The Rise of the “Techno-Evangelicals”: A Review of ‘People of the Screen: How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible and How It Shapes Their Reading of Scripture’ by John Dyer


Joseph E. Gorra

Article ID:



May 22, 2024


May 17, 2024

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People of the Screen:
How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible
and How It Shapes Their Reading of Scripture
by John Dyer
Oxford University Press, 2023


For centuries, Christians have been known as “the people of the book,” which is a Muslim phrase used to describe people who adhere to biblical Scripture. What if, instead, Christians were known as “people of the screen”? This is the core question addressed by John Dyer in his book, People of the Screen (Oxford University Press, 2023), which was derived from his 2019 PhD dissertation presented at Durham University. The book’s subtitle distills (if not overly forecasts) Dyer’s primary focus: “How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible and How It Shapes Their Reading of Scripture.” Dyer’s perspective is unique because of his experiences as a coder, programmer, theologian, education technologist, and a well-versed student of the history of theorizing about media ecology and the philosophy of technology.

He writes as a genuine and self-reflexive insider, not as some detached outsider. In that sense, Dyer is uniquely situated to write this book. He draws upon first-person perspectives among Bible app programmers, business leaders, and users. Moreover, Dyer utilizes the tools, lens, and literacies of history, sociology, and theology to narrate the emergence of ideas, institutional factors, and specific organizations and leaders that have shaped multiple waves of Bible software development since the 1950s.

The Big Picture. People of the Screen is well-organized into eight interrelated chapters. The important foundation of the book is laid in chapters 1–3, in which Dyer introduces core concepts, presents his approach within the broader study of “technology and faith,” and shows how (American) evangelicalism is an important carrier of relevant values, attitudes, and habits that, non-accidentally so, contextualizes the rise of Bible software developers, businesses, and an economy of end users. The rest of the book takes a wider-lens view of its subject matter. For example, readers get to surf the “four waves” in the Bible software development business history (from the 1950s to present-day).

Dyer’s original research and analysis are featured in chapters 6–7. He discusses the influence of technologically enhanced Bible reading, the fluid use between print and digital for many readers, how different social contexts shape different uses of, and engagements with, the Bible, and how digital experiences of the Bible shape comprehension of what is read. Overall, the book underscores the resilience of certain Bible app companies (e.g., Faithlife, Bible Gateway, and YouVersion), and its conclusion offers some advice and exhortative comments on the production and use of the digital Bible.

Important Framing. One of the more striking aspects of People of the Screen is how Dyer presents multiple layers of context for his subject matter. For example, he shows Bible tech companies as part of broader histories about the Bible tech revolutions; from scroll to codex, from handwritten codex to printing press, and from print to digital. Yet such companies are not merely part of technological or business/economic developments; instead, they see themselves as part of the “mission of God” in the world, bringing global access and engagement to the Bible.1 That nuance is helpful.

The rise of what Dyer calls “Techno-Evangelicals,” evangelical developers and end users, is characterized by “Hopeful Entrepreneurial Pragmatism” (HEP). Dyer seeks to show that HEP’s three elements are a “tightly integrated and interdependent” attitude,2 “deeply engrained within evangelicalism” as an openness of mind, a “because-we-can-do-it” orientation toward all helpful means or tools for becoming like Christ.3

Dyer unpacks HEP along these lines:

  • Hopeful outlook “exhibiting a net positive view of technology’s potential for Christian ministry and personal growth.”4 This is not blind optimism or naivete. It “address[es] moral concerns about new media while also being free to adopt technology as a way of expressing their values.”5
  • Entrepreneurial and savvy leaders and users who are capable of building and engaging successful technological and creative systems.
  • Pragmatic in approach, “making decisions based more on what ‘works’ — in both moral and business senses — than on any systematic beliefs or direction from an authority.”6

