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. Andrew

    There is one mistake in this article. The King James Bible was not the first in the common veneacular, nor was it the first affordable bible for the common man. The Geneva, translation, developed in 1560 was the first affordable bible for the common man. James 1 ordered the King James to be developed, which was a rework of the Bishops Bible. James I had a problem with some of the translation in the Geneva which he viewed as seditious for example 1 Peter 2:9 which emphasize man's liberty. The King James Bible waters down the liberty aspect and by orders of James 1 excludes the theological notes, an order that benefited the church in the long run. As far as the Bible being permited to be in english, that was an act of Henry VIII. It took up to the 1660's for the public to obey the British government and covert to the King James Bible. What actually benefitted the King James bible was the invention of the Dictionary which resolved the need to continously translate the bible. That is why it enjoyed longivity, with only changes in font and updated spellings.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  2. Anotherdayjustbelieve

    If technology is the Anti-Christ.... then yes, it could bring down the church....

    May 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  3. Matt

    Google already replaced a God that never existed.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • God&manneedeachother

      You're such a smart and wonderful collection of replicating molecules that will return to dust. Your perception of existence is null. You have no purpose.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  4. Tina

    Lessons in feminism, courtesy of your deity. This is the word of your god...

    1 Timothy 2:12 – "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

    1 Corinthians 14:34 – "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says."

    May 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And let's not forget this little gem:
      "Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die"
      – Ecclesiasticus, 25:19

      May 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  5. Luther

    Where do they find these authors? She completely bypasses the main reason people come together at church. It's not Bible study, or even to receive the message from the pastor – it's corporate worship. People gather together in church to praise God, express their reverence in a group fashion for their heavenly father, and to gather together with one accord to offer themselves up together to God. How is it that this is lost on the author? Maybe it's because technology has not made it easier to worship God, but harder. Because technology promotes individually and isolation,it often assassinates the very thing it seeks to enhance. Since the author can't see that church is not about YOU, but is about God, she misses the point. It's not about what people get out of it, as much as it is what God gets out of it. This is lost on the author. It's a shame.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  6. Q

    Here's a thought guys. Lets all just let each other believe what we will, without belittling or preaching to each other.
    Throwing nasty insults back and forth changes no ones mind, if anything it reinforces ones original position.

    We should all be allowed to believe (or dis-believe) as we wish, without being hassled about it. In fact, its kind of one of the founding tenants of our nation,.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • I Don't Get It

      Q: "...one of the founding tenants of our nation.."

      One of the early renters...?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  7. Gun-a have some Church

    Hebrews 10:25
    Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together

    May 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  8. Limbaugh is a liberal

    The King James version of the Bible was a little more than protestant propaganda during their bloody reign of terror persecuting Catholics in England... At that time both sides went back and forth killing each-other IN THE NAME OF GOD, and kept re-interpreting and revising the Bible to suit their own political ascent.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  9. Robert W.

    I guess if someone read the bible enough they would come across a verse that says "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together". If what this artivcle suggest is true than clubs, small pubs and gyms could be in trouble as well. I have a lot of freinds at church that can not be replaced online.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Sara

    I will be praying for all you unbelievers and I hope and pray you come to your senses before its to late. And I would rather live my whole life as a christian walking by faith and not by sight and to die and realize it was a waste than to live my life just wanting to satisfy my own selfish needs then die and go to hell. I was stunned to have read what some of you wote!!! Thanks to all the believers for standing up for what they KNOW is the truth and doing it in a way that shows the friut of the Spirit!

    May 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Tina

      Sorry, Sara. I'd love to debate this with you, but unfortunately your god forbids you to do so:

      1 Timothy 2:12 – "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

      1 Corinthians 14:34 – "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says."

      May 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Know What

      Sara: "I would rather live my whole life as a christian walking by faith and not by sight and to die and realize it was a waste..."

      So, you are saying that you are agnostic - you don't KNOW that this path is the true one, but you are taking a gamble that it is.

