Trevor McKendrick is an atheist who wrote one of the top-selling Bible apps for iOS. A former Mormon, McKendrick saw an unserved niche market on the App Store and created a Spanish audio Bible to fill it. Now he’s banking over $100,000 per year selling the app. He compares the Bible to Harry Potter and describes Christians as people who learn the spells in the book and try to use them to heal their children. He compares them to people who teach The Lord of the Rings as real history.
Does it make any difference whether or not the people who create the products you use for Bible study agree with the materials they publish?
When I started writing Bible software in 1988 there were very few other products on the market. I purchased the King James Bible from Public Brand Software, a distributor of freeware and shareware programs for MS-DOS. While browsing their catalog (paper catalog — this was before the Web) I saw a Bible program called WordWorker and picked up a copy of that, too.
WordWorker was pretty impressive compared to other programs available at the time. My problem with it was that the programmer who wrote it was associated with The Way International, which denies key teachings of historic Christianity and adds a few of their own. They encourage severing ties with family and friends and living with other “believers” instead, which many argue qualifies them as a “cult”.
Coincidentally I had been unsuccessfully recruited by a member of The Way while in college. Noticing a strange-looking guy observing me playing pinball at the student union, I struck up a conversation and bought him a couple games (he had never played pinball). He invited me to join his “twig fellowship”. As a brand new Christian with very little foundation in the Bible, I struggled with figuring out if this was God’s direction or not. Fortunately I dodged that bullet, and got involved with a local church that had a strong emphasis on the Bible and Bible study, which is what eventually led me into developing Bible software.
It was difficult to get excited about using WordWorker because I felt like I was supporting a cult. Even if it coincidentally met my needs, it was hard to recommend to others or even use enthusiastically because I knew where it came from. One benefit of using Bible software that comes from a person with whom you share a common faith is that you don’t have to feel guilty about supporting something with which you disagree. You and I may not agree on every fine point of doctrine, and we may not share a common worship style preference, but I bet we’re closer to agreeing with each other on the fundamentals of the faith than you would be with an atheist.
I originally wrote my Bible study software as a tool for myself to use. Its features were designed to meet my needs, which I obviously knew well. I didn’t have to do any research to figure out what people who read the Bible wanted; I wrote what I wanted.
I took my Bible program (QuickVerse) to Parsons Technology in 1988, where, over the next ten years, I employed a couple dozen different programmers. Not all of them were practicing Christians, but they were good programmers. Jeff Wheeler (who would later leave Parsons with me to start Laridian) and I led the development of the program. Both of us were Bible-believing Christians who were not just developers, but users of the program.
Having real Christians write your Bible study app guarantees that it is designed to meet the needs of someone who really studies the Bible.
Parsons Technology was not a “Christian company”. It was a plain-old software company that happened to have a Church Software Division that published church management and Bible study software. Parsons was eventually purchased by Intuit (1994), which sold us to Broderbund (1997), which was purchased by The Learning Company (1998), which was purchased by Mattel (1999), which sold the Church Software Division to a dormant company that was rumored to have previously been a booking agency for Las Vegas acts (2000). During those years we were faced with a number of demands from our pagan overlords that compromised the quality of QuickVerse. They saw “unserved niches” on store shelves and wanted us to create products that were just old versions of QuickVerse with a new cover. They weren’t interested in meeting needs, but in making money.
This was the final straw for me. When it got to where creating Bible software was about duping people into buying old versions of our program at a cheap price because BestBuy or Costco was looking for 25-cent CD-ROMs to fill an end-cap, I bailed out and started Laridian in 1998.
Our goal has always been to focus on our customers and our product, not on creating a company to sell to the highest bidder. The features and reference materials you see in PocketBible come from customer feedback (and from our own needs as our product’s first customers). We bristle at doing things like renaming our product “@Bible” so that it pops up first in alphabetic search results on the App Store, or calling our program “Bible App” to cause it to come up first when you do a generic search for a Bible app, or seeding the store with identical products, all with different names, so it appears more often in your search results. This is what marketeers do to trick people into buying shoddy products. We aim for letting the quality and usability of our apps speak for themselves.
So another benefit of having real Christians write your Bible study app is that they’re not just seeing you as a rube who will spend their hard-earned money on a quickly thrown-together, shallow product, but rather they are committed to creating not just one download but an ecosystem of products that will meet your Bible study needs not only today, but for years to come.
I don’t have a doctrinal test for people with whom I do business, but I expect my Bible study materials to come from people who are as firmly committed to the Bible as I am. It’s not that they’re the only ones who I can trust to create useful products, but it is at least more likely that they’re doing a better job.