12 May 2023

Christians who try to discourage you away from bible apps.

When I bought my first Macintosh, I also bought bible software. I’ve written a little about it elsewhere. I switched software a few times, finally settled on Accordance, spent a lot of money on modules, and now exclusively use it for bible study. I’ve got it on my phone too; I read it instead of my tiny bibles.

My print bibles? Getting dusty.

And I’ve met certain Christians whom this bugs to no end.

Most are bibliolaters, who worship the Holy Bible instead of the Holy Spirit. They may not be aware that somewhere, baked into the moldy filling of their over-elevation of the scriptures, they grew to also revere the printed word. To them, digital books aren’t real books… even though they absolutely are. They’re pretty snobbish about it.

It’s not the medium which makes a book. A book can exist in a stone tablet, a parchment scroll, a parchment codex, a strip of microfilm, a 30-pack of audio cassettes, a 12-pack of audio CDs, a floppy disk or CD-ROM, the solid-state hard drive of your iPhone or Kindle, or the solid-state hard drive of some internet-accessible server somewhere (which people like to call “the cloud,” but yeah, it’s physically somewhere).

Me, I prefer the hard drive. I don’t always have a wifi signal, so the cloud’s definitely my second choice.

So during the Sunday morning services, when these bibliolaters wave their big black pleather-clad KJV study bibles at the listeners and say, “Got your bibles?” what they want to see is a room full of big black pleather-clad KJV print bibles waving back at them, like foam fingers at a baseball game. When they see phones instead… well, a little bit of them dies inside, and not the idolatrous part which needs to die.

Because to them, these aren’t bibles. They’re just phones. And they’re pretty sure you don’t read bible on ’em.

And they’re also pretty sure you don’t actually have a bible on them. In that, they’d usually be correct. Many bible apps don’t actually install a bible on your phone, which you can read on the rare occasion you can’t access the internet. They’re entirely dependent on the internet; all their bible translations are on a server, not your phone.

I don’t really see that as a problem, but they certainly do: Bibliolaters tend to worry that at some point in the future, probably during the End Times, the Beast’s government is gonna ban bibles, and if you don’t have a print copy you’re boned. Me, I suspect most Beast-like autocrats are gonna be just fine with bible. Will even pretend they love the bible, and hold it up for photo opportunities, and even claim their favorite verse is somewhere in “two Corinthians”—because they know perfectly well that Christians don’t follow it, which is how they got elected in the first place. But that’s a whole other tangent. Back to bible apps!

Is it fair to say people don’t read bible on their phones? Well, kinda. But that’s just as true for bibles in print.

The argument that people won’t read an app.

Christians don’t read their bible because people don’t read. For every individual you know who loves to curl up with a good book, 50 don’t, and would rather do anything else.

And when people read, they don’t read much. They read short articles. The shorter the better. I’ve lost count of how many people have complained to me my articles are too long, and that’s why they don’t read this blog. “You oughta make it shorter!” Yeah, but plenty of other people tell me they appreciate my being comprehensive, because most of the stuff on the internet about Christianity tends to be too short and superficial for them. I wholly agree with them. You want light and fluffy Christianity? There’s no shortage out there.

So when people read their bible apps, they read the verse of the day. Seriously. One verse. I got into a discussion on a bus two days ago with someone who never, ever missed his bible app’s verse of the day. Memorized it, then shared it with everybody who asked. Which is a neat trick!—I’m not gonna knock the practice. But has he read more of the bible today than that one verse? Well… no, not really. He has read it. It’s just been a while.

You might, and bibliolaters have, point to that sort of behavior and say, “See? Proves my point about the bible apps. You need a print bible!” But I’m an old man; I’ve been Christian for five decades. I remember life in the olden days, before apps, when Christians did the very same thing. My church would have free copies of the popular devotional Our Daily Bread in the lobby (which is now on the internet as well as print) and every day’s one-page article began with a bible passage, and a verse from that passage. And I kid you not, plenty of people would only read that two-paragraph passage. Or only read the verse. And they were done. That’s their daily bread for the day: One saltine. Or none, if they think they remembered the passage already, so they didn’t bother to look it up to read, and double-check the context.

Doesn’t matter what form it comes in. People. Don’t. Read.

