Ben Whitnall has a background in digital media and marketing. He worked at a communications agency where clients included the White House and Number 10. He recently worked for Bible Society as a Campaign Manager.
'There is nothing new under the sun' – Ecclesiastes 1
'While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew...in the same way, when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile...I become all things to all people.' – 1 Corinthians 9
These two passages kind of sum up my attitude to digital Bible advocacy. On the one hand, 'digital' is 'nothing new': at the end of the day, it's still simply people, interacting, communicating, trading, seeking entertainment and arguing – exactly as they have always done. We misunderstand if we feel like we have to throw away any and everything that predates Google, as though fibre optic cables have somehow utterly altered the fundamental nature of life.
On the other hand, there is no denying that the 'digital revolution' has affected the ways in which some of these timeless things happen. And new kinds of audiences, spaces, opportunities and expectations have been created along the way. So we similarly misunderstand if we think that there is no need to be willing to change and adapt ourselves. Hence, I also want to say with Paul 'when working with the digital natives, I live like a digital native.'
But what does that look like? I just want to flag up a few overarching opportunities which I feel it's important for anyone interested in Bible advocacy to respond to.
There is no denying that the 'digital revolution' has affected the ways in which some of these timeless things happen. And new kinds of audiences, spaces, opportunities and expectations have been created along the way.
Technologies invariably influence behaviours. Could individual 'quiet times', for example, ever have become a predominant mode of Bible engagement without Gutenberg, the printing press and the transition away from oral tradition?
Technology is continually changing the way we encounter words, texts, stories, books, messages. (My wife insists on taking a physical Bible to church with her, not out of some strange sense of tradition, but 'because you can't flip through a Kindle 'til you spot what you're looking for.') There's no reason Scripture should be exempt from the behavioural shifts that accompany technological development.
It's not a bad place to start but we're surely missing something if the most we do is export the text of a printed Bible as a PDF or HTML so it's available online. There are far more substantial opportunities to move our feet to the behavioural and expectation changes of digital developments – for example:
There are far more substantial opportunities to move our feet to the behavioural and expectation changes of digital developments.
The internet has also created new kinds of communities and public space. From the phenomenon of proud parents parading their progeny on Skype calls to nan and grandad to niche message boards for every interest imaginable to the near-total ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter, there are all kinds of interpersonal interactions happening every day that simply didn't exist 5, 10, 20 years ago.
Of course, there's no reason that the Bible should be precluded from those interactions or conversations, any more than it would be in the equivalent 'offline' exchanges. It could be participating in a discussion thread with fellow parents on mumsnet about the benefits (and potential pitfalls) of reading Bible stories with your children. It could be providing biblically-literate study materials to help students with their English homework. It could be sharing interesting content with an assortment of people from all over the world interested in biblical academia. The point is, if we think it's valuable to offer the Bible in the places people go – be that the market or a hospital chapel or a primary school – why wouldn't we include the online spaces they visit too?
If we think it's valuable to offer the Bible in the places people go,why wouldn't we include the online spaces they visit too?
You'll notice that I haven't prescribed particular tactics or 'products' for making these changes. That's because there's so much that could be done that I feel it would be counterproductive to mandate just one or two specific ideas. Instead, I'd rather see you bring your own personality to the challenge. As you become more familiar with digital technologies and communities, what opportunities seem to present themselves? Find an imaginative possibility for your culture and context. It might be an app, it might be participating in a sub-reddit, it might be creating some kind of immersive augmented reality mobile 3D printed drone QR code game – who knows? Whatever you dream up, keep us posted!
Although IBAC exists to foster conversations on Bible advocacy-related issues, the views or opinions represented in this blog are solely those of the author