by John Ellis
I frequently tease my pastor that we should install iPads in the backs of the pews to replace visitor cards and pew Bibles. Among other potential uses, visitors (and members) would have easy access to the passage of Scripture being preached that morning. Visitor cards would be automatically filed in the church’s computer system. Whenever I mention it, my pastor wisely ignores me.
There are two reasons why I believe my pastor is showing wisdom by ignoring me. The first reason is because installing iPads in the backs of the pews would require our church to ignore our call to be good stewards of the physical resources that God has blessed us with.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that our church decided to install 100 iPads throughout the sanctuary. Aided by a quick entry of a few numbers into my phone’s calculator, my best guess is that the whole enterprise would cost well north of ten thousand dollars, and that’s probably way under what it would actually cost; I’m assuming some sort of bulk discount. There are many things that our church could spend that money on that are far more beneficial than iPads.
The second reason is that I’m not a big fan of electronic Bibles, in general.
In the issue of full disclosure, I have the Crossway ESV Bible app on my phone, and I even occasionally use it. I don’t make a habit of it, though, for three main reasons:
I Want to Boldly Declare that I’m a Christian
To be fair, using an electronic Bible does not, by necessity, prevent an individual from being bold in their witness that they are a Christian. However, it is important that we are making known to those around us that we are followers of Jesus. When Jesus said that “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33),” he was referring to those being asked to deny their faith in the face of real persecution, including martyrdom. Many Christians in America are skittish at the idea of being considered weird or odd when in public. Allowing the fear of man to control your choices when actual persecution isn’t even a risk may fall under denying Jesus. For me, especially considering where I live, using a Bible that’s an actual book helps me push back on my fear of man while publicly declaring that I am a follower of Jesus.
For me, the decision to carry my big ESV Study Bible whenever I’m meeting someone from church at a coffee shop or restaurant is a way to guard myself from seeking to blend in out of a fear of man. You see, Arlington, VA is one of the most secular communities in the country. Having lived and worked as a server in various parts of the country, it’s not uncommon to see people bow their heads in a prayer of thanksgiving before enjoying a meal in restaurant. It’s not uncommon in other parts of the country, that is. Here in Arlington, VA, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen anyone bow their head before a meal, unless, of course, we were sitting at their table. I must confess that there are times when I feel the tension of being the “odd” one in the room. Using an electronic Bible would provide a rationalization for my succumbing to my fear of man. By God’s grace, I want to make sure that I am boldly aligning myself with King Jesus, even when surrounded by strangers in public.
For the Sake of My Children
My mom used to always say that little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening. When you become a parent, it doesn’t take long for the weight of that responsibility to settle in. After almost twelve years as a parent, I’ve stopped being surprised at how much my children emulate the words and actions of me and my wife. Because of that, when I’m reading my Bible, I want my kids to know that I’m reading my Bible. Using an electronic Bible for my Bible reading/study wouldn’t communicate the importance of reading God’s Word to my kids as having an open Bible on my lap does.
Almost every morning, my kids are greeted by the sight of their dad reading his Bible as they come down the stairs. That’s not by accident. If I were to substitute an e-reader for an actual book, my kids wouldn’t have that valuable picture imprinted on their minds.
“Ontological” is a big word; I get that. But even the “bigness” of the word helps to communicate what I mean – it has heft and substance. If you prefer a technical definition, “ontology” relates to the nature of being. A big sturdy book exists in a way that an electronic book does not. The actual book has texture, weight, odor, and real noise. It has being. And it costs something to use it.
By “cost something,” I mean that the reader is invested in turning the pages, holding the book even as it awkwardly spills over the edges of the hand. The reader hears the rustle of the pages, feels the coolness of the paper, and has the rough, familiar texture of the leather or the cold, serious reality of the hard cover remind them that what they are doing matters.
This is one of the reasons why I have a record player. Listening to music on vinyl costs me a little something which serves to remind me that music matters. Likewise, carrying a Bible to church, flipping through the pages, and feeling the weight of the book as my pastor reads from God’s Word reminds me that God’s Word is important and invaluable.
Obviously, electronic Bibles are not sinful and there is no legitimate way to ban Christians from using them in church, at home, or in public (nor do I want to do such a draconian thing). I’m afraid, though, that our wholesale embrace of electronic Bibles is symptomatic of our consumer mentality. Our choices matter, and many of us make choices out of convenience without thinking through the possible ramifications. For me, using an electronic Bible in place of an actual book potentially costs more than it’s worth. If you do regularly use an electronic Bible (remember, before roasting me in the comment section, I use one occasionally, too), please be intentional about how you use it. Make sure that there are other signifiers in your life that communicate your standing in Christ before others, the importance of reading the Bible to those who look up to you, and the personal cost/value of God’s Word for the edification and encouragement of your own soul.
Soli Deo Gloria
 On top of the fact that he knows I’m not serious.
 No doubt, there are pockets of restaurants in the DC area that are frequented by tourists. In those restaurants, I wouldn’t be surprised to see people praying before their meal. But, in Arlington, VA, the vast majority of the restaurants that locals enjoy rarely, if ever, see tourists. When it does happen, everyone in the restaurant assumes that they are lost, or, walked through the wrong door by mistake, assuming that they were entering the Cheesecake Factory.