My Take: How technology could bring down the church
May 15th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: How technology could bring down the church

Editor's Note: Lisa Miller, formerly the religion editor at Newsweek, is the author of “Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife,” recently released in paperback.

By Lisa Miller, Special to CNN

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and Bible publishers are ostentatiously commemorating the landmark by producing an abundance of gorgeous doorstops. Leather bound Bibles. Two-volume sets. Replicas of the 1611 version complete with “original” illustrations.

The hoopla is entirely justified, since the King James Bible revolutionized Bible reading, bringing Scripture into a common vernacular for the first time for the English-speaking world.

It is not too much to say that the King James Bible - mass produced as it was, thanks to a new technology called the printing press - democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many.

Today, another revolution in Bible reading is underway – one that has nothing to do with gilt-edged paper. If the King James Bible brought the Bible to the English-speaking masses, today’s technology goes a giant step further, making Scripture - in any language and any translation - accessible to anyone on earth with a smartphone.

Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation, which was aided by the advent of the printing press and which helped give birth to the King James Bible, changes wrought by new technology have the potential to bring down the church as we know it.

In the face of church leaders who claimed that only they could interpret the Bible for the common people, Reformation leaders like Martin Luther taught that nothing supersedes the authority of the Word itself.

"A simple layman armed with Scripture,” Luther wrote, “is greater than the mightiest pope without it."

In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers.

With Scripture on iPhones and iPads, believers can bypass constraining religious structures - otherwise known as “church” - in favor of a more individual connection with God.

This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating: that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and savior, folks don’t read the Bible.

According to a 2010 survey, more than a third of born-again Christians “rarely or never” read the Bible. Among “unaffiliated” people - that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation - more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible.

Especially among 18-to-29 year olds, Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit.

Young Christians “have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive,” the Christian demographer Dave Kinnaman told the Christian magazine Charisma in 2009, “that allow them to be open and honest with their questions, that are technologically stimulating, that are done alongside peers and within trusted relationships.”

This yearning for a more unmediated faith - including Bible verses live in your pocket or purse 24/7, available to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed - has met an enthusiastic embrace.

For growing numbers of young people, a leather-bound Bible sitting like an artifact on a stand in the family living room has no allure. It’s not an invitation to exploration or questioning.

Young people want to “consume” their spirituality the way they do their news or their music. They want to dip and dabble, the way they browse Facebook.

Thus the almost-insane popularity of Youversion, a digital Bible available for free on iTunes and developed by a 34-year-old technology buff and Christian pastor from Oklahoma named Bobby Gruenewald. He conceived of it, he told me, while on a layover at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, wishing he had a Bible to read.

“What we’re really trying to address is, how do we increase engagement in the Bible?” he said.

Now available in 113 versions and 41 languages, including Arabic, Youversion has a community component that allows users to share thoughts and insights on Bible verses with friends. It has been installed on more than 20 million smartphones since 2008.

On May 2, Youversion staged its own King James commemorative event: for 400 seconds, starting at noon, more than 10,0000 users logged on and read a portion of the Bible – King James translation, of course - a kind of 21st century Bible-reading flash mob.

Traditionalists worry that technology allows young believers to practice religion without committing to what in the south is called “a church home” - and they’re right.

I did a public Q&A with Michigan pastor Rob Bell on the eve of the publication of his new bestseller "Love Wins" and was astonished, during the book-signing that followed, at how many acolytes felt they knew Rob through his sermons, which they regularly downloaded off the internet, even though they had never met him. They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey.

They listen to Bell while they’re working out, or commuting to work. They get their religion - like their meals - on the run.

It is now possible to imagine the extinction of the family Bible, long given as a gift on graduation day or other big occasions and inscribed with special dates: births, marriages, deaths.

Instead, the Bible may someday exist exclusively online, with features that allow for personalization: Link to photos of weddings and baptisms! “Share” favorite verses!

When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote.

