I love books. I especially love Bibles. I appreciate the care with which many are bound, I like the smell, and of course, I love the broke-in feeling of an old Bible. My heart is warmed when I flip through my Nelson New King James Study Bible that carried me through high school, college, and most of seminary before it simply became too fragile with loose pages to carry. Today, my primary Bible is a beautiful ESV Heirloom Bible (which is no longer available from the publisher) given as a gift from my previous church when I left to become the pastor of Malvern Hill.
I also admit to really appreciating one other Bible–the one on my Kindle. Nothing beats the convenience of my Kindle. Having a Bible, plus several commentaries, plus an extensive library for my perusal and research readily available in a device that fits in my back pocket is solid gold. I find myself reading more and more on my Kindle because it is so convenient. However, I am growing concerned that maybe the format in which I am taking in information has something to do with the way that I am shaped by the information. This has been alluded to in a recent article, How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us, by Davide Neff,
Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.
Indeed, God does know, and it is too soon for us to know just exactly how we are to be shaped by these changes. However, I beleive there are more concerns than simply the medium through which we receive the message.
I’m a parent, and Angela and I have made it a recent goal to get our kids (who are both still very young and cannot read) to spend time, not just in family devotions, but to spend a few minutes alone each morning “reading” their own Bibles. It is our hope that this will result in a disciplined life of Bible intake. But, we also realize that our kids need to see us immersed in the Bible if we ever hope for them to find value in it. They see us constantly with electronic devices. I fear that if my Bible reading is constantly done on an electronic device, my children may not immediately be able to distinguish between Daddy playing angry birds and daddy reading about the birds that fed Elijah.
Finally, in addition to my concerns about how the medium shapes me and how my children perceive of my love for the Word of God, I have two other concerns. My kindle simply does not speak to me through my sermon and class notes that my old NKJV reference Bible does. I don’t read through it and find dates scribbled and highlighted verses. And, lastly, I’m just not convinced that I learn the same way through my kindle that I do from my leather bound ESV Bible. I’m not alone either. A 2011 University of Washinton Study suggested that e-readers are not ideal for academic reading. The study reported the following,
“Most e-readers were designed for leisure reading – think romance novels on the beach,” said co-author Charlotte Lee, a UW assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering. “We found that reading is just a small part of what students are doing. And when we realize how dynamic and complicated a process this is, it kind of redefines what it means to design an e-reader.”
Further, and perhaps more important for our purposes of Bible reading,
The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.
Cognitive mapping is a technique that your brain uses in memory. Surely you’ve experienced this in your Bible, you can’t remember the verse, but you can remember the place where it was and, if you underlined it, you can find it rather quickly. E-readers simply do not offer that as an option.
So, where does that leave us? Reading the Bible in any format is certainly better than not reading it at all. E-readers and other electronic devices are beneficial and will be used far into the future. However, for the reasons listed above, I can see no reason one should abandon paper Bibles and many reasons that traditional Bibles should still hold a dominant place in our lives.
So, should you bring your iPad to church? I’m certainly not the police on this and I don’t think we should be legalistic one way or the other. I know it’s convenient, but convenience doesn’t always equate with quality. For instance, those rib eye steak specials advertised at interstate truck stops certainly appear convenient, but somehow, I doubt that the quality is up to par. Maybe the same thing is true with our Bibles.