Using Electronic Bibles in Church

This is a guest post from Dr. Steve Matthewson, pastor of CrossLife Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, IL. I've always wanted to address this issue more, as I am a bit of a geek, so when I read Dr. Matthewson's thoughts on the subject, I asked if I could publish them on the blog. Here are his thoughts on the use of electronic Bibles in church:

I realized how much our culture has moved into the digital age when I heard a student preacher in my preaching class this spring at Moody Bible Institute begin a sermon like this: “Please take your Bible, your iPad, or your smart phone and turn with me to Matthew 5:43-48.” Twelve days ago, The New York Times ran an article in its Technology section titled “In the Beginning Was the Word; Now the Word Is on an App.” It pointed out that the free app (short for “application”) called “You Version” is changing the way millions of people read the Bible. Our ministry staff has recommended it. I have it on my smart phone, and my wife, Priscilla, has it on her Kindle. The New York Times felt it was time to do a piece on the “You Version” app because in July 2013 it reached 100 million downloads, placing it in the company of technology start-ups like Instagram and Dropbox. You can read the article here.

So what do we make of reading the Bible in a digital, electronic form rather than in a print (book) form? Overall, I’m quite pleased with “You Version” and have no problem with you bringing your Bible on your tablet or smartphone when we gather to worship God. There is nothing more “spiritual” about reading the Bible in a printed book form rather than on a mobile device. If we really want to be purists, then we should jettison our leather-bound or hard-back Bibles and opt for scrolls. But I have yet to see the ESV or NIV offer their translations on a leather scroll! The decision really boils down to personal preference. Personally, I prefer to read and preach from the Bible in book form rather than on an iPad or Kindle, However, I no longer carry a pocket Bible when I visit people in the hospital. Rather, I simply read Scripture passages to hospital patients from the “You Version” app on my smartphone.

There are several reasons why I like “You Version” and the concept of having the Bible in digital form. First, it is convenient. Because I rarely part with my smartphone, my Bible is always with me. I have even read it in the check-out line at Target or Portillo's! Even though I love the Bible, I would never think of carrying my Bible into Target or Portillo's. It’s not that I’m ashamed of God’s Word. I have too many other things to carry when I am in those establishments. Second, there are all kinds of reading plans built into the “You Version” app. Third, while print versions of the Bible often have some kind of concordance in the back to let you find a particular verse or some of the verses on a particular topic, the search features on “You Version” let you do more comprehensive searches. Fourth, you can highlight and add notes just as you would in a print Bible. Fifth, you can switch between versions. I would never bring six different Bible versions with me to a worship service. That would require six Bibles (books)! But if I bring a smartphone or a tablet, I can switch between the NIV, ESV, NKJV, NRSV, NLT, and NASB almost instantly.

Of course, there are downsides to shelving your print Bible and going digital. When I use the “You Version” app, I find that I cannot move as seamlessly between consecutive chapters or as quickly from one Bible book to another. Honestly, I can go from Exodus 20 to 1 Timothy 6 a lot quicker in my print Bible than I can in my digital Bible. A bigger concern is the temptation to multi-task on my mobile device or tablet when I am trying to focus on reading the Bible. I’m curious how many people who bring the Bible on their Kindle or iPad or smartphone also check Facebook or email or ESPN Sportscenter! What upsides and downsides have you observed when it comes to reading the Bible in digital form versus print form? You can weigh in on this and follow the discussion on our Facebook page. I thank God we have His Word both in digital form and in print!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello and thank you for initiating discussion on this topic. My carry along bible was a gift from the church family after I graduated from high school nearly 30 years ago. It has literally fallen apart and way past time to get replaced.

In bible study worship service this evening I noticed the couple in front of me and the lady beside me with very nice Bible Tablets. Our speaker for the hour moved to various scriptures (using his tablet) and I observed how engaged my neighbors were and how eagerly they searched the Word of God. Conversely, those of us who were required to search the scriptures now the "old-fashioned way" simply listened and took notes. This was the first time I observed such a paradigm shift. Of course I noticed tablets in worship before, but I had never taken notice to the differences in behaviors compared to the haves and have nots.

Personally, I agree with The Navy Christian that it is a matter of preference. In addition, I will go a step further in saying that it may save some embarrassment and encourage more to participant in the teaching or sermons. We have to keep in mind that everyone is in a different place in their walk with Christ. Some are newbies and others are seasoned. Even those who are seasoned and "expected" to find Isaiah 2:10-11 in 20 seconds may get stumped; especially in front of a congregation.

I was online researching tablets this evening and came across your blog. This is my first experience responding to an online discussion (other than for school). I appreciate the opportunity to weigh-in on a growing trend. Sure, some may not resist to take a peek at Facebook or ESPN, but on the positive side they are in the house of the Lord. There is usually a drawback to anything, but I believe there is a wonderful opportunity here to bring more people who are shy or who simply fear embarrassment to church. In this case, the good that can come out of this far outweighs the bad.

God Bless,