When discussing “evangelicals” and “evangelicalism,” Dyer’s treatment is non-reductionistic, that is, he doesn’t reduce the phenomena to being a movement about correct doctrines or having right spiritual experiences. His treatment is also differentiated, not using “evangelical” as code for merely “Trump voters,”7 nor reduced to what is mediated by political and media punditry or categories derived from virtually generic surveys/polls about “American Christianity.”8

Within Dyer’s account, the Bible, doctrinal beliefs, and spiritual experience all have an important place and importance within evangelicalism. Evangelicalism, though, is more akin to a longstanding “mood, a perspective, an experience,” as church historian Bruce Shelly observed about Evangelical Christianity in the 1960s;9 it embodies a flexible and adaptive outlook (perhaps similar to the entrepreneurial mindset that helped form the Bible Institute movement in the 19th–20th centuries).

As Dyer notes, historian Mark Noll calls American Evangelicalism a form of “culturally adaptive biblical experientialism,”10 and that form of cultural and institutional flexibility and pragmatism is central to HEP. Dyer also understands that HEP has its limits. He doesn’t think it is an unquestionable good or that it should be uncritically adopted. His point is that HEP forms fertile (and non-accidental) soil — an ecosystem of values and attitudes — for the creation of the late modern Bible software industry that emerged in the early 1980s. HEP is a crucial factor for the industry and the market’s development when married with evangelicalism’s already dominant valuing of “the supremacy of the Bible.”11

HEP also has explanatory value in light of Dyer’s approach to the (religious) social “shaping” and “construction” of technology, an approach he takes “in order to examine both the production and consumption sides of Bible software, keeping the broader societal context of technological development in mind.”12 Dyer draws upon philosophy of technology scholars in the “social shaping of technology” literature, differentiating it from viewing technology’s power as inevitable or deterministic. Thus, the approach creates space for different ways of interpreting technological phenomena, including HEP tendencies among digital Bible developers and users.

Important Takeaways on Reading the (Digital) Bible

  • Bible Reading Trends: From the American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible (ABS) research, “In 2021, 59% of respondents said they preferred print overall, but in the eight years between 2011 and 2019, the number of American Bible readers who used a smartphone to access the Bible grew from less than a fifth (18%) to more than half (56%).”13
  • Print vs. Digital? “Preference for reading the Bible in print has consistently hovered around 75%,” yet “Gen Z being the first age group to rate print at under 50%.” But “print” vs. “digital” should be understood less as a “strict dichotomy,” Dyer advises, and more of a “broad spectrum of Bible engagement experiences,” including among different digital devices.14 For example, consider Dyer’s own focus group survey of participants among five groups at three diverse evangelical churches near Dallas, Texas15 :

  • Bible Reading Comprehension vs. Spiritual Experience. It’s less about either/or as much as how print and digital Bible provide different benefits to different users. Choosing which Bible version almost always depends on what Dyer calls the NAB effect for users: “Nearest Available Bible,” which is often a Bible available on a smartphone.16
  • Experience of the Character of God: Dyer claims that the data (from ABS, presumably) hints at ways people conceive of God and the Bible differently. For example, “Bible readers tend to see a kinder, gentler God when they read about him on a screen and yet they report feeling more discouraged and confused by the encounter. Conversely, print readers tend to emphasize more of God’s holiness and judgment, but report feeling more fulfilled and encouraged by the encounter.”17 But Dyer also admits that this is an under-researched area, and more comparisons and approaches should be tested and modeled with different biblical genres.18

Benefits for Apologetics-Oriented Readers. First, People of the Screen can be read at multiple levels. Of course, read it for the understanding and insights it offers on this important subject matter, but read it as a way of learning how to communicate to outsiders about insider issues and experiences. Dyer’s insider, self-reflexive approach offers an implicit model for communicating about important matters that go beyond conservative evangelical (political) subcultures.

