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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. Santa Claus

    If you do not believeth in me I willeth not cometh frometh the north poleth and giveth thee stuff in december. It's a horrible reality that santa doesn't exist and if it makes you feel better go ahead and believe. But don't prop yourself up on a holier than thou stick just because you think you're going to go to heaven when you die. We'll find out soon enough if you are truly better than others just because you believe you are.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  2. peter

    Wow – many misunderstandings here. First there was only God in the old testament. John 1:1-17 tells us in the begining was the Word and the Word was with God. It continues to say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (vs 15 tells us John the Baptist bore witness of Him (vs17 gives His name Jesus).
    Next, discrepencies in the book of Genesis. (1) Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:27 does not say God created them at the same time only that He ceated them. (2) God created man or animals first? Gen1:25-27 gives the fact that animals where created before man. Gen2:18-19 is not .chronological it is meant to give more lnformation on certain aspects of creation.
    There are no dicrepencies in God's Word. The Holy Bible is acurate with different reports of the same event sometimes giving emphasis on different aspects of the same account.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Rafi

      AMADI EDNA Posted on I graduated from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology Nkpolu Oroworukwuo Port haorruct rivers state Nigeria with BSC business education accountancy option and want to further my Msc in economics but no body to sponsor please i want to know if you can assist me or give me this opportunity thanking you in looking forward to receive from you.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Retsel

      We have been so totally bsesled by your time with us this year! I know that even when times are tough The lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime and in the night his song will be with you. (ps 42:8) We miss you greatly already, but we know that God will complete his good work, both in you and through you.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  3. Television Evangelist

    I am much closer to god than you. The bible is hard to understand and I understand exactly what the bible says. You do not!!! You need to listen to me about what god wants because I know god better than you. God want's me to instruct you in what he wants. God says that you have to obey to get to heaven. SEED, HARVEST? What's so hard to understand about that? It's an easy concept. You have to plant seeds for there to be a harvest. You bunnies will never get to heaven if you don't give me your money.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  4. phan

    technology will not bring down the church or the bible... the priests are in the process of doing that themselves.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  5. jean2009

    People don't read it because it is unbelievable, and asks them to believe things they with reason cannot accept. it is time to move on, and realize that only mankind can save mankind...we should not expect some outside force to set the planet right for us.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  6. The Pope of the Catholic Church

    As everyone knows the catholic church doesn't cooperate with investigators, district attorneys, law enforcements anywhere, including in the United States. We do not cooperate because that would make the church look bad. You don't want me to do something that would make the church look bad do you? There's got to be some collateral damage which in this case is abuse of children so save the catholic church, as much a possible, from looking bad.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. TV Evangelist

    I'm a famous TV evangelist. I dress up real nice and get on TV and talk to you suckers like I have a closer relationship to god than you do. Give me your seed money and I'll make sure that god gets 99% of it. The rest of it goes to buy good stuff for me. My main target audience is little old ladies whose husbands have died and left them alone and willing to pay good seed money for their harvest in heaven. It feels good to give money away to me so keep it coming cause I sure won't turn it down. SEED,HARVEST,SEED,HARVEST,SEED,HARVEST!!! GET IT??? CAN YOU SUCKERS UNDERSTAND THAT???

    May 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  8. purefury

    Every reason this article lists for reasons why electronic bibles will be the ruin of the church are reasons that could have been listed for mass-print bibles being the ruin of the church. Whoever wrote this article, and the atheists who are worshiping it, are idiots.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  9. vonchor

    It's all a bunch of stuff made up by primitive peoples, and should and will happily fade into the past at some time in the future. Anyone who believes in the bible as literal- or quasi-literal truth has a hole in their intellectual capacity.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Michael Daily

    Once you can electronically search the bible, the contradictions will come out of the closet to the evangelicals ...

    May 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • FifthApe

      Its called the Annotated Bible. Its a great reference.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Xeneize480

    Every day America goes down and down!! God help us!!

    May 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  12. THE DEVIL HIMSELF

    I love religion. It causes more wars and death historically than anything else on earth. I love the catholic church expecially and created it myself as an organization that is for the purpose of the abuse of children and the covering up of that by the pope himself. You humans are easy for me to manipulate. hhahahahaha!!!

    May 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  13. my name is

    i hope technology can prove religion other other beliefs wrong. Lets go technology, u can do it

    May 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • jefe

      You should focus more on technology that improves your grammar.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  14. 666

    We need to give a whole country to all of the world's religious humans and have it to where only the religious humans can live in their country.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Atom

      silvia mwauzi Posted on Am a girl aged 23 years old im gdnuratiag this year october Bachelor Degree of Business Administration in Tanzania University called Tumaini University College.I woul like to get a sponsorship to further my career in Masters of MBA,so its my pleasure if i will get the schol;arship from you .Thanks in advance.I hope to hear from you.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  15. holycow

    something about consuming Biblical texts just doesn't sit right with me.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Smite Me

      holycow

      "something about consuming Biblical texts just doesn't sit right with me."

      Yep. It causes cavities in one's brain and an over-production of bile.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  16. JB3

    > GarrettH
    > Trust me you did not find a mistake in the Bible. You just have failed to understand what you called a mistake. If there is a
    > mistake or anything false in the Bible then it is worthless because that would mean God says false things and if one thing is
    > false then you can't trust completely eveything else it says. The Bible is the words of God that he had man write down, God
    > controlled what they wrote. Where are your mistakes? I would like to see them.

    Do you really think that 'god' instructed man to write all this down for us all to read? Do you really think this is, even for 1 fleeting minute, true? If so, you are truly lost.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  17. JB3

    I think that anything that helps to bring down Communism, Fascism, Dictatorships, Religion is a good thing. The world will be a much better place without them.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  18. I Wonder

    Having the ability to read your Bible on your mobile device will no more bring down the church than watching a movie on your mobile device will bring down the movie theaters. There is still a communal aspect to both that cannot and will not fade away.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • speak truth

      Pastors have been attempting to get people to read the Bible more, carry it with them and read it, and study it often. Having Scripture more available is a plus! It will build the church ... not hurt it!

      May 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • zedorpheus

      Former record store patrons would beg to differ.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Christ follower

      I agree with this person. One thing scripture does is drive you to a relationship with God which is only fully lived out in relationship with others. One note on the word "church". It is not organized religion or a building or a denomination but the "people" of God. Therefore you don't technically "belong" to a church. You and other Christ followers "are" the church and location is irrelevant. Wherever God's people are, there is the church.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'zedorpheus – Former record store patrons would beg to differ.'

      so would the nation's newspapers.

      May 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  19. truth2power

    "I like your Jesus, I don't like your Christians, they are so unlike your jesus."
    -Ghandi

    May 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  20. Michael

    We are finally out growing religion. Modern technology is just a side affect.

    May 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • speak truth

      I've not noticed people outgrowing religion. They usually just make themselves into their own god.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Q

      @ Speak Truth – You mean they make themselves into a supernatural all powerful deity? Or do you mean they take responsibility for their own happiness and the consequences of their actions in light of a stochastic, unpredictable and often hostile world? I'm confused. It sounds like you are too...

      May 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
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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.