So yeah, some Christians might read their bible app, and even follow along with their church’s bible-in-a-year plan, and actually read more than a few paragraphs. And in many ways the bible app actually facilitates this: Christians don’t usually carry a print bible with them, or have one in the workplace, but they always carry a phone. If they read nothing else, they will read stuff on their phones… and if they’ve resolved to read more bible, they will read more bible. On their phones.

I read an article by this one pastor who claims the phone itself is a distracting problem: People might pick it up to read their bible apps… but there are so many other things on their phones! Like text messages. Videos. Games. Social media. Your Kindle app. So they’re anxious about that, they claim: You might intend to read bible, and instead you choose to read some popular novel, and so much for bible.

As if you’re not gonna have the very same temptation if you keep your bible on your bookshelf, or in any other place you stash books and magazines. The only thing that’s changed is the medium.

“It’s just… not a book!

Like I said, a lot of the arguments against reading bible on your phone have to do with the value they perceive in a physical print book. One I’ve actually read is, “Do you take pride in your bible app? Probably not. But does your family take pride in your old, beat-up, marked-up, wrinkled- and dogeared-pages, decades-old family bible you use every night at the dinner table?”

Um… no, I don’t remember ever taking pride in the physical book. Of any physical book. ’Cause my churches taught us we weren’t supposed to take pride in material possessions. Something about how Jesus doesn’t approve. And you don’t get to make an exception for big fancy bibles like the bibliolaters do.

Did I take pride in my print bibles? Not really. For a while there I took pride in my print-bible collection, ’cause I bought a bunch of different translations before I finally went all-in with digital. I felt it was really useful to have all these translations to compare. Of course, Bible Gateway does the job so much better and easier.

The writer went on and on about the personal connection he felt with his favorite print study bible—about how it’s so much more meaningful, more nostalgic, more beautiful, more sacred, than the non-existent connection he had with his bible app. He never thinks of the app as “my bible,” but he’s very much attached to his study bible. That’s his bible. It gives him all the feels.

And yeah, he gets into the feeling of using a print bible—he claims you don’t just learn a book by reading it, but by feeling the pages turn, flipping around it, carrying it, holding it, cuddling it like a teddy bear after he’s gone to bed… Okay he didn’t go there, but he comes mighty close.

Plus note-taking! He loves the fact he can use a highlighter on his print bible. Loves how he can jot notes in the margins. Loves how he can tuck church bulletins inbetween its pages. You can’t do that with a digital bible, now can you?

Except, um, I have. My Accordance app lets you highlight stuff. And, unlike a print bible, lets you erase those highlights when you find out you’ve mistakenly emphasized the wrong thing. The app lets you take notes, although I prefer and use Google Docs. If I want a copy of the church bulletin that I won’t lose, my phone has a camera, and easily convert photos to text. If I want cross-references, the app has ’em; if I want study-bible notes, the app has all the study bibles I’ve purchased.

And I can edit these notes if I wanna. And I can share these notes with others. And if I want to go further into depth, I don’t have to set down my print bible, go to my bookshelf, pluck out a book from one of my 66-volume commentary sets, look up this particular passage, then try to find the same passage in two other commentaries; the commentaries are right there on my computer or phone.

Print bibles are nice, and you might even be nostalgic for your childhood bible or family bible. But when it comes to bible study, whether serious or on-the-fly (and you probably know by now how often on-the-fly stuff gets serious!), apps are always gonna be superior.

Suspicious minds.

I once had a pastor who really got agitated about all the young people in church whipping out their phones whenever he started preaching. ’Cause he was entirely sure they were just playing games or texting friends the whole time. You know, like his own teenagers did, constantly. Would do it all through dinner if you let them—and he didn’t let them.

I wasn’t a young person then, but I definitely started using bible apps as soon as they were available. So I guess I was one of the people bugging him too.

He finally brought this up during a bible study, when he said “Let’s turn to the scriptures. Leslie, you have Leviticus 19.18…” and I pulled out my phone, and read the scripture off it.

