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George Fox University Uses The Saint John’s Bible to “Pique Our Social Conscience”

Students and scholars explore artwork for “a global and inclusive perspective on important issues”

Posted May 3, 2018 in Education, Religious Institutions
George Fox University – The Saint John's Bible

George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, is heavily influenced by its Quaker roots. A layman’s understanding of Quaker values might be summed up in the words of Dr. Paul Anderson, professor of biblical and Quaker studies: “With a deep spiritual interest, Quakers are very plain and concerned with simplicity in their approaches to Christian faith and practice.”

Dr. Paul Anderson, George Fox University – The Saint John's Bible
Dr. Paul Anderson, professor of Biblical and Quaker studies at George Fox University. Photo credit: Dr. Paul Anderson

In that light, an artwork as ornate as The Saint John’s Bible might not seem at first glance to be a natural fit at George Fox University. However, upon closer examination, the fit is clear. “Quakers appreciate beauty and the prophetic effect of artwork,” said Dr. Anderson, “and the social concern that The Saint John’s Bible furthers, as well as its presentations of justice, spirituality, and women’s concerns – those are the kinds of things that Quakers value very highly.”

For the George Fox University community, these themes have been regular discussion points since 2015, when the organization initially began its Year with The Saint John’s Bible. The university’s programming included guest lectures, weekly “Turning of the Page” sessions at the school’s library, and special seasonal programming around Christmas and Holy Week, giving students and other community members a chance to see and appreciate the Bible up close and to ask questions of experts both from their own campus and beyond.

A Scholar’s Outreach Inspires the Community

As a New Testament scholar focusing on the Gospel of John and the historical Jesus, Dr. Anderson was an ideal shepherd for the sixth volume of the Heritage Edition, Gospels & Acts. He undertook his own outreach efforts to spread the word about the Bible beyond the George Fox community, speaking and writing on its artwork and the creative imagination behind the project. Word traveled via his blog on the Huffington Post, which was amplified by an appearance on the popular spirituality website On Being.

Pope Francis, Dr. Paul Anderson – The Saint John's Bible
Dr. Paul Anderson greeting Pope Francis with a copy of Anderson’s book, Following Jesus, in 2013. Photo credit: Dr. Paul Anderson

While most of Dr. Anderson’s personal presentations were to churches and other sites in Oregon, he also made a momentous trip to Arizona, where a presentation at a Baptist church led to the planting of a seed that ultimately grew into the university’s acquisition of the Heritage Edition. After hearing about the university’s work with The Saint John’s Bible, a donor from Arizona stepped forward with a significant financial gift, provided as an incentive for the university to continue fundraising for the remaining amount needed to acquire the set.

With momentum like that, the decision to begin a second Year with the Heritage Edition was an easy one. The university exchanged Gospels & Acts for the Pentateuch in its second year, which gave Dr. Anderson the opportunity to involve scholars of Hebrew Scripture in his ongoing presentations and community outreach.

Dr. Anderson’s fundraising efforts were given extra help thanks to the fact that they coincided with the university’s 125th anniversary. “I saw the acquisition as a historic opportunity for our anniversary celebration,” he said. The university president, Robin Baker, agreed, and the university achieved its goal in late 2017, when it officially announced its acquisition of the Heritage Edition.

Artwork of The Saint John’s Bible Brings New Perspectives

Chris Tomlin, Milkweed and Butterfly – The Saint John's Bible
Milkweed and Butterfly, Chris Tomlin, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. All rights reserved.

The effects of the scripture and artwork in The Saint John’s Bible continue to ripple outward in the Newberg community and beyond. Three donors have stepped forward to sponsor particular volumes, and Dr. Anderson is now advancing a dedication phase of the acquisition, seeking sponsors for the other volumes and even particular pieces of art. After one family sponsored a dedication of the illumination of monarch butterflies in volume six, another community leader involved in supporting monarch habitats requested more information about the artwork in order to make use of it in his own work.

“The way that it shows the caterpillar, the chrysalis and then the butterfly really speaks powerfully about transformation and the reality of the resurrection,” said Dr. Anderson, “but it also speaks to creation care and sustainability. My colleague would like to connect that imagery with his endeavors to bring more monarch butterflies to Newberg. That’s just one of the ways that the artwork actually speaks to the kinds of issues that people are working on here.”

Dr. Anderson has contributed an essay to an upcoming book, “The Saint John’s Bible and its Tradition: Illuminating Beauty in the Twenty-First Century,” which further explores that theme. “A striking feature of The Saint John’s Bible is how it brings acute focus on ways the Bible’s message addresses any number of social concerns in contemporary society,” he says. “From featuring women’s roles in the Bible to connecting biblical themes with cultures beyond Europe and North America, the artwork endeavors to present global and inclusive perspectives on important issues.”

The social conscience of the Bible has been a recurring theme for Dr. Anderson and the George Fox University community, perfectly befitting their Quaker roots.

“The community has been very appreciative of the spirituality in taking in the beauty of the artwork,” Dr. Anderson said. “The way I see the acquisition of the Bible here is that it helps us think about aspects of spirituality and social concern, and it will be here for decades – and we hope for centuries – to help remind us about those biblical themes in powerful, gripping ways.

“Part of my charge as an interpreter is to connect Christianity and culture with the powerful message of The Saint John’s Bible,” he said. “I’m delighted to have this amazing resource to provide an interdisciplinary way of engaging culture with the Christian message in Scripture. I see it as enlivening our spiritual sensitivities and piquing our social conscience.”

To learn more about George Fox University, including how its students and staff use The Saint John’s Bible, visit