Without the Printing Press, Would Inerrancy Be A Question?

Valentin - Paul Writing

A Bit of Background

Depending on your background, the term “inerrancy” might be a vaguely familiar idea that means something like “authority” or “trustworthiness” or, conversely, it might refer to an idea invented by fundamentalists that is at best unhelpful.

But whatever your background with the idea, you’ll likely be hearing more about it soon on the heals of Zondervan’s new book Five Views on Inerrancy and events surrounding its publication such as the Evangelical Theological Society’s recent debate (live blog) by the authors of the book.

We’ll touch on the meaning of inerrancy below, but first the point of this post is to propose that the development of the idea of inerrancy came about in part because of the printing press and the attitudes and expectations created by printed books.

What is Inerrancy?

For scholars, the term “inerrancy” comes with many technical definitions. Wayne Grudem defined inerrancy saying, “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Systematic Theology, 91) and more recently Al Mohler writes, “The Bible is ‘free from all falsehood or mistake’.” (c.f. The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult concept, but as Mohler says the devil is in the details. When a perfect God works through a fallen person, what exactly would it mean for Scripture to have a “mistake” or something that is “contrary to fact”?

For example, today we use the term “four corners of the earth” as an expression, but when the author of Revelation used the phrase (Rev. 7:1) did he think there really were four corners of the earth? If so, is that “mistake”? Or is it God working through the language and customs of the time? Or something else?

What about the ages of men in Genesis (any over 900 years)? Are those to be taken as scientifically accurate dates that are either chronologically right or wrong? Or was the author doing what many people did in the Ancient Near East which was to use “age” not as an index of time, but as an index of importance? If so, again, is this “contrary to fact” or  God working through the language and expectations of the original culture of readers? Or is the Bible just wrong on many factual matters but still correct when it comes to spiritual issues?

The examples could go on and on, but it is worth pointing out that in the last major “Battle for the Bible” which took place in the 1970s and ‘80s, some evangelical theologians took the position that they could still affirm biblical authority and infallibility, but not the technical idea of inerrancy. As Marsden tells the story in Reforming Fundamentalism many theologians essentially had the same basic view of Scripture, but struggled with the term “inerrancy” itself and all that it connotes. Today the debate is bubbling up again because of new concerns about what exactly constitutes an “error” and what can be considered the conventions of the literary genre.

While this is very interesting and will likely continue to be an important issue among evangelicals, its important to note that underneath the issue of “error” is an idea about “error” that can be traced, in part, from the move from hand-written texts to printed texts.

Gutenberg, Luther, and Erasmus

Gutenberg’s first printing press came online in 1450. When we talk about the printing press and Christianity, we often point out that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door in 1517 and then later used the printing press to great effect when distributing his German translation of the Bible.

But what we don’t normally mention is that Erasmus published the first critical edition of the Greek New Testament the year before in 1516. (A critical text is one that compares several hand-written copies of the Bible and notes where there are differences. For example, the ending of Mark is not in many early manuscripts, and Erasmus’ critical text noted all such known variations.)

An interesting question is: why was Erasmus’ generation the first to think of creating such comparative editions of the Bible?

The Value System of Print

Before the age of print, a book was something decidedly human. Each copy and every letter therein could be traced to living, breathing, fallible human being. Books were written by humans, copied by humans, ready aloud by humans, and listened to by humans.

But in the print age, a book was a product manufactured by a machine capable of precision and perfection. Every letter was an exact replica of the one before it and every page in one book matched the same page in the same edition of the same text.

Erasmus was part of the first generation raised with this new technology and its value system founded on the idea that texts should not vary from copy to copy. So when Erasmus encountered differences among hand-copied Bibles, he looked at them differently than previous generations of Christians who never expected books to be perfect replicas of one another. That’s not to say previous generations of Christians were unaware of such changes – Origen, Augustine, Aquinas and others commented on textual variations – but Erasmus and the generations that followed him devoted much more attention to textual criticism, and this study was both influenced and supported by the printing press.

Doubts Arise

Most of the changes he and others found were minor, but they were enough to create an entire field of study (biblical criticism) that didn’t exist before. More importantly, these differences among copies of the Bible started causing some people to doubt the trustworthiness of the Scriptures themselves.

As the story goes, seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers began to question the historicity of certain parts of the Bible, especially anything miraculous. Modern, scientific man need not and could not believe in things like parting the Red Sea and resurrection from the dead. And though many of these critiques were over the content of the Bible, it was also subtly about biblical media – silly, hand-copied legends could never compete with rigorous scientific data hot off the printing press.

Up to this point, all Christians had affirmed the authority, trustworthiness, and truthfulness of the Bible. The scribes who copied it did their best to copy every letter and every word with precision and care. And yet minor mistakes and human variations in copying were just a part of their reality and part of what made a Bible beautiful.

