The Social Network Gospel: How interconnectivity helps us better engage the Bible
by Robert C. Crosby
In the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg and Martin Luther both wanted to get Scripture into the hands of the masses. Centuries later, in a new millennium with technologies far exceeding any they could have imagined, their vision has been fulfilled at a stunning pace.
Not only do billions around the world now have access to the Bible online, and not only are many of them actually reading it, they’re also actively engaging with the Word of God—and with one another in far flung virtual communities across the planet.
With these trends, the vocabulary of Bible dissemination is changing. For centuries, the buzzword was distribution, with a focus on quantity delivered. The new buzzword is engagement. Lamar Vest, president and CEO of the American Bible Society (ABS), says we’re witnessing "a revival of Bible engagement. For too long we have judged our effectiveness by the number of Bibles distributed. We are determined to no longer judge our effectiveness by tonnage but by impact."
Vest’s comments came at a conference in Orlando, Florida, held late last year by the Forum of Bible Agencies and largely catalyzed by ABS and its new engagement initiative, Uncover the Word. The event drew representatives from over 125 organizations, including Willow Creek Association, Renovaré, the Salvation Army, Christianity Today, and Scripture Union, plus many denominations. Participants were urged to "leave behind their logos and egos" and join a "movement" for Scripture engagement.
Presenters included Bobby Gruenewald, founder of YouVersion.com, with over 50 million us ers; Mark Brown, creator of the Bible page on Facebook, with over 8.5 million "friends"; Jim Mellado, president of Willow Creek Association; Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church; Chris Webb, president of Renovaré; and Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
"The Bible has long stood as the centerpiece for the moral ethos in this country," Rodriguez said in his opening address. "We have lost that. This movement will reaffirm biblical orthodoxy among us. It will be a prophetic, truth-telling movement. We will reengage the culture with this story."
New research from ABS and the Barna Group—called State of the Bible 2011—was also presented. Results showed that 45 percent of Americans say God regularly speaks to them through the Bible, but 50 percent say the book is hard to understand. "Some see that 50 percent statistic as a problem," said Mark Forshaw, executive director of ABS’s Global Scripture Impact, "but we are choosing to view it as an opportunity."
The study also showed that while 86 percent cite the Bible as "a sacred book," only 20 percent are engaging it in their personal lives. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, cited a widespread "de-emphasis on the Bible. Unfortunately, we are biblically ignorant. We go to the Bible when we need something, but we are not married to it."
Are the marvels of modern technology—the information superhighway on steroids—changing that?
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