The Lord giveth and Twitter taketh away: top Bible quote loses its shine
Young Christians find verse about Jesus's death 'a bit heavy', and relate more to a message of prosperity
In the beginning, and for centuries that followed, God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.
“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11,” said Reverend Dr Peter Phillips, director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John’s College, Durham University. John 3:16 had been knocked off its pedestal in print by the social media era: “People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’s death upon the cross on social media. It’s a bit heavy.”
The passage, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11, according to YouVersion, a digital Bible provider with more than 350 million users. It reads: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Jeremiah 29:11 is now the favourite in nine countries, including the UK, Canada and Australia. According to experts, the switch is a product of social media and young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online. With apps such as Bible Lens – which allows users to create new images using their own photos overlaid with quotes from the Bible – and YouVersion’s search-by-emoji function soaring in popularity, millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings.
Phillips, whose book Bible, Digital Culture and Social Media will be out later in 2018, said: “We find that millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity and how faith can help them in their future. The result is a shift in public display of the Bible.”
He claims the change fits the general notion that digital-savvy people tend to cherry-pick what they share online. “Social media engagement with the Bible is itself part of the so-called Photoshopped self – a form of front-staging a person’s Bible engagement.”
But the popularity of Jeremiah 29:11 also comes down to the context of social media, said the Bible Society. “Passages like John 3:16 concern an eternal perspective and hope beyond death,” the society’s Rachel Rounds said. “These are not easy concepts to convey on social media, which doesn’t really do context or nuance and is a challenge for politicians, scientists and the church alike.”
– © The Daily Telegraph