Should we use a confession app?

Just a few years after the iPhone's appearance on the market, there is almost no segment of life that can't be shared, enhanced or managed by the ubiquitous device. To the list of activities you can now perform on your handheld device - a list that includes everything from zombie hunting to recipe management - you can add “obtain forgiveness for sin.”

That's an exaggeration, but it's not hard to see why many people jumped to that conclusion earlier this year upon learning of Confession: A Roman Catholic App, an iPhone/Pad/Pod application that walks you step-by-step through the Roman Catholic Rite of Penance. The app aims merely to help Catholics prepare for confession to a real-live priest, and Catholic authorities were quick to clarify that the app doesn't actually replace “real” confession. (I hope I wasn't the only one to imagine penitent sinners tearfully exposing their souls to an Eliza-like chatbot.)

It's hard to object to the idea behind the Confession app. It combines elements of religious education and personal journaling, neither of which is especially controversial. So why did an innocuous iPhone app generate such a nervous reaction?

I don't believe anybody really thinks that an app on your mobile device can take the place of God. I think it makes us nervous because it reminds us how much of what we consider the “Christian life” could, in theory, be carried out through technology, with almost no face-to-face fellowship at all.

There's a very delicate line between using technology in the service of your Christian life and letting it become a buffer between you and the people you're engaging. Consider my own behaviors: I do most of my Scripture reading online, solitaire; I do most of my interaction with fellow churchgoers over social networks; I make credit-card donations to ministry websites; I read and share prayer requests over e-mail. I go online to read classic sermons by the great preachers of yesteryear and watch video sermons by today's prominent Christian pastors.

The gadgets and technology I use to do these things are unquestionably useful. But I'm also aware that even just a decade ago, most of these activities would have required face-to-face interaction with other believers or my physical presence at a worship service. Helpful as they are, these tools add a layer between me and my fellow believers. And a “confession” app suggests something even further: a technological middleman between us and our God.

After a week of immersion in such things, a Sunday morning worship service - with its communal prayer, singing and listening - feels like a much-needed blast of fresh air, a reminder of the value of Christian community. To be clear, I love these tools. Without them, I wouldn't be doing half of the things I do in the church and I wouldn't be doing them half as well. But part of keeping these tools effective is a periodic face-to-face check-in with the people to whom they connect me. In the same way, a tool like this confession app is most helpful when it ultimately prepares and encourages me to make “face-to-face” contact with God.

There's never been a binary choice between using technology and practicing worship. The technology that powers our everyday lives - whether it's the printing press or the iPhone - will inevitably be put to work in the church. Today there's an iPhone app that helps you organize your private confession of sin. Tomorrow there will be (if they're not here already) apps to manage your tithing, identify your spiritual gifts, compose a more meaningful prayer and resist temptation. Does a given technology enable us to live as Christians in a way that isn't possible without it? Is the cost of a technology - in money, face-to-face interaction, time or anything else - outweighed by the things it makes easier or more effective?

We're several years into the iPhone age and I'm certain that many of you have wrestled with these questions. Which apps and tools have helped you? Which have you set aside? Is there a basic set of Christian behaviors that simply cannot be replicated or enhanced by the current generation of gadgets?

Andy Rau is a content manager at BibleGateway.com. He lives in west Michigan with his wife and daughter.

Comments (4)

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To your very last question Andy, I've noticed that attendance at a suburban Chicago Taize service is often standing room only on a Friday night. When I ask worshippers about this steady attraction I find their responses often have to do with the calm, the silence, the low-tech or no-tech nature of this worship, and the communal sense that we belong together--from a variety of backgrounds and traditions--to each other and God. Coming from the busyness of a work week immersed in technology that sometimes isolates us from each other and God, this is an oasis and taste of heaven. So, yes, there's no app for that.
I know exactly what you mean, Bones! I agree, I don't think any app or technological tool will ever replace the sense of peace and fellowship that comes from standing alongside fellow believers in corporate worship. Glad to hear that the Taize service you attend provides such an oasis from the stresses of the workweek.
A great Bible related app is "Bible Lock Screens" for iPhone & iPad. It has high quality (retina) images with Scripture on them and it totally free! There are new lock screens each week as well. It helps keep Scripture on your mind throughout the day. Check it out:

Watch the 1-min video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Download from iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app...
Noticing a lack of love for tech (I don't mean love in the literal sense...). As someone who as worked with tech in Ministry for 11 years, I agree with the allure of a lack of tech in worship, and that is something definitely worth encouraging, but I think there are really two things worth remembering. First of all, while it is undoubtedly healthy for everyone to go without tech sometimes, low tech worship isn't something that everyone is going to be drawn to. Some people like the basic tech at least, a screen with lyrics, or more depending on your church. Second, and this intersects more closely with what I do, tech has enabled mission organizations to do things that we would have never dreamed of. It is easier for missionaries to keep track of, and stay in contact with supporters thanks to programs like TntMPD, people in ministry can collaborate easier and much more efficiently thanks to the cloud. We are able to be much more daring in where we send people overseas because of the ways that we can use things like VPN's with a growing number of devices to securely stay in contact while balancing safety. Translation of the Bible is greatly accelerated thanks to programs that can take what has been translated so far, and as progress continues make guesses regarding how the same words should be handled in other parts of the Bible. Some say we are within ten years of seeing the Great Commission fulfilled (for clarification by this I mean every people group reached in some way with the message of Christ) and without technology, we would not have made the strides we have made so far. I really thing that there needs to be a balance, and I think that this article asks many of the right questions regarding that balance.

 

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