Television, Meet Contemplation
Just a couple of months ago my family opened our door to Apple TV 4 and entered the world of big screen apps. My experience with TVos apps is mixed. There are fantastic apps, translated as well to the big screen as I expected or hoped. Games like Alto's Adventure or Asphalt 8 make the new Apple TV worth it for me. Another batch of apps leaves me scratching my head. Who needs a giant TV calculator, I wonder?
There are the Flagship apps and the Head Scratchers and then there are the Pleasant Surprises. These are apps I didn't see much value in at first but are proving useful with each swipe and tap.
The Bible app is a pleasant surprise.
When I first saw it in the App Store, I pictured myself squinting at my TV from across the room to read from the Bible app. It would make more sense to open the same app on my iPad and read digital Scripture in my hands like they did way back in the early 2010s.
It turns out there is no reading in Bible App–at least, not by me. The focus is where it should be on TV–rich media. Rather than reading the text, the Bible is read to you–or reenacted for you by a variety of production companies. Bible for Apple TV is a port of the long-popular YouVersion app from LifeChurch.tv that's been around for years. The content in the Bible app can already be found online at bible.com or through their existing mobile apps, but to my mind, the media in those apps is best presented here on the big screen.
The App is beautifully simple. You open Bible and choose between Audio or Video format. Audio gives you the entire Bible read in multiple versions, whereas Video is less complete, but does include much of the Gospels.
In Audio, you choose a translation from a long list. You then scroll to a book of the Bible and click on a chapter to play. I've been listening to The Message version, and the reader does an excellent job. He does not have a Shakespearian accent, which is a plus or a minus according to taste. Accent or no, he brings life to his readings. The Bible app presents a full chapter at a time, rather than pulling out a single verse, which provides context and avoids 'cherrypicking' individual fragments. Hooray for context!
In the Video section, you choose from a short list of content sources. The Jesus Film is here, along with other more recent interpretations of the Biblical narrative. The Lumo Project shines with beautiful cinematography and a strong cast. These videos help me picture these ancient stories.
So why a Bible App on TV?
For thousands of years, pre-printing-press people had the Bible read to them by others. First as oral histories, then read from priceless scrolls at gatherings. We read with our ears long before our eyes. I like the way the Bible app for Apple TV returns me to that listening space.
My morning routine involves a 7 AM workout with a small pocket of time reserved for spiritual reflection before. As I gather myself for the day ahead, having the Scripture read to me is wonderful. I am just waking up, after all. I can close my eyes, lie back on the couch and picture the scene. I can replay the passage and let it wash over me. As long as I don't drift back to dreamland, the Bible App turns my hi-tech Apple TV into a tool for ancient contemplative practices.
When I want to dig deeper into a specific story, The videos offer a fresh perspective. It's not that these videos are new, but here, in the Bible app, I'm discovering most of them for the first time. Here is a perfect example of old content finding new life through a new medium.
You won't find interactive reading features like highlights and favourites. You cannot share a passage on social media as you can on other Bible app platforms, but I don't mind this experience remaining clutter free.
It would be useful to search for a passage and then see all of the available readings and videos for that passage, like the way Apple TV handles movie searches, providing a list of available sources to experience that content. Perhaps that will come.
If you have an Apple TV 4 and the Bible is part of your life, give the free–and ad-free–Bible app a try. If you don't have an Apple TV 4, you can access the same content on multiple devices at bible.com.