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Monday
Jul192010

In Spite of the iPad (and Other Electronic Resources), I Still Teach from a Physical Bible

I watched a friend preach a sermon the other day, and while his sermon was quite good, and while he quoted Scripture throughout the message, he never actually preached from a physical Bible. Instead, he read Scripture as it was projected onto a large screen. Now, I have no problem with projecting Scripture onto a screen; in fact, I believe this not only helps those who don't have a Bible with them (although it may encourage that, too), but when words are held in front of us in large letters, I believe it can even help us reflect on what the text is actually saying.

However, I saw two immediate downsides with this mode of delivery. First, he was dependent upon a person in the back of the auditorium running the slides to advance each part of the passage from which he was reading. Because the person advancing the slides did not do so in anticipation of the next part of the text, there was a pause at the end of each slide full of text, regardless of whether the break was a natural break or not. This drastically reduced my friend's ability to read the biblical passage with any kind of natural sounding expression, and ultimately the reading of God's Word became a necessary "task" rather than a meaningful part of the sermon. This is not too different in the end result from sermons I've heard in my lifetime in which a biblical passage was rushed through, read with little meaning or expression, so the preacher could get on to the "meat of the sermon."

Secondly, I really believe that there's something psychologically (meant in the most positive sense) beneficial for people to see a preacher or teacher actually reading from a physical Bible. Maybe it's the fact that I've been a lifelong Baptist, and most of us have a high view of Scripture anyway, but to me there's a certain perceived authority that comes from having that Bible in hand. I realize God's Word is God's Word and still just as authoritative whether it's on the lips of someone speaking it, on a scroll, on a Bible's printed page, on a computer screen, iPad, projector, or tattooed on a right ankle. But I also know there's  perceptual difference if you and I are about to have a heart-to-heart talk, and I place a physical Bible between us as opposed to my iPhone with BibleReader pulled up (and that's not a knock against BibleReader).

Now, if you know me at all, you understand that I'm often the first to embrace technology of many different kinds. Sometimes, I'm probably guilty of embracing technology simply because it's "new and shiny." So, I'm not coming from the perspective of a Luddite here. Further, most of my time spent in Bible study—whether for personal or professional reasons—is in front of Accordance on my MacBook Pro. And since the iPad was released, BibleReader has been my main Bible on-the-go for settings such as the Wednesday morning Bible study I'm a part of. But in those instances, I'm not in front of a group. That's the difference. And if in front of a group, whether in the church or in the classroom, you will still see me use a physical Bible.

In the Bible study I teach on Sunday mornings at church, I do use my iPad—but not as a source for biblical readings. I've been carrying my iPad for running my Keynote slides. It's much more convenient than carrying my entire laptop. So I run the slides from the iPad, but I teach from my Bible and a page of notes (once Keynote for the iPad gives us presenter notes, I'll stop bringing the page of notes).

As the class and I walk through a passage together, I don't "hog" the reading of Scripture. I invite others to volunteer to read. But I often make a statement something like this: "Now, if I could have a volunteer to read _______ with a loud and clear voice, with great expression and annunciation." That usually draws a bit of a laugh, especially from newcomers, but I really do mean it.

Public reading of the Bible seems to be quickly becoming a fading skill. My first preaching experiences came when I was in college in the late eighties on our mission trips and at the little country churches fairly close driving distance. My Louisiana Tech BSU director, Lynn Hawkins, spent time with me to show me how to read the Bible in front of an audience. He taught me how to hold it up in front of me, but not covering my face. He demonstrated how it should be held in one hand while the other hand traces the words I'm reading, allowing for periodic eye contact with the congregation without losing my place. He told me not to rush through the reading, but to read the Bible with clarity and expression—as if it were the best thing I'd ever read. He told me that it was okay to read a verse or two from my notes, but when reading more than a couple of verses, and especially when reading a main passage, it should always be done from the Bible.

For better or worse, and regardless of the already mentioned fact that Scripture is Scripture is Scripture, people want to see a Bible in your hand if you are engaged in public proclamation of God's Word. I really believe that. And I believe it crosses multiple generations.

