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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. James the Just

    Tradition, theology and twisted dogma doesn't exist in the digital Church but one thing that is missing in the digital Church is that personal guidance from your Pastor and other well versed Christians and that leads to mistakes. The digital Church gives one a freedom from the often oppressive regimented belief structure that is often based on tradition and not scripture.

    Christ tells us to pray to our Father GOD in our closet, in secret and he will reward us openly. We are to develop a personal relationship with God and Christ, and rely on our Pastors for learning.

    We must understand that the Church is destroying itself by changing GOD's WORD. Either they are influenced by liberal ideologies that discriminates against Israel and allows Gay authorities in the Church or they are influenced by conservative ideologies and hate everyone that does not follow what they teach. The Saints must be overthrow, it is scripture and it will happen. The Church is destroying itself and the digital Church is just the final nail in their coffin.

    http://www.yahwehyeshua.com

    May 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • FifthApe

      Another who claims to know god exists – and to know its mind. James, if you are on a bus and someone says to you 'god is speaking to me' do you move closer or farther away?

      May 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  2. dave

    To All,
    The bible is where we will find God's word. The true gospel is no longer in the churches. What took place is the abomination of desalation, that is, Satan took his seat in the temple(churches). God said this would happen at the end. Satan comes as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of rightiousness.

    This has been going on for 23 years.

    May 21 2011 will be the beginning of God's judgment upon the world. For more information about this you can go to Familyradio.com or just google May 21 2011. There are only 6 days left before judgment day. When the Ninivites got word judgment was coming they cried mightily unto God for mercy saying, who can tell maybe God will have mercy.Jonah3:8
    Dave

    May 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • FifthApe

      Dave you are delusional. Lets talk on May 22. PS: get help soon for this condition.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • sara

      I am worried for you Dave. Please realize that on may 22nd your going to be very upset when your still here and nothing has happend. please believe this may be the case. i fear you may hurt yourself or others. if you become upset i please ask that you call a help hotline. There doesnt need to be deaths from this like what has happended in the past. because these false profits will come again and again and there just doesnt need to be death for no reason.

      May 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      dave, I'll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Remember to wear your nose ring -the big steel one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the uplifting.

      Also remember to sign those doc-uments you were sent. You won't be needing what you agreed to give away to me.

      I'll be there to yank your chain on May 21. You can count down on it.

      May 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • mentat69

      Yeah but seriously Dave don't hurt anybody please....

      May 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  3. Jason

    Sad that of the three responses I've made to people on this article, all of them thorough and thoughtful, two are still "awaiting moderation" for several hours now.

    May 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Nanny Filter

      Jason,

      Your posts will never show up. It's an automatic word filter. Check over your post for trick words.

      Compliments of @Reality:
      "The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not."

      There's more to the list, but some ninnies complain when it's posted.

      Good Luck

      May 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  4. fierybuddha

    I read the Bible once. Didn't really like the ending, though – a bit Stephen Kingish.

    May 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • mentat69

      Dude that's classic!

      May 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  5. Kim

    I think the crux of the matter is that people these days are more educated than back in the days of yore. Therefore they feel stifled when they have to revert to a figurehead, ie Church, to "interpret" God for them. Assuming that these so-called "Holy Men" (who are often more depraved than their congregations) are the authority on spirituality is becoming obsolete.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • rofwe

      I AGREE WITH YOU..THAT IS WHAT JESUS TALKED AGAINST IN THE BIBLE..HE CALLED THEM SHEEPS IN CLOTHING..THEY ARE SENTBY SATAN TO DEVELOP ANGER TOWARDS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST SO THAT NO ONE WOULD READ THE BIBLE FOR THEMSELVES..THEY WILL START MAKING COMMENTS LIKE THE PEOPLE IN THESE BLOGS AS THE WORLD IS HEADED TOWARDS THE END OF MANKIND AS WE KNOW IT..EVEN IF YOU DID NOT BELIVE IT WILL BE STUPID NOT TO INVESTIGATE FOR YOUR SELF JUST IN CASE YOU DIE AND FIND OUT OTHERWISE..

      May 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  6. rofwe

    BEHOLD ALOT OF PEOPLE ARE TALKING JUST LIKE THEY TALKED DURING NOAHS DAY!! SATAN HAS BLINDED YOU! KEEP WATCHING THE WEATHER AND THE NEWS IT IS HAPPENING..THE GREATEST TRICK OF THE DEVIL IS TO KEEP YOU FROM READING THE BIBLE AND MAKE YOU THINK THAT HE DOES NOT EXITST! THE DEVIL CREATED RELIGION NOT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST..DON'T BE FOOLED THE BIBLE AND THE POWER OF GOD WILL NEVER BE DESTOYRED! IF YOU ARE SO SURE THAT THE BIBLE IS NOT TRUE AND YOU HAVE READ THE WHOLE THING ..DIE AND COME BACK AND TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED..

