Earlier this week, I had the privilege of being part of a pre-opening tour of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. When I received the offer, I eagerly accepted because I’ve been looking forward to the museum’s opening for some time now. Sadly, my excitement was misplaced; the Museum of the Bible is a dud.
Actually, and more importantly, more than just a dud, the Museum of the Bible mishandles the Word of God. I’ll get to that in a moment, though. Allow me to rephrase my initial claim: If you’re looking for a gimmicky experience with the Bible as the set piece at the center-ish, the Museum of the Bible is probably for you. If that’s you, here’s some good news before I get to the bad.
The building is impressive! With an almost half a billion with a “B” price tag, according to Rick Warren, who was the host for my group, the Museum of the Bible’s facilities are as good, if not better, than any other museum or tourist spot in D.C. And it’s massive. The museum’s spokesperson told our group that David Jeremiah had been in the day before. At one point, his wife sat down and said, “You’re not going to be able to get him out of here.”
There is a lot to see. Six floors of it.
For example, one of the floors holds the Stories of the Bible (note – “stories” and not “story”). The story of the Old Testament was part animated film, part walking through connected rooms, and all special effects. Parts of it, specifically the “Rainbow Room” and walking through the parted Red Sea, felt like being inside of a Stanley Kubrick movie. And that’s meant as a compliment. They definitely spared no expense when it came to special effects.
The section on the history of the Bible has a lot of information but very few actual artifacts. Originally, the museum was to be comprised mainly of the artifacts that Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green had collected. However, some are wondering if the majority of the artifacts are in a warehouse gathering dust while scholars examine them to make sure that they are authentic—and also not stolen. Apparently, Green either didn’t know how to purchase artifacts of antiquity through legitimate channels or he knew and simply didn’t care. The answer you get on that question depends upon whom you ask. Regardless, the museum had to alter course somewhat and move from an artifacts-based museum to one focusing more on special effects and gimmicky exhibits.
For the record, the museum claims that the bulk of the artifacts are not warehoused but are on display. If that’s true, Steve Green bought far fewer artifacts than the public has been led to believe. If you do visit the museum, keep track of how many times you see the word “facsimile” versus the times that an artifact is displayed without that disclaimer. I thought about it too late to start counting, but I’m willing to bet that the number is somewhere in the range of 5 facsimiles to 1 real artifact. (I’m being generous because I’m a coward and don’t want to get called out on the number I actually think, which is 10 to 1.)
However, the special effects and even the controversy over the validity of the artifacts pale in comparison to my actual concern with the Museum of the Bible.
While standing in the third-floor exhibit showing the Bible’s influence on society, titled “Impact of the Bible,” I suddenly realized that I felt dirty.
The Museum of the Bible reduces the inspired word of God into nothing more than a cultural artifact, an oddity to be pawed over and dissected. While walking through the museum, I felt like my faith had been bought and sold on the open market, and then turned into a theme park.
Part of the problem is that the Museum of the Bible tries to appeal to everyone. The story of the Old Testament, mentioned above, is told from the theological viewpoint of Judaism. Which would be fine, I guess, if the museum wasn’t brought into existence by one of the most famous and outspoken evangelical families in the history of evangelicalism.
How can an evangelical sink money and energy into an exhibit about the Old Testament and not bring out how the entire story is pointing to Jesus?
Because of that deficiency, that failure to actually choose a viewpoint and stick with it, by default the museum is relegated to another tourist hotspot in D.C. There is little transcendent about the museum dedicated to the most transcendent book of all time. There is little reverence in the museum dedicated to the very Word of God. Instead, visitors get to see Elvis Presley’s Bible (for the record, it looks like it just came out of the box and was never used) and they get to hear a sampling of pop songs that contain Biblical references and/or allusions; never mind that most of the songs are explicitly blasphemous in their treatment of the Bible. There is also a display of dresses with Biblical allusions on them. As I passed that display, a museum staffer was being interviewed by a TV station. He was quite proud of how much money each of the dresses cost.
If you want my advice, you’d be better off skipping the Museum of the Bible and, instead, spend that time reading the Bible. However, if you are absolutely set on seeing old Bibles on display while visiting D.C., go to the Library of Congress. The display there is much more reverent and transcendent—and honors the Bible in a way that the Museum of the Bible does not.