Seeing as I had previously given a thumbs-halfway-up to one of several confession apps now available on the iPhone, I was happy to see Christianity Today offer similarly hedged enthusiasm in their editorial entitled iPhone Apps and the Old Adam:
We believe the confession app generally points Christians of all stripes in a helpful direction. For one, it asks them to turn inward to examine broken patterns of thinking and feeling, thus preventing a rote faith that relies solely on priests to deal with sin. The app also chastens the believer who thinks he’s on his merry way to sanctification. As the iPhone is ever before the user, helping him manage e-mail and to-do lists and travel routes, so those pesky but piercing questions are ever before him, hopefully inciting the same sorrow over sin as the psalmist’s (Psalm 51:3). And, as good evangelicals, we welcome most any new technology that could introduce a generation to Christ and spur believers’ growth in him.
That last sentence is as good a statement of the value of a Participation project as one is likely to find. As we’ve shared in multiple previous posts (just type “SPP” into the search box on this site for dozens of ’em), Participation projects are designed to be short-term, high-touch, high-yield, understandable without external reference, and inducing a thirst for something more and deeper.
The CT editorial does note a legitimate potential negative about apps like this, namely, the possibility that they might further privatize faith:
But more perniciously, the app—unless used in a small group or service where every person holds an iPhone—cannot help being individualistic. And this is precisely how the Devil would have us try to address sin. “Sin demands to have a man by himself,” observed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a long meditation on confession in Life Together. “It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”
That’s why in my post I suggested that the Penance app, deeply flawed though it obviously is, provides the best path forward, since it requires users not only to be involved in the confession process but the absolution process as well.
But at a deeper level, the concern raised by CT is, I think, valid even at the level of causing us to ask what sounds borderline heretical:
Are we really helping ourselves grow in Christ through the mass profusion of Bibles under which the average Christian family is buried (the typical Christian family in the US owns nine Bibles, says a Zondervan study, and is actively seeking to buy one more)?
Or, put differently, as crazy as it sounds to ask, do “personal Bibles” (one to ten per family member) promote Christian growth better than one shared family Bible?
I ask after reading James Alexander’s long out-of-print Thoughts on Family Worship, now brought back into circulation by The Legacy Ministry. Some of the content is, er, quite 1847ish (e.g., “The fondness of the black race for music is proverbial. It is rare to meet with an african who does not sing”), but in other places the text holds its own in 2011.
It certainly has me thinking that, sure, it’s possible to say, “Let’s give everyone in the family a Bible (or three or four) and also read from one of them aloud in family worship.” But what happens when the Bible becomes the family’s book, studied and read and heard together (“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it,” intones John in Revelation 1:3) rather than separately?
We’re so accustomed in our day to reading our Bibles separately and praying separately that a confession app may not be our biggest enticement to the sin of individualism.
The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,
They round the ingle form a circle wide;
The sire turns o’er wi’ patriarchal grace
The big Aa’ Bible, ance his father’s pride:
His bonnet reverently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare:
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And, Let us worship God! he says with solemn air….
The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high,
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
Or Job’s pathetic plaint and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah’s wild seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
Compared with this how poor religion’s pride,
In all the pomp of method and of art,
When men display to congregations wide,
Devotion’s every grace except the heart;
The Power incensed the pageant will desert,
The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
But haply in some cottage far apart,
May hear well-pleased the language of the soul,
And in His book of life the inmates poor enroll.
—from Thoughts on Family Worship, pp. 20-22