Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We close the week talking about technology, Pastor John, because we often get questions from listeners who know that you use a lot of technology in your Christian life. So explain for us how you use technology — how you do Bible reading on your iPad, and Bible software on your laptop, and how do you use podcasts and audio books. How does all this technology serve you?
I think the first thing to say is that nobody should try to copy anyone else in this regard, because our circumstances and our needs and our gifts, our vulnerabilities are so different. So perhaps the best way for someone to listen to what I am about to say would be to listen for possibilities, not prescriptions.
So my use of technology for reading and for listening and for watching can be divided in roughly — it seems to me as I have thought about, though I may be overlooking something — into: one, Bible; two, prayer; three, reading for spiritual and intellectual growth and enrichment; four, listening for both entertainment and growth and enrichment; five, awareness of what is happening in the world in culture and evangelicalism and; six, relationships with family. So those are the categories. Let me just say a word about each one.
1) Bible. I have been reading through the whole Bible once a year, as long as I can remember, maybe starting in my 20s. I really can’t remember when I first started, but as long as I can remember I have been doing this. I have done it now for quite a few years on my iPad using various Bible software (now Logos software). It provides a way for my daily readings. This year I am using McCheyne’s reading plan, which gets you through the whole Bible once, through the New Testament twice, and through the Psalms twice. It reads about four or five chapters a day and Logos enables me to see on my home screen every day what the next place is to be read in the Bible and you just click on it. It takes you to that place and when you are done with that place, you say done or finished and it takes you to the next place, and it is just unbelievably convenient.
And there are several reasons why I do it, why I read my Bible electronically. One is that I can save verses easily for later meditation. I use Evernote. I am sure there is a way to do it in Logos itself, but I have been using Evernote for a long time, so I use Evernote. I create a folder for Bible quotes and specifically Bible promises. And then I can look at these later in the day or later on to remind myself of what was especially powerful or precious in the reading that morning. So just a click or two and the verse that I am looking at that is meaningful to me at this moment can be saved for later on in the day.
Piper: “My iPad and my iPhone are incredible gifts from God. I could almost come to tears over how precious they are to me.”
Another reason for reading the Bible electronically is that one of my purposes for using Twitter is to send out Bible verses or Bible truths three times a day and virtually all of these come out of my daily reading. And the electronic version enables me to cut and paste into Twitter or Hoot Suite very simply. So you might say I view this particular use of Twitter as simply an overflow of my enjoyment of Scripture every morning. And I schedule those out a week or two in advance. When they come, they come.
Another reason for using the iPad is that I am regularly consulting the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, and Logos makes that real easy with a split screen to have Greek or Hebrew right there when I am doing my meditation so that if want to check and see what is behind this word, I can do it. And another reason is that when I get ideas for articles or books or blogs or sermons while I am reading, I can quickly put a note in or cut and paste to my Evernote file on various topics so that I am ready to go with those ideas or those texts. So everything is just quickly streamlined by being able to save things and comment on things when I am reading the Bible in my iPad.
And I suppose it goes without saying that I do virtually all of my Bible study on my computer at my desk. I am using my computer right now in front of me. My Bible program is open in front of me as I am talking to this microphone here. I use Logos 6 and always have the ESV translation of the Bible open. I have the Greek and Hebrew open beside it. I have a search window open beside that. I have an open commentary at the bottom. I love The Greek Testament Commentary by Henry Alford. commentary, though I can click through other commentaries. I have got lots of things open here and ready to go. So that is Bible. That is the category of Bible. And I do use Biblearc.com for rigorous arching and leveling of texts, but that is for another time to talk about, perhaps.
2) The second category is prayer. How do people remind themselves of what they want to pray about? Besides praying my way through the Word — so, when I am reading my Bible, I am praying over this Word for all the people that I am concerned about and all the things that the Bible is throwing up to me — I also have a concentric circles of things I pray about, and I keep track of those in my iPad in an Evernote folder. So, if I kneel down to pray and can’t remember all the things I want to pray about, I just click open my Evernote. It is called “daily prayers,” and I keep it up-to-date with requests that people ask me. So prayer is another way I use technology.
3) Reading for spiritual and intellectual growth and enrichment. I do still read from paper books and love them, and I believe we will always have them with us. I don’t think they will ever cease to be useful. But I love the fact that I have all the works of John Owen, all the works of Jonathan Edwards, all the works of Charles Spurgeon at my fingertips on my iPad anywhere all the time. This is an incalculable gift from God to me. So, for example, I have been reading volume 4 of John Owen as I prepare to write a book on the affectional use of Scripture in our lives. And I have been reading relevant sermons from Jonathan Edwards in this regard. And I just finished two lectures from Charles Spurgeon called “How to Read the Bible.”
