Recently Tim Challies has been going over a series on why we should leave our iPods at home while addressing some things about the nature of technology and the importance of printed words (owing much to Postman and McLuhan). I struck up a conversation at Theologica about e-Bibles and wound up with varied responses .
Some of the points that people generally bring up against using electronic medium Bibles (e-Bibles) are (1) that they encourage a frame of mind focused on knowledge-bolstering instead of devotion (2) they encourage distraction with games (3) they encourage distraction with reference clicking (3) they are intangible and can be “turned off” thus not immediately pertinent to the readers life (4) makes the reader a user instead of a learner (5) it is easy to de-contextualize information in electronic medium.
I want to make a few points that really don’t build up on each other but taken as a whole support why I think this thinking is wrongheaded.
Firstly, don’t make an idol out of a medium. The Word of God is not the Word of God on account of what material it is recorded on: be it dirt, stone, parchment, vellum, paper or binary. It is the Word of God on account of God, in different forms and through different people, speaking. Moses’ tablets were tossed and reworked but still the Word of God; Jeremiah’s scroll was burnt and rewritten but still the Word of God; The Gospel According to Luke was compiled using various sources but is still the Word of God. To think that the current tradition, only applicable after Guttenberg, is what is needed for God to properly communicate is to completely misunderstand God’s ability to speak in any culture and situation. Devotions, therefore, are not the product of having the right material but on account of listening to God speak. The Text is the Text on account of the Text—not on account of the material that it is recorded on.
Secondly, I think there is much ado without noticing the nothing of living within a transitional stage. Examine the discouraging eyes of the post-Guttenberg era as people began printing Bibles to be placed in the hand of laymen and notice the similarities.
Thirdly, there is not enough thought beyond personal cultural sphere. Imagine Paul asking for the scrolls and the parchments when he was in prison reminding us that, whatever they, he didn’t carry them about! The idea of carrying a Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Spanish Bible to the man in one easy to carry package might have both boggled him and thrilled him—but that’s because he was always dealing outside of his cultural boundaries. I imagine that the people who complain the loudest have rarely spoken to an audience that is using a Bible that is both a different version and a different language than their own.
Fourthly, potential misuse is to be considered but the pros have to be weighed. The Roman Catholics thought there was huge potential misuse in giving Bibles to the layperson, and they were right. And yet, without that Christianity would have become anemic. Everyone, including the Roman Catholic Church, was affected by the explosion of study into God’s Word.
Fifthly, de-contextualization happens with every medium, more so when a person wants to ignore the context. The fact that there are tools to encourage this doesn’t take away from the fact that people do it anyway. You can go back as far as the early church to see that people can ignore what’s there and proof-text to their heart’s content. Robbing every one of study tools to do this will result in not only slowing down true researchers, but generate what we already have: lazy researchers and non-researchers.
Sixthly, e-Bibles encourage active listening. I don’t think enough of us are active listeners today, but that’s not the fault of printed Bibles. So the fact that people daydream now or play a game at some other point with their kids or with their iPod doesn’t change the fact that people are not active listeners. But for the active listeners, an e-Bible is a tool for devouring what is being said and going over it in detail later. The Bereans would have been proud.
Seventhly, surely the medium might carry a worldview, but that doesn’t mean that the worldview isn’t corrected by the Church en masse. God is behind Art and Music—not pagans; God is behind technology, not the Devil. The fact that these things have been abused and perverted in their presentation does not mean that God’s Church can’t use these things correctly.
Eighthly, how are the charges of research and knowledge any different from that which can be brought against Study Bibles or even Bibles with just cross-references in the margins? And if one takes a step back and denies study Bibles, I’d have to ask on what grounds are they doing that: isn’t it all God’s word?
Ninthly, I wonder how many of these Print-Version Onliests have ever lost a $125 leather Bible filled to the brim with personal notes, colored underlining, bullet points and adjustments. A buddy of mine shelled out $180 dollars to have two leather Bibles: one that he puts his notes in, and one that he backs up his notes in. I personally have a printed library of my notes, various electronic versions saved across several hard drives with nightly backups, an online backup that I pay for through mozy.com plus this blog in which I record a version of my notes online (and they’re not at all on here). The day I lose all of this I will distraught, but I’ll likely have more to worry about than my notes (like the roving tribes of Water Warriors trying to break into my oasis fortress). The year that I lost my Bible with 11 years of original notes, though, will never be recovered.
Tenthly, we are no longer under law so please stop trying to discover ways to make our sanctification more perfect. Sure, not everything is helpful but what makes you think that a laptop with the Word of God is one of those unhelpful things? Rest in Christ people, and let His Spirit work in every presentation of the Word of God!
Hey, it looks like I’ve come up with a ten commandments of E-Bible Usage. Unexpected, but I guess if people are looking at Law, they might as well see it for what it is.
List of verses which were behind some of my thinking: Gal3; Gal 5; Jer 36; Ex 32; Heb 1; Proverbs 2:1, 4:5; 1 Cor 2