I certainly can't be accused of not embracing new formats. Since I first got my iPad, I'm now convinced that electronic books are (for the most part) much more practical than their physical counterparts. In fact, I don't care if I never buy a physical book again. When looking at a new title, I immediately look to see if it's available as an eBook. But if you hear that I'm going to be teaching or preaching somewhere, don't let it surprise you when you see me holding a very non-tech, analog, turn it page-by-page...Bible.

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Reader Comments (19)

I'll never be able to watch Heston in the Ten Commandments again without seeing two iPads. :-)

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I'm with you as far as teaching/preaching from a physical Bible goes. Where we differ is with regard to ebooks. I think they're fine but nothing beats a physical book.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick Norelli

Public reading of the Bible seems to be quickly becoming a fading skill.

I don't think it is specific to the Bible. Our society, in general, is losing it's literacy, and this includes oral fluency. Students are simply not required to, nor interested in, reading fluently in front of others. For most this also extends to personal reading, and I predict it will only get worse with time.

I don't believe that communication is degrading, but that it is changing from the written word to more visual forms of communication. The rapid changes in technology are loosening our dependence on words and grammar, in preference for alternate ways of communicating ideas.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Stitt

I have mix feelings about this. I have not taken my bible to church since I got my iPad. Even when I preach I don't take my bible. The only time i use a physical bible is when I teach. I have been giving this some thought, and I'll keep thinking about it. I want to limit what I have to carry.

I did buy I top notch fine leather cover for my iPad, Rick you would live it, it is really soft leather.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Jimenez

I appreciate what you're saying, Rick, but I think this has a lot to do with the particular congregational setting. There are some churches where I would do just as you're describing---not because they're not technologically savvy, but just because it fits their church culture. It's the "feel" of the church. On the other hand, I've been teaching from my iPad since I received it, and it has felt very natural for me and for the people in our church family. In fact, if they knew that my primary reading Bible is on my iPad, many would wonder if I wasn't using it to teach. It would feel a little artificial (even "religious") to them for me to use my leather Bible in front of the congregation, when it's not the Bible I use the rest of the time. I'm not saying that this is the right way to see it, but I'm sure other groups would share this perspective.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton

Nick, as I wrote a few weeks back, I discovered that when I had books in both physical and digital format, the physical books were never used. I'm still in the process of gathering the duplicates to sell. I'm hoping to gain at least half of our guest room back! Some books--especially those with sentimental value--I would would never get rid of. But moving forward, digital is my preferred format. There's something very powerful about carrying an entire library in one device.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

I understand the goal of traveling light. Carrying just my iPad and a Bible to church is MUCH less than what I used to carry. I used to have my Greek NT, Bible, laptop and often more. Kathy no longer carries her Bible to church either--just her iPad. And that's what I do, too, if I'm just participating and not leading.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

As someone who worked for Apple for three years and now has a business which teaches people how to use their Macs, I couldn't agree with you more.

One outcome of electronic texts is that people don't read books in their entirety. Even Steve Jobs said this before the iPad was released. He said People aren't reading anymore and therefore didn't see the need for Apple to make an eReader. (We all know the iPad is far more than an eReader.) There's something to be said for reading out of a physical Bible: "In spite of this being a BIG book, we need to still read it. I read this, and I think you need to, too."

I think irregardless of age (I'm in my mid 20's) technology in the pulpit can present an extreme barrier. I would even hesitate to use an iPad. With all the stigma surrounding it (savvy, expensive, popular) I wonder if it clashes with the message of the Gospel which ought to be available to all, regardless of their popularity or affluence.

Something that worries me is when a pastor uses technology in hopes that it will connect him with the younger generation. I'm not too sure this model is biblical. In an age where the medium affects the message, we need to carefully think about these things.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick S.

Curt, I don't deny your point is a valid one. Ultimately, it would depend upon the audience.

What are you using on your iPad to study the Bible? I really like BibleReader. I'll have a review up soon.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

This is off-topic, but talking about physical bibles...
Does anyone have experience with the 4th edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible? It has been out for a while...

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Yes, I'm using BibleReader too, and I like it very much for what I'm using it for. I still use Accordance for practically all of my in-depth studying. I only have one text on BibleReader, but I love using it as my reading text on the iPad. It's my go-to general purpose Bible. I can see that it has much more potential of course, but I'm not eager to re-buy modules that I already have on Accordance.

