It was one of several topics he addressed as he spoke to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday.
“If you put aside all the spiritual aspects of it, the Bible has had such an incredible impact on our culture,” Vest said.
The New York-based American Bible Society is a nonprofit organization concerned with making sure people sure people have access to the Bible in America and, pairing up with other Bible societies, all over the world.
Vest said the organization has been in place for nearly 200 years with past presidents including the likes of founding fathers like John Quincy Adams. Since then, the society has gone from putting Bibles in the bags of Pony Express riders to creating cellphone applications.
The Bible remains one of the best-selling books in the United States, but Vest said the problem is that literacy of the Bible is at an all-time low. He said that creates problems for children learning about history and culture in school.
The American Bible Society has done studies on the effects of studying the Bible, in part by introducing pilot programs in New York and New Jersey schools.
“Children who had a biblical knowledge had an advantage in their educational program,” Vest said. “We proved that by examination, by taking tests.”
He said the programs created a lot of controversy because some people did not want the Bible taught in school, but the Bible was taught only in elective literature classes. Vest added a major plus for the students was a better understanding of other literature because a lot of early British and American literature included biblical references.
“There are those who tell us that in Shakespeare alone there are somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 references right out of the Bible,” he said. “If a child doesn’t know anything about that, they will not know what Shakespeare is referring to.”
Vest was a proponent of Christian education before he began his current position with the American Bible Society. He served as a church pastor, was president of Lee College and was general overseer of the Church of God denomination before becoming president of the Bible society for four years. This year, he became president emeritus, and he and his wife split their time between living in New York and Cleveland.
Since beginning work with the society, he has traveled all over the world sharing the cause of the Bible.
But he has remained concerned about the state of things in America.
He referenced a scholarly debate he had heard of where panelists discussed the following statement: “The world would be better off without religion.” The audience had the chance to vote for which side they agreed with, and 59 percent voted that they agreed with the statement.
“We have to ask ourselves this,” Vest said. “Are we, the people of the United States, better off having gotten rid of all these things?”
He argued that getting rid of religion will impact the country’s knowledge of the beliefs of its founders and that it will be negatively impacted in other ways too. Vest said many of our country’s “social ills” could be lessened if more people knew the Bible’s message.
“If our effort to increase Bible literacy is successful, I truly believe that our society will have more than enough compassionate people to take care of poverty, injustices and all the other social ills we face besides that,” Vest said.
He added that booksellers have no problem selling copies of the Bible as it has remained the country’s best-selling book. YouVersion, the main cellphone application the American Bible Society has assisted in the development of, had been downloaded to more than 83 million separate devices as of a couple weeks ago. The society has begun a TV advertising campaign Vest said could increase that number to around 100 million.
Access to the Bible has become easier and easier for Americans, but Vest maintains people don’t know much about it. Even with the recent popularity of “The Bible,” a miniseries on The History Channel, he said there is a chance young people still might not get the whole story. Any knowledge of the Bible is positive, he said, but he hopes it does not get seen as just a bunch of stories lumped together.
“What’s happening in this millennial culture is we are so used to ‘copy and paste’ until we have lost the grand narrative of the story,” Vest said. “We only have bits and pieces of the story.”
While other countries like China are just now seeing a boom in the availability of Bibles, he added he thinks the Bible needs to be revisited, having been a part of America’s history for over 200 years.
The Bradley Sunrise Rotary will next meet on March 28.