Can Digital Bible Reading Hamper the Next Generation?

December 12, 2011 — 3 Comments

Several days ago, I posted a tweet that garnered a few interesting responses. I said:

If your Bible reading is always from a digital srce, how do your children know the diff b/t you reading God’s Word or playing Angry Birds?     via @andyjohnson

As I walk through this, let me present a few things for context:

  • I’m not stating to have the authoritative answer here, I want to see a dialogue take place.
  • I’m not anti ebooks. I typically like having real book in hand, but I have read and listened to some books through digital means. I recently finished a one year study through the Bible with You Version.
  • It is clear that ebooks are on the rise and will one day be the preferred medium for reading, though I’m not sure that day is close at hand. I think that print books still carry a great deal of weight and influence far beyond where our world is technologically and will be around for a while.
  • One friend noted that the Bible is not medium specific – a point of which I agree. It may come orally, spoken, in print, or in digital print. He noted that what was more important was listening and living out the Word. I agree here, but I’m not sure my tweet was speaking to that point.
  • My post was geared toward modeling Bible reading as a parent. I did not intend it to carry influence in the sphere’s of church teaching, preaching, or convenient Bible study in inconvenient times.

Something I read months ago triggered this sensitivity. In a blog post, the author mentioned that they had not opened a paper Bible in years, that they did all of their Bible reading electronically. It made me wonder if this person’s children ever “caught” them reading the Bible and what kind of an impact that would make on this person’s spiritual parenting. Now, I readily admit that I do not know this person, their life, their parenting, nor their depth of closeness to Christ. I sense that this person is committed to being faithful to God’s Word so I was more interested, not in judging the particular person, but the philosophy and the potential unintended consequences.

Another connecting point in my thinking comes from an ebook that Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote called “Pastor Dad.” He says the following on page 28:

A wise dad may realize that a personal quiet time for himself is unwise; rather than hiding away in a quiet place to read the Bible, it is often best to do so in the noisy living room where the kids can see and climb on their dad while he reads his Bible. Also, if dad frequently has his Bible open, his children will be more likely to ask him questions about God and life because they see that he possesses answers from God’s Word.

What my tweet was getting at was citing the nebulousness that can come with one’s activity on an iPad or smart phone. I used Angry Birds as a hyperbolas statement, but that could have been any app – take your pick – ESPN, Google Reader, email, Words with Friends, etc. If a child simply sees you on your device, how do they see that Bible reading is a priority? What they see, unless they crawl in your lap and ask, is that being on a device is a priority.

Through some statements that came across my feed, here are some tips I gleaned to aid in modeling Bible reading through digital sources to your children:

  • As we shape children to read digitally, we’ll need to pay special attention to helping them focus and not become distracted by the multitude of apps at their fingertips.
  • If we choose to read the Bible digitally, we will need to ensure that we take intentional steps to show our children that we are taking time to read God’s Word. This could include listening to it in the car, commenting on how you are reading God’s Word when they interrupt you, and reading together through a digital means during family devotion time.
  • We need to think through if allowing all of these digital sources into our child’s life is a help or a potential stumbling block. This should definitely guide our thought and practice in our own digital use. Al Mohler has a thoughtful post on this here.
  • How much will you push your child toward digital? Instead of buying them a hardback ESV Grow Bible, will you get them an iPad with You Version? Do most people have the $100+ available for a digital reader for their kid rather than buying them a $25 bible? The question here is that if you are purchasing a print Bible for them, but never open one yourself, what message could you be sending?
  • What about kids bringing Bibles to church? If children are bringing tablets and smartphones into worship services, we will have to come up with creative ways to keep them focused on the Scripture and away from entertainment.
  • Digital Bibles alone would seem to take away from the symbolic nature of God’s Word being important that print Bibles allow.

There you go. As a father of 2 daughters and a lover of technology, that’s where I am right now. So here’s your chance? Let’s dialogue about it. What are your thoughts? What other tips do you think we need to keep in mind for this topic as we forge into the future?

  • Matthew Guevara

    I think that the dad who reads the Bible where his kids can see it might be helpful, but that’s a logical stretch for me. Is a high school football player more apt to talk to a coach that he sees reading a book by Vince Lombardi? Is a mathlete more inclined to talk to the math teacher who they see reading a book about algorithms everyday at school and the local library as opposed to the math teacher who only looks at an iPad? No. You start conversations with people who know you, care about you, and openly coach you.

    Take the analogy into the church. If kids need to see their parent read the Bible, do they need to see their pastor read the Bible? At what point does a child not need to see someone physically reading a Bible in order to ask them questions about it? Does the average church member see their senior pastor read the physical paper Bible or is the Bible always read off a screen or notes?

    I don’t want my kids to talk to me about the Bible because they see me reading it. I want them to talk to me about it because I actively talk to them about what God is teaching me. So the Bible becomes part of what we talk about regularly, the thread through what we live. Scripture needs to shape and mold the ethos of a family – and that doesn’t happen because I happen to be in the same room as my kids reading.

    I really do not want my kids to ask me questions about the Bible because they see me reading it. Ultimately I want them to ask me questions about the Bible because THEY are reading it. The choice over medium is personal. Some people prefer paper. Others prefer digital. I want to help my child choose the best medium to help them get into God’s Word. So we’ll try different versions and different mediums until we strike the right chord that helps my daughters fall in love with God’s Word.

  • Josiah Ritchie

    I’ve been meaning to respond to this since last year. I’ll just come out with it to start. Having not read the book, I find the suggestions of Driscoll reminiscent of legalism, but softer and kinder. Some of that is my general perspective on the up and coming Christian leadership that as they eschew legalism and the faith of the past, they are returning to the same pattern, just using different material. “Away with the boring plaid, we’re going leopard print!”