Without a doubt, this represents a new crisis for organized religion, a challenge to think again about what it means to be a “body” of believers.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lisa Miller.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion • Technology

soundoff (1,564 Responses)
  1. Grumpster

    Maybe technology can finally stop the insanity by exposing corrupt religious figures, expose the fantasyland that religion is by fostering views other than that which are coming down from the Vatican (or other depending on what religion) and take in views that science has proven over and over again. Instead of believing fossils are no older than 10,000 years (like a guy I knew who was a youth minister), maybe they can start trusting in proven technology like carbon dating.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • ELRON

      YES!!! Maybe we can stop the rain dances and all that praying that isn't working along the Mississippi.

      May 15, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  2. JWH

    What a typical CNN topic. Sorry, the gate sof hell will not prevail against the church.
    BTW, a sign one is saved is that they love being with the brethren. The Body of Christ is the church and assemles becuase we love and worship him.
    Why not suggest Islam losing becaus ethe Koran in on an ipod? You idiots.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • john

      By saying ", the gate sof hell will not prevail against the church," do you mean the internet?

      May 15, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  3. Tyler

    The end of the church? Thank Christ! It's about time

    May 15, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Anon


      May 15, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  4. john

    It is nice to see more people are growing out of the imaginary friend that their parents and grandparents had 🙂

    May 15, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  5. RickD

    Please remember: there is no God – only aliens!

    May 15, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Jesus

      Thank you L. Ron Hubbard.

      May 15, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  6. rdstrby

    If only that could be true. Maybe there would be a little less oppression in the world if only scripture existed without self proclaimed "authorities" to undermine its message a control other people.


    May 15, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  7. unowhoitsme

    Don't confuse relligion and God. Religion is a cult that has destroyed many lives because it is based on all man's interpretations of God and the bible. It has led so may people astray.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • mb2010a

      Agree...religion and G_d are two different things.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • gozer

      whereas god simply doesn't exist.

      There, finished your post for you.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  8. Greenhornet

    Not what I'm seeing in my church the internet helps the church and always has God let us invent the internet for many reasons
    Praise God.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Jesus

      Gee, and I thought Al Gore invented the internet. It was really "God", your invisible and imaginary friend who lives in the sky. BTW, praise him for what? I look around and see hunger, devastations, and poverty as well as cruelty. If there is a God, he is either an incompetent or he just doesn't care. Hardly worth praising. THINK!!

      May 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Bob

      If you drove by a house and saw a car rusted through, with windows broken and partially burned, would you think "either there are no car manufacturers or they are incompetent." No. You would probably think something like, "someone didn't take care of that car the way the manufacturer intended." It's the same with the condition of our world.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  9. Doug

    Really... We do not need more of this hate.. Really.. come on folks, this is hater sheet..

    May 15, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Q


      May 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  10. jerry

    you people at cnn would just love it if this would happen wouldnt you. you guys would have a hay day with this news and you wouldnt hesitate to broadcast it all over the place

    May 15, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  11. Atheist_Free_Thinker

    Really CNN? This is the headline on your website? Religion will be the fall of man and you boneheads at CNN are just helping it along.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • john

      Every Sunday they report "faith" or " belief" as front page news. As if unscientific, irrational belief in something which doesn't exist is worthy of the 21st century.

      It belongs on the History channel instead.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  12. Reality

    What technology, study and rational thinking will actually bring about:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple rules of life.

    No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples or synagogues.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • jim

      You're dreaming! It's a good dream, nevertheless just a dream.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  13. Iceman

    @ Hot Air, Over the years MEN have script,wrongfully translated and included what they believe is right and want others to believe as well. I believe in the bible AND think the Technogoly is good on my part BUT This version is bull crap. The one thing i would like everyone to know is that Christians is the biggest man killers today, BUT this book has changed SO many peoples lives for the better. I live in a bad area i've seen the Real changes, No matter Where they get the info at rather on paper or internet it is designed to change your life for the better. Would you agree?

    May 15, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • mb2010a


      May 15, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • GarrettH

      Iceman you have no evidence to back that up. If anyone says they are a christian and is out there killing people they are not really a christian. For example I'm not a doctor just because I say I am.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Iceman

      We are a christian Nation right? look all through history the ones who say that they were christians were doing the most distrubing things, First the RCC, then the Prostants, now the U.S.A

      May 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  14. David Johnson

    From the article:
    "According to a 2010 survey, more than a third of born-again Christians “rarely or never” read the Bible. Among “unaffiliated” people – that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation – more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible."