It seems clear that the reason people like Erasmus started taking more note of the differences is that using the technology of print inculcated the expectation of perfect texts. This is important because the inerrancy debate is primarily concerned with the perfection of the biblical texts. The Scriptures teach us that God himself is perfect, but it is the technology of print that teach us us to expect a kind of perfection from our texts.

Fighting Fire with Fire

It was in this context of biblical criticism that inerrancy emerged as a new way of re-establishing biblical authority in scientific and technological terms. Conservative theologians felt they couldn’t simply restate the historical view that the Bible is authoritative – they needed to do so through the lenses new media (print) provided.

Notice how Grudem’s definition is specifically concerned not merely with the content itself but with content respect to media. Instead of just saying that the Bible has no factual errors, his definition qualifies the lack of errors by saying there were none “in the original manuscripts.”

Grudem is arguing that some of the “errors” people find the Bible are really just mistakes in copying and if we had the original manuscripts, it would clear up what appears to be contradictions.

But notice that at its core this statement contrasts two forms of media: handwritten copies of the Bible and printed replicas of the Bible. What this means is that to understand, debate, affirm, or deny the concept of “inerrancy,” one must be familiar with print and its value system.

Put another way, inerrancy is a post-print doctrinal orientation.

Affirm, Deny, or Ignore?

Those who reject inerrancy often claim that it is a 19th century invention foreign to the early church. Conversely, inerrantists often claim inerrancy is the historical position of the church. I hope to have argued that neither position is truly accurate.

I am neither criticizing nor defending inerrancy (disclosure: inerrancy is one the seven doctrines students must affirm at the institution where I work), but pointing out that whether you affirm inerrancy, reject it, or simply find it unhelpful or unnecessary, these are postures only those familiar with printed books and the value system of the Print Age can take.

Again, this is evident in the way many definitions of inerrancy hinge upon the new realities created by print media and the kinds of things people today consider to be “mistakes” or “errors.”

The development of the concept of inerrancy doesn’t make it true or false, it simply means that answering the question of authority in this way was not required of pre-print Christians. And yet, whether we like it or not, it is a question we must to wrestle with today.

For those of us deeply concerned with fully affirming that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful …” (2 Tim 3:16), we must articulate what that means within our own cultural setting, even as that setting is again shifting media: this time from print to digital.

Microsoft’s Tragically Unironic Promotion of the 24 Hour Workday

A few weeks ago, the Microsoft Office blog posted an infographic showing how the new  Office 365 products allow workers to get more done since the tools are now available everywhere – in every room of the house, at the kids’ soccer games, in bed, and so on.

I know they are trying to show how good the Office 365 products are, but when you look at the infographic below it really looks like something made by someone with a darkly sarcastic sense of humor, mocking our inability to disconnect.

It seems like it would be better marketing to show that you can get your work done faster so you don’t have to work during happy hour, in bed, at the game, or on the toilet.


Update: the great folks at 37Signals seems to have felt the same about Microsoft’s promotion and countered with their own #WorkCanWait campaign.

Check out their tongue-in-cheeck update below and then go to their website to create your own:



Airplane Mode is Gone: Now You Never Have To Talk to a Stranger Again

Airplane Mode

In a long-awaited announcement, the FAA will stop requiring passengers to turn off phones and computers during take-off and landing.  Under the old rules you had to keep them off (“that’s fully off and powered down, not airplane mode, not hidden in your pocket” as some flight attendants used to say) until the airplane rose above 10,000, but that ceiling has now been removed.

You still can’t actually talk on the phone, but you can keep reading, playing games, or writing emails as long as you like. Apparently, while the FAA used to say that phone signals could interfere with the plane, they now that’s not usually the case although carriers must demonstrate that their planes can withstand the interference. Here’s the statement:

Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – i.e., no signal bars displayed—and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones. If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.


So What Does it Mean?

Airline takeoff and landing was probably one of the final places in modern life where phones were absolutely not tolerated. It stood out as the place where you couldn’t readily turn away from an awkward (or interesting) conversation. Now that this ban is gone, it seems a whole line of stand-up and sitcom humor will almost be completely forgotten.

I don’t of course think this is the downfall of society or a major breakdown in face-to-face reality. I personally love working on a plane where I don’t have all the distractions of my office or home, but I have read reports that people today have much less eye-contact with other human beings than they once did and this contributes to depression and other problems. So I do lament what the represents even if, like most of us, I’m glad for the change and what it means for my personal productivity.

Meet Circle: Technology Control for Your Home and Family


Plug and Un-Plug

I have a friend who manually unplugs the family Wi-Fi every night at 10:00pm.

