Does the form of Scripture affect the way that we read Scripture? While pixels (the digital Bible) are useful, print has surprising value.
Years ago Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” He proposed that the message in our words is shaped powerfully by the means we use to share those words. Bumper stickers might have truth, but who takes them seriously? The medium is never neutral.
Here are four reasons I encourage print.
1. The “lay down and pick up.”
Something intangible but real happens when we lay down what we’re holding and pick up something else. A small switch flips in our minds. We shift gears. The “new thing” has our full attention, at least for a few moments.
If I’m flipping through game apps, email apps, and weather apps, and quickly click on a Bible app—all on the same device—it all starts to have a similar feel (and perhaps value). Unconsciously, clicking one app or tapping another puts everything on pretty much the same level.
2. Screens with ads cheapen the text.
If I open some of the common Bible sites and call up a biblical text, I’ll also see various advertisements—ads for books, devotionals, study materials, and even child sponsorship. The ads seem innocuous enough. However, once again, the medium is the message.
On the one hand, the biblical text comes up just fine (unaltered). On the other hand, ads compete for my attention. They pop off the page. How do I treat some words on the screen as sacred, while my eye keeps glancing at slick marketing in the upper left margins? Truth be told, we can’t … and we don’t. It’s subtle, but it’s real. And because the biblical text does not come with graphics, colors, or eye-catching fonts, it looks and feels unexpectedly plain.
3. Print demands time.
The average time that we spend on a single screen on our phones or tablets is measured in seconds, not minutes. When we surf the web, we barely stop moving. We merely glance at web-pages and quickly move on. We’re trained this way.
Our digital ADHD means that we have conditioned our brains to click, click, and click—over and over again—as we surf the web.
Books demand more time.
Of course, we may struggle to have sufficient attention-span to read a book or even a page. We have become a scanning generation. But can we really hear God speak to us through sound-bites? The church has never thought so.
4. The need for sacred space.
Finally, we might ask, “Is it valuable to have items and places dedicated purely to the purposes of God; that do not share their domain with anything else?”
If we conclude that part of a sacred text is to be (literally) set apart, then our electronic devices undermine that conviction. The Jews had a Temple, not because it was the only place for God to live, but because dedicated space mattered. It reminded them that God was not just an ordinary part of everyday life. Instead He embodies the transcendent, mysterious, and awesome.
Perhaps a sacred text deserves its own sacred space—in print.
Again, the medium blares out a message; sometimes a message that drowns out the still voice of God.
I’m not anti-electronics or resistant to the digital age, by any means. Digitalization has enormously enhanced biblical research and study. But how we hold and read God’s Word perhaps deserves reconsideration. It’s possible that our devices are holding the Word of God captive.