Technological Advances and Methodological Shifts Provide Gospel Opportunities
By Aaron Earls
The connection between the Bible and technological advances didn’t end with Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s. Today, many are still discovering creative avenues to share the biblical message with new audiences.
The YouVersion Bible app continues to expand its reach to smartphone users around the globe. Since 2008, the Bible app has been installed on smartphones more than 240 million times.
“The original idea for YouVersion came to me in 2006 as I was standing in a security line at a Chicago airport,” says Bobby Gruenewald, founder of YouVersion and innovation pastor for Life.Church. “I thought about how Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized the accessibility and distribution of Bibles hundreds of years ago, and wondered how technology might be able to do something similar for our generation.”
Previous generations would spend 40 years or more to create one translation. Today, Gruenewald says it can happen in 10 years or less. “And once that translation is finished, it used to take another year or two to get it published in a printed Bible,” he says. “Now, the text can be published and distributed in minutes via mobile technology, like what YouVersion offers users.”
Recently, the app crossed the 1,000-language threshold with the addition of a Bible in Sukuma, the primary language of more than 7 million people in Tanzania, Africa.
“We’re most excited to reach this milestone of offering the Bible in 1,000 languages because we know people are opening the app in every country of the world and finding value in reading Scripture in their native language,” says Gruenewald.
But there’s no slowing down for Gruenewald and the YouVersion team. “More than two billion people still don’t have any portion of the Bible in their native language,” he says. “In working closely with our many Bible society and translation partners, we believe it is within our reach to see the Bible translated into every language within this generation.”
And each of those translations will have a digital future on the Bible app. “We’re committed to leveraging today’s technology and communication to quickly and seamlessly offer the Bible in each language as it becomes available,” Gruenewald says. “The first 1,000 languages are just the beginning.”
The work continues in translating the Bible into more languages, but also in helping more people engage it in already existing translations. That’s where Art Ayris sees his role.
As an executive pastor at First Baptist Leesburg, Florida, and the CEO of the multi-media company Kingstone, Ayris wants to get the story of Scripture into as many hands, heads, and hearts as possible. That’s why Kingstone released The Kingstone Bible, the world’s longest single graphic novel.
Ayris says this is the perfect time for such a project. “A recent report from the American Bible Society found 32 percent of millennials say they have never read the Bible, with 48 percent of teens reporting reading the Bible less than once a year or never,” he says. “On the other hand, comics have enjoyed a 42 percent increase in sales over the last five years and a 56 percent increase over the past 15 years, according to Comichron [a site tracking comic book circulations and other information].”
Presenting biblical stories and truth through a different medium like comics can help readers engage Scripture more deeply, Ayris says. Referencing Jesus’ command in Mark 12:30 to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, Ayris said we may be missing part of that instruction. “If we aim to communicate truth only via the mind portal, I am not sure we are doing justice to conveying God’s great truth,” he says. “There is a ‘soulish’ and a ‘heartish’ element to well-constructed faith media—whether it be comics, film, or virtual reality.”
Ayris also pointed to research that indicates our brains process text and images in different areas and when these two are combined it leads to increased memory retention for both. Planting the Bible into the hearts and minds of the readers is the goal. “We understand this is not a literal text version of the Bible, but this is definitely a graphic translation of Scripture.”
After reading a previous Kingstone graphic novel depiction of the rich man and Lazarus story in Luke 16, author Max Lucado said he had read the biblical account many times, but he would never read it the same way again. If Lucado had that response, asks Ayris, “what does it say about our responsibility to the middle school boy coming to church for the first time?”
The unchurched American middle school boy and the Sukuma-speaking Tanzanians now have access to the Bible in ways they never did previously. Christians today can continue in the tradition of Gutenberg by expanding the reach of God’s Word through advances in technology and changes in methodology.
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.