Second, read it with an eye toward addressing a particular cultural objection against American evangelicals. Perhaps the objection is along these lines: “Evangelicals are always against things. They don’t make things. They just consume.” Or, maybe it is framed as “Evangelicals are culturally backward, against technological progress, suspicious of ‘new things.’” Dyer’s research and analysis could be used toward a cumulative argument that shows how “Techno-evangelicals” are an important sociological and economic factor that generates a variety of goods and services for others.

Third, read it with a focus on theological and spiritual formation care and guidance. Specifically, study chapters 6–7 and discern insights for how to help people read and engage the Bible deeply, repeatedly, and formationally. Furthermore, read with the aim of theologically interpreting HEP (its strengths and limits). How does it shape people’s use of technological things (e.g., digital Bible, devices, apps, etc.)? How does it color expectations for “doing” church and engaging in Christian communities? How does it affect the mindset of church leaders and their sense of growth, multiplication, and renewal? On just the entrepreneurial question alone, there is much work that can and should be done in thinking theologically about it, integrating broader theologies of work, vocation, and economics.19

Future Edition? Perhaps in the not-too-distant future a revised edition of People of the Screen will want to consider digital experiences of the Bible in these ways:

  • The opportunities and limitations of the digital Bible and generative Artificial Intelligence (AI). What if a digital Bible app advances AI interactivity, asking you questions as you read along (e.g., questions of comprehension) or helping you formulate questions that you have not considered asking? In what sense would that shape catechetical work and leadership? Even more, as reading and inquiring, what if the most relevant quotes and references from church fathers are immediately curated for you to possibly integrate into your study of the Bible? Is it something like the Bible Project app attuned to generative AI in heuristically significant ways (e.g., instructional dynamics of Scripture Labs)? Is it the Ancient Christian Commentary series (IVP, 1998–2010) activated by generative AI and integrated within Faithlife’s Logos app?
  • The prospects for creating interactive experiences between the Bible and visual art. Perhaps it is a mobile app in which you are viewing visual art that is evoked by Scriptural passages and themes and the Scripture is read to you. Or, while you read Scripture you can interact with visual art that has been intentionally curated. How would that generate a different — if not unique — reading, listening, watching experience with the Bible? Is it something like the Visual Commentary on Scripture married to the Dwell app or the Lectio 365 app?

Whatever the future may hold for digital Bible engagement, People of the Screen has laid a fruitful foundation for effectively orienting readers and leaders to ask important, wise, and contextual questions. —Joseph E. Gorra

Joseph E. Gorra is a writer and researcher for Veritas Life Center ( and co-writer (with William Lane Craig) of A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible (Moody, 2013).



  1. Dyer, People of the Screen, 48–52, 122–23.
  2. Dyer, People of the Screen, 48.
  3. Cf. Dyer, People of the Screen, 39–57, 107.
  4. Dyer, People of the Screen, 5.
  5. Dyer, People of the Screen, 182.
  6. Dyer, People of the Book, 6.
  7. Dyer, People of the Screen, 35.
  8. Dyer, People of the Screen, 52–56.
  9. Dyer, People of the Book, 4.
  10. Dyer, People of the Screen, 56, 145.
  11. Dyer, People of the Screen, 57.
  12. Dyer, People of the Screen, 181 and chapter 2.
  13. Dyer, People of the Screen, 10.
  14. Dyer, People of the Screen, 10.
  15. Table 6.2 appears in Dyer, People of the Book, 132. Dyer’s survey data and demographics include this: “Of these 180 people in all five groups, 150 completed all the assessments with usable data. In total, the participants were 49% male, 51% female, with a mean age of 45.86 and large clusters in the 0–45 age range and 55–65 age range. When asked how many years the respondent had been a churchgoer or attended church, the average was 35.52 years” (Dyer, People of the Screen, 126; cf. 24–27).
  16. Dyer, People of the Screen, 10, 153.
  17. Dyer, People of the Book, 7, cf. 185.
  18. Dyer, People of the Book, 186.
  19. On thinking theologically about entrepreneurship, see the resources at Veritas Life Center,
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