Christian Innovators Find Creative Ways to Get People Engaged With Scripture


The tension was palpable. In front of an audience at the Q Ideas conference, Glenn Paauw had just enthusiastically explained how he and his team stripped the Bible of every artificial accouterment. Verse numbers, chapters, section headings, columns, commentary—all have been jettisoned to reveal virginal holy writ.

“Now it’s in a format that allows you to see what was actually there,” Paauw said triumphantly of his project, The Books of the Bible, a minimalist version of the NIV translation designed to bring readers closer to a 1st century experience of Scripture.

It was time for Phil Chen to explain the thinking behind his “Glo” Bible app, which features 3D tours of the Holy Land, immersive media, interactive maps, pinch-zoom everything. In effect, “Glo” is everything that would make Paauw bristle.

Chen presses on. “Glo” has received attention from some major media outlets, he says.USA Today awarded it the Best eBook App of the Year. “We’ve not had the same coverage on Christian media,” Chen says, after explaining that paper is an obsolete tool, almost useless for his generation.

Lyons then asks Paauw about some of the initiatives that have sprung from Books, and at this point Paauw makes an impassioned case for his own project. “The Scripture was given to us as a gift,” he says, “and if we free it from all the stuff we’ve loaded it with—sliced it and diced it—I think it can be released again to do its job of transformation.”

It’s hard to imagine he’s talking about anything other than Chen’s “Glo” app, a fully loaded, sliced-and-diced digital marvel that is oh-so-much-more than just a book.

While their exchange did not spiral into direct confrontation, it was obvious that Chen and Paauw had discovered a fundamental disagreement in front of a live audience. At the end, the two barely acknowledge one another, Paauw looking rigidly at Lyons, and Chen swiveling in his chair with his arms crossed. But as is common in passionate disagreements, these two innovators are trying to solve the same problem: people are not reading the Bible anymore.

It’s a trend that’s been in motion for decades. By the year 2000 the percentage of Bible readers had dipped from 73 percent in the 1980s to 59 percent, according to an oft-cited Gallup poll. That’s the equivalent of losing 700 Bible-readers every day.

Not only are fewer people reading the Bible, they’re skeptical about what it says. A 2014 Barna study revealed that the number of Americans who believe that the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice” has nearly doubled, going from 10 percent to 19 percent, in just three years. According to a Gallup poll released last year, only 28 percent of Americans regard the Bible as the actual word of God. That’s just a tick up from the all time low in 2009, but still substantially lower than the near 40 percent of the late 1970’s. Though the same Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans “still believe the Bible is in some way connected to God,” between the dwindling number of people who maintain the Bible to be a moral authority, and the troubling lack of biblical literacy, statistics paint a grim picture of the role Scripture plays in the lives of American Christians.

Beyond Bible-Reading

Faced with this trend, pastors and researchers are striving to get people back into their Bibles. But most Christian leaders agree that Bible-reading is not enough. Doug Lockhart, CEO of Biblica, an organization that translates and publishes the Bible in dozens of languages, writes, “For over 200 years, we have provided millions of people with access to the Bible. But that’s no longer enough, given the crisis in Bible reading. We need to help people absorb God’s Word, so they can live transformed.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Bret Mavrich

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