Technology Shapes Bible Reading, Creates Global Community

Robert Parham


Technology Shapes Bible Reading, Creates Global Community | Robert Parham, Technology, Twitter, Social Media, DBCW

While Baptists have long called themselves "people of the book," Baptists will increasingly read the Bible on a screen, not from a book, Parham says. Will we become "people of the screen"?
Mary Meeker was identified by Fortune magazine as "one of the ten smartest people in tech."

She delivered in May a major report on Internet trends at an "All Things Digital" conference.

Using slides, Meeker said we need to re-imagine where we are:

●     We are shifting from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones.

●     We are shifting from "delayed/dedicated reporters" to real-time citizen reporters.

●     We are shifting from printed books to digital books.

Missing from Meeker's report was any note about religion. And we do so need the smartest people in tech helping us to think about technology, if we are to avoid what Jesus said happens when the blind lead the blind (Luke 6:39).

I confess my own myopia about technology. The best I can do is to see through a glass darkly.

In my own church, I teach a Sunday school class in which at least one member reads in class the biblical text on his smartphone. Others read the Sunday school text on their computer screens via an e-mailed hyperlink I send each week.

While Baptists have long called themselves "people of the book," Baptists will increasingly read the Bible on a screen, not from a book. Will we become "people of the screen"?

I recommend the movie "The Book of Eli" starring Denzel Washington. His movie came out about the same time that our documentary, "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," aired on 130 ABC-TV stations. He caught our documentary when it aired in Los Angeles, and he has twice given it a shout-out. So, I'm a Denzel fan.

"The Book of Eli" is a parable about the battle for the Bible in a post-apocalyptic America. The movie is an action-thriller packed with theology. The movie shows how technology determines the way Eli reads the Bible.

Technology has long shaped how we read the Bible.

Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, has a fascinating article about the scroll, the codex and the screen. He traces how the different technologies shape our theology.

As Jacobs notes, some read Bible verses collectively looking up at a big screen. Others read Bible verses individually looking down at a small screen. Still others read Bible verses on a computer screen of a website that has a search engine, which makes the experience interactive.

With only a few visible verses, do screens provide a sense that the text has context? Does the text have a theological sequence? Is there more to the story?

Technology has also shaped how we connect to community.

The Baptist Center for Ethics has long used the best of affordable technology:

●     Recognizing that Baptists deserved and desired faith-related news and moral reflection each weekday, rather than each week, we launched EthicsDaily.com to provide fresh content each weekday in a 24/7 news world.

●     Realizing in 2011 that we needed to shift from fresh daily content to fresh content through the day, we launched a Twitter hub.

●     Understanding the shift from text to video, we interviewed interesting folk via Skype and with an iPhone. We post those interviews on EthicsDaily.com. Video creates connectivity the way text does not.

●     Using Facebook, we post hundreds of photographs from events. Photographs provide a similar community connectivity.

In late September 2009, I wrote, "Jesus spoke in tweets before tweets became cool, if by tweets one means short messages." Two years later, I finally decided to follow Jesus. I've begun to tweet.

Jesus was the master of tweets – messages of 140 characters or less:

●     "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

●     "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases."

●     "No one can serve two masters."

●     "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's."

I think we must always use the best of affordable technology. But we must always understand the temptation of technology, for it can become a golden calf.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. This editorial is adapted from his presentation at a Baptist World Alliance forum in Santiago, Chile, on technology and ministry.