People of the Phone

Hom Blog 07 15 2022

I was preaching not long ago and invited people to turn in their Bibles to a certain chapter. Not hearing the familiar rustling of onion skin Bible pages, it occurred to me that my audience was not packing.

I asked Bible-toting believers to wave them in the air. Nary a one. I made some smart remark, wondering when Christians — People of the Book — had become the People of the Book Without the Book!

I realized my mistake immediately, of course, because I knew that some of the congregation had Bible apps on their iPads and iPhones. So, I asked about online Bibles and a number of people waved their phones at me. We who were People of the Book are now People of the Phone!

Have you noticed this as well? Are fewer people bringing their Bibles to your church services these days? Here’s a Top 10 list of excuses:

  1. I was rushing out the door to get to church and forgot to bring it.
  2. There’s already a Bible in the pew or seat rack.
  3. The Scripture lesson is printed in the worship bulletin, so why bring a Bible?
  4. The Bible is on my iPad or iPhone.
  5. I don’t want to appear “holier-than-thou” … it’s not cool to be seen carrying a Bible.
  6. Is it even legal anymore to be caught on a public street with a Bible?
  7. Books are so 20th century. We’ve moved from Gutenberg to Jobs, from books to devices, from ink to bytes. No one uses books anymore.
  8. Did Jesus carry a Bible around?
  9. The sermon these days is a speech, not a speaker-led exploration of Biblical teachings.
  10. Preachers don’t ask people to turn to Haggai in their Bibles because they’re not sure they can find Haggai themselves.

The question is not whether the people should bring their Bibles to church, but whether we, as pastors, are bringing the Bible to the people. Do we have a strategy for the education of our congregation in the content and meaning of the one Book that is the centerpiece of our faith?

Today’s audiences love interactivity and participation. To promote Bible use and perhaps even to turn People of the Book into Bible-packing Christians, try bringing back the “sword drill.” Do two versions of it: a print version and an electronic version. Ask people who have a Bible app on their phones to raise their phones, thumbs at-the-ready, and announce the verse you’re looking for. The first person to find it stands and reads it aloud to the congregation, whereupon you give your exposition or insight. Do the same for the print version people — if there are any!

Now I close with Spurgeon. I know this comes to us light years away from our postmodern culture of the 21st century. But listen to the man. It’s strong stuff:

If this be the Word of God, what will become of some of you who have not read it for the last month?
“Month, sir! I have not read it for this year.”

Aye, there are some of you who have not read it at all. Most people treat the Bible very politely. They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that’s all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That’s your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger!

There’s dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers. There are some of you who have not turned over your Bibles for a long, long while, and what think you? I tell you blunt words, but true words. What will God say at last? When you shall come before him, he shall say, “Did you read my Bible?”


“I wrote you a letter of mercy; did you read it?”


“Rebel! I’ve sent you a letter inviting you to me; did you ever read it?”

“Lord, I never broke the seal; I kept it shut up.

“Wretch!” says God, “then, you deserve hell, if I sent you a loving epistle, and you wouldn’t even break the seal; what shall I do to you?”

Oh, let it not be so with you. Be Bible-readers; be Bible-searchers.

—Delivered Exeter Hall, London, March 18, 1855.

Apple or Android, iPad or iPhone, leather-bound print version with your name stamped in gold on the front, NRSV, The Message, NIV or KJV … if we don’t read the Bible, the question of how we’re carrying, uploading, downloading, or packing the Bible is moot.

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Timothy Merrill

TIMOTHY MERRILL is an ordained minister and has served churches in Oregon, Minnesota and Colorado. His doctoral work at Princeton Theological Seminary focused on the apocalyptic nature of the preaching of the First Crusade in 1096 A.D. His work has been published in the academic press including the Patristica and Byzantine Review and the Westminster Theological Journal. His book, Learning to Fall: A Guide for the Spiritually Clumsy (Chalice Press) appeared in 1998.

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