278: Conversation With the Creators of the World’s 1st “Green Letter” Bible

ne century has passed since an evangelical publisher launched one of the most popular editions of the Bible in the 20th Century: the Red-Letter Edition. All the words of Jesus were printed in red ink, a symbol of Jesus’ blood.

Now, at the dawn of a new century, religious leaders concerned about the future of the Earth are launching: “The Green Bible,” a Green-Letter Edition. All the words of the Bible about God’s care for Creation are printed in green.
    The latest studies of Bible ownership in America show that most of us claim to read the Bible and most Bible readers own multiple copies. This means that, if you’re a Bible reader — go ahead and click on the cover of this new edition, because you’re going to want to buy a copy.
    There’s much more to this effort than gimmickry. The creator of the Red-Letter Edition, Louis Klopsch, wanted to refocus Christian readers’ reflections back on the teachings of Jesus. This was part of a larger movement 100 years ago especially among Protestants to return to the life and core teachings of this rabbi from Nazareth. Klopsch said he wanted to help people “set aside mere human doctrines and theories regarding Him … to gather from His own lips the definition of His mission to the world and His own revelation of the Father.”
    Now, it’s time to refocus the world’s spiritual attention on God’s Creation and the future of this fragile blue ball on which we live. Dr. Matthew Sleeth, the ecological evangelist who was among the main advisers on the “Green Bible,” writes in his Introduction: “What my reading disclosed is that creation care is at the very core of our Christian walk. … From Genesis to Revelation, I discovered a trail of green trees as well as vines, bushes, branches, and leaves.”

ur Conversation today involves two people who played key roles in the publication of this landmark edition. First is Mark Tauber, senior voice president and publisher of HarperOne.

    DAVID: Mark, like a lot of important new ideas, there’s a simplicity at the core of this concept that borrows from earlier innovations. A Green-Letter Edition. When I heard about this and got an early copy of your new Bible to read, I kept thinking: Wow. This is such a natural idea. Why didn’t somebody think of this sooner?
    MARK: We’ve been thinking about this for a while. “Green” and “sustainability” are on our minds these days and, as we tried to take the temperature of mainline Protestant groups and Catholics about creation care and sustainability, we found that this would be a perfect Bible for a whole lot of people.
    With this book, we have established what we call a green trail. Matthew Sleeth, who acted as a general editor and wrote the introduction, is lined up to do two more books with us.
    DAVID: Now that the concept is out there, I’m guessing we may see others follow, right? For example, this is a Protestant version of the books of the Bible. I’m guessing we may see a green-letter Catholic edition at some point. Are you planning to do more versions at HarperOne?
    MARK: Next year, we will do a Green Bible devotional with scripture and thoughts and reflections. And we do expect to see others do something like this with the Bible. I would not be surprised to see Zondervan or Thomas Nelson or Tyndale do something like this.
    DAVID: Was it technically difficult? I know that the Bible is produced in green-friendly materials: soy-based inks, recycled paper and a cotton-linen cover.
    MARK: Yes, first we had to organize this whole team of people, including Matthew Sleeth, picking the passages we would mark in green. But, even more difficult than that was getting the tone of the ink just right.
    DAVID: This book is printed on that strong-but-thin paper that is used for Bibles. I’d call the color of the ink something like “forest green.” And it turned out to be tough to print?
    MARK: Yes. We had to have our managing editor fly to rural Ohio to one of our big printing presses and he had to do a middle-of-the-night press check to make sure the green was right. We didn’t want it to be too light. And we didn’t want bleed-through to the next page. We had to get that right.
    Bible publishing is a very hard business. You see all of these specialty Bibles stacked up and some of them are just laughable because the concept just doesn’t work well. There’s a part of me that sometimes cringes over the idea of specialty Bibles.
    But people are telling us that this is a very helpful resource. Yes, it’s a specialty Bible, but it’s also a new concept and I think this the Green Bible will last for quite a while. That’s why we’re calling this the start of a green trail of books.

