Bibliotheca, Bible Apps, and How Space Affects the Way We Read

d6585bf2bece656c501c697a159d9ee4_largeIf you thought this article was about reading the Bible in outer space, you have been brought here under false pretenses, and I sincerely apologize.

I want to engage us on an issue that has been raised by the wildly popular Kickstarter project Bibliotheca. This entrepreneurial venture has been met with great enthusiasm from Christians across the globe, raising $1.44 million (on a goal of $37,000) and a few interesting topics of debate. In his sales pitch, Adam Lewis Greene presents his concept for a visually pleasing and aesthetically clean edition of the Bible. Chapters stricken. Verse numbers erased. Plain text in large font with clean margins in four cloth-bound volumes. The demand is certainly there—over 14,000 people pledged support. However, do we really need another English edition of the Bible?

Is this just a smart gimmick from a man who knows how to tap into the Christian hipster nation? Or, is the reading experience promised by Bibliotheca worth Greene’s time and effort?

Shouldn’t We Be Going ‘Green’?

In a world where screens are multiplying like bunnies, how is it that a Kickstarter project with an idea to produce paper copies of the Bible garners such support? Bible apps are readily available for every cell phone or tablet in existence. What is it about Bibliotheca that has struck a chord in a generation where the old turn of phrase “crack open a book” is literally losing its meaning?

As each year sees the increased use of screens in personal life, work, school, and even our gas station experience (a la Sheetz), Bibliotheca asks us to consider whether the environment, the medium, and the manner in which we consume information affects us. In short, does the space we read in affect how we read?

A Monet in a MacDo.

You are running late to work, and you forgot to grab breakfast. On your way, you pass the old McDonald’s, and you regretfully pull into the parking lot. Quickly ordering the first thing you see on the menu, you take your order to a corner of the restaurant, turning sideways in the booth hoping no one recognizes you.

What if I was to tell you a multi-million dollar Monet painting was hanging near the bathroom in that McDonald’s?  Would you notice?  In a place where everything is fast, cheap, and reeks of watered down sanitizing spray, a Monet would probably go relatively unnoticed and certainly under-appreciated.  McDonald’s is a place to zip in and zip out; it’s not a place for contemplating beauty.  However, take the painting and place it in an art gallery, and all of the sudden it is getting comments from onlookers about its use of color and layers to depict a stunning seascape.

Environment is not everything, but it is something.  The painting has not changed, but the space it occupies affects the way it is seen.

The Space Your Bible Inhabits.

Bibliotheca recognizes the truth that where you read a book affects how you read a book.  I’m not talking about whether you read in a lounge chair by the beach or an a stiff wingback in a formal living room–though this, too, must have some effect.  I’m talking about the page where we read a book.  The page–the space where the book is read–affects how we read.  Think about it.  When you open a book, and half of the page is filled with footnotes, what type of book do you expect to read?  When you open a floppy large piece of inky paper and find pictures and comics, what kind of mood does that put you in?  When you open a book and find entries with definitions, what type of reading do you expect to do?  When you swipe across the screen and a host of app bubbles appear, what kind of information do you expect to encounter?

Consider Bible Apps.  So many young Christians read the Bible solely on screens these days.  This is the same screen where they watch Youtube videos, use Snapchat, and update their Twitter accounts. Is that going to have an effect on how they read the Bible? When the things that flash on the screen are trivial, snippeted, disconnected, and hacked up into tiny sound or visual bytes, will this not have an affect on the way they read their Bible Apps?

The page–or screen–where the words of a book live affects the way we read.  Different formats communicate different non-verbal cues.  There’s a reason why kids hate reading anthologies in their high school English classes.  Put a work of Shakespeare on a giant page in a volume that looks like a dictionary, and it’s no wonder kids seem disinterested.  Font size.  Margins.  Footnotes.  Page size.  All of these things affect the way we read and what we expect from the text we are reading.

Bibiliotheca recognizes this.  The “reading experience” Greene promises with his entrepreneurial endeavor is not just some hipster pipe dream.  It is a recognition that the pages where we encounter God’s Word affect what we expect to find in it.  Greene wants to provide a space where we can encounter God’s Word as a story.  Not an untrue story, but a story nonetheless.  I believe this is a great development.  For several decades now, Bible scholars and pastors have been discussing Redemptive History, but Greene has found a way for the common man to discover The Bible’s Big Story intuitively.

I’m not sure there is any right format for the Bible.  Greene’s Bibliotheca will certainly have its own difficulties if used alone.  However, a Christian library that adds Bibliotheca will be adding a space where the Bible’s grand story can be treasured, explored, and enjoyed.  Study Bibles have a space. NA28 and Biblia Hebraica have their spaces.  Paraphrase Bibles have their space.  And now Bibliotheca deserves its own space on your shelf.

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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