Screens vs. Paper

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for December 16 2018

It seems quite common now in Christian gatherings for the speaker to ask the church to open their Bibles, ‘whether in book form or on their device‘. For many people it must be a convenience not having to carry a Bible to church when you have it on your smartphone – and after all, the words for any important biblical text are put up on the overhead screen for anyone who didn’t bring one. Setting aside the matter of Bibles at church, I would like to promote the use of ‘real’ (i.e. paper) Bibles for personal reading.

The purpose of reading Scripture is to learn more about God, his world and his gospel. It tells us what we should practice and avoid, and shapes our outlook on life by forming our inner lives. For Scripture to do this, we must read it in such a way that it is allowed to sink into us and be internalised. This is why meditation and song is so prized by many authors of Scripture (e.g. Ps. 1:2; Col. 3:16). Meditation takes time and persistence. You can’t do it in thirty seconds or five minutes when you have a spare moment.

For all the positives about having the Bible on our smartphones, there are some advantages you won’t have. A paper Bible is a dedicated ‘device’ with no inbuilt potential distractions. You can have a larger amount of text open to view which can help you see and consider more at once, or scan pages for a verse you can’t find. Studies (and observation) suggest that the internet and screen devices undermine concentration by training peoples’ minds to shift frequently from topic to topic, webpage to webpage. If this is true, we may taking our ability to reflect patiently and think deeply, and unwittingly sacrificing that ability to the convenience that technology offers. Perhaps you could compare meditating and reflecting on scripture using paper and digital Bibles, and see which helps you best take in God’s word.