There’s a Bible App for That

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Will digital Bible resources replace Biblical literacy?

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In a random fourth-grade class not too long ago, the teacher recited that week’s verse with the kids. But only a few were repeating the verse along with him. Finally, one boy raised his hand. Voicing what all the kids were really thinking, the boy asked, “So, why are we memorizing this verse? Can’t we just look it up online whenever we want to?”

In a world where information on any topic is available with a few keystrokes, a click of a button, or a series of swipes across a touchscreen, where does Bible literacy fit in? Are we out of touch when we insist kids bring a paper-and-ink Bible to church when there are multiple Bible apps on their iPhones and iPods? To be blunt, is learning Bible verses for the sake of biblical literacy a futile and outdated idea?

Learning Scripture is still important. We want children to be transformed by God, so it’s imperative they know the book that tells them who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. We want them to be children of “the Book.”

Ironically though, in an age of unprecedented access to God’s Word, a recent study by the Barna Group indicates that a large-and growing-number of people don’t know the “basics,” such as the Ten Commandments or the names of Jesus’ disciples. A recent Lifeway Research survey asked the question, “How often, if at all, do you personally read the Bible?” A whopping 47 percent said they rarely or never read the Bible.

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Perhaps we need to step back and, rather than bemoaning people’s ignorance of biblical content, rethink “biblically literacy.”

“I was taught that memorization was important because one might need to call up an important Bible verse and not have a Bible handy,” said Ivy Beckwith, author of Postmodern Children’s Ministry. “But if one has a Bible on one’s phone, that reason goes out the window. Perhaps we need to teach [kids]that ‘hiding God’s Word in one’s heart’ is personally transformative.”

Sadly at times, rather than life transformation being the motivation for learning the Bible, we urge kids to quote Scriptures to win a prize. But knowing God’s Word is less about information recall and more about being engaged by and immersed in the Word of God. Second Timothy 3:16 indicates that the Word of God is about far more than mere memorization: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what’s true and to make us realize what’s wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we’re wrong and teaches us to do what’s right.”

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