Sometime in the past year or so, I lost my Bible. Not every copy of the Bible I own. (I am a seminary graduate, after all, and have many copies on my office shelf.) But, I lost the dog-eared, sticky-note laden Harper Collins Study Bible that I most often used to prepare sermons, Bible studies and all kinds of other classes, workshops and worship. The margin notes provided a retrospective study on the many things I had learned or taught about the Bible in the past dozen years or so.
I had hoped that it would turn up somewhere, crammed in one of my traveling workshop bins. Or that some retreat center worker would notice that someone left their Bible there and return it to me. This has never happened.
The interesting thing that has happened in that past year, is that I managed quite well without it. With a web-enabled iPad, I can access just about any translation of the Bible that I want at any time. YouVersion — one of the first totally free Bible apps — give me access anytime, just about anywhere.
A recent New York Times article described this app as part of the “digital mission” of Lifechurch.tv, a large, technologically savvy congregation affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church. When they were designing the app, they ran into difficulties getting Bible publishers to release rights to their translations because of fears that it would eat into the sale of traditional printed Bibles. Although the idea of copyright and licensing would have been foreign to Johannes Gutenberg, his first printing of the Gutenberg Bible (and subsequent translations in the coming years) probably raised similar questions.
I know that When I train congregations in modern approaches to Faith Formation, people often raise questions about how people may misuse things like sacred texts and other religious information if they have free access to it. This is a legitimate concern. The Bible and other religious texts have certainly been used for negative purposes over the centuries. But, is this really a question of the use of the Biblical text or is it really a question of our need to control?
We should be asking ourselves is: it faithful to give people access to sacred texts? My answer would be yes. Based on my understanding of Christian discipleship, we are called by the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28: 16-20. In order to do that we have to give up a little control and allow people access to sacred texts and other information — knowing the inherent risks. If we are to form people in faith in this digital age, we must allow access and trust that God will work in the hearts and minds of people who will learn, albeit imperfectly, to live this faith. Who knows how much good wouldn’t be in the world without it?
Discussion questions based on this blog:
- What do you believe about allowing people access to the Bible and other sacred texts?
- What harm has come of allowing access to these texts over history? What good has come of it?
- What ways can you and your church reach out through “digital missions”?