Silicon Valley, meet the Sermon on the Mount.
A new app lets people share inspirational images online, but instead of trending hashtags they can peg them to their favorite Bible verses.
Instead, users sign into a virtual fellowship, uploading their own photos and videos and tagging them with related verses, searching Scripture to see other users' photos and sharing stories in small groups or on their own news feeds.
"What we want for the Bible is to turn it back into a big table where everyone feels like they can be welcome," co-founder Andrew Breitenberg says. "If you are a human being, you qualify—you don’t have to be a Christian to read the Bible."
Breitenberg founded Parallel with his brother Chris. The brothers who grew up in Princeton, N.J., and who now live in Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. Andrew, 36, is a graduate of Swarthmore and spent the last six years doing street art and graffiti in Cape Town. Chris, 33, is a graduate of Davidson and has worked at a peace-building nonprofit and spent time traveling Asia.
Both have explored evangelical and Eastern Christian traditions, and their spiritual influences include French mystic and activist Simone Weil, American Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the British theologian C.S. Lewis, beloved by evangelicals worldwide. For the past six months, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, has been their mentor.
Their core idea is the theological principle that the Bible is inherently more than a book, it is a shared experience. Biblical texts began as oral traditions, and only became bound in one cohesive, written form after hundreds of years. The modern idea that the Bible is a just book with a beginning, middle and end, misses the diverse cultural contexts that it contains, as well as the way that people have interacted with those stories over the centuries and the participation that is possible in the Bible's stories today.
"Ultimately faith is not individual but communal with God and the people around you," says Chris. "We are just shortening that leap."
Parallel Bible is currently free. The Breitenberg brothers do not believe in putting ads or commercials in the middle of the Bible, and their goal is to create the new community first and monetize later. That strategy, they say, has so far not deterred investors. Their team is small—right now they have just one developer—and their startup budget for the past two years was about $100,000. It is currently only available for iTunes (an Android version is in the works) and they have had about 1,000 downloads. But, as Andrew says, this is just the beginning. "You can't build something that looks like Instagram overnight."
Beyond the development process however, the app signals a new evangelism, the communal sharing of stories rather than overt proselytization. And the founders are thinking big. "It literally could be the next Bible that the world uses," says Andrew.