And all of these I have been reading on my iPad in Logos, and the main reason is because of how easy it is to highlight or to do clipping so that what I just saw will immediately go into a document. I can print out that document. Oh, I can remember in years gone by how many hours and hours and hours and days and days I would spend underlining books and then going back and typing and typing and typing to try to save what I had seen for use in books and so on. And now, oh God be praised, I could just read, highlight — bang! — they’re in a document. These wonderful insights of these great, historic lovers of God have been preserved and now I can read them later. I can use them later. So reading for intellectual and spiritual growth is done a great deal on my iPad, but not only.
4) The fourth category is listening for both entertainment and growth and enrichment. The mind — John Piper’s mind, anyway — cannot always be wound tightly for the sake of maximum rigor in analysis and synthesis. There is a place for more relaxed, passive entertainment. But I personally believe — and here is the vulnerability part — I personally believe that the Christian should not be entertained by things that require a spiritual bath to cleanse the mind when you are done. That is not a good way to get entertained. And I fear many, many, many evangelicals contradict their own conscience, because they are just following the world in what they get entertained by.
Now one of the ways I do this is by having audio books on my iPhone. Right now, for example, I have a huge book that I am working my way through on audio; namely, C. S. Lewis’s Essays and Shorter Writings. It is a gargantuan book — 40 hours’ worth of audio. And I take a little bit every now and then. And, at the same time, I am listening to a narrative history of the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North called The Warmth of Other Suns, a Pulitzer prize-winning narrative history that is just knocking me over with sadness because of what I was involved in in those days and the horrors of the background of African Americans in this country. And at the same time I am listening to Leland Ryken’s new biography of J. I. Packer.
So I have got three audio books going at the same time, just listening according to what I feel like in the moment.
And I just finished listening, last year, to The Brothers Karamazov. In other words, I try to listen to fiction if somebody has given me a really good recommendation of something contemporary or if I want to get back into something historic that I haven’t even done. So, for example, I think I got this from seeing a pile of books on one of your photographs, Tony — I just finished listening to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. That was deeply moving to me. So I listen to these basically in the cracks of my life. I listen while I am jogging, while I am walking to church, while I am driving to get the oil changed, while I am brushing my teeth, changing my clothes, while the teapot is heating. The goal is both enjoyment and learning and the awakening of emotions that might not otherwise be touched.
I think one of the things that great literature does, fiction included, is that it touches us in places and ways through insights we haven’t had and emotions we haven’t experienced that make us wider, deeper persons when we come to the Word of God itself so that we are more useful in God’s hands and we are more capable of even knowing and experiencing more of him.
5) So number five is awareness of what is happening in the world and culture and evangelicalism. I get virtually all of my news both concerning the world and the nation and the state and the city and wider evangelicalism and world missions and everything else I learn about the world, I get it from the Internet. I don’t have a TV. I never listen to the radio. It is mediated mainly through my iPad and iPhone. So, for example, at breakfast, which I usually eat by myself because my wife isn’t out of bed yet usually, I look at the news sites to see what has happened in the last 24 hours. I look at national sites and I look at my local Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper online. My main use of Twitter on receiving, not giving, but receiving is to let people become a filter for me of what I need to be looking at.
In other words, I used to do this by thinking that I could subscribe to enough podcasts to stay on top of things. I don’t do that anymore. It is just unworkable for me. I need people like Justin Taylor and, goodness, I could name a half a dozen people who tweet out things that they have stumbled across somehow — I don’t know how they do it — but they find important things. And they send me to them. And so I go there and if it looks like I need to read that to figure out what is happening and I am to be engaged with, then I do it. I do subscribe to a few magazines. And I read them both paper and online, whichever seems to be easiest at the moment.
And quickly, just a couple of more things. There is a use I just thought of that maybe I ought to include; namely, that I have a folder in Evernote called “poems in process.” This is probably not what everybody does with Evernote, so when I am sitting on the couch at night, Noel and I are just sitting there together, I have an hour before I go to bed, I may open up this folder in my iPad and just work away on a poem that has been in process for a month that I am trying to write about something. So it is a writing device as well as a reading device.
6) And finally, I use technology for the sake of my family relationships. This is the only use I make of Facebook. I hardly follow anybody or whatever the word is, friend anybody. I hardly even know how Facebook works. I just know I have got family members who are on Facebook and if I put their name in my friend search, I can see what they are doing and I like to do that. So that is my little limited use of Facebook is that I can tell what my kids are doing. And I suppose there is just lots more I could say about sermon preparation and Look at the Book and email and on and on. We could do another one of these if you want to get more specific sometime.
But maybe in closing I should say I regard my computer that sits here in front of me on my desk and my iPad and my iPhone as an incredible gift from God. I mean I could almost come to tears over how precious they are to me. All these pagans are behind it. I know that. And they believe stuff I don’t believe. But for all the misuses that can be made of it, for me it is a treasure chest of the glories of God. I see God and I learn of him everywhere I go on these devices. The temptations to go in destructive directions are a kind of test that, if I weren’t seeing them or being tempted to see them on the phone, there would be another way I would be tempted. And so I regard those kind of tests as a proving ground for my faith and my holiness and God has been very, very good to me and to us in these days to give us these resources, I think.