hen, we turned to Matthew Sleeth, who began his career as a medical doctor, but became convinced that he was called to a far larger vocation as a healer of Earth itself.
    In his Introduction, he describes a vacation he and his wife took with their children to an idyllic island off the coast of Florida. Life on the island was like a slice of Eden and the stars came out at night in a way they don’t in more urban areas. Talking with his wife one night on that trip, she happened to ask: “What is the biggest problem facing our world?”
    Moved by this setting and his love for his family, Matthew replied, “The world is dying.”
    It was a defining moment in which he began to ponder his life and the changes he had seen even close to home. He writes, “There are no chestnuts on Chestnut Lane, no elms on Elm Street, no caribou in Caribou, Maine, and no buffalo in Buffalo, New York. Multiple states have had to change their official tree, animal or flower because of extinctions.”

     DAVID: I was deeply moved by reading your Introduction to this new Bible. You write in a way that I think every parent will connect the dots here and see the urgency of working on these issues. It is about loving the natural world, but it’s also about the future of our families.
    MATTHEW: We now live in Kentucky, but we lived on the coast of Maine at that time. It was the middle of winter when we took that trip to the island. There were no cars and no street lights there. The breezes blew in off the gulf and there was this kind of quiet at night. It was kind of like the way God made the world. What I now understand is that God often speaks to us through our spouses, our friends and the story of our lives. The answer I gave my wife that night was a profound and disturbing one.
    DAVID: I think that as people begin to read this Bible, they’re going to be amazed at how much material there is in the Bible about what we call today “Creation care” or “greening.”
    MATTHEW: Do you know who was asked to interpret the first dream about climate change? It was Joseph in the Bible. There are biblical answers here for the problems ahead of us. What did Joseph do? He didn’t drill for more water. He began a conversation program.
    DAVID: So, how did the team decide what to mark in green? Flipping through the pages, I think people may take issue with some of your choices. They may spot passages that the team missed.
    MATTHEW: My role with the book was broad based. I didn’t choose the passages. Even as I read the book, I see things that aren’t marked in green that should be. As we read these passages more thoughtfully, more will seem green to us, I’m sure. But this was the first time this was done and it was a good effort.
    I hope we will see many more Bibles like this in the future. The beauty of the Bible is that wherever we find ourselves in time, and whatever problems we face, we can turn to the Bible and there are answers. Joseph had some good advice about preparing for climate change.
    DAVID: You’re clearly not alone. Everywhere I turn, people are talking about green themes in their spiritual journeys. There’s a hunger for this message.

    MATTHEW: It’s written into our genes. It’s our first commandment in the Bible to protect and serve the Earth. In the New Testament, when Christ is resurrected, he’s mistaken for a gardener. That’s not a mistake. This resonates with believers and nonbelievers, with children and with old people. Sometimes people say to me, “Oh, yes, young people will get this.”
    And I say to them, “No, all people will get this.”
    When I first started talking about these ideas, I spoke to very small audiences. It was hard for me to get time in a pulpit to speak about this. Now, one group after another invites me to speak and sometimes I’m speaking to thousands of people.
    DAVID: People are beginning to realize that they need to be concerned about this — and that even a handful of people can make a difference.
    MATTHEW: Here’s what often happens. I will go to a particular church that has invited me. I went to a church in Baltimore, for example. One person there had been working for years to try to get the church to take on this issue. Then, I went there and taught a small class and preached to four different services throughout that weekend. That whole church did a 180 turn.
    There are a lot of people out there like the person in Baltimore who finally arranged for me to come and speak. They’re often isolated. A critical mass hasn’t built yet, but it is building.
    This is an enormous change we’re all making. And this is just the beginning.

    HarperOne has set up a Web site to introduce the new Bible. It’s at http://greenletterbible.com. The site has information about co-sponsoring organizations and offers a link to “browse” sample pages of the Bible online.

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   (Published in the ReadTheSpirit online magazine.)


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