Dear Teacher, Use Your Printed Bible

As an “old-fashioned” teacher (P.C.E.—Pre-Computer Era), I have become increasingly concerned about the use of digital media in the classroom. Please don’t misunderstand. I do believe there are numerous benefits in using video, PowerPoint™, etc. in the classroom, especially with older students. However, there is one area in which it seems that going “digital” in the classroom is more harmful than beneficial—that is, in using and teaching from a digital Bible instead of an actual, printed, and bound Bible. That is why I so appreciated Matthew Barrett’s thoughtful article, “Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church”  on the Gospel Coalition website. Although it is directed at pastors, all the principles are applicable to teachers. Here are some of his main points:

To clarify, I am not against pastors using a tablet in the pulpit for, say, sermon notes. Rather, I’m concerned about replacing the physical Bible with a tablet in the pulpit. As the pastor enters the pulpit to bring the Word of God to the people of God, no hard copy of the Bible is to be found in his hand, gracing the top of the podium, visible to the entire congregation as the book at the center of attention. Instead, the congregation sees a tablet. While this may seem harmless enough, I believe there are several potential dangers this subtle shift generates

  • …the tablet as a replacement for a hardcopy of the Bible sends an entirely different message to the congregation. Yes, this tablet contains the digital text of the Bible, but visually that tablet represents so much more. It is an icon of social media and a buffet of endless entertainment. Ask my children. The sight of an iPad screams instant access to Sesame Street on Netflix.
  • …the tablet may, oddly enough, unintentionally and indirectly encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew…One of the severe limitations of a digital text, as you sit there with your iPhone or smartphone, is the unnecessary task of passing by books of the Bible as you find the sermon text. When the preacher says, “Turn in your Bibles to…,” the layperson simply clicks on a link or enters the text into a search box.
  • …the tablet may undermine the spatio-temporal nature of church. When a member stands before the congregation, reading the sermon text from a tablet, there is something missing, something lifeless at play…Surely this should rub us wrong, as physical beings who gather together as an assembly in a tangible place. We see with our own eyes a standing, breathing minister preach about a God who is, yes, invisible, but 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.
  • …when the smartphone or iPad (or name your mobile device) replaces a hard copy of Scripture, something is missing in our nonverbal communication to unbelieving onlookers. When you walk to church, sit down on a bus, or discipline one another at a coffee shop, a hard copy of the Bible sends a loud and bold message to the nearest passersby about your identity as a Christ follower. It says, “Yes, I am a Christian and I believe this book is the Word of God telling us who we are and how we should live.”\

The conclusion to his article:

No doubt, my warning touches an uncomfortable and irritable nerve. To insult our use of technology is one of the seven deadly sins in the 21st century. Technology infiltrates and saturates everything we do, and therefore defines everything we are, for better or worse. But is this subtle shift changing the way we read the Scriptures? Is it ever-so-quietly removing the visual centerpiece of the local assembly? I think so. And while I never imagined I would have to say this, I close with the following admonition: Dear pastor, bring your Bible to church.

(You can read his entire article here).

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

2 Responses to “Dear Teacher, Use Your Printed Bible”

  1. Glenn Leatherman September 5, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    My initial reaction to reading this article is to wonder if “incipient legalism” is creeping into the promotion of our favorite methodologies (in this case the use of a physical bible). I just cannot see where the Bible makes the kind of Bible (physical or digital) one preaches or teaches from normative. Nor do I see scripture revealing that the kid of Bible we use affecting our relationship and justification before God (Galatians 2:21).

    In saying that, I do SYMPATHIZE WITH and APPRECIATE the authors point of view. I realize that our methodologies and theology are linked together in many ways. For example, I personally don’t use PowerPoint in a worship service because it completely changes the dynamics of the preaching event in a negative way to me. I want to preach extemporaneously, expositionally, ahd Christ-Centered, and I see the use of PowerPoint and some other technologies currently preventing that and creating a classroom effect rather than a worship attitude and experience. But I don’t make this a rule that everyone has to follow. This may change and I don’t want to get hardening of the categories on this issue of methods.

    By stating “Going “digital” in the classroom is more harmful than beneficial” one is making a value judgement that I think is difficult to defend biblically. When people make an application (and it may be a good application for them as in this case) normative for everyone, that persons is saying that the Bible is not sufficient for instructing us how we are to live and practice of faith. Legalism can easily take over the way one applies Scripture in their teaching (Galatians 5:13-26).

    As with anything that is new (whether it is technology or method), we struggle with the contextual effects the new thing (digital bibles in this instance) have on our feelings, traditions, past experiences, and reasonings. We want conceptualization of the truth to win the day when preaching or teaching, but we struggle with the contextual effects of the new thing. In America “dish washers” use to be a novelty, but now most homes have one, and they are is seen as an essential by many Americans. It can be that over time the concern here will be muted because we have adjusted our expectations and values.

    Below I push back against the statements above by saying I cannot COMPLETELY accept them. I do resonate with what I think is the sentiment of the article, but the author seems to making categorical statements that come dangerously close to a legalistic mindset and/or not placing this point of view/belief in a category level that allows for disagreement without separation (Romans 14:1-6).

    So, with that said, I cannot COMPLETELY accept that using a tablet as a replacement for a hardcopy of the Bible sends an entirely different message to the congregation. It really depends on the congregation and the mores or traditions they are use to. In some instances having a physical Bible could possibly communicate a lack of preparedness to teach and preach. This may or may not be the case depending on the context one finds themselves in.

    I cannot COMPLETELY accept that the tablet may unintentionally and indirectly encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. I don’t think it makes a lot difference. How one looks up a Bible verse will not make a person Biblically illiterate. Genuine Christians become Biblically literate because of the hunger for the Word of God given by the Spirit. Many American Evangelicals (church goers) are already largely biblically illiterate and atheological because they are unregenerate. In some cases the tablet may actually encourage others to study the bible more.

    I also cannot COMPLETELY accept that the tablet may undermine the spatio-temporal nature of church. The Tablet is part of that very spatio-temporal nature.

    I cannot COMPLETELY(or universally) accept that when the smartphone or iPad (or name your mobile device) replaces a hard copy of Scripture, something is missing in our nonverbal communication to unbelieving onlookers. This is an argument from tradition.

    Finally, I have used a tablet for my notes in preaching, but I always take a physical bible to read the Text from.

  2. Michelle Tull September 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    The value of God’s Word in the printed form is priceless for me. As I say that, I cannot help but think of Psalm 19. Psalm 19 teaches that we owe to scripture, the same reverence we owe to God because scripture came from Him alone; it has nothing of man mixed in it. God’s Word is the most sacred thing there is. We perhaps need to focus on that fact a bit more and carry our Bibles with great care and dignity!

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