How Has Social Media Changed Bible Reading?
We’re joined again with our friend Jen Wilkin — wife, mom, Bible teacher, and author of the fabulous book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. The book turned four years old this summer, and it’s already sold 200,000 print copies alone, an amazing achievement.
We talked about the book last time. But today I want to talk about your blog, Jen, because you caused quite a stir with a 2016 article titled “The Instagram Bible.” You opened the piece by writing, “Beware the Instagram Bible, my daughters — those filtered frames festooned with feathered verses, adorned in all manner of loops and tails, bedecked with blossoms, saturated with sunsets, culled and curated just for you.” Wow. So what’s the Instagram Bible? And what’s your warning?
I’ve noticed that on certain social-media platforms, people have a propensity to cherry-pick Scriptures more egregiously than elsewhere.
If you’re a Christian woman on Instagram, your feed is going to be clogged with these hand-lettered verses that are scrolled and embellished. They really are lovely and suitable for framing, but they’re often pulled completely out of context.
“On certain social-media platforms, people have a propensity to cherry-pick Scriptures more egregiously than elsewhere.”
I think that they can create the illusion that we are interacting with Scripture in a healthy way, but if you think about it, you’re only going to hand-letter certain kinds of verses out of the Bible. But the Bible is full of many different genres and covers many different subjects.
So for the purpose of the post, I tongue-in-cheek created an Instagram frame quoting about the cutting up of the concubine that you find in the book of Judges. I think I offended every hand-letterer on the Internet by doing so, which was not my intent.
Honestly, I love that people create beautiful art that is celebrating beautiful passages in Scripture. But when we begin to succumb to the illusion that all of the Bible is Instagram-worthy and is inspirational, that’s a dangerous place to go to. The Bible should exhort and convict, not just warm the cockles of our hearts.
Women, I think in particular, are drawn toward wanting an emotional boost from what they’re reading in the moment. I don’t know that that’s a uniquely feminine problem, but it does seem to color the pages of Instagram. So I wanted to challenge women in particular to think about what they’re reading, and to read what comes before and what comes after the verse that they’re seeing put into a frame out there.
But it’s not really just an issue with social media; it’s an issue with how we read the Bible in general. The Instagram Bible presents a devotional view of the Bible, and exclusively so — almost exclusively so.
The Bible does not lend itself neatly to devotional reading on many of its pages. If all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, we should be reminding ourselves to spend time in all of it, instead of loving certain verses or certain passages to excess.
Devotions on Stage
Such a good word. How else has social media changed private Bible reading? I’m thinking of a personal-devo setup where the cup of coffee is full in a choice mug and creamed to the perfect shade of soft brown. The whole setting staged like a Thomas Kinkade painting, with light beams of sunrise inspiration beaming from one corner. The arrangement is perfect. What do you say about this staging of the devotional setting?
Yeah, I kind of get a kick out of seeing what women will put out there. Honestly, a lot of times it’s one of my books with a coffee cup next to it, so I have mixed feelings about it. I do think it is worth noting to take Instagram for what it’s worth.
“When you see Instagram as a place of realism, that’s when you run into trouble.”
I actually refer to Instagram as the last happy place within social media, because it’s still a place of optimism. But when you see it as a place of realism, that’s when you run into trouble. To understand that someone is creating a vignette is different than saying, “Oh my goodness, her life is so perfect.”
So to see it almost as a lay-level art form, that does not offend me. But to believe that someone’s life is that picture-perfect is where the problem comes in.
I hear people report frequently that Instagram is a source of woe to them because of the comparison issue. They compare their lives to other people’s, and they feel like their life comes up short. I would say that’s to miss the point of Instagram.
But also, obviously, be aware of your own weaknesses. If that’s an issue for you, then get off Instagram. It’s fine for those who understand it as a sort of idealized version of our lives. As long as we can acknowledge that, we can take it with a grain of salt and enjoy it like we would enjoy other forms of art, but not ask it to be more than it is.
Speaking of things radiant, you have a new book, In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character. In it you wrote this: “Everything we say or do will either illuminate or obscure the character of God. Sanctification is the process of joyfully growing luminous” (153). Explain that.
I think we don’t always consider how our understanding of God will either make us into saints or heretics based on in the way that we communicate about him. The reason I wrote In His Image and its predecessor, None Like Him, was because my common admonition to people when they sit down to read the Bible is to read it as a book about God.
That’s a very obvious statement to make about the Bible, and I have never met a Christian who would disagree that the Bible is a book about God. But what I have found is that when it comes to our practice of reading, we often read it as a book about ourselves first.
Some of that is because we’ve been told to do so by well-meaning people. But the other impetus is that we tend to think the whole world is about us. We think this just by default.
“Everything we say or do will either illuminate or obscure the character of God.”
So when we come to the Scriptures to read them as a book about God, the next obstacle that I’ve found that men and women run into after recognizing, “Oh right, I do need to read this as a book about God first,” was that we have an atrophied vocabulary about the things that are true about God. We don’t have minds that are trained to look for his attributes when we read.
So I wanted to write on, basically, the doctrine of God in a way that was accessible and that would help people to recognize how their words or their actions or their thoughts were either pointing people toward Christ or obscuring who Christ was.
The unbeliever is not going to pick up the Bible and read it, not unless there’s already some process in place where they’re already feeling pulled by the Spirit. That means that when they wonder what Christianity is about, they’re going to look at us. Not only that, but for the building up of the body, for relationships between other believers, we need to be able to look at one another and see the character of God emerging in us through the process of sanctification.
I wanted to write a book, or actually two books, on sanctification because I am learning increasingly that in the communities of believers who call themselves gospel-centered, we often think of the gospel as justification only. We understand that we have been freed from sin’s penalty, but then any conversation about obedience to God can very quickly be labeled as legalism.
I believe that the gospel is good news in our justification and in our sanctification — and I would say also in our glorification, of course. But sanctification has been a missing piece of the conversation for many of us in the gospel-centered movement.
We have perhaps talked less than we should about the beauty of the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer to re-image us to be the humans that we were created to be.