I look forward to your review of BibleReader. Your reviews are always very thorough, and I usually pick up some good tips for working more effectively.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton

Rick, I share your concern regarding people not reading, but I think this is much bigger than (and predates) the wide usage of electronic texts. In fact, the people most actively pushing the expansion of ebooks seem to be avid readers. I've even heard it claimed that ebooks will encourage the reading of books. (I wouldn't necessarily argue that point, but many others do.)

I would absolutely agree that we shouldn't uncritically adopt the latest technology. Technology in the church can communicate a message on its own---whether projecting a pastor/teacher onto a massive screen, using video clips, or teaching from an iPad. If we're using new technologies just to seem 'with it' to a younger generation, not only are those efforts misdirected, but they will probably not be effective anyway. If you're working hard to be hip, people can see right through it and you just come across as inauthentic (and maybe even a little desperate). But not everyone using iPads, or other technologies, are doing it for that reason. We need to carefully think through our uses of technology, as with any methods. And church leaders will most likely come up with varying approaches because they are ministering to different groups of people with different perceptions of these kinds of things.

This reminds me of the discussions concerning hymns vs. newer forms of worship music. We need to be aware of our motives and think through any unintended consequences of our choices. But churches will still come up with different approaches at different times.

One more thought: I hear what you're saying about the iPad possibly being too expensive in some contexts where people might be less economically advantaged. But what of the pastor teaching from a $200, hand-stitched, Moroccan-leather Bible? Should we all just use pew Bibles so that we aren't creating a barrier? Should our musicians make sure that they aren't using instruments that are too expensive so that they don't hurt a fellow musician who can't buy the same quality of guitar? I'm not saying this isn't a valid issue to discuss. But it goes way beyond using an iPad in church. And I don't think it's a clear, black-and-white kind of issue.

Thought provoking post though, especially since I'm teaching regularly from an iPad. Thanks.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton

One more quick thought in response: I think I still convey the same idea of "In spite of this being a BIG book, we need to still read it" even using an iPad. I do this by teaching expositorily through books of the Bible, and eventually teaching through the whole Bible. They learn that it's necessary for us to read and study the whole Book by corporately reading and studying the whole Book. I don't really see how teaching from an iPad diminishes this. (But I'm going to think more about it.)

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton

I was doing a lot of power point, putting all the Scriptures in the power point, but then I realized what was happening. Went back to open and reading that physical Bible.

I'm with you. Yep!

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterT.C. R

I don't have a real problem with projecting a scripture passage, but I don't recommend reading from the screen because it's unnatural. Read from a Bible (or an iPad if that's your method) and let the screen follow you, not the other way around.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Romans 10:17

Faith come from hearing the word... When the scripture readings are offered each Sunday, my wife and I put down our bulletins, where the passages are written out, and we hear the word of our Lord.
With the passages written out for people to follow along, the people are inclined to check the quality of the reader not the message of the reading. Who doesn't look for the word stumble from the reader when you read along. We may become critics rather than receivers of the Word.

This is my objection to projecting passages on a screen, or the like. I trust my Pastor to speak the Word faithfully and it is my place to listen with all my heart and soul.

Your recounting of reading instructions received many moons ago encourage me to practice my public reading skills so I may volunteer to be a lay reader next year.

Tom

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Moeller

Got ya! But I wasn't opening any Bible at all.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterT.C. R

My concern with the reliance on projection as opposed to Bibles is two fold:

1. If you aren't using your Bible, you won't be as familiar with it.
2. Reliance on someone to quote a scripture doesn't allow you to see the scripture in context.

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonovan

Interesting thoughts. I do not have an iPad or any similar divise. However, I have been known to copy/paste/print the passage to be read so it's included in my sermon notes. This also allows me to control the text size, which is a big help when reading in public.
You make an interesting point about the physical impact of A Bible being read from or referenced. I think in the future I would be more likely to read from a bible in the preaching context.
However, I had a case recently where I specifically wanted to preach from the ESV, and I don't have an ESV bible, so print and read was my only way to go.

In my home church, we project the words, giving people an option of following along in their own bible, the pew bible or the words on the screen. I agree following in the bible provides better context, but I also know the projected word is easier for some of our elderly participants to read.

Thanks for the thoughts/guidance!

~Gord

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGord

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