Finding the Way in Norway

June 11, 2013

The fairly secular nation of Norway apparently finds itself in the midst of a Bible revival. In late 2011, a new Norwegian translation of the Bible came out - to replace a 1978 translation - and it quickly became the nation's bestselling book. With more contemporary language that increases the readability of the text, the new version clearly speaks to Norwegians in a way that the previous version no longer did. While the new Bible translation continues to see brisk sales, a new six-hour play based on the Bible also enjoys popularity. The play, "Bibelen" (Norwegian for "the Bible"), brings the stories to life in a new way. Interestingly, the play updates the text to give the story a more contemporary feel. For instance, Jesus is not crucified but committed to a mental institution and then executed by lethal injection. Such creative ways of reimagining the biblical stories can help people experience and understand the story. This is similar to what Clarence Jordan accomplished in his Cotton Patch Gospel version of the Bible where Jesus is recast as a preacher in the Southern part of the U.S. in the middle of the 20th Century and then is lynched. All of this religion news in Norway comes even as the nation's Parliament last year ended the official state religion status of the Church of Norway (Lutheran). Together these three elements of the news from Norway should remind us of important religious concepts: the Bible needs to be placed in the vernacular of the people, creative ways of retelling the biblical stories can reach people in a new way, and true religious faith flourishes outside of official state sanction. Thanks to the land of the "north way" for showing us these lessons.