    So, yes, being seen reading the Bible by your children is an opportunity to express your faith. I think it may be a good fit for some and it may be a poor fit for others. I couldn’t study worth a nickle in a room with my kids running around. I can barely play Angry Birds, certainly not getting any high scores. If high scores in Angry Birds mattered to me, I’d need to set aside time of silence where I could focus far from people and general clutter with an appropriate noise in the room (Switchfoot often does a nice job).

    So I start with the argument that “Can Digital Bible Reading Hamper the Next Generation?” is the wrong question to be asking from the start. It suggests that, in the first place, I can have meaningful time time with God while my kids sprawl across my lap, shove books into my face, make each other laugh and generally be cute attention seekers. I know I can’t. I had similar problems in college which resulted in not studying as much as I’m told I should have.

    Let me take a step back pre-printing press. For the majority of church history, the Bible simply wasn’t available to people to have in their homes. The Gutenberg’s invention occured in 1440. That’s only 572 years ago. Let’s assume that Christ was killed and rose in 40AD. The Christian church and Christian believers existed for 1400 years without written scripture in each and every home for individual study. How did they pass their faith on to previous generations? If that is so important, why didn’t God see fit to have the printing press available before sending his Son?

    Let’s step back a bit further. Adam and Eve, Abraham, Issac, Jacob and Samuel all passed the Old Testament on to the people of Israel without the use of a personal written set of scriptures also. Sure, there were copies available, but mostly the stories of these people that showed how God was active and alive in their daily lives and watching over their people came from non-textual transmission of this information.

    To be clear, personal access to scripture is an amazing tool, but I’m concerned that theologians, a crowd who unashamedly loves books, tends to blend the paper and ink with their God. I see digital scripture as an opportunity to get away from a technology (books) that has over-reached its potential and reversed back on the Christian culture that found it so helpful. That’s another whole conversation in which I would certainly quote Marshall McLuhan and maybe Shane Hipps or John Dyer, but to make it short, I think that blind trust in a written personal scripture is at least partially to blame for the lack of orthopraxy in North American christian culture because it highlighted being correct in every detail to the point of distraction. Books teach us this mindset by being such individualized activities, shaping our brains to think of ourselves first and to think of logic before compassion. So, reading a book in front of someone, not with them, is actually trying to overcome a weakness inherent in the medium and I think it’s awkward and, in my opinion, should be solved through removal of the book and expression of God’s word through other means.

    My primary concern with the study of the scripture is my relationship with my maker and savior, learning what He has for me. I can’t do that with my kids in the room. There are lots of other ways to express to my kids that a relationship with God is important and, for someone like me, that comes from conversation, correction and some other “C” word so I have a good sermon. Instilling a respect for the principles the Bible includes means telling them what I’ve found, showing them how what I know from the Bible applies to their lives and cultivating an awareness that the Bible is the source of this wisdom. It also means setting aside time with them to do some study which I’ve been doing from my smart phone lately. I am amazed at how much my daughter (5) loves this time. Though she can barely read, she looks at the screen and sees the words as I read aloud. Paper or glass – ink or pixels, it’s irrelevant to her as far as I can tell.

    So, in short, I think the technology used to express God’s Word all comes with pros and cons and we don’t recognize the damage the book format does to us. What matters far more is our Children seeing that the principles found in it are being expressed and applied in ways that have meaningful impact on our lives and define why we are different from other families in the neighborhood. Through this they will understand the importance of learning these principles, its applicability to every part of their lives and will hopefully choose to take on that study for themselves in a way that fits them; their learning styles, their personality, their skills and gifts to practice the principles and more.

    Once we know the intended results and the overall strategy to accomplish that, then technology should be brought in. I’m suggesting that I want children who understand God is the source of all wisdom and who turn to Him for what He has to say in each of their decisions. My strategy is to accomplish this by living my own life as such and showing them how to look to God. Given that, techonology like books, smart phones and e-readers begin to come into play, but must be seen for what they take away from the strategy as well as what they bring. Books I read in front of them, but not with them, demonstrates a lack of seriousness about the content because they know me enough to know I’m not putting aside time to focus on it. Smart phones communicate that I want the scripture to be at my side at all times for reference, but also take away from the ornate treatment of a leather bound Bible that expresses a certain importance to what is inside. I’m sure we could go on…

    One thing in my own Bible reading that I really wish I could get my hands on is a Bible without the Chapter, verse or any other markings. I’d like to be able to read these things closer to how they were originally formatted. I think it would be easier for me to be able to string together the larger themes and not get lost in the minutiae before I have a firm understanding of what the context of each verse is. As far as I can tell certain versions of The Message are the closest thing to this concept currently available for the entire Bible.

    • Mark Frost

      If the argument is ‘digital or print’, half the battle is over. Immersing oneself in God’s Word and accepting it as such, with all that should imply, is the greater issue. What % of God’s children spend meaningful time in the Bible? Or for that matter, how many have a regular time or pattern for prayer? How many take it upon themselves to be proficient at sharing the Gospel?

      When it comes to how one get’s God’s Word, I do not think there is one answer that is good for all. Just do it.

      As to the question regarding the harm caused by digital scripture, those closest to a Christian will know whether or not he is walking the walk. Ever met a boisterous Christian who rubbed everyone the wrong way? They may be reading the Word, but you get the feeling they are not listening to the still small voice. The Christian faith is a multi-faceted diamond. Personally, I prefer opening a printed version. I also prefer the KJV. I like knowing that something has withstood the test of time.

      OT scribes had amazing reverence for scripture. If I recall correctly, when they came to His Name, they would stop to bathe, return to write His Name, go bathe again and return to write, every time. If only we really knew how precious God’s Word is to our Heavenly Father.

      Please pardon my lingering threads of thought, and God bless!