I was keyed into an interesting online bible resource project, YouVersion, by a good friend. I’ve spent much of the day in and out of the software, tinkering with different features and just spending a little bit of time with the currently available “beta” version. After getting a little exposure, I decided it was worth writing a little about.
In short, YouVersion is an online bible and study resource with a focus on community and various types of media contributions. The site is currently being developed by LifeChurch.tv, an online church community. Besides having some reservations about gathering for church meetings online, I am always a proponent of enhancing free bible study tools in order to help all people grow deeper in their faith. Unfortunately, based on what is currently available, it appears the project is walking a dangerous line between relativism and truth. In any case, explore this with me for a bit if you will.
At my absolute first impression, I really hate the name. “YouVersion” smacks of a self-centeredness that people already have a hard enough time shaking, it certainly doesn’t need to be encouraged during their bible study. However, my hunch is that the “You” in the title, is echoing the YouTube generation’s desire to contribute and incorporate their own ideas and efforts into things and so in that sense, the title is apt.
Much like the LifeChurch.tv website, the design is slick. It’s easy to navigate and clearly laid out. You won’t find much in the way of clutter, although due to it’s early development, you might stumble across some bugs. I’m sure they’ll be ironing those out in coming releases.
The site is laid out in two columns. The left column displays the bible text. You can navigate the bible with a collapsible panel on the left, or switch between an array of different translations. Most of the popular translations are available (NIV, ESV, NASB, N/KJV, etc.), as well as some Spanish translations. Switching between them is easy enough and any highlights or notations you’ve made in one translation carry over to others. On the right hand side you’ll find all the extra-biblical content. It’s broken into three tabs: Community, My Content and My Journal. The journal section will allow you to quickly jot down thoughts, although the entries will not be associated with any specific verse. Under the “My Content” heading, you’ll have the opportunity to add your own notations, or link all kinds of various media to specific verses or sets of verses. You’re able to pull in videos from YouTube, images from Flikr, or links to external resources. It appears that eventually, the opportunity to link in your web cam and your own audio will also be possible.
Under the “Community” heading is where things become interesting. Highlight any specific verse in the bible text and you’ll find under the community heading a slew of user submitted information and media. Any time that someone makes a notation or submits a piece of media and marks it public, there it shows up for everyone to see. While sifting through different submissions associated with Genesis chapter one, I came across a Chris Tomlin video, a Matthew Henry and Scofield commentaries and a handful of perplexed bible reader’s thoughts. Also, as of right now, some parts of the bible are extremely scarce as far as user input is concerned. For example, associated with John 3:16, you’ll find a couple dozen entries. But associated with Romans 8:3 you’ll only find a few. This will certainly change in time.
The community section will also allow you to save other people’s comments and submissions for quick reference under you “My Content” section. There is a rating system for comments, as well as a “is this post relevant” link, although it’s not entirely clear what they actually do.
Toward the top of the page, you’ll find some ordinary links: profile, invite, help, and sign out. They’re all self explanatory, but the profile link I believe deserves mentioning. If you click on profile, you’ll find a quick snapshot of your activity as well as six tabs: profile, following, followers, contributions, tagged and starred. Things becoming notably hairy between tabs two and three. Following and followers essentially just mean “folks your watching,” and “folks who are watching you.” However, in the current church climate of widely accepted heresy, there’s something ominously foreshadowing about labeling them “following” and “followers”.
At the very top of the page, you’ll find other sections of the site: bible reader, favorites, contacts, history and groups. None but “bible reader” is currently available for use.
Last year, Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor with LifeChurch.tv, described the project as “[providing] a platform to learn from the experiences and perspectives of others from around the world in a non-threatening and easily navigated environment.” This may very well be the greatest danger of this software. Gruenewald explains that “the application can be used both as a personal study tool and a public expression of user-generated commentary.” While the possibilities really are extraordinary and the idea relatively innovative, man’s heart is desperately wicked and with no actual accountability, the project may simply be a minefield for folks trying to navigate biblical waters.
Truth is not decided by democracy. There are plenty of biblical examples of times when the majority was just dead wrong and often, they paid for it.
I think that the software behind this project has some incredible potential in terms of bible study resources. Perhaps with a qualified staff of content editors or with a huge database of classic and contemporary resources from the well trained saints, it could not only be highly useful but also highly trustworthy. The notations and media linking is clever, even privately useful, but publicly, I believe probably a novelty at best and possibly a dangerous one. We are not dealing with humorous YouTube videos here. We’re not trying to figure out the best way to spackle dry-wall. We’re talking about the word of God and it must be honored.
Only time will tell where this is going to go. Because of the massive emphasis on similar online communities, the potential here is enormous. But will it be a blessing, or a curse? Go ahead and sign up. It’ll only take a few minutes. Maybe you’ll find a very useful tool for your study, or maybe you’ll find a vein of study you really need to stay away from.