I’m just one of those people who love a book. I love to read, and reading has played a significant part in my spiritual growth and learning. Now, of course, we benefit from ebooks etc on our computers and smartphones. I personally enjoy my kindle and my phone for reading material – except for my Bible habits which I strongly advocate remain in book form. Hear me out!
For Christians, the ‘search-ability’ of the Bible on a phone app is a great tool, as well as the ready availability and accessibility of literature online (although one has to be discerning on that front!). I recognise, too, that many aren’t much into books for lots of reasons, including learning or visual limitations. I recognise that we’re increasingly a non-book culture, but I believe as Christians we have to challenge that slightly within the Christian community.
I have a basic concern. It’s a concern I’ve always had, but it is an increasingly growing concern. Many of you may not see it as an issue, but as a pastor I see it.
Whilst technology is great for having a searchable element and is good for a quick read, I want to strongly encourage Christians to see that as a supplement to using an actual physical, hold-in-your-hand book-form Bible as your main reader. Why? A few reasons.
I get concerned when I sense that people just seem to dip into bits here and there, with no real concept of the whole trajectory of a gospel/letter/history/etc. This is especially true for the OT to avoid weird ‘Prayer of Jabez’ crazes! I think apps reduce the bible to the few sentences on the screen and so we don’t always have a wider sense of what we’re dealing with. Now, that’s not important for your holiday John Grisham novel, but I think it’s crucial for biblical material. I’m not sure this limited visual is good for a deepening understanding of what people are reading.
For me, and I know everyone is different, a physical book adds a tactility to the learning experience. In fact, I learn the text by copying out biblical text by hand. This year I’ve written out Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1&2 Thessalonians. This allows me to become aware of the patterns, themes, messages of these books and increases my familiarity with them. I also, at times, listen to the bible being read as I follow on in my book or phone – that adds other ways to reflect on the text. It’s amazing the amount of times I’ve thought, ‘what? Eh? Jesus, what? Paul? Say again?!’
I also have a hunch that, in spite of having hundreds of versions of the bible on our phone, it doesn’t make biblical literacy any better. I recognise, though, that having phone access to a bible may mean some people read the bible more than they may otherwise, which is better than nothing. But what I’m advocating is adding the book and bigging up your bible habit.
What I’m suggesting here is not a reduction to just a paper Bible. I’m suggesting significantly increased involvement with the book alongside all the other great ways to engage.
Not too long ago, in some city somewhere, I sat and watched a church elder look for 1 Timothy in the beginning of the Old Testament. That raises lots of questions, and I hope it’s an extreme example, but it at least illustrates something of what I’m saying.
I’d love to see a significant return to bibles being books that people get to know intimately and thoroughly. I’ve always felt the handicap of never having been a child who went to Sunday School. But, I just can’t imagine how anyone sustains the Christian life without a serious commitment to picking up the book.