APU Professor's Book Touts Scriptures that Changed the World

by Abigail Reed

Joseph Bentz, Ph.D., professor in Azusa Pacific's Department of English, shares his thoughts on his calling as a writer and his most recent publication, 12 New Testament Passages that Changed the World.

APU: When and how did you become so passionate about writing?

JB: I have loved writing since I was a kid. I was writing stories at eight years old, and I have never stopped. If I go too long without writing, I get irritable and restless. It’s really my way of processing the world.

How would you describe your writing process?

I would describe my writing process as more chaotic than I would like it to be. I have many stops and starts, distractions, agonizing, changing my mind, and second-guessing myself. One thing I have going for me is that I feel called or driven to write, so I keep coming back to it, no matter what obstacles I face. Few things are as satisfying to me as writing a book, so I keep at it no matter how hard it is. Over time, the work gets done.

Why did you choose the 12 passages featured in your recent publication?

I talked to many people about which passages of the New Testament I should include. The 12 that emerged were passages that are both deeply meaningful to people spiritually and that also have had a big impact on culture. For example, most people know what a “prodigal son” is even if they have never read Jesus’ parable. That story alone has influenced novels, films, paintings, memoirs, sports stories, songs, and even a ballet. We can’t get away from it, but why? It has touched something deep, as have all the passages in the Bible.

What do you hope readers discover through your book and study guide?

What is it about these words from the New Testament that makes them so powerful? Why has the Lord’s Prayer been prayed probably more than any other prayer in history? Why has the Lord’s Supper been reenacted countless billions of times across the world, and even on the moon? Why do people know what a Good Samaritan is even if they have never read the parable themselves? I want a reader of 12 New Testament Passages that Changed the World to gain a renewed understanding of the depth and the influence of these passages so that they can more deliberately make these words a meaningful part of their lives.

How is Scripture still relevant today?

Even in a culture that is more secular than in earlier generations, people still long for the Bible. One of many signs of this is the popularity of the YouVersion Bible app, which allows people all over the world to read Scripture. One study that I mention in my book shows that the app has had more than 250 million downloads, and in one recent year alone, users read and listened to more than 13 billion Bible chapters, created more than a billion highlights, bookmarks, and notes, and shared verses a record 230 million times.

How do you integrate Scripture in your classes?

I’m a literature professor, and the Bible has had a huge impact on literature for centuries. The impact of the Bible is obvious in earlier eras, when many literary works were overtly Christian. In the past 100 years or so of American literature, which is my specialty, the Bible continues to play a big role even when writers are not Christian. You don’t have to go beyond the titles of many famous novels to see the Bible’s influence. How about The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway or Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner? Those writers and many others owe a big debt to the Bible, so it is natural to discuss this influence in my classes.

What would you say is the most insightful passage you explore in this book?

As I wrote each chapter, it was almost like starting from scratch on a new book because I had to investigate the many influences of that particular passage on film, music, literature, and so on. I also studied Bible commentaries and other works to try to understand the context and meaning of each passage. So whatever passage I was working on at the time became my favorite for awhile. Right now I would say that the chapters on the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan are probably my favorites because I have written articles about them recently. But the others, like Romans 8 or John 3 or the Lord’s Prayer also come to mind quite often, and I am so grateful that I had the chance to dig into those so deeply.

What other books have you written, and what’s next?

What’s next is a follow-up book to 12 New Testament Passages that Changed the World. This one will be a similar book focused on the most influential Old Testament passages. I have only three chapters left to write, but they’re big ones. I have published nine other books. Some are novels, and others are books on issues of the Christian life. You can see all my books on Amazon or on my website josephbentz.com.

Abigail Reed is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a liberal studies major with an honors humanities minor.