Every day I go through my blog subscriptions on Google Reader. I usually do not have time to read the articles I find interesting, so I save them. I have a huge backlog of articles to read, so I’m trying to catch up.
Technology and the Church
I recently read an article by Lisa Miller from CNN.com
Her main point is that we are in the midst of a revolution in how people access the Bible. The Bible on your shelf is out; the Bible on your smartphone is in.
And just as the printing press revolutionized people’s access to the Bible and then led to dramatic changes in the church, so Lisa Miller claims that the digital Bible revolution will lead to dramatic (and harmful?) changes to the church:
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.
Troubles in the Local Church
Just as the printing press revolution led to people rebelling against the authority of the Catholic church, so this digital revolution will lead to people rebelling against the authority of their local congregations. In other words, there will be a move toward more individualism in Christianity. Miller says:
In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers.
With Scripture on iPhones and iPads, believers can bypass constraining religious structures – otherwise known as “church” – in favor of a more individual connection with God.
This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating: that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and savior, folks don’t read the Bible.
I disagree with her assumption that church is constraining to people, that church gets in the way of a real individual connection with God. Where does she get this from? The Bible teaches that someone with faith in God and will be involved with God’s people, and church history does not teach anything different.
No Need for Church?
Miller not only thinks that the church constrains a person’s relationship to God, but that the need for a church is diminished when sermons are available online and Bible study can be done on Facebook(?). She says:
When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote.
Notice her diminished view of church. The main reason for joining church is to hear a sermon and to have resources available to study the Bible. I agree with her that a sermon is important, but having a personal connection with the preacher is important. It can never truly be replaced by podcasts. And the church is important for many other reasons than sermons and Bible resources. (And how can you study the Bible on Facebook?)
Lisa Miller’s view of the church is important, because if you view the church as providing very little, then it is easy for the church to become replaced by things like podcasts and Facebook.
Is She Right?
If Miller is right about this revolution, then I think the changes in the church will be wholly negative. While the original Reformation brought positive changes to the church (even if there were negative repercussions), I see no way that this revolution will bring predominately positive changes. In our age of increasing individualism, we need the community and tradition of the church. We do not need a further excuse to become more isolated.
I’m not sure Miller is correct, though.
First, the Bible is not more widely available in terms of people. It is just easier for those who already have a Bible to access it “on the go”. Most people who have the Bible on their iPhone would have it on their shelves. How many people previously did not have daily access to the Bible but now have access through smartphones? I cannot think of anyone who now has it on his phone but did not previously have a copy of the Bible.
Unlike the changes that followed the printing press, the Bible is not much more widely available to people.
Second, digital access to the Bible does not bypass authoritative structures of interpretive frameworks that were not easily bypassed by reading a printed Bible in your own home. She seems to think that people will be more likely to access the Bible without the “constraining” context of the church. But why? It was not hard to read the Bible in the privacy of your own home. Why is reading it on one’s smartphone any more private? Miller does not explain this assumption, and I see no reason to share her view of this.
Third, in countries where printed Bible are not available, the church will still be important for other reasons. There are some countries where political oppression is so severe or Christianity is so new that printed Bibles are not readily available. The internet might make the Bible more accessible to these people. But I do not think the church will collapse. Rather the church will be seen as important, since it will provide support and community to a fledgling or persecuted community.
Fourth, the church is strengthened through the Word of God. She ignores this aspect, but the revolution centered around the printing press strengthened the church. As a believer in the power of God’s Word, I trust that wider availability of God’s Word is a good thing for the church, not a bad thing.
Technology will continue to affect the church. Lisa Miller is wrong to think that the wide availability of the Bible will bring down the church. It might very well strengthen the Church. Let’s pray that it does!