      Look up Pascal's Wager and its contradictions.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Tonya

      I believe in God but i'm also not foolish enough to say that I KNOW everything. That is the fastest way to make every one ignore you. Jesus was about love, acceptance, and forgiveness, not finger pointing and fire and brimstone. Besides, if you believe in a God who is big, all powerful, and awesome (as i do), what makes you think that God hasn't reached out to people of all cultures in a way that meets them in their needs (ie Hinduism, Muslim, science)? I say, "God bless everyone."

      May 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  11. Dogs disciple

    Religion is the opiate for the masses who can't face evolution.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • God&manneedeachother

      You are so much smarter than those silly fools who believe in God.

      Well how about this one...YOUR LIFE HAS NO PORPOSE. HAHAHAHAHAHA

      May 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  12. Dawn

    ..and whydo you think it is another 'door stop'? With all due respect to your right to opinion, an article in a mass media should be unbiased and not based on the authors opinion.It may be a door stop to you but it has been life and 'living word ' to many.Progressive thinking is very good but it does not tend to every situation. Anything intangible is non existent in today's world. Just like how God 'does not exist' for many people, there will be a day people will answer in a SURVEY that truth and love and faith and trust never existed but is simply a perception..

    May 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  13. AGuest9

    It's all that Gutenburg's fault, anyway!

    May 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Q

      Steve Guttenberg?

      May 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  14. Sincere

    A brief historical correction to the author's comments on the King James translation of the Bible. Actually, the Geneva Bible was the first English language transaltion, and preceded the King James by over 50 years. The King James was pursued as a result of the Geneva BIble – the Geneva Bible contained column notes by the translators, many of whihc were considered subversive by the king. The Geneva Bible was the Bible used by the early American Puritans, and came aboard the Mayflower.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  15. Brian

    " Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit.".....................This is why we have hundreds of creeds, sects and denominations, each with the "correct" interpretation and each being the True Religion. Wars have been fought over these interpretations.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  16. Jimbo-Bob

    I'm convinced that a majority of the people that go to church don't actually believe in a god but just hope that there is one out there. They have this mentality that it will be good for the family, I'm supposed to go, if there really is a god than I better be prepared, it looks good to my neighbors, I don't want to tell my wife I don't want to go, ect. This in its self is a sin from the christain viewpoint. You aren't supposed to question you are to have 100% faith, no questions whats-so-ever. In order for someone to graduate from high school doing simple criticle thinking in english class and physics you would think you would eventually question your religion. If you say that you don't question, I would have to believe that you are lying or you just don't know how to rationally think. That leads me to the conclusion that churches are full of agnostics trying to be good and small minded people.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Jared

      Where in the bible does it say that you can't question God or the church? I have read the Bible several times all the way through, and I have NEVER come across a scripture that says you can't question God... I think you are making assumptions, and it makes you look bad.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • God&manneedeachother

      Jesus' last words questioned the father, as to why he forsaken him.

      Why are Atheists such know it alls?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Gun-a have some Church

      Jared – Jacob fought with GOD and won – he came out with a busted hip – and Jacob was right – wouldn't want to find out what would have happened to him if he was wrong

      May 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Tonya

      Personally, I believe that organized religion is a way to control the masses BUT I do believe in God. I question the message every religious person puts out there. I think about it, I study it, I pray that God, not a man, will give me the wisdom to make moral and ethical decisions. I believe that God is proud of me for that. God is everything that is good but that doesn't mean that every church goer knows what he or she is talking about. I think it is unfair to stereotype all believers into one category. I believe in evolution and a God awesome enough to be the catalyst of a "big bang." I believe in science and technology and accept that their are some things that i'll just never be able to explain. I believe in faith and love and truth and I did not learn one of those things in a church building. I learned all of those things through interactions with other people (not all religious) and the use of technology will only help broaden all of our horizons as long as we keep ourselve accountable for our own choices. It is all about PERSONAL accountability and responsibility.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  17. raj _alexander

