Let's face it: We officially live in a digital age. Anyone in America born after 1980 has been "born digital" - growing up in a world with access to the developing technologies of home computers, the internet, social media, mobile devices, and more. And just so we're clear from the outset, I'm a fan of these technologies. I'm grateful for the laptop computer on which I work, my iPhone and iPad - these offer me features and capabilities that would have been unbelievable 60 years ago.
As a pastor and teacher, one of the evident ways these digital technologies touch my world is through the "Bible app." Bible apps and their kin - whether it's the YouVersion Bible, BibleGateway, the ESV Study Bible, or any other of MANY options - offer tremendous opportunity to get God's Word into the hands of lots of people. But there are also dangers that can accompany "mobile device Bibles." My goal in this post is to highlight both two available strengths and two potential pitfalls of mobile device Bibles, so we can leverage the strengths and avoid the perils.
The Strengths: Two Reasons I'm Excited about Having the Bible on Mobile Devices
With the availability of Bible apps (and their kin), never has the Bible been more accessible to more people around the world. For free. This sort of accessibility doesn't necessarily mean people read the Bible. And this sort of accessibility comes with its own set of dangers. But if we believe God's Word is living and active (Heb 4:12), and is able to equip the men and women of God for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17), then this sort of at-your-fingertips accessibility is a GREAT opportunity. Let's find every way we can to support and encourage this!
2. Features that Facilitate Reading
Most Bible apps that I'm familiar with come with reading plans and search features that can serve you getting into the the Bible and reading it. Looking for a reading plan that gets you through the Bible in a year? Or that you can use with your family? The YouVersion has plans in both categories (and more!). Want to get a "verse of the day" sent to you, so you can fill your mind with Scripture and "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2)? Yep, that feature is available too!
The Dangers: Two Potential Pitfalls about Having the Bible on Mobile Devices
When I'm on my phone (or tablet, for that matter) my mind is rarely fully engaged. I get push notifications or twitter updates throughout the day. I'm always tempted to click the "email" icon and make sure I'm not falling behind. I've got loads of other apps at my finger tips, calling my name. In other words, it's easy for me to get distracted when I'm on my phone. And I'm guessing most people can relate. The ability to always be updated via our mobile devices can become a pitfall that works against careful study of God's Word, close observation, and undistracted meditation. This is a danger we need to watch out for.
2. Bite-Sized portions (Or, Lack of Context)
The screen sizes on my iPhone and iPad mini aren't huge. That's one of the reasons I like them. But when we're looking at God's Word, that means we often only see a small section of Scripture, and not the larger context in which it's placed. And when you add to that the fact that people don't like to scroll through digital information - but are used to reading mostly headings and simply scanning the rest - you encounter the pitfall that the larger context of the passage is missed and people simply don't read as attentively.
So am I going to delete the Bible apps from my mobile devices? No way. The strengths are too strong. Is it wrong to have people "open up their Bible apps" on Sunday morning so they can follow along as the preacher delivers his sermon? Not at all. We want people in God's Word! Let's encourage the strengths of having the Bible on mobile devices. And yet let's also be aware of the weaknesses, and find ways to cultivate an undistracted attentiveness to God's Word.
For me, this means there are plenty of times throughout the week I pull out my mobile device and access God's Word that way. If I'm meeting someone over lunch and want to reference a passage, for example, it's handy to pull out my phone and leverage my Bible app. But I reserve my most attentive reading and close study of God's Word for the "hard copy version." (It's worth noting I've got lots of company here. Studies indicate that digital natives still prefer reading in print.)
So how 'bout you? How do you use God's Word via an app and/or the print version? What other available strengths or potential pitfalls might you add?
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.