The last decade has seen both an avalanche of digital innovation and a responding flood of discussion about the ways that innovation is improving—or degrading—our lives. You’ve probably read or participated in plenty of discussions about whether or not ebooks are “better” than print books. As an employee of a book publishing company, I’ve seen publishers struggle, not always successfully, to identify which book-related behaviors can be replicated (or even improved) in a digital context.
But nowhere does this discussion about the usefulness of digital technology mean more than when we discuss the Bible.
It’s one thing to debate whether or not a Tom Clancy novel is better experienced on a Kindle or in paperback. But when we have this same discussion about the Bible, the stakes are profoundly higher. If the format in which we experience the Bible makes it harder for us to read it, or pushes us away from the focused reflection that Scripture requires, then great harm is taking place. On the on other hand, if a new technology or format makes it possible to engage more meaningfully with Scripture, then we should all take careful note. A quick google search turns up plenty of essays and blog posts arguing over the last several years that digital Bible study is or isn’t worth your time, with good points made on both sides.
But I think we’ve reached a point where we can confidently say that digital Bible study is a tremendously rewarding experience, and that it’s no longer impeded by many of the limitations that made it difficult in the past. Here are five reasons I think you should embrace digital Bible study in 2016.
1. You Have Access to an Amazing Library of Christian Insight
If you haven’t looked at the free Bible study resources available to you online recently, take a fresh look. With a little googling or a visit to a major Bible website, you have access to a digital Bible reference library that would be prohibitively expensive to collect in person.
Centuries of Christian thought and Bible commentary is freely available to anyone with an internet connection. Websites like the Christian Classics Ethereal Library have been around for years and remain excellent libraries of Christian literature. But some of the major Bible websites are moving beyond the “online library” model and are integrating Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and maps into their Bible reading experiences. And this includes not just venerable works that are in the public domain, but very recent Bible references. For example, at BibleGateway.com—which I’ll mention because I work there!—we incorporate relevant Bible reference works right alongside your Bible reading. The classic Bible commentaries (like Matthew Henry’s) are there, but so are newer works like the Reformation Study Bible and the massively thorough NIV Application Commentary.
2. Digital Note-taking is (Finally!) Good
For years, one of the strongest arguments against switching your Bible study to the digital environment was the lack of good digital annotation options—personal notes, underlining, highlighting, etc. But things have changed for the better in recent years.
If you’re using a website or mobile Bible app like Bible Gateway’s or YouVersion’s, note-taking is built right into the reading experience—and let’s face it, we’re all more adept at tapping quick notes on a small mobile screen than we were five years ago. But even if you choose not to use specific Bible annotation tools like those, you’ve still got a lot of great options: OneNote and Evernote make it easy to take and organize notes about what you’re reading (and even convert your old handwritten notes into digital form). There are numerous web browser plugins that will let you take notes on a specific webpage (and the feature is built into Microsoft’s Edge browser). And if the Microsoft Surface and iPad Pro are any indication, we may be seeing a resurgence of the once-derided stylus, which is good news for anyone who prefer good old-fashioned handwritten notes.
3. Digital Reading Plans Make it Easy to Approach the Bible (and Harder to Forget to do your Bible Reading)
Many of us have tried (perhaps more than once) to read the Bible straight through, from Genesis to Revelation. Our good intentions often bog down, however, once we wade into Leviticus and other intimidating Old Testament books full of laws and regulations.
Bible reading plans have long provided a way to pace yourself as you read the Bible, and many such plans eschew the cover-to-cover approach in favor of more accessible reading tracks. Some mix the Old and New Testaments; others focus on specific Bible sections or themes; some charge through the Bible at an aggressive pace and others take years to walk through Scripture. Not only will you find a huge variety of Bible reading plans online, but they handle all of the organizational work of reading through the Bible: they serve up your personal daily reading, remind you when a new reading is ready, let you resume your reading after a break… in short, they take care of the little details that can trip you up. (You still have to read the Bible passages yourself, though.)
4. It Expands Your Opportunities for Study
Finding time (and sometimes space) to study the Bible is always a challenge. We’re all busy with jobs, families, school, and hobbies (and OK, binge-watching shows on Netflix). The idealized picture of Bible study—sitting down in a quiet study room and spending an hour immersed into uninterrupted Bible reading—isn’t attainable for most of us. New Year’s resolutions like getting up a half-hour early every day to read the Bible are easier made than kept.
But you do have time to study the Bible. Do you have a lunch break? A train ride to work? A half-hour while your kids are at soccer practice? Those little windows of time are precious opportunities to fire up a Bible app or get caught up on your Scripture reading for the day.
5. This is Where We Live
A final reason to embrace digital Bible study is simply this: we live digital lives, and God’s Word should be present there alongside us. To be sure, there is great value in periodically disconnecting from the online world and its distractions. But there is also much to be gained by making sure that Scripture is always as close at hand as your music player, photo stream, email inbox, and messaging app.