Redefining Bible publishing

Using Wayne’s post as a springboard, I want to draw your attention to the changing meaning of “publish” in the 21st century. Just as archaic English used “publish” to mean “proclaim or announce” and in the modern era it had came to have the restricted meaning of “print and distribute” now in the postmodern era “publish” is once again being redefined. As more of our consumption of literature is done online, the amount of Bible reading done online is also increasing. I’ll be honest with you and say that I don’t really like reading things online. I like books. They’re nice to hold. They’re easy to carry. Readings in a book tend to be more coherent than readings online. The hypertextuality of the online experience leads to a certain lack of focus. Because we’re bombarded with everything we focus on nothing. Imagine if in the margin of your Bible you had little pictures and cross references that popped up and broke your concentration every time you turned the page.

While this is a bother for old fogies like ourselves a new generation has arisen that lives in a constant state of information sifting and distraction. Young people sit in a room together while talking, watching TV, browsing the web on their laptop and trading messages on their cell phones. All this at the same time! Most twenty-year olds that I met while in the US last year seldom think about anything for more than 60 seconds before switching to another topic. My sister studies for her Masters while the TV is on and the laptop is open and messages are continually popping up on her cell phone. I’m guilty as well. I find sustained concentration on any topic to be difficult. My mind hyperlinks from one idea to the next until I’m literally lost in thought. Thus, the traditional concept of “daily devotions” is difficult for the postmodern mind. The open question is whether the new generation has a short attention span or is the previous generation slow-witted?

One way to address this situation is to reject it. Turn off the TV. Hide your cell phone. Leave the computer at the office. Take your Bible reading and devotional time “off the grid.” The spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation are worth considering in this era whirling with information yet starved of meaning. Another option is to “mashup” our Bible reading with the rest of our online consumption. Add your Bible reading to your RSS feed. Stick a gadget in iGoogle or a widget on your blog. Mix Scripture readings into the playlists on your mp3 player.

The better Bible of the 21st century will look a lot different from the better Bible of the 20th. And perhaps those twenty-somethings that live in this world of social connections and media sources will find a way to integrate the Bible into the mix and in the process make it relevant to a new century in ways that we can’t imagine.

10 thoughts on “Redefining Bible publishing

  1. Theophrastus says:

    This is a fascinating post, David, one of your best here. One thing I liked about your post is that you made it so personal — a discussion of your own experiences — and I’ll try to do the same in simple comment.

    I find electronic tools valuable when I am doing research (for example, looking up the use of a word, or quickly cross-checking verses) or following along with a recorded lecture. But if I am actually trying to read an extended narrative, after a chapter or two, I get lost online. I read too fast, and miss nuances. I find myself distracted by all of the other distractions of computers and the Web. Moreover, I don’t hear the different voices of the Bible — it all comes across in the single tone that everything on the Internet has.

    Which is not to say that passive reading is ideal either. I find I need to interact with the text in some way. Maybe it is by writing notes in the text, or maybe it is by reading a commentary alongside the text, or maybe it is following along in a diglot and finding errors in a translation. Maybe it is by having a study partner to work through the text with, or teaching the text, or listening to someone teach the text. The point is, any of these activities engage different parts of my mind, and allow me to work through the text.

    One would never imagine learning mathematics, for example, by simply reading a book and not doing any exercises or homework. Why should reading the Bible be different?

    Meditating on text sounds great, but it only works sometimes for me. Often there is too much of me in that process, and too little of God. I hear the voice of my running stream of consciousness in my head more than I hear the small still voice.

    I do agree with you that the greatest luxury here is the ability to free oneself from other distractions. Here, I think the idea of the Sabbath is a wonderful one — a day devoted to prayer and learning and family, without distractions.

    Of course, this is only my own experience. I am certain that other people find other approaches more valuable.

