By Adam Fenner
|Photo by Dan Weber
The foundational impetus behind the North American Division’s iBelieve Bible Study is to witness to young people where they are, which is in the digital realm. The iBelieve Bible Study is a free online curriculum designed to strengthen the faith of youth and young adults in and outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church. iBelieve Bible is made up of four main components that are released incrementally throughout the week. This includes short blog posts, short videos, social media interaction, and online Bible studies.
Only partially an event and community occasion like traditional Sabbath school and Bible studies, iBelieve Bible is a regular interjection of biblical themes and topics into the daily lives of people that culminates on Friday afternoons, leading up to and in preparation for the Sabbath. Utilizing social media, iBelieve Bible provides a sequentially strategic stream of information, resources, and questions that builds on itself throughout the week. It is the hope of the iBelieve Bible staff this inclusion of biblical topics and themes will not be distinct from the lives of young people, but rather a integral part of what they consume and interact with in their daily living, much of which is spent online.
In the 21st century’s hectically fast-paced society, the average person in the United States spends only 2-17 minutes a day doing some kind of religious or spiritual “activity.” When this is contrasted with the fact Americans are spending 4 ½ to six hours pursuing “leisure activities,” there’s obviously a disconnect. Additionally, knowing that youth and young adults spend on average 9 hours a day engrossed in some kind of digital entertainment leads one to conclude that religion has only a marginalized presence in the digital realm. If young people are not attending religious services in large numbers with any regularity, but instead are spending much of their time consuming digital media, ministering to them means ministering to them online.
Cyberspace Delivery System
iBelieve Bible takes the traditional learning objectives and faith strengthening principles found in Bible study curricula and delivers them throughout the week via social media. Following the NAD Education Bible standards for grades 9–12, iBelieve Bible is founded in biblical principles and the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Topics and themes shared each week via social media are designed to show the relevance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Bible, and Jesus Christ in the lives of those who might be questioning their faith or have no faith at all. Examples of topics include: immigration, environmentalism, gender equality, fornication, salvation, drugs, and hypocrisy.
Some present-day critics may claim the Bible and its teachings only have relevance in agricultural or pre-industrial societies, but this isn’t the case. Although the issues modern youth deal with today obviously take different forms than they did 2,000 years ago, the Bible is still, beyond question or debate, relevant and useful to our modern lives. The packaging and delivery of how biblical truths are approached, however, does need to be carefully considered for modern audiences.
Rather than avoiding difficult issues and questions simply because they may be offensive or viewed as potentially “dangerous,” iBelieve Bible instead approaches them as prospective learning moments or spiritually engaging opportunities. Instead of coddling our audience and viewing questioning by youth and young adults as troublesome or dangerous, iBelieve Bible sees it as opportunity. Young people are not blind to reality. They know drinking alcohol can be quite enjoyable, that smoking marijuana can be fun and has scientifically proven medical applications, and that the human body is designed for sex. The iBelieve Bible staff is committed to the notion that the all too commonplace aversion to eschew difficult issues and questions has led many young people astray. Young people ask questions, it’s what they do. As a community of believers, we can either decide to answer their difficult questions as best and imperfectly as we can, or as is sometimes the case, we can ignore and even chastise them for asking them in the first place.
| A Facebook post from iBelieve Bible
Exploring Beliefs, Nurturing Souls
The iBelieve Bible staff is honored to help those who seek answers find satisfaction in a non-judgmental Adventist environment. From time to time, iBelieve Bible content has been criticized for “leading people astray,” “encouraging dangerous questions,” and “not being Adventist.” Studies have shown, however, that “positive interaction” for Adventist young people often means not feeling judged by their faith community and being accepted for who they are. Furthermore, young people in the church are often “very comfortable with ambiguity and nuance,” even when older generations are not.
iBelieve Bible tries to create an online experience free of judgment about personal religious beliefs and life journeys, and nurtures an environment that lends itself to exploring important spiritual issues without overtly imposing all the answers. This means intentionally inviting spiritual questions and debate, and also cultivating relationships in the online arena.
iBelieve Bible content is designed for young people and built by young people. Because iBelieve utilizes the talents and expertise of youth at all levels of production and delivery, the staff feel that the product has a much higher chance of being relevant to its intended audience. The world and its various cultures are evolving at a mindboggling pace that makes generational divides more acute and more prevalent. This is not to say that a 50-year old cannot effectively minister to a 20-year old, but rather that it is more difficult than in times past. Language, extracurricular interests, technical abilities, entertainment forms, and historical events all make it harder for generations to find common ground on which to build a relationship where intergenerational witnessing and mentorship can occur. Even the forms of communication between generations are distinctive — Generation Z prefers to communicate through hand held devices and apps, Generation Y (Millennials) through text messaging and social media, Generation X through email and text messaging, and Babyboomers typically favor the telephone. Witnessing online, to a significant extent, necessitates utilizing the efforts and talents of digital natives from your intended audience, because they understand the nuances of the culture and digital environment they are already operating (living) in.
The social media approach to making iBelieve Bible content available and interactive anywhere and anytime helps eliminate the dichotomy of secular versus spiritual space and time. Whether a person is on an airplane, bus, in class, or at home, they can interact with iBelieve Bible content and fellow users (believers and non-believers). To increase utility, maximize investment, and support numerous demographics within and outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, iBelieve Bible materials are also designed for use in a variety of settings and applications beyond the online environment. iBelieve Bible content can be used in regular social media posts of the Church and its followers, Adventist schools, home school devotions, family worship, personal worship, vespers, public high school evangelism, and of course, youth and young adult Sabbath school.
To learn more and engage, use #iBelieveBible on Twitter and Instagram; and find us on Facebook.
— Adam Fenner, Ph.D., is the director of the North American Division’s Adventist Learning Community.
 Christopher Ingraham, “10 maps that show how much time Americans spend grooming, eating, thinking, and praying,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2014: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/06/20/ten-maps-that-show-how-much-time-americans-spend-grooming-eating-thinking-and-praying/?utm_term=.075172c75b44.
 CNN Report: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/03/health/teens-tweens-media-screen-use-report/.
 “13 Things the Bible Forbids Other than Homosexuality (That You’re Probably Guilty of Doing),” Huffington Post, February 2, 2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/13-things-the-bible-forbids_n_1327701.html; and “Rob Bell Suggests Bible Not Relevant to Today’s Culture,” CBN News, February 19, 2015: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2015/February/Rob-Bell-Suggests-Bible-Not-Relevant-to-Todays-Culture.
 Liz Kanoy, “Why You Don’t Need to Make the Bible Relevant,” Crosswalk.com, June 25, 2016: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/christian-trends/why-you-don-t-need-to-make-the-bible-relevant.html.
 Barna Group, Report “Seventh-day Adventist Church: Young Adult Study,” 2013, available at http://www.youngadultlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Barna-SDA-Millennials-Report-final.pdf.
 Phrasing is partially adapted from an upcoming article by the author in The Journal of Adventist Education.
 Brandon J. O’Brien, “Christ, Culture, and the Generation Gap,” Christian Bible Studies Transformed by the Truth, October 23, 2012.
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