HE. “You have the bible on your phone?
ME. “Yep. Bible software for your phone. In any translation you want, so if you have a specific translation in mind, I can switch to that. I can even read it in Hebrew.”
HE. “Oh! That’s kinda useful.”
ME. “Yeah, all the kids have them. That’s why they read their phones instead of carrying around a big ol’ bible.”
HE.That’s why they’re reading their phones.”
ME.And taking notes. Oh, you thought they were texting..”
HE. “I did! Oh good. I was worried I was losing them.”
ME. “Oh, you’re totally losing them. They can fact-check you now.”

But that’s another discussion.

Still, there are preachers who still get agitated whenever someone whips out a phone during the sermon, ’cause they’re pretty sure these people aren’t really listening. And to be fair, it’s possible they’re not; they’re watching a game, or reading the news. Or, when I was a kid and the preacher got super boring, reading the bible. I’d read the passage he was preaching on, then keep going. Or flip to another book; as he was preaching on Titus I’d entertain myself with Samson ben Manoah murdering random Philistines for their clothes in Judges. Jg 20.19 The phone might enable all sorts of extracurricular reading, but it’s always been possible.

That one writer who gushed about his favorite print bible, also wrote a bit about how we oughta carry print bibles just to give our preachers peace of mind; just in case they’re worried they’re not getting through to people, and worried the audience is playing Wordle (or the much superior Quordle) instead of listening to him try to preach Christ’s truth.

Me, I think any such preacher has a deficiency of peace, and that’s a fruit of the Spirit they really need to develop further. When Paul wrote “Be anxious for nothing,” Pp 4.6-7 he didn’t mean we should make exceptions for when we’re trying to get through to people. The Spirit can get through to anyone if he needs to—and if you’re trying to get through to anyone without the Holy Spirit’s prompting, because you’re preaching your agenda not his, you and the Spirit need to have a serious talk about this. You’re supposed to be following his lead, not hoping he’s empowering yours. And if you’re following his lead properly, there’s nothing to worry about!—he’s got this.

Missed opportunities?

Lastly, I’ve heard more than one person complain about how reading a bible in public will start a conversation, but reading a phone is no big deal. Everybody reads their phones.

This has not been my experience. People start conversations with me no matter what I’m reading. I could be on my laptop at the coffeehouse; I could by on my phone on the bus; people will say hello and ask what I’m reading, and if I’m reading or studying bible I’ll say so. And we might talk bible, if they care to. Sometimes they do; sometimes not. I don’t force ’em to talk about anything they don’t wanna.

In my experience, opportunities don’t happen because I’m carrying a conversation-starter. Opportunities happen because the Holy Spirit knows he can use me to point people to Jesus, no matter what I’m doing. Or reading. Or not reading. (But yeah, usually reading.)

Back when I was a hypocritical teenager, if I read a bible in public, nobody’d ask me anything. Because they were fully aware that if they got me talking about religion, I’d be an angry jerk about it. Same as I kinda was about everything. And there are some people who are obviously that type, who conspicuously read bibles in public places because they’re hoping people will ask ’em God-questions. Of course, the only people who choose to engage them are usually fellow Christians, or antichrists who want to bait ’em into a debate. No real opportunities. Lots of debates though.

Now? I could be anywhere, talking to anyone about anything, and religious stuff casually comes up ’cause it’s a big part of my life (“Yeah, I was talking with someone in church about that”) and suddenly they wanna talk religion. I don’t have to prompt anything; I don’t have to lead the conversation anywhere; they bring it up. “What church do you go to? What do you believe? Do you believe [HOT-BUTTON ISSUE]? I haven’t been to church in a while; I really should go.” Opportunities just happen, because the Spirit clearly thinks I’m ready to tackle ’em. And opportunities are likewise gonna happen to you if you make yourself ready for them. And by “ready” I do not mean you’re carrying a prop like a Christian hat, a Christian tattoo, or a big thick print bible.

My attitude has always been the best bible is the one you read. If you read your bible apps, great! If you prefer print, also great! But don’t bash the one you don’t use. Don’t fret that something might be watered down, or lost, or ruined because your favorite medium isn’t everyone’s favorite medium. It’s not about you. And really that’s what all the app-bashers are doing: Exalting their preferences over everything else. Claiming God can’t use what he clearly, obviously, regularly does use—and exposing just how out-of-touch with God they are.