The Great Refactoring of 2020

Hi friends, I just synthesized my learnings from 2020 in this post. This is one place you’ll see how the different threads of CDX connect into a possible vision for the future :slight_smile:

There’s an outline so you can jump to the sections that interest you. I’d love to hear your questions, ideas and feedback!


I loved your description of what a “spatial software” version of the Bible might look like. It painted a vivid picture in my head I wanted to share; even though I think it is much different from what you were actually proposing.

I pictured a grand library built with lofty curved ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. The floor is wide and very very long; it is marble with the text of the bible edged into the stone. Along the sides of this hall are tall bookshelves with books filled with the wisdom of the saints throughout history; each shelf containing books, excerpts, commentaries and sermons which illuminate the nearby scripture. At the end of each bookshelf is a large marble pillar supporting the roof with many other scriptures engraved upon it which reference or shadow the scripture on the floor. Small placards to the side note the chapter and verse numbers as well as any footnotes. Within the hall are Christians standing on and immersing themselves in the word of God. They are either quietly reflecting or are discussing the nearby text with someone close by. Sometimes someone will get up and preach on or explain a text. Those surrounding them can encourage them louder or hush them quieter so more or less people can hear them. Those who wish to read that text in silence or join a different discussion can move through the bookshelves to another identical grand hall running in parallel. The library contains as many of these grand halls as needed for those who are within at any given time. The stain glass, artwork, texts, engravings, signs, architecture, etc all referencing and pointing to the central scripture running along the floor; adding awe to the viewer for the fullness of God’s providence and wisdom as well as the witness of the Church through all time and all places and all languages.


What beautiful imagery!!!

The thing is, why CAN’T we employ the technologies available to us to convey and share ideas and images like this? I imagine the power of replicating cathedrals and sacred sites in VR. Not to replace the physical locations but share them with more people all over the world. It feels “impossible” but why wouldn’t the church be a group to celebrate and support technology to grow in that direction?

Or maybe it’s a text-based adventure in the style of old DOS games. There’s a whole slice of gaming culture that would GO CRAZY for well-executed adventures like that.

Wow, that actually really inspired me and got me fired up haha! I hope you’ll share more as God inspires you. Is this something you would ever love to see in VR? Or maybe some other medium?

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I love the vision @jonathansanford and imagine if we could physically build such a space!

One side note related to the spatial software concept. I graphed out the books of the Bible by number of words:

They look kind of like mountains! Who wants to hike the “enchantments” of Scripture? :wink:

It was interesting the feel the “weight” of the old testament this way and to clearly see similarities between books in their length and location. We’re applying some of these concepts to the concept art/prototypes right now. I’m noodling on your vision as well to see what could make sense in the infinite canvas space we were working with.

Susan, I was reminded when talking to Chris of Exodus 36:1-7 where God stirs the hearts of his people to apply their skill and their possessions to build the tabernacle. I don’t think such a vision is “impossible”; especially with the great and generous God we serve. Much greater though than we can accomplish through our own individual efforts.

Chris, as I thought more about my picture and about using spatial / visual cues to help orient where you are within the greater text I came to a similar idea. What if anywhere the word “tree” was in the Bible there was a beautiful tree next to? What if the story of the Ten Commandments wound itself around a great mountain? Or if the Red Sea parted for the story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt? And what if you could “fly” to zoom out to survey the landscape and descend back into the hall where you wanted to read? Care would need to be taken that the theatrics don’t distract from the text itself but done right could help orient and inspire participants. I think the goal would be awe for God and His word; and a deeper understanding therein.

Something like the Bible Project might be a good resource or inspiration (they have a whole resource on trees in the Bible). I am also trying to track down a visual from my pastor on how the books of the OT fit together historically that might be a good guiding principle for the organization of halls.

Oh, I agree! And yes, I’ve been looking through the Bible Project’s resources a lot lately. They are doing some really beautiful and innovative work.

Excuse my poor drawing skills; just getting some more images / thoughts out on what this could look like. There could be doors with related scriptures on them which teleport to the respective hall for that scripture. There could be desks which you can collect scripture and texts and other media on as a form of organizing your personal or group notes which can be saved and recalled at any of the desks throughout the library. There could be windows looking out on landmarks which somehow tie into the general section of scripture you are in (per my previous comment). I was picturing avatars as circle heads with wispy incorporeal bodies.

