KELLNER: David Jeremiah brings 5,000 to NYC to celebrate Bible

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

New York City is known for many things, but a hotbed of religious activity might not be the first thing people think of in the “city that never sleeps.”

Nevertheless, that’s where the Rev. David Jeremiah, the megachurch pastor from San Diego, headed for a celebration of the Bible on Dec. 5 at Madison Square Garden, in the heart of Manhattan, and 5,000 people showed up, a crowd that included real estate mogul Donald Trump.

The celebration was not just for the Scriptures, but also to launch the Jeremiah Study Bible (Worthy Publishing), an annotated, media-linked volume crammed with notes, articles and other explanatory features. These come from Mr. Jeremiah’s decades of Bible study and leadership of Shadow Mountain Community Church, where he has been senior pastor since 1981. The church’s “Turning Point” weekly television and daily radio programs are fixtures on cable stations and local radio outlets such as Washington’s WAVA-FM.

“My highlight was seeing all these people gathered together in that prominent place lifting their voices in praise to God,” Mr. Jeremiah said in a telephone interview after the event. “It was all about God and all about the Scripture. There was just a sense of God’s presence in that place.”

Asked if people today may be less acquainted with the Bible and its message, Mr. Jeremiah acknowledged the challenge.

“We live in the post-Christian world,” he said. “We don’t live in the world that we started out in in life. You have to start from the beginning in the best way you can, [and you] can’t assume people are aware of things that you thought most people knew.”

He added, “I’ve always enjoyed communicating scripture to people who aren’t Christians. Start where they are and bring them into the scripture and show them how it relates to them in their life.”

Clearly his approach has great appeal. As a marketing test, his ministry offered signed copies of the new study Bible to those ordering via the Internet during the Thanksgiving weekend. Instead of the expected 2,000 to 3,000 orders, a total of 25,000 copies were purchased, and he is autographing each one. “That’s how I’m spending a lot of my hours these days,” he said.

I haven’t seen the entire study Bible yet, but Mr. Jeremiah’s treatment of the New Testament book of Galatians is impressive. Along with study footnotes for almost every verse in the epistle, there are several long articles, some short items and bar-coded links to videos available online. Those bar codes (and equivalent Internet addresses) link to a website Mr. Jeremiah said can be “more robust over the years as we continue to go forward,” able to contain many of the items “we couldn’t get in” to the printed volume.

Mr. Jeremiah’s output isn’t limited to broadcasts or Bible commentary. His latest book, “What Are You Afraid Of?” (Tyndale), deals with the anxieties and worries many people face — death, failure, debt, rejection, illness or being alone, among others. In the book, he tells of a career decision decades ago: Should he stay in the comfortable position he held, or venture out to help start a new congregation in Fort Wayne, Ind. A quote from Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who had just signed on to coach the Washington Redskins, struck him: “I have discovered in my life that it is more challenging to build than to maintain.”

It was, Mr. Jeremiah said, a “turning point” in his life. “The thought that he expressed is the one God used to help me understand that I could live in the world of safety and comfort or I could take the leap of faith and trust him,” he said.

And in trusting that God, David Jeremiah has been used to build a church — and a global ministry — which in turn has been used to touch perhaps millions of lives.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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