    To me Technology is just an aid for preaching the Gospel to the corners of the earth.If at all the church was just a building ,yes, anything can destroy it, but it is not cos "A church is not a building. A church is not a denomination. A church is an assembly of people who have been redeemed and baptized, called out of the world who have a desire to glorify God" and praise God now we have technology as well!
    I see several on this forum ridiculing and blaspheming for all its worth, hope and pray you find salvation and peace through Jesus and his gospel

    May 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  18. thefool

    lolololol @ blaming "body" issues on technology. it's called evil. organized religion is the surface problem not technology. in any case, we all know the body will outlast everything including generational changes. those who wish to be a part of it will crave it and dig into their bibles wherever they might be, on dusty display or placed in a pocket. there is indeed mystery there and it's not up to humans to draw others in, it's up to humans to respond to what is already at work to draw us in.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • AGuest9

      It's all that Gutenberg's fault, anyway!

      May 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Q

      Yeah, "Earth Girls are Easy" was a terrible movie.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  19. Chris

    Typical american thinking! The "Church" is the body of Christ, not a building you go to!

    May 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Salty Bob

      In the beginning man created the gods

      What I think of organized religion. I hope you gleam a small bit of useful information as I have. What games religion is playing in America and the world today? We live in a rare time and country where we can choose for ourselves how much or little Religion we want in our lives, but the followers of most religions just don’t understand the word no! Not in my life not in my schools not in my government, NO! is the choice I have made for me and my family, the following reasons are part of the problem as I see it.

      First: religion is in no way real. The word religion or god is nothing more than an expression or product of human fear and weaknesses or imagination in some cases. The Bible/Koran, a collection of ancient myths and stories borrowed from many different cultures over hundreds of centuries or longer. Sadly the followers of Christianity, Islam, and others want to make decisions for us all based on there interpretation of books that are in no way real. These groups are working hard and spending millions trying to influence our politicians to pass laws based on there interpretation of these books. Trying to convert the USA into a religious state. I hope to never see any religious icons on our flag, because then it would be a good time to leave.

      Second: Religion no longer has a place in the real world. It divides us as a people to choose ignorance over logic, to forsake the future for a ruthless past. A Wall of Separation is supposed to protect us from all religious infringement upon our school’s teachings of science to find real truth and knowledge. Not to pass out fairytales to our children of some aged dogma from an era long dead, our children deserve better.

      Many of these groups place supernatural abilities on some of its members, born of a virgin or walk on water or cure the blind sick or to fly. Throughout history you will find many who have claimed the same feats, again they are all wrong. No interpretation no matter how subtle can change the fact these are nothing but stories meant to entertain or teach something to the people of that era nothing more.

      Religion, as an idea has been with us before recorded history from early man’s worshiping of nature to Charlemagne’s murder of the innocent in the name of Christianity, to jets crashing into towers in the name of Islam. Coerced observance is the main method almost all these religions use. Worship me or you will be tortured for all eternity or murdered out right. Fear mongering, or coercion is tyranny! Remember the Dark Age’s religions rule in that dark, distant past didn’t serve our ancestors well it certainly won’t serve us any better today! These are the labels I proudly wear heretic, infidel, atheist, man of science, freethinker.

      Third: We put our trust in our elected officials to maintain the wall of separation, to prevent religion’s ever reaching grasp from tainting the consideration of new laws, as well as research designed to help many! This country was not founded on the rule of any ones religion, but more the lack of religious influence in the governing of this country. But time and again you hear religious overtones spouting out of our leaders, The wall is crumbling. The time for the burning of witches, belief in a flat earth, the murdering of doctors, and crimes against women and children or religions many other immoral and vile acts committed against humanity as a whole can no longer and should no longer be tolerated no matter what religious book or god demands it.

      Anyone of good conscience should agree with what I have said and ban together, so we can bring this country the very world we live on into the 21st century free of these groups hold on our minds and revel in all the promise this century has to offer so our children's children's children will look back in pride an see we did what we did for them and there posterity. This is after all a very small world and a grate leaping point into the vast unknown. I so hope more minds are opened and see beyond the centuries of engrained dogma. I just hope it`s not layed to waste by then.