Dad and mom have to be done with work and kids need to be done with homework and socializing because the Internets are dead after 10pm. It seems like a lot of work to go plug and unplug the Wi-Fi, but he does it because he cares about his family and wants to be intentional  about their time, relationships, and physical health.

What if you could have that level of control, but not have to physically unplug the network every day? Enter a new Kickstarter project called Circle. The team sent me a link this week, and I thought it is something worth mentioning.

Meet Circle

From their website

Circle helps families balance their lives in our screen-driven world. These days, we’re always connected. Circle is a device, managed by an iOS app, that enables you to choose how you and your family spend time online by using advanced filtering, time management systems and informing to answer the where, when, why, and how of your network’s Internet activity.

[kickstarter file=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/304157069/meet-circle/widget/video.html /]

I Hope It Happens

circle-controlsMy own children are too small to have their own devices, but I know that day is coming. We desperately want to protect their little minds as long as we can, but also progressively give them more and more responsibility as they grow, so that when they leave our home they will have the mental and spiritual tools to discipline their own lives. But right now, we withhold devices not only because they are too young, but also because I can’t find a way to adequately control them.

That’s why I hope Circle succeeds. I don’t think it will work as a “Set-and-forget” parenting device, but it hopefully will enable parents to give their kids access to devices but in a manner that’s as safe as possible.

So what do you think? Would this be helpful to your family? Is it tech controlling tech controlling tech controlling us? Does it invite kids to try to break the fence or does it help protect them? I’d love to hear what you think.

TheoMedia and Other Great, New Books on Technology

If you’re interested in the subject of media and technology there are several books toward which I’d like to point you.

TheoMediaFirst up, I just heard the news that my friend Andy Byers‘s new book entitled, TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age has just be made available for pre-order from the publisher. What I love about Andy’s work is that it’s not another “how to” book, another set of predictions, or another complainer’s rant. Instead Andy submerges readers deeply into the theological implications of media itself. He reminds us that it was God who created media and who used various media (which Andy gives the name “TheoMedia”) throughout the Biblical stories. He then urges us to think not about how to avoid media, but how to be constantly saturated in the media of God.

His argument kind of turns the typical discussion on its head – in a really, really good way. As a bonus, Andy is a truly gifted writer, a burgeoning New Testament scholar, and just an all around fantastic human being. I had the chance to meet he and his family recently in Durham, England, and they are simply some of the best people around.

shaping a digital worldSecond, I’d like to point you to a great little book called Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology by Derek Shuurman, a computer science professor at Redeemer University College in Canada.

Rather than trying to tackle the entire subject of “technology,” Dr. Shuurman narrows his focus to computer technology, and raises some great questions about how Christians should think through them. He comes from a Reformed background so you’ll notice the influence of thinkers like Abraham Kuyper, but not so much that it isn’t applicable to a broad range of Christians interested in technology. I had the chance to meet Dr. Shuurman at the Christian Engineering Conference a few months ago, and he’s a great guy that I really wish could move a bit further south :).

word thousand picturesFinally, there’s an old, but a goody that I was reminded of at a recent trip to Gordon-Conwell for a conference. The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age by Gregory Reynolds is a giant tome whose title describes it perfectly. I didn’t get to spend much time with Gregory, but I could tell he deeply cares about Christian preaching and its direction and use in the digital age. His book will doubtless be a huge help to those researching approaches to media and culture in the church.

If any of you have read or come across great new books (or classics) on media and technology, be sure to note them in the comments.



GodFilter: The New Google Glass App That Will Transform Your Spiritual Life

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan
Photo Credit: Ted Eytan

Search Me and Know Me, O Google


“When I first saw Google Glass, I knew it would offer us a chance to radically reconceive spiritual development.”

That’s what Jace Enders, founder of Second Creation Media in Austin, Texas, told me when describing the app he and his team are creating for Google’s upcoming product called “Glass.” For the uninitiated, Google Glass is one of the first consumer ready “wearable computing” products that, when worn like traditional glasses, lays a small computer screen over one’s field of view offering notifications such as directions, weather, and text messages. It also features a camera for taking audio and video without the need to hold a camera.

But according to Enders, taking photos and getting updates are the least interesting features of Glass. “I want to use wearable computing to help Christians monitor their spiritual development. Like a digital Holy Spirit, our GodFilter app is always there providing guidance, warnings, and encouragement.”

The GodFilter App: Turn Right at the Next Sin

So just what does a digital Holy Spirit actually “look like”? First, what you need to know is that Enders’ app GodFilter is not so much about what you see as much as it is what it sees about you. It’s constantly monitoring what you do on a variety of levels, and then it performs actions based on triggers you set up.

“Let’s say you pull into a parking lot of an adult-oriented establishment,” explains Enders. “GodFilter will cross check with Google Maps, and then either try to dissuade you personally or send a text to your spouse or pastor warning them about what’s going on.”