    May 15, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • FifthApe

      Caps lock please. When I see all caps, I picture a nut shouting on a corner. But then when I read what you wrote, well you are a nut.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • FLZunner

      Why are you yelling? You yell, yet no one listens.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • ayersrock26

      Not sure if you are serious or kidding but assuming you are serious.... maybe the Devil made me do it or he gave me the mind to question not sure but I'm pretty sure the burden of proof still lies on the believer. You're asking people to read the book for then they will BELIEVE maybe the writers of the book should have come up with some more believable stories, but I think the article was saying that many are not reading and still believing because they were told to.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • sara

      Its Climate change that we ourselves are causing you idiot. I guess god gave you no Common sense. This is how education in america has failed us. This person was never taught critial thinking skills. Stop making the rest of america look bad! and what are you doing on CNN anyway? this is a real new site. go back to fox! you belong there if you dont have common sense!

      May 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • mentat69

      Yeah....you are definitely the corner nut job.

      May 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  7. jojoj

    How the hell can someone believe in Jesus Christ, a magical figure who can walk on water, and still use computers wherein the technology is grounded in science? Science trumps religion and yet all these christians use science and worship Jesus Christ. You should be worshipping the god of biology and technology hypocrites.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • rofwe

      SCIENCE VERSUS THE GOD OF NOAH,MOSES,JACOB,DAVID,SAUL,PAUL,DANIEL,JOSEPH,AND OR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHIRST..AND THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS THAT IS BEING FULFILLED BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES..
      BRING IT ON!!!

      May 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • FifthApe

      rofwe said:

      "AND THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS THAT IS BEING FULFILLED BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES..
      BRING IT ON!!!"

      This is why religion is evil. This NUT is and end times fool who not only thinks there is an end times but gleefully looks forward to it. This person is insane. Claims to know things he can't possibly know. Nut bar alert.....

      May 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • sara

      oh dear. its not the end of times, its climate change. please stop expecting someone else to fix all your problems and start taking care of your planet before it really is the end of times and we caused it. Your going to be very upset when you die and find out your dirt. oh my bad you wont be upset because you wont be anything. just dirt.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  8. Anotherdayjustbelieve

    key word: COULD

    May 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  9. TheRationale

    "They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey."

    I lol'd. New Jersey...

    May 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  10. FifthApe

    Another way to look at it. Make 2 lists. One on all the Religious claims that have been replaced by better scientific explanations. The second all the scientific explanations that have been replaced by better religious ones. Its not even close. Science works. Religion – well look at all the gods that we've invented.... Not even close.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  11. FifthApe

    Science has been pushing back religious ignorance for hundreds of years. We were once the center of creation but now we know we are on a minor planet around an average star in a galaxy that contains 200 billion stars and this galaxy is one among billions of others.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • gozer

      yeah, and ain't it funny how religions have to keep changing their stories to match, ,and then every time the story changes,claiming they said it was this way all along.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  12. Iceman

    NEWS FLASH FOR EVERYONE IN HERE, THE BIBLE HAS NO MISTAKES!!!!!!!
    THAT'S WHY ALL THE OTHER BOOKS HAVE BEEN SCRIPT OUT THEN?
    WHAT ABOUT THE BOOK OF JUDAS HE HAD A GOSPEL AND HONESTLY IT
    SOUNDS BETTER THAN THE ONES WE HAVE NOW
    WHEN WE HAVEMEN CONTROLLING THINGS THEIR
    R GOING TO BE MISTAKES

    May 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • wras125

      Men wrote the bible, there are mistakes in that. The men that are our leaders all claim to read the bible and are men of faith, they make a lot of mistakes. The bible is full of inconsistencies; its funny that people like you, Iceman, still cant see that.

      If you want a good bible to read, read the Jeffersonian Bible.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Iceman

      @ WRAS12 WHATEVER I CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR NUMBERS, i was being funny i know MAn has changed it so much it isn't funny, the bible has an azs of mistakes, there is that better?

      May 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  13. Alex

    People wake up. The Bible is a very old book that is supposed to explain what we are doing here and how we got here. But it was written in a time when people had NO IDEA ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND THEM. Now we do know about the world we live in, and what we do know does not support the Bible's version of events. SOoooo... people should take some iniciative and move on past religion. Religion no longer serves and purpose, it does not inspire virtue in its followers, and does not bring peace to anyone. So ditch these OLD intolerant religions.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • sara

      it still serves a perpose. community involment! umm thats about it though.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  14. Sam

    ugghh.. let it happen soon. religion is evil.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  15. Highland

    The Bible was written by men. To take it literally is silly. A man inside a whale, two animals of every species on a boat.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • John

      This article is about the internets impact on books, not religion. But glad you had fun

      May 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Moss

      It would be even less believable if it was written by women.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  16. David Young

    So three Chinese men were in an unfortunate automobile accident; sadly, none survived. The three China men showed up at the Pearly Gates but were stopped by St. Peter when trying to enter Heaven. St. Peter said, "halt, you cannot advance into Heaven for you are non-believers!" One China man speaks up and says, "but we now know we were wrong; please let us into Heaven." Peter scratches his chin and thinks for a moment, then says, "I'll tell you what. If you can tell me the true meaning of Easter, I will let you into the Kingdom of Heaven."