      System of thought or practice which claims to transcend our natural world and which demands conformity to a creed, bible or savior.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Soelle Lives

      @ Salty Bob

      Read Alfred North Whitehead and tell me there's no logic to religion. Read the Ontological proof and tell me there's no logic to religion. Read Aquinas, Augustine, Kant, Descartes, Soelle, or any other of the brilliant men and women who found ways to articulate their own personal meanings in the light of some greater truth. You might be surprised at how much it makes sense. Stop listening to Bill Maher and actually open your mind.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • God&manneedeachother

      ...says saltybob the borg....
      assimilate you illogical carbon forms....

      May 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • david b

      Salty Bob: You cannot just say things like "religion is in no way real" and then use rhetoric and not reasoning to argue your point. You follow this statement with statements like "bible/koran is a collection of myths."

      For someone who claims to use logic to argue against religion, your argument is surprisingly devoid of logic. When you make a claim such as "the bible is a collection of myths" the next logical step is to somehow support this claim with facts or reasoning or whatever, not just continue to make more claims.

      Your faith in the falsehood of the Bible and the Koran parallel a Christian's faith in the truth of the Bible or a Muslim's faith in the truth of the Koran. The only difference is that their objective is to live a better life and have a better afterlife, while your objective seems to be to feel intellectually smug. Good job.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Reply

      david it's like the circular logic that christians use. The bible is the true word of God because the bible says so. If the bible is the true word of god then logically you would need prove gods existence and then next he wrote the bible to back up the claim the bible is really true and not fiction, but sadly there is no proof.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • david b

      I have never heard a christian say "the bible is true because God said so." Is this what you are told to say to christians? If you actually read my post, you would not see anywhere me claiming that the bible is true because God said so, or even claiming that the bible is true. I don't think anyone will ever be able to prove the existence of God, it's just a matter of faith.

      If you had actually read my post, you would see that my point was that Salty Bob's faith without apparent proof that the bible is wrong mirrors a religious person's faith without proof. I was not attempting to prove anything religious, but simply to point out that he was not using any intellectual arguments to prove his point but just the same exact rhetoric that you say christians use.

      So basically, you were coming to a very similar conclusion that I did, only you didn't recognize it because you did not read my post and instead decided to spit out a pre-programmed response to a religious person.

      Furthermore, my second point was that, even though both Salty Bob and christians both believe what they do without having any proof of it, the motives are different.

      If I could ask one thing, it would be that you at least listen to religious people long enough to figure out what they are saying, and they argue against that. True many religious people will not listen and will just spout off the same stuff regardless of what you say to them, but if you want to appear less close-minded than them it would help to not act like them

      May 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  20. LH

    Given the recent research that says religious people are happier not because they are religious, but because of the community they engage in, I think this is an interesting development. Does this mean that as the community aspect of religion dissipates, participation in religion itself will decline? Seeing that the current trends indicate an overall decline of religiosity I wonder if these correlations point to (at least a little) correlation.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • AGuest9

      I always thought it was who would see who there, dressed as they were, in what car they drove, anyway. You can't be that narcissistic online.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Steve P.

      LH, the Bible says that the Beliver [Christian] not forsake the assembly of the saints [Christians]. A True Church of God will not give into the technological slavery that others seem to follow all too blindly. You can't truly connect with God through an iPad, iphone, etc. Technology is just another attempt to get God's people, Christians to give up attending church. If the doors are closed, then the poor lost soul walking the streets won't get help.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • James T

      That's why bowling teams and tribal councils were invented!

      May 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • chuckb

      Matthew 6:6, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

      Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

      In light of scripture, one's congregation doesn't have to be very large. Also, while it may have been assumed by the author, there seems to be no restriction on what media is required for gathering, i.e., cyber space isn't precluded. Actually the anonymity possible with the internet fits in with praying in secret. Perhaps the author did not envision the internet and its possible religious use; oops, considering God is omniscient, that can't be true.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • chuckb

      You cannot connect with God through an ipad? Really? That is any less immediate and meaningful than a burning bush?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:20 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.