What will the Bible look like in the 21st century? What forms will it take in a technological age? And who will be its audience? Such scriptural stargazing is engaging not only Biblical scholars, publishers, artists and institutions such as the American Bible Society, but also technologists and mass media minds.
When the society offered its halls to 16 scholars -- six of them Bible experts -- in early February and asked them to spend a day brainstorming on "Futuring the Bible," the group -- not surprisingly -- raised more questions than answers.
Most participants saw the Biblical canon as closed, others held that it was wide open. Futurist Richard Thieme held that the Bible "will literally be unrecognizable to us in the 21st century."
Structures of nation states, of commerce, political systems and of religious organizations are changing; humans are reinventing themselves with genetic engineering; and Hubble telescope pictures give evidence of other universes literally "teeming with life," Thieme said. Such alterations and discoveries raise questions about the notion of religious experience and the impact of God, of spirituality and the gospel in a new age.
Thieme, often referred to as a "techno-philosopher" or an "online pundit of hacker culture," is a business consultant to systems planners, bankers and insurers. He writes a weekly internationally syndicated column, "Islands in the Clickstream."
Thieme could not predict what form next century's scriptures would take. Some scholars worried that churches might empty while chat rooms fill or that the notion of a religious community could give way to an individualistic religion. Others noted that the growing hesitation of many people to view the Bible as the exclusive source of religious troth would affect how its message is received in the future.
"What does it mean when people who feel themselves disenfranchised from a church find a cyber church and participate in Eucharist on line," asked Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton and one of the scholars at the conference. Computers have altered the concept of sacred time and sacred space, she said. Worshiping in front of a terminal rather than in church means that the message is being delivered differently, raising …