    The first China man step forward and says, "Easter? That's easy. Easter is where people chop down trees, bring them into the house, decorate them with pretty lights and stuff, and lay presents underneath." Peter responds with, "No, I am sorry. That is not the meaning of Easter." POOF! And the first China man disappears.

    The second China man steps forward and in a not so confident voice says, "Easter? Ah, is this where people put on scary masks and go door to door asking for candy?" POOF! "No," says Peter.

    Finally, the third China man steps confidently forward and says, "Easter, this is very sad story; a very sad story indeed. A great man by the name Jesus was persecuted and tortured until he died on a cross. He was then buried in a tomb to be forever forgotten. Then a few days later and to everyone's surprise, Jesus miraculously awakes and rises to his feat. Even though he should be dead, he walks forward and commands the tomb to open, which it does. Jesus then walks out into the brilliant sunlight and pauses for a moment as on-lookers gaze upon him in disbelief. Jesus looks down and there on the ground he sees his shadow and there are six more weeks of winter." POOF!

    May 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • John

      Wrong thread. This has nothing to do with religion. It's about technology and it's impact on the church

      May 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • gozer

      John, your posts are getting repet-itive. No one is requiring you to read the comments. If you don't like them, or think they aren't relevant just go away. You seem to think that you have better things to do.

      Anyway, churches are on their way down. One near me got converted to a bar. Big improvement.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • David Young

      John said: "Wrong thread. This has nothing to do with religion. It's about technology and it's impact on the church."

      Is it just me or does anyone else see the irony in that statement? ("nothing to do with religion" versus "impact on the church")

      May 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  17. Scotty2010

    Will technology bring down the Church? I sincerely hope so! Always thought science would do it, but if technology can do it then that's fine with me!

    May 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • John

      You shouldn't be so religious. It makes you sound hateful. Jesus hated religion, you should be more like Jesus

      May 15, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • gozer

      John, re "you should be more like Jesus" -as in, a long dead corpse, long rotted away somewhere under the ground. Don't be so nasty.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • sara

      I think he means more careing. and yes we should all be better people. but going to church doesnt make you more like jesus and neither does the bible. thats a personal choice.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  18. IT'S ALL BULLPUCKEY

    What Jason said:
    The wonderful thing about Faith is that it makes you impervious to all thought. What a wonderful gift God has bestowed upon you; the gift of having a brain and never feeling compelled to use it. When you can only see, hear, or believe a single viewpoint about the world, it removes all doubt. Truly, ignorance is bliss.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • John

      What does this have to do with the printing press.

      May 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  19. YBP

    Stupid article. The Bible is ancient tripe that perpetuates prejudice, hatred and bloodshed to this day. And as for Martin Luther, why not quote some of his enlightened thoughts on the Jews, like "Burn their synagogues and homes, their prayer books, and Talmuds; on pain of death forbid rabbis to teach; outlaw Jews and exclude them from protection afforded to travelers on highways; bar them from all commercial activity and confiscate their money; ostracize them, make them earn their bread from their brow (1543 matin Luther "On the Jews anf Their Lies")?

    Nice guy. Someone to really look up to. Someone to learn from. A credible source to quote in a CNN article.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • John

      This has nothing To do with this article. Keep you religion out of it

      May 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Moss

      The Bible is Jewish tripe, so I wouldn't let the tribe off the hook for the consequences that have issued from their "holy" books.

      Your typical Christian of today worships The Chosen, and thinks that to say anything bad about them is to go against god, so I'd say it's worked out pretty well for them.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  20. That's What's Up

    the thing I love the most about organized religions is the tolerance they preach. Unless of course you ask a follower to be tolerant of another's belief...... then your heathen a.s.s is going straight to hell...

    May 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • John

      This has nothing To do with this article.

      May 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • David Young

      Thankfully we have relevancy police such as John here to keep us all on topic. Thanks John! Oh and by the way John, exactly how are your control-freak comments related to "How technology could bring down the church?"

      May 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • mentat69

      Couldn't agree with you more. Religion has caused more pain and suffering than any other idea I can think of. Sadly I don't think technology will bring down the church.....

      May 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
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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.