  2. Chris Rogers says:

    Great thoughts, David. Especially the urging to study the Word off grid. I tend to take this day-by-day. I commute 30 miles on an express bus, so time with the King is more often than not en route. It’s a toss up between e-Sword on the laptop or the honest-to-God-(npi)-published-with-a-binding NT and which one I pull out of my briefcase usually comes down to whether I feel a prolific urging that morning. If so, I give e-Sword the nod because it is so easy to capture impressions from the King electronically. If the urging du jour is more of my need to listen, the bound NT seems to be the better fit. Either way, I am bookmarked electronically and physically to the same book/chapter/verse and the Lord is free to speak through whichever way he leads. And I am in 100% agreement with your point on distraction. The distractions to reading the bound Word are the usual – passing images, passing thoughts. The online Word has to fight these beasts along with the greater degree of complexity of hey-I-wonder-where-this-link-thingy-goes. It would be illuminating to read the “blogs” of the period and see what the concerns were as Guttenberg took us from public readings of the Word to having our own printed copy. My guess is that the revolution took so long that it was not the churning overnight phenomenon we are dealing with in the digital revolution.

    With social networking initiatives at work recently, I have been challenged by my consultant/guru on the topic to reconsider my assumptions of online networking that come down to the-old-ones-don’t-get-it-and-the-young-ones-can’t-live-without-it. I have been observing behaviors the last few days and I think she has a point. I have a Gen X nephew who free flows his conscious thoughts and emotions on Facebook daily, not because he is a digital native, but because he is a thoughtful, emotive guy. His 1 year younger sister, my Gen X niece, is a Facebook atheist, viewing it through her wonderful countercultural lens and preferring to sit this one out. In my own Facebook experience, I have connected with tons of people who are my kids’ friends (and therefore mine … usually), but I have also connected with tons of classmates from the THS class of 19{aHEM cough cough} and you really don’t see much hesitancy among them to build rich online connections. At work as we adopt social networking into our learning architecture, it is a similar track record. The younger ones tend to be the ready adopters but not to the person. The older ones tend to not see the value but again, not to the person. The point? Age is probably the best predictive demographic on digital adoption, but by no means the only one.

    Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts, David.

    Ed. Note: URL fixed.

  3. Melody says:

    I couldn’t agree more, David. I’m a Gen Y but I’ve always preferred having a tangible bible. The online Bibles are useful if I need a quick reference for posting or the like. But for personal use, it’s so much easier for me to make something of it, without all the distractions of links and ads, and for me the format is so much easier to read.

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Nice segue post, David. One of the advantages of using audio technology for the Bible is that we are *listening*. I find it helpful sometimes to use a different media from what I have traditionally used. It helps my brain focus again on the material so I don’t take it for granted.

    Besides, the Bible was originally *heard* by many people. Biblical literacy wasn’t nearly as widespread as it is today.

    Furthermore, it has been shown that if we translate the Bible so it can be heard, better quality can result.

    That said, I’m not going to give up my printed Bibles!

  5. Tim says:


    Great post! I am 30 and often forget how much I “enjoy” using multiple media devices at the same time. I don’t even think twice! Although, I must say that I do prefer books to reading on the Internet and hope my concentration on a topic last more than 60 seconds. Maybe 63!

  6. Dru says:

    “Furthermore, it has been shown that if we translate the Bible so it can be heard, better quality can result”.

    Thanks for that perceptive comment Wayne. Could I commend that as a universal rule – a very important one. Whatever you write, in whatever context, always try and write it so that it can be read aloud, be understood by the listener and sound good to the ear.

  7. Dru says:

    I’ve just realised rereading what I wrote earlier (groggy and before breakfast) that it sounds personal. Sorry, nothing personal Wayne. It’s a general point for all readers, and for all critics of what other people have written. Always think about what ones words sound like. If read aloud, they can be easily understood, good. If they sound good, even better. If read aloud they are incomprehensible, or sound cloth-eared, write something else.

  8. John says:

    I am over 50 and get the word in various forms. When I am at home, I do enjoy the book form. I can stop, re-read, look back, write notes, underline, etc. When I am commuting or working out, I listen to it on my ipod. I listen to the Bible Experience, so it sounds like I am listenening to the actual author as God gives it to him. It is more like a conversation. The only drawback to this is taking a note or missing a sentence while I am momentarily distracted. And I also read the word on my cellphone while in waiting rooms or in line somewhere. I like this because I can actually highlight passages or take notes right on the phone if I want. I feel blessed by having so many ways to hear God speak to me, in all areas and situations of my life.

  9. David Ker says:

    Thanks all for comments. My most treasured Bible reading time has always been right after breakfast with my wife and kids. There is a brief moment there before the day explodes that we read a brief passage and talk it over. My children many times teach me things about God’s Word. And sometimes they turn into posts on this blog!

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