This, of course, could probably be performed with existing phone technology, but what Enders told me next is a huge leap ahead. “The voice recognition on Glass is astounding. Since it’s always on, we can monitor not just what you say, but how you say it.” This let’s GodFilter detect your mood such as if you’re particularly happy or, more importantly, if you start getting angry.

“When GodFilter hears you raise the volume or pitch of your voice, it guesses that you might be getting frustrated at a situation or person. At a certain level, it will warn you that this isn’t a good time to send emails or texts. We can even remotely shut down your laptop if you allow it.” Though undeniably creepy, for those of us who’ve ever sent an email we later regretted or a text before properly cooling down from a session in Battle School, this sounds like a helpful concept.

The Future Will Be Prude, Or Not

It turns out this is just the beginning. Glass hasn’t even been released to the public yet, but Jace’s team wants to add even more powerful features. For example, they plan to add a visual filter that can make a provocatively dressed person appear more modest.

“You can’t always predict what people will wear these days and rather than worrying about it, Glass lets us paint a jersey on guys playing shirtless basketball or a dress on a woman in a short skirt.”

Though Jace is shy about mentioning this, he is receiving funding from Muslim groups exited about this the possibility of making all women appear to be dressed in traditional Hijab or Burqa clothing that covers all but a woman’s eyes and hands.

“I hate to bring this up, but we’re going to see people creating apps that do the opposite, too. If someone is going to make everyone appear less-clothed, we want to be there with an alternative from day one.” Enders is wiggin’ me out!

The Future of Spirituality is Gamification

To top it all off, Jace’s team is trying to package all this together into a continuously updated rating system.  “What if we could give you some kind of indicator that would help you track your spiritual progress? A clear number, like a test score, that’s objective, and that you can share online and compare with others.”

Perhaps detecting my skepticism, Jace compares GodFilter it to existing software like calorie counters or exercise trackers. “Some people really don’t know how much they eat until they start tracking it honestly. GodFilter helps us to the same with sin and holiness. It gives us a perspective of what God sees every day.”

At this point, I can’t help but ask Jace what his score is. “Well, we don’t have the algorithm quite right yet, so I’m not really quite sure.”

But I persist in playing Enders’ game, asking him what little problems areas GodFilter might have uncovered in his life. He brushes me off, “Ha! That’s between me and my accountability partners who have access to my progress indicators. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s discouraging. But at least I don’t have anything to hide now.”

Is This Really So Far-Fetched?

By now, the discerning reader will have detected my ruse. Of course, there is no Jace Enders and no GodFilter app. Yet.

But while this may seem unimaginable or outlandish today, consider that many Christians are already using digital technologies to help manage spiritual disciples and sinful behaviors. It didn’t take long for Christian groups to create Internet filters to help block unsuspecting eyes (or very intentional ones) from reaching illicit content. Today, those filters evolved into social tools like Covenant Eyes that don’t block violent or pornographic sites, but rather report them to accountability partners.

What about YouVersion, the almost ubiquitous Bible app? It started with the idea of people sharing notes and later transformed into a universal Bible reader. But what is more intriguing than putting Bibles into mobile form is YouVersion’s daily Bible-reading schedules. They don’t just track your progress, they actively remind you on a daily basis to read the next section. Is that not a kind of digitally-based spiritual discipline? If so, in what direction are we heading?

Offloading Spiritual Progress

Like most of us, I’ve offloaded significant amounts of my memory to technology. I no longer know dozens of phone numbers – my phone and desktop contacts are all synced to the cloud. I don’t know who I’m having lunch with tomorrow, but my calendar does. And so on.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this mental/digital data dump. Now that my mind no longer has to store useless telephone numbers, I’m free to think about other things.

But what happens when we offload our moral and spiritual progress to a device? Certainly, in the case of daily Bible reading alerts, it seems quite helpful, but is there a point at which we lose something essential to our formation into the image of the Son of God? What about those Bible verses I don’t remember any more, but still know how to find through searching?

At the same, time calorie exercise tracking apps do seem to help people monitor and eventually change their behavior. Couldn’t an app do the same for spiritual progress?

What Is Holiness Anyway?

Believe it or not, my point in all of this is not really to discuss technology or fictional apps. What I’m really trying to do is surface questions about what it truly means to grow spiritually.

I have found that when a new technology comes along, it offers us a new way of doing things and in so doing, it challenges our unexamined assumptions about how things actually work. No doubt, new devices like Google Glass and the inevitable Christian apps developed for it, will require us to confront our thinking about what it means to be conformed into the image of Christ.

