Faith in the digital age

As electronic devices continue to grow in popularity, Christians gain the ability to interact with the Bible in new ways

A woman with curly blonde hair sits down on an armchair by a large window. The curtains are drawn back, and the morning is just beginning as the sun peeks over the horizon.

She reaches to choose a Bible to read from, and picks the only study Bible out of the three. Opening the cover, she starts to read, her fingers brushing the thin pages that crinkle slightly beneath her touch.

She scribbles ideas and notes in the margins with a simple, black pen. One day her children will read and learn from the experiences of their mother and the words of their Heavenly Father.

“I have three Bibles because I have three kids,” said Melody Bonneson, director of Children’s Ministries at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, “and I plan on giving one of my Bibles every time one of my children graduates. I want to share with them my faith, and so to do that I put little comments [such as] ‘during this time I was upset because of whatever situation and this [verse] really helped me.’”

These special memories will always be tucked in the pages of Bonneson’s Bibles, and will be there for her children to cherish for years to come.

New digital options

As daily technology use rises in America, Christians are faced with many different options when choosing a format in which to read the Bible.

According to a study done in 2013 by Barna Group, a faith and culture organization centered in Ventura, California, about one fourth of American adults own an e-reading device such as a Kindle or tablet, and about one in four Christians use one of these devices to study the Bible.

At Minnehaha, 100 percent of the students have an iPad, and apps are available to download at the touch of a screen.

Many new Bible apps have made their debut, with a deluge of media options, such as Bible videos, maps, photos, Biblical paintings, trivia, etc. to interest young people in the Bible.

However, hard copy Bibles are still being commonly used among Christians. For some, the choice between a digital Bible and a hard copy is easy to make.

Sticking 

with tradition

“It’s what I’ve grown up with,” said Chaplain and Sacred Studies teacher Reverend Daniel Bergstrom, “what I’m familiar with in regards to opening up a hard copy text of this sacred writing, in contrast to opening up an app.”

Bergstrom believes that the format of Bible used during childhood is likely to be the format that an individual would feel most comfortable with today. Because of this, the view and use of technology is often particular to a certain generation.

“I use a hard copy, my husband uses a hard copy,” said Bonneson, “but my son that’s sixteen and my daughter that’s fourteen, they both [use apps].”

However, individuals may decide on the format that works best for them, and not necessarily allow their decision to be influenced by their generation or the format of Bible they have grown up with.

Unlike many of his peers, freshman Daniel Stein prefers a hard copy Bible simply because it is more tactile. “I like to be able to hold the [Bible] in my hands and see how far I am in the book,” said Stein.

“My husband, he has such a good Bible study on his app now,” said lower school Gym teacher Rosie Peterson, laughing as she claims that her husband is a techie, while she still prefers a hard copy Bible.

“I like my [hard copy] Bible. I like turning the pages. I have to use my brain to find any chapter in the Bible and I have to memorize all 66 books, which I did! There’s no hassle, and I can do it anywhere, whether there’s wifi or not,” said Peterson.

These opinions reveal that though the decision between a hard copy and a Bible app is often simply a matter of personal preference, both formats have many pros and cons.

Benefits and drawbacks

of going digital

“[On an app] you can get all sorts of translations and you can get all the different devotions on there, so it really does have some positive things,” said Peterson.

Apps are useful for a variety of other reasons. Many apps have a search bar that individuals can use to find verses containing key words or themes. Senior Carissa Schern said, “I like Bible apps when I need to find a specific quote about hope or [another topic].”

Apps are also good for reading during spare bits of free time. If someone is waiting for a ride, it’s not very likely that they will pull out a heavy, full size paper Bible and start reading, but if they have a Bible app on their phone, it’s much easier and more convenient. Apps are also useful when trying to understand what a passage means.

“I can be reading along on a given passage and come across a confusing verse and right away alongside it I’ve got access to commentaries,” Bergstrom explained.

However, on an app someone can only see one small section of scripture at a time. E-reading can also be risky because notifications are likely to drop down or pop up on the screen and tempt the reader to stop their Bible time and see who just sent them a text or a Snapchat.

“People get so distracted on their iPads,” said freshman Greta Hallberg.

The negative aspects of an app lead to the pros of reading from a hard copy Bible.

The ups and downs 

of hard copies

If someone isn’t reading on their phone or tablet, there aren’t any distracting notifications. Hard copy Bibles are often much easier to concentrate on. Reading from a hard copy actually allows the reader to touch the paper, scribble in notes, and tuck special things between the pages.

“I have bookmarks [in my Bible] that have been given to me by my kids and also my husband,” said Bonneson fondly. “I have a note that [my husband] gave me after we were married three years I tucked in there for safekeeping. It’s [also] exciting to see all of my highlighted areas in my Bibles and how through my struggles and also through happy times, I can really look back and think ‘look at what I’ve been through and look at how God walked with me through the whole thing’…I find that such a good feeling,” she said.

Peterson’s Bible is also special to her in a way that her app could never be.

“It’s an heirloom…I use my mom’s Bible, and she was the most alive, lovely lady in the world, and every time I open that Bible, I know it’s her Bible,” she said smiling.

Despite these positives, Bibles are normally heavy, and most students and adults don’t want to carry that weight with them. Another con of reading from a hard copy Bible is that “the pages of the Bible are always very thin and…they can tear,” said Bonneson.

The ultimate value 

of God’s word

In the end, Bergstrom said, the format that is chosen needs to do one thing: connect the individual with God and His word.

“The main thing is to get the Bible into our hands and reading it together. That’s the bottom line,” said Bergstrom.

So many things distract people from God and from taking the time to simply read the good news that is His word. Either on an app or in a hard copy, the Bible still says the same thing and teaches us how to grow closer to God.

Peterson said, “There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something. The Bible truly is the word of God. When I don’t read it, I just feel empty. The word of God is living, so it’s still sacred [in either format]. No matter where you are it is alive and it is promised to be alive and to transform you, and do wonderful things.”

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About Emma Melling

Emma is a senior staff writer and editor-in-chief of the Talon. She is passionate about journalism, writing, literature, and French. Emma plans to attend Bethel University in the fall and double major in English and Journalism. She enjoys writing features on arts and human interest topics and loves listening to people's stories. Her hobbies include reading, hiking and spending time with family.

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