Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tweeting the Scriptures: Bad for the Church or Good for the Faith?

Lisa Miller, the former religion editor for Newsweek magazine and the author of Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, has written an article for on the future of the church. Her article, entitled "How technology could bring down the church", compares the general population gaining access to the Bible in the common vernacular four centuries ago - and the changes which that brought about - with the new trend for making the Bible available to today's religious consumers in digital format (tweets, Bible apps, etc.).

At the heart of her article is the statement, "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." Miller then goes on to approach these developments from two angles: first, there is the aspect that people with easier access to the Bible have an opportunity to develop their own thoughts and interpretations and discuss them with others without depending on a pastor or minister to interpret it for them ("the interpretive lens of established authorities", as Miller says). However, as she says in her second point, traditionalists are concerned that this sort of access and freedom of interpretation moves people away from committing to an established "church home".

I personally applaud making the Bible available to a much wider audience, and if it makes people think, question and debate with others about their particular interpretations, so much the better. Yes, I can understand the concerns of those Miller identifies as "traditionalists" that perhaps making the Bible available in these there-at-your fingertips formats will dissuade people from going to Sunday services. But does it necessarily have to?

One point left out of this story - and I have no way of knowing whether the traditionalists didn't mention it, Miller didn't include it, or the editors stripped it out - is Matthew 18:20: "Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them." Isolating this verse, of course, as a rationale for not going to church certainly brings along its own potential for controversy. On the website, columnist Wayne Jackson argues against this verse being used as justification for personal assemblies outside of organized church. Jackson says, "Such attempts to manipulate the Holy Scriptures for frivolous purposes are shameful travesties that bring no credit to those who so employ them."

But Jackson also uses the example of thinking that four people getting together on the golf course will allow Jesus to be in their midst - which I feel is a frivolous example (to use his word). What about a group of four or five who gather with their iPads to discuss the scripture passage of the day? What about a group of ten who gathers in a home for worship and prayer because they no longer feel welcome in the church where they have been congregants for many years?

I suppose that at the end, I agree with Miller's basic premise: that making the Bible available in a manner that utilizes today's technology will change the church as we know it.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

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