If an app can help us do more good things (read our Bible, pray, and so on) and avoid bad things (ogling the body of another, speaking angrily), is that spiritual progress in a truly Christian sense? Would shielding our eyes from unclean things out there make us any cleaner on the inside?

We Christians believe that when we enter into the life of faith in Jesus Christ (i.e. “ask Jesus into our heart,” “become a Christ-follower,” “join the church,” or some other catchphrase), we begin a process of transformation that will not end until we die. From the moment we first believe, we are adopted into the family of God, considered as righteous as God’s own Son, and promised resurrection and restoration. And yet, frustratingly, the fullness of these promises won’t be realized until our Savior returns for his Bride.

In the mean time, however, God has promised, by the Spirit of Christ, to conform us into the likeness of his Son. In Biblical language, this process is called “sanctification,” and it is far deeper than simply sinning less or checking spiritual discipline boxes.

So what then is the secret? How might we move beyond sin management techniques and get to some kind of true change?

If the title of Eugene Peterson’s classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is any indication, it will take a few more steps beyond installing an app. That said, Christians throughout the ages have found that regularly engaging in the spiritual disciples like prayer, silence, meditation, Scripture memory, and fasting can be used by the Spirit of God to mold us over time, and if an app helps remind us to do that, I’m pretty sure the Spirit can use that, too.

Pedro at 40: How a Television Show Changed the Way a Generation Viewed LGBTQ Persons

Credit: wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RWSFCast.jpg
Real World Cast (Pedro second from right) Credit: wikimedia

Vote for Pedro

My generation might best be defined as those who remember watching Pedro Zamora die of AIDS in our living rooms.

If you’re not familiar with Pedro, he was an openly gay, HIV-positive castmember in the third season of MTV’s the Real World which aired in 1994. Those who watched Pedro’s life play out on the tiny 4:3 screens of the time were presented with a high definition portrait of kind young man who didn’t fit any of the caricatures of homosexuality that one might see in the movies or hear about from the pulpit.

He was warm, funny, and extremely thoughtful, always facing his illness and his antagonistic, homophobic roommate “Puck” with a kind of conflicted dignity that captivated viewers.

But just as the Real World: San Francisco started airing that summer, Pedro’s health began deteriorating rapidly, and he was soon diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Although MTV offered to pay for his medical expenses, Pedro’s health continued to worsen and, hours after the season finale aired, Pedro died, surrounded by his friends and the family members Bill Clinton had flown in from Cuba.

Not surprising, the gay community mourned the untimely loss of this bright, energetic educator and activist. But what was surprising was that many people who wouldn’t think of themselves as “pro gay” at the time were also deeply affected. Anyone could see that Pedro was a good person who cared about others, and just about anyone would choose him as a friend over some of his heterosexual castmates. No matter what one thought about homosexuality, his death was clearly a great injustice.

Credit: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1994_Nov_Pedro_Zamora_and_family.jpg
Pedro in the hospital (Credit: wikimedia)

The Enfleshing of the Other

Before The Real World began airing that summer, one could afford to conceive of homosexuality an abstract concept, an idea about those people over there whom football players made fun of and preachers condemned. But by the time school was under way in the fall, one began to sense that something more than the colors of the leaves was changing. Macho guys couldn’t fire off a “That’s so gay” attack without feeling at least a tiny twinge of guilt, and church youth group kids (who weren’t supposed to be watching MTV anyway) began to wonder if things were as black and white as they used to be.

Now, make careful note: I’m not referring to people who heard or read about Pedro’s death after the fact (like we’re doing now). In the 1980s and 1990s, there were plenty of stories about people dying of AIDS. And here in 2010s, “reality TV” is just a cheap way to get famous, and gay characters are common on every channel in every genre (Modern FamilyMad MenCaprica, etc.).

But in the early 1990s, The Real World was just an experiment. It was new and novel, the evolution of a network that no longer played music videos, but still shaped how young people viewed themselves and the world. Watching the The Real World back then actually created sense of getting to know a genuine “real” person.

The result was that long before many of our friends or family members had come out of the closet, Pedro stepped in our living rooms and inoculated us against seeing homosexuality as wholly “other.” It was no longer possible to think about homosexuality without picturing at least one homosexual. We might not want to fully “embrace the other” in a Volfian sense, but we couldn’t easily exclude them either.

Pedro’s Influence Today

Last February, Pedro would have turned 40.

And it turns out that 40 is just about the age where one can see a clear ideological fault line on opinions about gay marriage. A poll by Christianity Today shows those 35 and under tend to support same-sex marriage, while those over 35 tend not to, and this division is present among both those that call themselves “born again” and those who don’t.