    Mmmm...! I love this. All those versions of the bible, going unread. Well, Mom always said, "You can't polish a turd."

    I think Jesus better get His resume in order.

    I bet these numbers are actually low. Most of the fundies probably get their beliefs from televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and the occasional Chick Tract they pick up at the doctor's office. That's the problem with surveys. People lie. They know what they should be doing and respond accordingly.


    May 15, 2011 at 6:10 am |
    • Adelina

      David, that means two-thirds are reading and that's a lot. American atheists have nothing to read. Most of fundies are Christians outside of the comfort of America who live on the Bible and we know what life means because of the Bible.

      May 15, 2011 at 6:34 am |
    • John Richardson

      Adelina – You are incoherent, again.

      May 15, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • jim

      @Adelina American atheists have plenty of things to read, we just don't read comic books (like your bible).

      May 15, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Jesus

      The bible is a doorstop in my home and I also keep a few copies in the john in case I run out of TP.

      May 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • sharon

      Jesus better get his resume in order?

      It is written in the Holy Word of God that each person will be judged for every idle word that proceeds out of the mouth.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  15. Adelina

    Honestly, technology has been way too slow in progress. I thought by this year mankind would have multiple colonies on the moon and travel to the moon at least monthly. What's slowing down? Now the technology should redirect itself and must gear fully toward restoration and preservation of the planet's nature. Actually no one knows what's around the corner.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Jesus

      Trips to the Moon? You want a devastated empty landscape? Visit Detroit.

      May 15, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  16. Adelina

    The Bible commands the body of believers to gather together and worship God together and fellowship together, not just to study the Bible, and the Church's endurance till the end was prophesied. It will never happen like this article anticipates. Technology is a tool and a toy but never replaces anything vital to human souls.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Kristy Sinsara

      Ignorance is truly bliss!!! Stay this way. It's a much easier way to live life sometimes!

      May 15, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  17. HoldingNothing

    Seems like the writer is confusing people viewing technology as an end goal for the bible, assimilating and/or eliminating unnecessary biological or interpersonal face to face interactions, with technology as a means for spreading the bible and even encouraging people to socialize. There's always the use of Facebook for notifying people of church events, like at my college, where my brother has had a conversion experience in his senior year through the Campus Crusade for Christ. The smartphone has potential for abuse, but what doesn't have that potential?

    The printing press enabled Luther to print out his treatise called "On The Jews and Their Lies" and if he wanted, he could have disseminated it as anti Jewish propaganda. Similar abuses exist with technology, but that doesn't mean we should be so alarmist and sensationalizing about the state of Christianity in the world. If anything, I've seen in my own experience a growth of Christianity, albeit many times in a somewhat heterodox direction. Mind you, I'm an apostate of Christianity, so my familiarity might not be perfect or ideal.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  18. HotAirAce

    I could summarize the bible and all religion for that matter in one Tweet: It's all bullish!t -no need to spend any more time reading it!

    May 15, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • Steverguy

      I'm assuming the name HotAirAce is referring to you being filled with hot air and being really good at letting it out, regardless of the need or desire of others to read it.

      May 15, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Scarf

      Our kids went to Catholic K-12 and, naturally, had to endure religious classes. Family rule (not mine) was that they had to do the Church thing until age 18. Thereafter, they could choose religion or not. Eldest daughter got in Stanford and we were checking out the campus when we walked by the Church and my daughter noted, "well that is one place I'll never set foot in". Smart girl.

      May 15, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Jesus

      Too true!

      May 15, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • john

      Well most Holy texts are worth reading if you want to learn how to commit genocide, enslave people, smash babies against rocks, and generally do anything worthy of bronze age barbaric mentality. So it is not all BS!

      May 15, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Jesus

      It's more than just that. With religion the masses are lulled into a belief that all injustices will be dealt with in the afterlife. By saying that it allows and encourages inaction to deal with injustices hear and now. It also separates people into tribes of believers and nonbelievers, making the believers think that they are the special ones and the non-believers the outsiders.

