Theological Thinking About the Digital Word
A few years ago it started to become popular for people (mostly teenagers) to begin using their phones in church to access the Bible. We got a few complaints at first from folks who thought the teens were just “playing.”
That was a few years ago.
Today it is common for adults and students alike to use their phones or tablets to not only access the Bible but to follow along with detailed sermon notes that we publish via You Version. I suspect that in the coming years that the virtual Word will become even more integrated, not only into our worship services, but also our lives.
I will admit that I cringed at first when I would ask my son on the way to church if he had his Bible and he’d respond, “Sure!” and hold up his phone. I still carry a good ol’ fashioned leather bound Bible to church with me and preach out of it each week. I have played around with preaching from my iPad on Sunday nights and special occasions but I have yet to breach the Sunday morning barrier. Call it comfort or just old school, but for now I am still sticking to print over digital. But that is not to say that I have not integrated a pretty healthy portion of the virtual Word into my weekly life. I find myself doing almost all my Bible reading on my iPad and about 90% of my whole theological library is digital via Logos. The portability of the Word is amazing. If I am away from home (and my leather bound) I can still access God’s Word on my phone or just about any other digital device.
Yes, I know there are some who may have a real problem with the virtual Word, perhaps feeling that it cheapens God’s Word for it to be digital, or that it just isn’t the “written” Word unless you can physically pick it up. The whole advent of the virtual Word has forced us, I think, into a healthy mental exercise of exactly what constitutes the Word of God.
Theologically, the Word of God is first “spoken” and THEN it is written. God speaks and man writes. Oh, it may not be literal dictation (although portions of it certainly were) but the Words of God first and foremost come from the mind of God. They have no physical form. As such they cannot be destroyed. This is important because when you relegate the Word of God to a physical form only (a leather bound copy of the Bible in my case) you risk turning the Word of God into something that is temporal. I have been in more than one church where old pew Bibles that are falling apart, or lost and found Bibles that have seem better days, are held onto forever because it seems sacrilegious to throw them away. When I was in high school, my youth pastor held a spiritual exercise whereby a “stranger” crashed a secret Bible study we were holding and tore a Bible up in front of us. It was all staged, of course, but I remember some people going nuts over the fact that the youth pastor had someone tear pages out of a real Bible. Now I certainly think the Word of God should be treated with tremendous reverence and respect…but it should not be treated as an idol. And this is where we need to be careful in how we approach our sensitivities to this new world of the virtual Word. My leather bound Bible is not an idol. I love it, yes. It smells really great and is soft to the touch. I know my way around it and it feels like an old friend. I have priceless notes in my Bible that make it irreplaceable. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if the only way you experience God’s word is digitally, then you are missing an important connective experience to His Word. But…if my house burned tomorrow and I lost it, I am ultimately okay with that. I will not have lost one letter of God’s Word in my life.
If you think about it, the Internet has given us a great gift when it comes to the Bible. Because nothing that ever appears on the Internet can ever be erased (that’s why you have to be careful what you put out there!), the Internet has insured that the Word of God will stand forever as long as this earth exists. And because the Word of God comes from the mind of an immutable God, it will ultimately last even longer than that.