TECHNOLOGY: Making online Bible study more helpful

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Reading the Bible. It is a chance to learn the history of our faith, to discover the great mysteries of our Lord, and to read of the love that Christ lived for us. It is all these things, and yet it is so much more; it is a chance to commune with the Most High God.

In late June, LifeWay released the latest update to MyStudyBible.com which introduced more translations and, perhaps the key to a modern study of the Bible, more integrated content. There is an inherent problem with the way our rising generation learns and studies; we jump from link to link as we run through the Internet. As a culture we Google and train our brains to pick out what the most promising link is; we hit it, we scan the page, and decide in moments if this is the content we were looking for. Then, we hit the back button and search again.

A psychological test from 2001 is referenced by Nicholas Carr in his Internet-themed book "The Shallows," where two sets of readers were given the same story, but presented in different ways. One was presented straight forward and linearly, the other included links for more information throughout the text. The hypothesis was that the enriched text would create a better experience for the readers. But the study found something different:

"Hypertext readers again reported greater confusion following the text, and their comments about the story's plot and imagery were less detailed and less precise than those of the linear-text readers. With hypertext, the researchers concluded, 'the absorbed and personal mode of reading seems to be discouraged.' The readers' attention 'was directed toward the machinery of the hypertext and its functions rather than to the experience offered by the story.' The medium used to present the words obscured the meaning of the words."

The challenge is to find a way to enable the modern features and familiarity of the web to enhance biblical study, not distract or overpower. As a part of the leadership team for MyStudyBible.com, the question was asked: What if we take the need for data mining away, and let the discovery of relevant content happen naturally? What if, instead of jumping around the page to search and hitting the back button when you found the wrong thing, what if you always knew you found the right thing first?

It's not often that nine months after a project is released you can look back and think: That just might be right. Something may have been created here that is truly beneficial to the church.

At MyStudyBible.com, the default study space is divided into two sections: the main reading pane and the cross reference pane. In the main reading pane, a reader can travel through the biblical text at their own pace, reading verse-by-verse in a linear fashion. But on the right hand side, keeping constantly updated with what's being read, are a series of content tools that update to show additional content that references the reading location. So, if the user is on John 3:16, off to the side of the reading pane will be a deep list of content that can help further explain the verse. The user gets to preview the content before ever opening it. When something needs more explanation, a glance can show how much deeper all the content can go.

By presenting not just the biblical text, but also a targeted, intentional and ever-adapting next layer of content, digital study tools like MyStudyBible.com become an exercise in enriching, understanding and discovery. Learning is no longer about finding the right complementary text -- it's about understanding and approaching all of the relevant texts.

Of course, MyStudyBible.com isn't the only digital Bible out there that can be used for deeper study. Software companies like WORDsearch, Logos, and BibleWorks have been building different ways of presenting and interacting with biblical content for years. I would encourage you to give them all a try, as each service has its own styles, pluses and minuses. The key here is that there is a world of content out there, ready for deep experiences.

The Bible -- and oh-so-many things written to help understand it -- are literally a webpage and a keystroke away.


Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press.

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