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How does audio play into this? Can we bring in soft music or scripture reading (e.g. what the Dwell app provides)? Users should have control on how much environmental, social and media volume they receive (but how to not make that clunky?). We should probably have visual cues on avatars to communicate how much they can hear their environment so other users don’t try talking to someone who can’t hear them (e.g. by showing headphones on their avatar). Maybe volume control can be a combination of a mute switch and smart (directional?) audio mixing based on focus (you hear more of what you are looking at).

As for desks; we would need settings to control who can edit or even view the content you are curating on a desk. Is it personal or for a group? Can others outside you / the group see your content or not? Again visual cues could be helpful to indicate an avatar is viewing something you can’t also see (e.g. sunglasses?).

These are all great ideas. Jonathan, I wonder if you’d mind if I copy/paste these posts to a new “Development” thread? I think this is an idea we could legitimately develop or at least get developers talking about and it will be clearer if it has its own thread (and be easier for me to direct Twitter/Facebook traffic here).

Good idea. Feel free to start a new thread and copy / paste as you see fit.

Do we have a name for this concept? Is it the “medieval library” that we might use as the name for a new thread?

Tying in the thoughts from my article and yours, I think there’s something to be said for being “embodied” in a virtual space, whether its in the VR style of “Second Life” or the cartoon style of “Among Us” or even Google maps marker of one’s location. It also makes me think about how people move in the virtual space? Is it the mouse cursor, a touch on a location, keyboard/wasd, eye tracking, something else? And is sound projected into the space or is it an ambient property of the environment too?

I agree; embodiment is crucial regardless of how abstract, cartoony or “real” the environment is. I think spatial audio (you hear louder / closer things more) is also a huge way to enable sub conversations and atmosphere.

As for naming I don’t like “medieval” because that limits the inspiration to only one time period. “Grand Library” or “Grand Library of the Bible” is more what I was thinking since the focus is on provoking awe in the Creator through His word and the works of His people throughout time.

As for movement, and even for the fidelity with which the virtual library is presented (e.g. 2D vs 3D vs VR, lofi vs hifi), I think it can be open to whatever the user is comfortable with and their platform supports. I really like movement controls of The Witness for iOS; touch where you want to go (even far away) and it walks you there at a normal (or running) pace. For other platforms you can also use wasd or controller to move. I can see this extended even more to typing in a verse reference (e.g. John 3:16) and your avatar automatically finding a path and walking there. This would help convey the size of scripture and even sometimes take you through unexpected unrelated scripture on the way to your destination.

How can a new layout of the Bible in two or three dimensions (instead of just one) allow for new insight into the word? I am reminded of Professor Horner’s Bible Reading Plan which interleaves passages from all over the Bible into your reading each day in an ever changing pattern. I have personally found it to be an excellent way to appreciate the breadth of the story of the Bible because it lets scripture enlighten scripture in new and fresh ways. Another example of this concept is “The Story” by Max Lucado which I have not read but seems to be a condensed Bible which pieces passages of scripture together to tell the grand story of the Bible in a shorter read. How can we use creativity like this to enable new insight into and appreciation for the word of God (without overshadowing the word itself of course)?

I like that idea of novel juxtapositions of Scripture! Here’s one concept we’re working on where Scripture is laid out in 2d and you can navigate it as if you were in Google Maps. If you zoom out you see more of the Bible, if you zoom in you can read the text. And you can navigate through the Bible (maybe like Horner’s system) as a series of Points of Interest on the map, frame by frame.

On the map we can show connections between Scripture at a high level via arcs that users’ can click on and traverse (maybe like GitHub’s beautiful globe visualization).

And to support the parallel reading of Scripture, texts could move around to “make space” for a few snippets of other passages to appear side by side with what is in the user’s focus.

