In a very short span I had a disagreement with a friend (yes, we’re still friends) about the importance of the Bible as text as opposed to the Gospel message. I also recently read a blog post admonishing pastors to bring their physical Bibles to church and to stop using electronic media instead. You can read that blog here.
I’ve don’t usually write posts directly responding to other bloggers, but I really felt that I had to this time. You see, I think that Dr. Barrett couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment of Scripture, technology, and culture – and the idea of reprimanding Christians based on his faulty assessment drives me up the wall.
Just so that you don’t think I’m some crazy, anti-Bible nut-job, let me write a couple sentences about myself. My first graduate degree was in Biblical Studies, where my Master’s work was on the authority of Scripture. My second graduate degree was in Pastoral Preaching. I am FULLY committed to the authority of Scripture in shaping the life, thought, and action of Christians. I am FULLY committed to preaching the truth of Scripture from the pulpit and not watering down the message and removing Jesus and his exclusive claims from God’s story. I have a deep love for the Bible. On my desk right now I have two Bibles (one English and one Greek New Testament). On my shelves I have 3-4 different translations, a Hebrew Old Testament, and two collector’s Bibles (a 1942 Bible produced for the Army and an 1895 printing of a Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament).
I love my Bibles. But the idea that using tech in the pulpit instead of one of my physical Bibles is doing damage is erroneous teaching and needs to be corrected. Dr. Barrett lists 5 “dangers” of using tech Bibles instead of print Bibles:
1. A Different Message: the tablet represents many things besides a Bible. It represents apps, magazines, games, and much more. “A print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people….”
2. Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew: the tablet may…encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. People won’t know where things are in their Bibles because no one is asking them to “turn to chapter such-and-such.” They fail to see the big picture of God’s story.
3. Flesh and Blood: reading from a tablet removes the reality of having something “there”. As physical beings who gather in a tangible place, God is really with us as Lord of space and time. “This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.”
4. Visual Reminder: We risk the Word of God becoming lifeless when we take away the physical book. “And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”
5. Nonverbal Communication: Carrying your Bible around with you communicates to others that you are a Christ follower. Forget the physical Bible and we lose our witness to the world.
Now let me tell you why he’s flat wrong:
1. You cannot reduce the Living God to a symbol: If you believe that you need a visual symbol of God speaking to talk about God’s story then your god is too small. Yahweh cannot be contained or limited to a mere symbol. No matter what the delivery method, the power of the Gospel is not the literal word but in how the WORD of God pierces our hearts and souls. God can do that through a preacher who uses a print Bible, a Bible app, or an audio Bible while you listen to the Bible on CD.
2. Biblical illiteracy goes far beyond what happens on a Sunday morning: There are many people who love God dearly and live their lives to conform with the desire and will of God but don’t know that Lamentations is somewhere after Leviticus. The Gospel is not about knowing the order of the books of the Bible. It’s not about being able to find a particular passage whenever asked. The Gospel is about surrendering our story to God’s story. In the history of the world illiterate people have usually outnumbered the literate. For the first1600 years of Christianity most people did not even own their own Bibles. It was only after the advent of the printing press and Reformation that it gradually became commonplace for families to own Bibles. Dr. Barrett’s accusations create a false superiority of literate Christians over illiterate Christians. It says that Christians in underdeveloped nations are lesser Christians because they can’t read the Bible or know the order of the books. This mindset actually does DAMAGE to the Gospel.
3. A flesh and blood Savior does not necessitate a “flesh and blood” book: Jesus is the center of our faith – not the book. The Gospel is his story, not the black (or red) words printed on a page. The only flesh and blood that matters are HIS. Whether I am reading from the Bible or simply telling someone the story of Jesus, HE is all that matters, not the book. Books deteriorate, get torn, fall apart – but the Gospel will go on eternally.
4. No visual necessary: as stated above, the hard-text is not necessary for telling God’s story. In fact, holding TOO tightly to being “people of the book” places too much emphasis on the printed word – it elevates the book to the status of idol! It creates two Bibles: the “real” Bible that is printed and the “faux” Bible that comes in other media. It does damage to the Gospel to create this dichotomy.
5. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that people would know them because they carried Bibles: he said that people would know they are followers of Jesus by their love. Behavior is more important than outward symbols. We’ve all seen people who wear crosses around their necks or tattoo a cross or fish on their bodies. It doesn’t make them Christian. I once heard a pastor state that wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a car. Outward symbols do not mean anything about the condition of our hearts. I would rather people see Jesus in my character and behavior rather than because I lug around a book.
There is a real function to the sacred text. As Paul writes:
For everything that was written long ago was written for our instruction, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. ~ Romans 15:4
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
There is a real purpose to Scripture, and that purpose involves shaping and forming the believer. There is a relationship between the text and our life. There is nothing neutral in claiming the Bible as Scripture. The Bible must be “normative and life-shaping” because the writers were commissioned by God (whatever your view of inspiration). The divine voice demands response.
I do not impugn the authority of the text for Christian life and thought. We must not, however, substitute true authority, i.e. the story of God’s redemptive actions through human history, for cheap bibliolatry. The printing press was revolutionary technology in its day, giving the common person access to words never dreamed possible. Technology today is no different, giving us the Bible in new ways. But it isn’t really a new Bible, is it? It’s still God’s story – unchanged. And when we learn this then we can access HIS story through any means.
The Bible doesn’t change. We do.