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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION

This Prof Makes the Bible Real

June 17, 2000|WILLIAM LOBDELL

Before UCLA professor Bill Creasy started working on his doctorate in medieval literature, a friend warned him, "Don't waste your career being the world's leading expert on a third-rate Victorian poet. Choose a major author or a major work."

"So I chose God and the Bible," Creasy says. "God's a world-class poet."

By day, Creasy, 52, is a popular English professor at UCLA. By night--and early mornings and weekends--he's a tireless Bible scholar and teacher with a vision: to teach the Good Book cover to cover, verse by verse to as many people as he can.

"The curtain goes up in Genesis and goes down in Revelation. It's a very linear story," Creasy says. "You can't possibly understand Revelation without reading the 65 books before it."

Ten years ago, he launched his first Bible study in the basement of St. Paul the Apostle church in Westwood. Today he logs more than 2,500 miles a month driving across Southern California (plus flying to Arizona on Fridays) and teaching nine weekly Bible classes to more than 3,000 people.

In Orange County, he lectures Monday nights at a packed Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Tustin. In September at Mission Parish Church in San Juan Capistrano, Creasy will be starting a class that also will be broadcast over the Internet (http://www.logosmin.org).

Creasy uses rich storytelling, encyclopedic knowledge and a good dose of humor to teach the Bible as literature. His goal is to get his students "inside the narrative," just as they would with any book, instead of "standing outside the text."

"The people in the Bible are as real to me as you are," Creasy says. "And I think I make them come alive in class."

The problem that most people have studying the Bible, Creasy contends, is that they read it in bits and pieces.

"It's like listening to a Beethoven symphony a few bars at a time in random order," Creasy says. "It's pretty, but . . . "

When they do sit down with the book, they soon get stuck in the quicksand of ancient cultures, history and centuries of theological wrangling.

"Many people always wanted to read the Bible all the way through, but they bog down around Leviticus," says Creasy, who takes his students through the Bible in five years. "I'm a scout. I've been down the trail before."

In his lectures, he uses props (dressing up as a Roman legionnaire), maps and photos, anything to make the people and places of the Bible more real. Second-year students take a summer tour of Israel, a journey so popular that a lottery had to be set up to fill the 55 slots available for each of five trips.

"After you go to Israel, you read the Bible in color," he says. "You now know the sights, sounds and smells."

For example, he'll take his group out on the Sea of Galilee during the "fourth watch of the night" to show how Jesus would have been backlighted by the moon as he walked on water toward the disciples' boat.

Creasy does this as part of his rapidly expanding Logos Ministries, which has added two lecturers to teach "The Bible: Plain and Simple" classes. The cost of the class is a suggested $45 donation, though "everyone is welcome whether they can contribute or not."

Each ecumenical class, which runs parallel to the college quarter system, is sponsored by 20 or so nearby churches. Creasy has persuaded 14 denominations, among them Southern Baptist, Lutheran and Catholic, to drop their theological differences and underwrite the classes.

"I teach the Bible. I'm not a theologian," Creasy says, adding that he sticks to the essential elements of Christianity and sets aside thornier doctrinal issues.

Says Jack Evans, a professor at Arizona State University and Logos board member: "I think this great desire for unity that Bill has is coming into reality. People of different faiths are coming together as Christians and enjoying the Gospels."

The class atmosphere is informal and friendly, the pews jammed with students with Bibles open on their laps and highlight pens in hand.

"Bill frequently says Jesus is a master teacher," says Lorra Almstedt, a Fullerton resident and a second-year student. "but I also think Bill is."

Creasy sometimes wonders how he became head of a booming teaching ministry.

"My goal was to be a medieval literature scholar, not an itinerant Bible teacher," he says with a laugh. "But God has his own plans."

William Lobdell, editor of Times Community News, looks at faith as a regular contributor to The Times' Orange County religion page. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com.

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