      May 15, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Monson

      Or......The Bible could be a place where you take ideas on how to be compassionate, helpful to others, learn to place others before yourself and begin to love others in ways that Jesus did for you. BUT, I suppose if you're a pessimist I guess all those verses are thrown right out the window in favor for the stoning, slavery and mass killing verses.

      I for one, as much as it can be very hard to read the Bible at some points, choose to be more optimistic about the love that Jesus showed, the compassion for enemies and willingness to help others. Wouldn't it be great if we followed those verses more often?

      May 15, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • PulTab

      well said hotairace!

      May 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Q

      So write your own book, instead of insulting other peoples beliefs.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • sharon

      You WILL have a rude awakening in eternity.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  19. myklds

    Technology could never let down churches, would uplift it instead.

    May 15, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Peace2All


      Hey -mykids...

      You Said: "Technology could never let down churches, would uplift it instead."

      I'm curious, because -Lisa Miller(the writer of the this article states): " When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of (physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote.)

      (Without a doubt, this represents a new crisis for organized religion), a challenge to think again about what it means to be a “body” of believers."

      What is your opinion on what 'churches' actually mean from your statement, when apparently, at least according to the article... it seems to be making the need for 'churches' possibly as far as a physical gathering places for people to connect of the same or similar religion or faith...'obsolete.'

      Part of the reason I'm questioning you is you have made your statement as an 'absolute' when you used the word..."never."

      So, no possibility for it hurting what is usually considered a theological and maybe 'most importantly to a recent study is... the 'social' aspect as in the development of bonding and close relationships...?

      Still curious...



      May 15, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Prodigal Son

      @peace..Anything technology has to offer that enumerated by the author could never replace the warmth welcome, bonding and sense of belongingness, likewise the personal touch of shakehands, brotherly hug and the warmth smile of welcome that can only be found in the true church.

      Sorry for the late reply, when I leave there were only 9 comments few hours when I'm back it almost 300 but typical bible/religion bashing comments

      May 15, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  20. RightturnClyde

    This is an excellent writer and an excellent article. I could comment on it for an hour, but I would like to say it is well worth reading. One comment I'd like to advance is that we have (unfortunately) become a nation of no-readers. We are most "watchers" of TV and videos and passive receivers or prepared information (rather than synthesizers of information). What made America strong was not military power, but literacy and education (which was often rooted in the desire of the parent for the child to read a Bible). Widespread literacy predicated a number of excellent novelists, scholars, engineers, doctors, play writes, editors, academics. Every private company could recruit from an enormous base of literate people. They were easy to train and did superior work). Federal and state governments and municipalities could draw from the same recruitment base. Reading made America literate and literacy made her strong. Reading the Bible was often the primary motivation as well as the reading primer.

    May 15, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • Peace2All


      Hey there... -Right turn !! Hope that you are doing well.

      So, I'm curious... I get where you are coming from on your post, and... I'm curious as to whether you like the 'technology' advances suggested in this article...?



      May 15, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • ton

      CNN and these autors have christianophobia. They need to stop judge christianity with thier bigottery against ordinary social class.

      May 15, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • nick2

      Two points: There is not supposed to be a 'management' class (i.e a priest, minister or preacher) between you and your creator. So theoretically it makes sense to do away with them. But there is a strange paradox in that most (not all) deeply religious people, do not think. They react – often in way that has been conditioned by their spiritual leader, reflecting his ignorance usually of the written word, and his personal bigotries. I do not expect that to change – at all.

      May 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jesus

      Interesting that a vast majority of the fundamentalist Christians have not read the Bible. They get their knowledge of what's in the bible from the religion hucksters, TV, and hearsay. Very few evangelicals know that the Bible sanctions slavery (Exodus 20 & 21), punishes the most horrendous crimes with a slap on the wrist (e.g. Deut. 22:13-29), and yet demands the stoning to death for violating 7 of the 10 commandments including the one that says thou shall not have another God before you (kind of the same thing as what the Koran says about nonbelievers – although beheading is the preferred method of execution).

      May 15, 2011 at 10:54 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.