I have been thinking lately on what some different use cases or modes might be for interacting with this digital space. Here is what I have come up with so far:

  1. Casual interaction - user has 5-15 minutes and just wants to explore / look something up quick. This might be because they are bored or just want to quickly reference something.
  2. Deep personal interaction - user intentionally sits down to engage with the experience for their personal Bible study for an extended period (30+ minutes)
  3. Long exploration / discovery - user sits down for a longer (30+ minutes) period for unstructured exploration discovery of new content / conversations. This is likely social.
  4. Scheduled group time - user logs in at a predetermined time to meet with a group either for group study / instruction / church or for just hanging out together.
  5. Coffee shop - user is present in but not directly interacting with the space; maybe while working or doing something else. They can hear and see what is going on but it is on the periphery for them (maybe on a second screen or a sidebar). Similar to a coffee shop it provides background noise can also provide a sense of side by side work / spontaneous interaction commonly found in an office setting. It allows the user to passively soak in the word (maybe the background noise includes a recording of someone reading the word) and be present with other believers even in a secular work setting.

These are great contexts Jonathan! @jodie do you feel like our mockups are able to test these kinds of ideas?

Hey Chris. Someone suggested I read your piece on the Great Refactoring. Finally got around to it. Love your thoughts and ideas.

I’ve been thinking about issues of the Church for some time. Seems like it might be helpful to evaluate the impact of 2020 and COVID in part through the lens of how people view the church, and the strategies churches have adopted for reaching people. For example, church growth strategies have dominated the space for some time, yet Gallup just announced church membership falls below the majority for the first time. Tells me that too many churches have not been addressing the true needs of people.

The ones I talk to desire relationships and true community. I just wonder if we focused a little more on the interpersonal components and relationality of Jesus, and less on pure entertainment, if we would be seeing less degradation.

Curious about your thoughts on this…even though it may be a bit off topic from what you wrote about.

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Great to have your thoughts Curt! I just read a Facebook post this morning that aligns with your thinking.

I think organizations have a hard time accepting the fact that authentic relationships and true community cannot be artificially constructed through church programs, small groups, Sunday productions, educational curriculum, etc.

Natural relationships tend to form around familial and geographical bonds. Task-oriented relationships form around shared goals. Interest-based relationships form around shared hobbies and experiences. Fan-based relationships grow around celebrity personalities. Ideologically-oriented relationships form around shared ideas and beliefs. There are other foci and different churches reflect a different selection of foci to grow community.

But I think Christians have a far deeper basis for relationships and community that is often overlooked and worth pondering at length: the mystical communion of saints in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. 1 John 1 comes to mind:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

Regardless of modern church membership/attendance or programmatic adherence, each person who has faith in Christ is continually immersed in the authentic fellowship of the Father and the Son and every other believer across time and space through the Holy Spirit.

That’s incredible!

So instead of presenting itself as the source of life-changing programs or even loving relationships and true community to meet people’s needs–which has resulted in deep hurt and disappointment from failed promises–institutional churches can view their primary vocation as witnessing.

The local church isn’t so much promising to meet your need for community as it is testifying to you that the true friendship and loving community you deeply long for exists in Jesus Christ made possible through his death and Resurrection. It testifies that you belong to this community through faith in Jesus and have immediate and continual access to it through the Holy Spirit.

In this way, the church doesn’t “overpromise and underdeliver”–rather it “underpromises and overdelivers”.

Why? Because as communities of believers are reminded of their union with one another in Christ and their shared inheritance in the Kingdom of God, it produces the fruit of love for one another, which gives people a foretaste of that community they so deeply long for.

Chris, thanks. Lot’s here!

I think there’s more to the church’s vocation than witnessing. What if the church was a catalyst to community and relationships. When I look at the first century church that’s what I see. Yes, they reached into the community and people came to faith. But the principle way they did it seems to be through community and providing for the needs of people.

I certainly agree that the church has missed it in many of these areas–not just in overpromising and underdelivering, but in completely failing to recognize its role in spiritual community and helping people understand what it means to live a dependent life, a life WITH God, and not just FOR him, a life of discernment in what God is doing in my life and heart.

I think if the church did what you described at the end–reflected true LOVE for others and for God–people wouldn’t be able to stay away because they DO deeply long for that reflection of who Christ is.

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