Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

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Bible Engagement in a Digital Age

Technology writer, Richard Carr, suggests that books and book reading are in their “cultural twilight.” Some may disagree with Carr, but we can’t ignore the fact that innovation and change brought about by the digital revolution are reshaping the way people read.

In my lifetime I’ve moved from exclusively reading a printed page to reading text on a smart phone, laptop screen, e-reader or tablet. Cognitive neuroscientist, Maryanne Wolf, classifies this change as a shift from the reading brain to the digital brain. Like it or not, our new reading habits involve profound technological, cultural, behavioural, and even neurological changes.

Cellular phones, which increasingly provide Internet access, are now used by more than 75 percent of the world’s population. According to a June 2012 article in the Globe and Mail, Canadians are on track to achieving a wireless penetration rate that exceeds 100 percent by 2015. Hong Kong has surpassed this penetration rate – the Office of the Telecommunications Authority reports more than 13 million cell phones being used by the total population of 7.5 million people. That’s about 1.8 cell phones per person!

According to mathematician Vernor Vinge, and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, we can expect the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals. That to say that changes in the way we communicate and access information will continue to accelerate.

So how does the digital age influence Bible engagement? Consider the following:

  • the Bible is being read in multiple formats in an ever emerging variety of forms on a growing range of devices
  • availability and access to different Bible versions and translations are continuing to increase
  • greater access to audio Bibles and podcasts may help us become better “hearers” of the Word
  • sharing thoughts and insights about the Bible is increasing due to social networks like facebook and Linkedin
  • interactive software programs/systems, hypertext, blogs, posts and webinars uniquely facilitate biblical study and reflection
  • sharing favourite or meaningful verses is increasing due to texting and tweeting
  • the individual’s opportunity and capacity to understand and interpret the Scriptures will increase
  • missions could prosper because nations closed to the Gospel will find it more difficult to restrict the availability of biblical texts
  • the Scriptures are readily available in any language or translation to anyone on earth with a smart phone
  • Scripture memorization may decline because Google, Bible Gateway, You Version and such make it easy to look up a passage or text
  • people will become significantly less likely to buy printed copies of the Bible
  • reading Scripture within a contemplative framework may decline
  • sequential reading will decline due to the fact that reading on the web develops inclinations to skip around, dip and dabble, browse or scan information
  • tendencies to read the Bible in short fast bursts will increase
  • concentration and meditation on the Scriptures will suffer because of what Cory Doctorow has called “an ecosystem of interruption technologies” (animations, hyperlinks, live feeds, pop-ups and so on)
  • qualitative depth of reading will be sacrificed for reading geared to a quantitative scope
  • e-books may augment a predisposition to uncouple content from form which may lead to tendencies to view the Scriptures as something detached from their incarnational form – the textual equivalent of Cartesian dualism
  • the role of the local church in the transmission and interpretation of the Scriptures will decline

Without a doubt the positive and negative effects of the digital age represent a challenge for the Church. Hopefully we’ll do what’s necessary to curb the negative effect of technologies while simultaneously encouraging the use of emerging technologies that facilitate and advance engagement with the Bible.

Have your say. What would you add or subtract from the comments above.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Pensees and Questions

What will the shape of Bible engagement be in the years to come? Here are some pensees and questions for consideration:

  • Are there imaginative new ways to fuse the dramatic and creative arts with the Word? How can artists who respect the power of truth be encouraged to give creative expression and visual beauty to the Word?
  • We have migrated from Gutenberg to Google. How do we continue to facilitate connections with the Bible so that engagement becomes more than words and images on a screen?
  • Should the Bible be liberated from the constraints of individualism? What new formats might better facilitate communal Bible reading, exploration and reflection?
  • What types of formats, presentation styles or delivery systems of the Scriptures are best suited to communal hermeneutics?
  • How can Bible engagement tied to screen to screen connexity be fused with face to face community?
  • What can or should be done to invite non-Bible readers, both as individuals and in community, to engage with the Bible?
  • How can the profile of the Bible be raised both inside and outside the church?
  • Is there a way to develop online contextualised illustrated display Bibles as public exhibits of how we value the Scriptures?
  • Should we be seeking progressive ways to promote the primacy of the Scriptures? What are the descriptors for this generation that best communicate a high view of the Scriptures?
  • How might hypertext be better used to invite engagement with the Bible? How can we leverge the internet so that more people engage the Bible in ways that result in meaningful encounters with Christ and life transformations?
  • What are the best ways, in today’s context, to invite children and youth to hook up and interact with the Bible so that they ultimately choose to hold a biblical world view?
  • Concerning the Western tendency to compartmentalize and dichotomize: How can we better develop resources to help people engage the Bible with both their heads and their hearts?
  • How can the Bible be shared in real time with suitable symbols and prophetic metaphor?
  • What improvements need to be made with delivery systems so that the Bible is accessed in more multisensory, interactional and user-friendly formats?
  • Would it be helpful to publish a Bible that shows by its formatting what literary genre is primarily being used?
  • How do we teach/educate people to read the Scriptures in context? Is there a way to wean people from manipulating the Bible for selfish or skewed agendas?
  • What are the ways to improve reaching anyone, anywhere, anytime with the Bible?
  • How can we do the above so that favourable conditions are created for divine-human encounters?

What questions or pensees do you have about the shape of Bible engagement in the future?

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Transmediatization

Transmediatization is the presentation of the Bible in electronic formats. Since the 15thCentury, with the advent of the Gutenberg Press, the primary means of distributing and reading the Bible was through the medium of print. Since the development of computers in the 1950’s and the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990’s the print medium has been eclipsed by the digital medium. A new era has dawned in the way we think, speak, see and correspond. Quickly and dramatically, the digital wave has crested.

The implications of transmediatization are far reaching. Printed Scriptures, while yet important, have to make room for hypertext (the digital form of highly interconnected and multidimensional narrative). This generation are seeing with different eyes and hearing with different ears. Change is happening faster than ever before. Over the past twelve months the percentage of Canadians reading books in an electronic format has grown from 5% to about 50% of the population.

Adapting* the Bible to the digital medium is not an option, it’s a necessity. The church (Bible agencies included) requires a fresh understanding and response to how we invite and encourage connections with the Bible. New territory must be explored and settled. This will entail the use of a new creativity, new language, new words, and new ways of using and illustrating words.

The way we provide access and interaction with the Bible may determine whether or not facilitating encounters with God and progressive transformation of people will meaningfully occur in the years ahead. By 2015 it is estimated that 1.4 billion people will own smart phones – making phones the most common devices for accessing the Internet. With this in mind Scripture Union recently developed the SU Canada App for Android and Apple phones. The SU Canada App helps connect people with Jesus and His Story. The key feature of the App is the eDaily Prayers. The eDaily Prayers, uploaded from Monday to Friday, provide reflections on Scripture and ‘scaffolding for meditation’. The App also features the Bible Engagement Blog, Twitter, Facebook, and the opportunity to sign up to receive SU’s free eDaily Devotions (sent through email).

*Adaption does not imply, in any way, the changing of the content or canon of the Scriptures. Adaption refers to the change or modification to the way we provide access to the Bible. That is, adaptation is making the Bible available in ways that are suitable for a new and different purpose.

© Copyright Scripture Union Canada, 2012