Good News for the World

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The story of the Bible Society

This is a well written, popular account, by Roger Steer, of the first 200 years of “making the Bible heard”. Written as a series of what he calls “Acts”, the book is an attempt to encapsulate, in story form and bite-sized chunks, the remarkable history of Bible distribution.

The walk of Mary Jones, recently re-enacted to celebrate the Bible Society’s bicentenary, remains evocative. Mary was a weaver who, in 1799, walked 25 miles from her home in Llanfihangel to buy her Bible in Welsh, with money she had saved. This is the book’s starting-point.

It is a moving and remarkable story, and it typifies many of the subsequent accounts in Steer’s book as he takes the reader from the formation of the Bible Society, its association with the Clapham Sect and other Evangelical reformers of the 19th century, through to the international societies of today.

The pace of the book is almost breath-taking; and its scope is wide. There is hardly a figure, from royalty through to Tyndale’s “boy that drives the plough”, whose encounter with the Bible is not somehow illustrated. The range of stories encompasses not only history, but the impact of the Bible on nations and circumstances, so that the reader who wants to use this book as a resource for sermons and talks will readily find illustrations.

The account of what one soldier in the First World War called “them mouth-organ Bibles” yields some powerful accounts of the impact of the scriptures on the lives of service personnel in dire circumstances.

There are extraordinary faith stories, too. One that particularly bears both reading and telling is the account of how the Society’s warehouse of Bibles in Berlin, which was ordered by the Gestapo to be pulped, was saved through the diligence and determination of its former regional director, a private in the Wehrmacht, Karl Uhl.

This book’s readable style, together with its excellent research, make it a gem. Those looking for detailed accounts of the way in which decisions were made, and the weighty chronological documentation of a traditional history, will be disappointed. Those, however, who seek a wide, wise and accessible account of the Bible Societies need look no further. The book reveals one of the best secrets of the Bible Society: that “if we cannot reconcile all opinions, let us at least unite all hearts.”

The Rt Revd Peter Price is Bishop of Bath & Wells.