Normally, one might be able to chalk this up to the old saying, “If you’re not liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart; and if you’re not conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain.” After all, a recent Lifeway poll showed that young people are also more likely to see same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue than their older counterparts. But other data suggest something more complex is going on than youthful naivety or elderly curmudgeony. Another poll by Lifeway Research says that among “born agains” of all ages, over 80% believe that “homosexual behavior is a sin,” but at the same time, those same young people seem to be supportive of gay marriage (or don’t think it should be fought against).

So why do the young at times to agree with the old on the morality of sexual activity, but differ with them when it comes to same-sex marriage? I think the answer is that stories like Pedro’s – so innovative and provocative at such a key time – humanized homosexuality, pulling it out of the abstract and concretizing it in a way that almost forces people who experienced it to separate their ideas about homosexuality from how they feel about homosexuals. After all, it’s much easier to condemn a thing than it is to condemn a person.

This seems to explain the angst many young Christians feel about “the issue” – i.e. they don’t want “it” to be an “issue” at all, because for them homosexuality is just one important aspect of the complex, multi-faceted people they know (or at least watched on TV). They know what the Bible says about sexual activity, and many seem to believe it, but their souls are torn because they can’t easily resolve the tension between what they believe in their minds about an idea and what they feel in their hearts toward their friends. It’s easy to tell a faceless crowd what to do, but it’s much more challenging to look into the eyes of an enfleshed being and do the same.

Where We Go From Here

As one with degrees in genetics and theology and an abounding interest in culture, it might seem natural for me to connect all this to the recent Supreme Court decisions (e.g. Bill Clinton passed the recently struck down DOMA just two years after he helped Pedro’s family get to the US) and the “culture wars” more generally. But instead I’ll keep my “media critic” hat on and direct you back to my central point which is that a single human story, particularly one told via new media, has the power to bend the trajectory of public opinion and throw the feelings and beliefs of a generation into conflict.

The enduring significance of Pedro’s story was that it normalized a way of life that at the time was easy to caricature. Back then, most TV shows portrayed gays as cultural deviants with strange hair and high voices, but Pedro broke every stereotype and served as the archetype of what 12-18 year olds in the 90s thought of men and women who would later be called LGBTQ.

Now, two decades later, following Jesus has in many ways become the new “way of life that is easy to caricature.” The popular media representation of a Christian is often as a cultural outsider with big hair and a loud mouth. Sound familiar?

So I’d like to suggest that Christians today might learn from Pedro’s life and even emulate it in a certain sense. I want to be cautious about misusing the life of a man who died so tragically, but perhaps we too through character and conviction can consciously use the story of our lives (that we are constantly telling and retelling on social media) toward making certain religious stereotypes impossible to believe.

Could you, like Pedro, hold counter-cultural beliefs, and yet be so kind and so courageous that people had trouble dismissing you and your God? When you look back 20 years from now, what will your media footprint say about your God?


Cutting Edge Digital Evangelism in 1984

Although the title of this post might make some recall George Orwell’s famous book 1984 or even the Apple ad shown at the Super Bowl that year, I’m actually referring to much smaller, probably entirely unknown event.

The 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans

As part of my mom’s current downsizing project, she gave me a folder full of old keepsakes. One of these was a little coloring book from Louisiana World’s Fair held in New Orleans in 1984.

Below is the cover and the first few pages:

booklet-11-full booklet-02 booklet-03

If you look closely, you’ll notice a few things. First off, apparently I wasn’t the most gifted “inside the lines” colorer of all time.

But more importantly, you can see that the book was printed in a dot matrix style with my full name “John Dyer” and the name of the person who acquired this for me: “Granddad Dyer.” In the subsequent pages, you’ll notice a few more customizations: my name is used several more times, there is a reference to me as “young man” and my “very special grandfather,” and then on the last page our old address in Mississippi is printed out.

I was only about 5 at the time, so I don’t remember the Fair or how this was done, but I imagine that at the time this was a fairly impressive project. The theme of the 1984 Fair was “The World of Rivers—Fresh Waters as a Source of Life” and the booklet references a special “River of Life” exhibit put on by the Churches of Christ  (wikipedia | equip). The back cover refers to a company called Ideact in Knoxville (there is a still a YellowPages reference to them, but when I called them the number is no longer valid) which was evidently tasked with producing some kind of live printing system for the exhibit.

My guess is that they had a walkup computer terminal of some kind that allowed people to enter their name and a few details, and then it “magically” printed a booklet right on the spot that recalled the exhibit.

Imagine how cool that would be in an era before most people had a computer in the home.

30 Years Later

Today, believers around the world are experimenting with ways to use technology to communicate the Gospel, and I find examples like this to be great reminders that we stand in a long line of men and women who have been doing this a lot longer than us.

By God’s Spirit, I hope they succeeded in reaching a few.

Booklet Gallery

The Pace of Modern Life and the Loss of Letter Writing Circa 1900

If you don’t read the web comic XKCD, you’re missing out on some of the best of the Internet.

