Warren has the number at closer to 3,000. However you cut it, to use the words of Bono: ‘That's a lot of airtime'.
A recent publication gets over the problem that people might miss how much God cares about the question of justice in our world. The Poverty and Justice Bible is a complete paperback Bible with a difference. It highlights in orange marker pen the most obvious Scripture passages to do with the poor, the rich and the many faces of injustice. Bright, breezy and edgy, this new edition of the Bible could mark a turning point in the way the Church addresses the issues of our day. It also contains thirty pages of studies that turn interest in the subject into action in our world.
What constantly impresses me as I read the Bible is how contemporary it is. There's nothing on this earth that we can experience that the Bible doesn't deal with. And that includes poverty and justice. This understanding may be inconvenient for those who wish to marginalise Christianity to the edges of society, but the reality is that the Bible got there first.
So how will the aid and development sector respond to the Poverty and Justice Bible? World Vision, Tear Fund and Compassion have all endorsed it. But for those who don't have a Christian basis to their work, will they see it as a powerful driver of change in our world? Will it be affirmed as an ally in the fight against poverty, or dismissed as irrelevant or even harmful? We watch, pray, and act in Christ's name.
The Poverty and Justice Bible is available from good bookshops and at www.povertyandjusticebible.org
This article first appeared in the Church of England Newspaper in 2008
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