Reading the Bible today
by Keri Langley
As the worship music ends, and words of both praise and desperate need from the assembled worshippers quieten, the pastor comes to the pulpit and prepares his flock to dig into the unchanging Word of God – the Bible. In the congregation, the arms that were once reached up to the heavens are now rummaging through purses and pockets. And collectively, the congregation brings out their cell phones. Cell phones? In church? Today this is a common picture in sanctuaries, but only a few years ago bringing out a cell phone in church was the equivalent of what wearing a ball cap and snapping gum would have been a few decades ago – unacceptable and rude.
Today, ball caps and gum are tolerated, and cell phones are called smartphones – and they are not only expected in a church service, they are encouraged. Smartphones are capable of almost everything a home computer can do, including accessing the Bible in many translations, languages and with many applications, or “apps”.
And since our phones usually go everywhere with us, so then does our access to the Bible. This is good news, indeed, as the numbers of people reading their Bibles are decreasing. A recent Bible engagement study by the Canadian Bible Forum shows that the number of Canadian Christians reading their Bibles at least once a week has plummeted to about one in seven (or 14 per cent), which is down by about half since 1996. In the US, the Center for Bible Engagement surveyed about 40,000 Americans and found that those Christian folks who read their Bible less than four times a week, would likely make the same decisions and have the same responses as a non-Christian person. The study claimed Christians who are engaged in scripture most days of the week have lower odds of participating in behaviours such as getting drunk (57 per cent lower odds); infidelity (68 per cent lower); pornography (61 per cent lower).
When it comes to technology to access the Bible, there are arguments both for and against. The “old school” who prefer the Book with pages marked with highlights and personal written notes sometimes say the smartphone brings with it distractions – the busyness and worldly wise pitfalls of the internet. The “new school” – those who use their phones (and other wireless devices such as iPads, Notebooks, MacBooks and Kindles), argue they can look up specific Bible passages more easily, and their Bible comes with them wherever they go – work; doctors office; motor vehicle branches, bus stops and social gatherings.
We should be more concerned with how we use technology than whether technology itself is good or bad, says Regent College’s Dr. John Stackhouse, Professor of Theology and Culture. “We shouldn’t be for it or against it – there is both loss and gain,” Stackhouse shares. “We need to educate ourselves on its strengths and merits. The Bible on a smartphone means the Bible can be with us at all times. Carrying an actual Bible in your pocket today would seem Medieval. The next time you are waiting at the doctor’s office, instead of looking at a three-year-old magazine or a funny YouTube video, you can be reading the Bible. with a smartphone”
Many churches, ministries and Bible access organizations have caught on to the amazing potential available when the power of God’s Word meets the power of technology. Vancouver’s Coastal Church, a thriving church community located near the heart of downtown Vancouver’s corporate core (and another campus in Pitt Meadows), developed their own Bible app when they realized the Scriptures weren’t being accessed on an old-fashioned page. Coastal used to give new church members a leather bound copy of the Bible, until they found out almost no one was reading hard copy Bibles.
“Everyone was actually using apps,” says James Fam, Executive Pastor at Coastal Church, where about 1,700 people attend one of their weekend services at the downtown location. “If you come to any of our Sunday services, more than half the people are actually opening up their phones, rather than their hard copy. So in the last few years, we’ve actually stopped purchasing hard copy Bibles, and we are giving them journals.”
Coastal’s Bible app was developed to give their church a greater encouragement to access God’s Word, and also to connect with the Sunday sermon, and each other as a church community. “You have a Bible portion, but you also have devotionals, tools and resources associated with the text of the Bible itself,” says Fam, a self-describer “techie.”
Fam is eager to point out the benefits and merits of a few other Bible apps. He says they are excellent tools to access the Bible, understand it, and apply it to specific life circumstances, like addiction, loneliness, or relationships.
The Gideons International in Canada, the folks eager to get the Scriptures into every seeking hand, has developed the free NewLife App, a neatly organized tool with evangelical answers to frequently asked questions, and the complete Bible in the New Living Translation. Fam also points to the popular YouVersion, another free app which has more than 800 Bible reading plans, hundreds of Bible translations and languages, and several life topics.
When the Coastal team developed their own Bible app, they didn’t want to compete with what is already available. “We knew when we designed it, it was designed primarily for our church members. On it, you have our message notes component; life group notes; and we still have a Bible that you can download (in a few translations),” Fam says. “We are not trying to replace the printed version, there’s still value in that, but apps can be a compliment to it. Our biggest motivation is to engage a culture that is unchurched but very technologically savvy.”
Among the most technologically savvy people in our culture today are youth. And that is a demographic the Good News Broadcasting Association of Canada remains driven to reach. And their widest-reaching tool in reaching teens is a new Bible app called indoubt. “It’s the idea of reaching young people with the transforming influence of God’s Word, and reaching them on a daily basis. Using a mobile application to deliver that Good News on a daily basis seems to be the most tangible and active resource that we can use at this time to reach young people,” shares indoubt Director Mike Cumiskey.
A team of more than 50 Christian writers from across Canada came together to develop the content for indoubt, which is broken down into two major parts: Delivering content in themes and topics (for example, self worth); and then getting teens to “join the conversation” where they can connect with peers who are asking (and answering) the same questions they are facing in a real-time context. “The content lets them (teens) know that everyone is in doubt at some point in their life, but that God’s answer, through His Word, has relevance to their life. The content that is presented within the app is so raw that even someone who doesn’t know Christ would be able to relate to it. We aren’t coming at this with churchy, Christianese language.”
Even if a teen doesn’t attend church, Cumiskey says the indoubt app is a tool to let them know that God’s Word has a relevant answer to what they are going through.
And we could all use a relevant answer from God, no matter what age we are.
Join the Light Magazine here next month as we continue our look at Bible reading and engagement.