This week, the author posted some wonderful quotes about the problems with the pace of modern life including the loss of letter-writing, the inability to read, and the increase in anxiety – all from over 100 years ago.

The art of letter-writing is fast dying out. When a letter cost nine pence, it seemed but fair to try to make it worth nine pence … Now, however, we think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence.We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.
The Sunday Magazine
It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different.
The Medical Record
With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… The dreamy quiet old days are over… For men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel … leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… The hurry and bustle of modern life … lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…
William Smith, Morley: Ancient and Modern
Conversation is said to be a lost art … Good talk resupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.
Frank Leslie’s popular Monthly, Volume 29
Intellectual laziness and the hurry of the age have produced a craving for literary nips. The torpid brain … has grown too weak for sustained thought.
There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.
Israel Zangwill, The Bachelors’ Club
The art of pure line engraving is dying out. We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated. If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravured copy of it within a month or two of its appearance, the days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single plate are for ever gone.
Journal of the Institute of Jamaica, Volume 1
So much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination. It sometimes seems almost possible that the modern world might be choked by its own riches, and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.
The articles in the Quarterlies extend to thirty or more pages, but thirty pages is now too much so we witness a further condensing process and, we have the Fortnightly and the Contemporary which reduce thirty pages to fifteen pages so that you may read a larger number of articles in a shorter time and in a shorter form. As if this last condensing process were not enough the condensed articles of these periodicals are further condensed by the daily papers, which will give you a summary of the summary of all that has been written about everything.
Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works.
Ephemeral literature is driving out the great classics of the present and the past … hurried reading can never be good reading.
G. J. Goschen, First Annual Address to the Students, Toynbee Hall. London
The existence of mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, especially in large cities, is an obvious phenomenon … the mania for stimulants … diseases of the mind are almost as numerous as the diseases of the body… This intellectual condition is characterized by a brain incapable of normal working … in a large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life, with its facilities for rapid locomotion and almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe
The Churchman, Volume 71
The cause of the … increase in nervous disease is increased demand made by the conditions of modern life upon the brain. Everything is done in a hurry. We talk across a continent, telegraph across an ocean, take a trip to Chicago for an hour’s talk… We take even our pleasures sadly and make a task of our play … what wonder if the pressure is almost more than our nerves can bear.
G. Shrady (from P.C. Knapp)
“Are nervous diseases increasing?” Medical Record

To take sufficient time for our meals seems frequently impossible on account of the demands on our time made by our business… We act on the apparent belief that all of our business is so pressing that we must jump on the quickest car home, eat our dinner in the most hurried way, make the closest connection for a car returning …

Louis John Rettger. Studies in Advanced Physiology
In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favour of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long Walk?
I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road and rail-bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars …. but in my humble opinion, good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat.
T. Thatcher, “A plea for a long walk”,
The Publishers Circular
The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings … what has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that … Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.
Marie Corelli,
Free opinions, freely expressed

Read the complete transcript here

Pace of Modern Life

Read the complete transcript here

Texas Bible (plugin): Fixing the Second Person Plural Problem One Website at a Time

TExas Bible Example

Download Google Chrome Extension Try Now in BibleWebApp

KERA, Dallas’s NPR affiliate, covered this: Southern-Style Scripture And Other Technological Leaps Of Faith

Texas Has What English Lacks

As a preteen on my first visit out of the South, I remember hearing giggles from some people on the New York Subway whenever I spoke. Since I grew up in a large city, I knew that I didn’t have a traditional Texas twang, so it took me a while to realize what was so funny – my use of the word “Y’all” to refer to a group of friends.

Fast forward 20 years, and just about any time I teach from the Scriptures I have to point out a place where the English Bible says “you,” but the original Hebrew or Greek indicates you plural rather than you singular. This means the original author was addressing to a group of people, but a modern English reader can’t detect this because in common English we use “you” for both singular (“you are awesome”) and plural (“you are a team”). This often leads modern readers to think “you” refers to him or her as an individual, when in fact it refers to the community of faith.

Here in Texas (and in the Southern US more generally), I tell my audience that we have a perfect equivalent to the original Greek/Hebrew second person plural: “y’all” the contraction of “you all.” This of course always gets me a good laugh. And this is not unique to the Southern US – many other areas of the English speaking world also have spoken forms of you plural such as “you guys,” “yinz,” and “you lot.”

A few weeks ago, I decided to see how many times this happens. It turns out there are at least 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Hebrew Bible and 2,022 in the Greek) with you plural translated as English “you” which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.

So I initially set out to develop a plugin for a Bible software project that would convert all “You plurals” to “Y’all” for my Bible project. I liked it so much I decided to create a Google Chrome extension that does the same thing for some popular Bible websites (youversion.com/bible.com, biblegateway.com, biblehub.com).

