The End of the Bible?

The Digital Possibility

For many years churchgoers have carried a Bible to church, but with the increasing popularity of electronic options it is no longer necessary to carry an extra item to church in order to have access to Scripture.   Tim Challies has written a number of recent posts on his blog in a series titled Don’t Bring Your Ipod to Church.  Of greatest interest to me is his June 12 entry in which he writes about the “disturbing trend—Christians coming to church armed not with a Bible but with an iPod or an iPhone or another hand held device.”

Since Challies is so technologically savvy it may come as a surprise to learn that this self-employed web designer and prolific blogger draws the following initial conclusion: “I want to encourage you not to bring an electronic Bible to church. I want to encourage you today to bring to church a Bible—an old fashioned kind of Bible, with ink printed on paper and slapped between two covers made of cardboard or leather or pleather. I also want to encourage you not to get into the habit of doing your daily Bible reading using an electronic device.”

In his June 22 entry he expands a bit on the reasons he feels as he does.  Specifically, he is concerned with linearity and distraction.  He argues that reading the Bible in book form provides a linear understanding that cannot be matched by a digital experience.  Additionally, he suggests that IPhones and Blackberries are designed to be distracting.  When reading the Bible on these devices readers are far more likely to click links and chase down cross references than they would be in the non-digital experience.  He concludes with these words: “a book is inherently a better medium for undistracted study of a life-changing text.”

So What?

The world is changing, but Scripture is not.  The Bible was the Bible long before the printing press and will remain so even if print media becomes an unfamiliar medium in the future.  All too often the church is slow to understand much less utilize the latest in technology.  Perhaps now is the time to begin to accelerate the speed of change from within the Christian community.

A generation ago most people brought their Bibles with them to church or used those available in the pews.  Today, increasing numbers of churches project the words of Scripture on screens.  With that shift come concerns. Do people even know how to find a given book, chapter and verse in the Bible in book form? Does this make the words somehow less holy and more like entertainment?  Are leaders more likely to be less attentive to context when everything is presented in this format?  With the shift, however, come just as many possibilities.  Do those who sat and looked at closed Bibles in the pew now engage in the reading of Scripture not only through listening, but also through reading (with the known outcome that this additional input does increase retention)?  Do people find the Bible increasingly accessible and therefore relevant for the journey of faith 24/7, rather than something to be read in a sanctuary or other designated holy space? 

When we move from the practice of reading Scripture in worship to that of personal and group study the concern remains.  I agree with Challies’ assertion that most people do not give much thought to why they use the type of resource they do for Bible reading or study.  The initial choice is likely one of convenience.  At one time, the convenience factor was realized by those who read the NIV because the only Bible on their bookshelf was a NIV translation.  Now, the convenience continues as the only Bible accessible at no charge on their smart phone is digital.  In the print world, leaders should have been educating not only about why the study of Scripture was important, but also what the difference was in versions from which a student could choose.  Now, in the digital world, leaders should be educating not only about why the study of Scripture is important, but also who to access the many versions available and how to utilize this ease of availability for more serious study of Scripture even for those who speak only a single language. 

The Bible is more accessible today than ever before.  How will we leverage this within and beyond the Christian community?

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