Texas Bible – Google Chrome Extension

If you’d like to try to the plugin, here’s the URL: Texas Bible Extension

When the plugin is running, here’s what it looks like on YouVersion.com and BibleGateway.com

YouVersion.com example


BibleGateway.com exampleNot Just for Texans

As I mentioned, the Southern US is not the only place to have a spoken version of the second person plural. Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) has “yinz,” the UK has “you lot,” and many Americans say “you guys” to refer to mixed gender groups. So I made all these selectable allowing you to read the any English version as it would sound read to your regional congregation.

Once the extension is installed in Google Chrome, you can go to the Options area and select which second person plural version you like and see all the variants (some of which I had to make up like the Reflexive rendering of Old English “Ye”).

Texas Bible - Options


Why, Why Did You Make this?

And now here’s the fun part. Why in the world would someone do this? Here’s a few reasons:

1. For Fun and Joy

I enjoy the programming gifts God’s given me, I like to tinker with the Bible, and I like to learn new programming techniques such as making a browser extension which before this I had never tried.

2. Commentary on The Individual vs. The Community

On a more serious note, it seems that since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.

I can’t do much about the first issue, but the “Texas Bible” extension does work to overcome the second. Here’s a few examples of the human community emphasis in Scripture:

And God said, “Behold, I have given y’all every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. Y’all shall have them for food. (Gen 1:29, tESV – Texan ESV)

For I know the plans I have for yinz, declares Yahweh, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give yinz a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, pESV – Pittsburgh ESV)

…Work out your guys’s salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you guys, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-14, usESV)

To me, it’s a very different Bible and one that tells us something important about the the body of Christ.

3. Commentary on Language

You might notice that in the second example above, the term “the LORD” has been switched to “Yahweh.” In English translation, the Hebrew name for God (the four letters YHWH) has been traditionally translated as “the LORD” (usually in small caps) in an effort to revere the name of God and carry on a a tradition of the Jews not to speak his name

However, I find that outside nerdy academic circles almost no one knows that “the LORD” (Yahweh) is different from “the Lord.” What was originally meant as reverence may now actually be unintentionally hiding something important about God himself. This leads to the question: Which is worse, not revering the name of God or not knowing it exists to revere?  In the Chrome extension this is an option, so you get to decide.

I, too, want to revere God and his holy name, and yet I also want to take this chance to point out how powerful language itself is in shaping what we see in the world. Just as Adam formed his world by naming the animals, we continually form and reform our world by what we words we assign to it (are you pro-life or anti-choice?). These words are not simple references or tags, they color what we see… and what we cannot see.

Bible translators, therefore, have an enormously complex task of trying to transfer whole worlds between cultures and inevitably things get “lost in translation.” Hopefully, this plugin will offer some options as to what we read.

4. Commentary on “Text” in the Age of Remixes

Penultimately, I am doing something rather radical here: I am messing with God’s word.

But is it really “God’s Word” which which I am messing? As we’ve said, isn’t a translation already that but also more?

This means I am only taking the work of translation one step further. But what right do I as an individual have to remix, reuse, and change someone else’s hard work? Zondervan/Biblia is free to update the NIV1984 to the NIV2011, but what about me? If I were to publish these changes, I could rightfully be sued. So what have I done exactly?

To answer this question, we must realize that in the Age of the Internet, a “text” is something very different than it was in the Age of Print. Texts are not fixed entities sitting on shelves, reflecting only the notes and highlights that one person has added. On the web, a “text” is something more like an oral story from the age before Print, in that anyone can take, change, and edit the “text,” and then reproduce it.

And yet, I have not even done that. I have only provided the tools to mass produce a change that is stored as data. Ah, what a strange new world in which we live where a “text” is not a “text”!

5. Commentary on Scripture Itself

Finally, I am deeply interested in talking about what exactly Scripture is and how mediums contribute to our understanding of them.

Is the Bible, “a love letter from Jesus” or a storehouse of “timeless truths” captured in chapters and verses? Is it the very words of God dictated through several different men or does it merely record events of revelation? Does it become revelation as we read it and does it have a single meaning in all ages or multiple meanings that expand with the canon? Is it like other books or it is somehow sanctified and holy? Can a nonbeliever study it the same way Christian do, or does the Spirit have an ineffable role in interpretation? Furthermore, is Scripture it something to be studied, proclaimed, and understood, or does it change us as we hear it spoken aloud in a community? Does any of this change if we hear a scroll read aloud, read a printed book in our own room, scan the text on our phones, or hear it on the radio in a closed country?

However you y’all answer these questions, I do hope you y’all like the tool, and it helps you y’all grow closer to the LORD Yahweh!