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www.Challies.com 10/19/2006

Also found in Journal of Modern Ministry, edited by Dr. Jay Adams and available at Timeless Texts

Review - Logos Bible Software

By Tim Challies

Though I am still relatively young, I am old enough to remember libraries that relied upon card catalogs. In the days before computers were used to index and organize nearly everything, research was often quite difficult. The primary difficulty researchers faced was finding sufficient resources, often a long and onerous task that involved flipping through endless drawers filled with little paper cards. How times have changed. Experience shows that the greater difficulty today is in managing the vast quantities of information so readily available to us. I have often heard it said that an average, weekday edition of a major newspaper such as the New York Times contains more information than an eighteenth-century American would have encountered in a lifetime. I am inclined to believe this. This massive influx of information is surely not bad, but it does pose a unique challenge to a researcher, or a pastor for that matter.

Bible software has proven exceedingly beneficial to pastors and scholars as they engage in their work of studying, interpreting and expositing Scripture. There is a wide and diverse variety of such software available today, ranging from scaled-down packages resting on the shelves of Wal-Mart, to full-featured, high-priced packages available only online. There are at least two variables that must be considered when evaluating such software. The first variable relates to the contents - the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of the resources included with the software. A package that contains many excellent resources relevant to the task of a pastor will clearly hold the edge over a package that contains fewer resources and ones that are of lesser quality. The second variable relates to the software's usability - the ease with which the software can organize and display this content. If a pastor is unable to easily and adequately access resources, no matter how varied and excellent, they are of little use to him.

Among the leaders in this industry is Logos Bible Software (web site) which has recently introduced the latest generation of their Bible software, Logos Bible Software 3. Created to be faster and easier to use than ever before, it is built upon the Libronix Digital Library System, a technology developed by Logos to integrate and organize digital libraries of books and interactive study tools. It is important here to note that Logos Bible Software is more than simply Bible study software, but is a tool for managing and organizing a collection of digital resources. The software's capabilities, as we will soon see, go far beyond Bible study tools.

There are seven packages available in the new line, ranging from the Christian Home Library, which retails for $149 and is intended primarily for personal Bible study, all the way to the Scholar's Library: Gold, which costs almost ten times as much and contains a vast array of resources sure to please even the most serious student of the Bible's original languages. As is true with most hardware or software purchases, it is best for a prospective buyer to purchase the highest package he can afford, for with each successive package the number of resources increases exponentially. The various packages differ not in the program at the heart of Logos, but in the tools and resources included. While the Leader's Library was compiled to meet the specific requirements of pastors, the Scholar's Library: Silver, which weighs in at just under $1000, has proven to be the most popular option for those in the ministry. It is this software that I would like to review under the two variables already discussed.

Contents

The Scholar's Library: Silver, which will form the basis for this review, contains more than 520 titles - far too many to list. It includes multitudes of English and interlinear translations of the Bible, among them the NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV, NET, HCSB, ASV, RSV, NRSV, NCV, NKJV, and several editions of the KJV. It even includes the excellent new ESV English-Greek and English-Hebrew reverse interlinears which, at the time of writing this review, are not yet available in printed format. Packaged with these are a long list of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, lexicons and grammars. Among the more notable commentary sets are Keil & Delitzsch (10 volumes), Matthew Henry (Complete & Unabridged), The Pulpit Commentary (77 volumes), New American Commentary (31 volumes) and Wiersbe's Bible Exposition Commentary (23 volumes). And, of course, it contains many books and reference tools designed specifically for the studious pastor. There are 37 volumes of the translated writings of the Early Church Fathers, Strong's and Hodge's systematic theologies, books of illustrations and quotations, maps, Bible study training, devotionals and resources for small groups. Resources for studying and interacting with the original languages are many and varied, ranging from Van Voorst's Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary to phrase marker analysis and a Glossary of Morpho-Syntatic Database Terminology. The list is impressive and represents the foundation of a solid study library, though unfortunately the package does not appear to contain a thorough, Reformed commentary set (such as Baker's New Testament Commentary set by Kistemaker and Hendriksen). That set, or another like it, would no doubt be a worthwhile additional expenditure. Still, the library included in Scholar's Library: Silver would cost many thousands of dollars and require several bookcases were they to be purchased in printed form.

Beyond the books included with this package is a vast number of others available for purchase individually or in packages, both from Logos and from third-party vendors. For example, the MacArthur Lifeworks and commentary package, including 20 commentaries along with books, study guides and the MacArthur Study Bible is available for $230, far less than it would cost to purchase these items individually in printed format. Kistemaker and Hendriksen can be had for under $100, significantly less than in printed format, and Boice's 27 volumes of Expositional Commentaries are available for $350. One can purchase the works of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Pink, Sproul, Adams and almost any other notable pastor or theologian. The Theological Journal Library Volumes, including the complete catalog of many of the best theological journals (Master's Seminary Journal, Westminster Theological Journal, Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, etc), is an incredible value at under $100. Any book or series that garners sufficient interest on the Logos web site will be considered for addition to the library. There are many themed packages available, such as the 30 volume Biblical Counseling Library or the 18 volume Preaching & Leadership Collection. New products are added constantly, ensuring that there will be no end to the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of materials available. With the new Personal Book Builder, a community of Logos users have begun to freely distribute other excellent resources, such as the works of Jonathan Edwards and other prominent theologians. It is widely accepted that Logos has no equal when it comes to the availability of content. This is important, for individual users will find that their experience with this product becomes increasingly positive as they add resources to it.

Usability

As I have indicated, the primary challenge of the information age is not collecting resources as much as it is searching and bringing order to those resources. A program needs to be able to search a vast amount of data and then present information in a way that is both simple and organized. A piece of software that merely collects information is of little use if it cannot present it in a useful, intuitive way. This is no small task. Thankfully, the creators of Logos, responding to mountains of feedback from its users, have made great strides in this area.

After opening the software, the user will be presented with a screen, Google-like in its simplicity, offering three options: Study Passage, Study Word and Study Topic. These three searches encapsulate the great majority of searches a person would care to make and serve as a quick and simple way of working progressively into the great volume of resources and information available. A search in any of these areas presents common and highly-relevant feedback with the option to search far beyond the surface. Tucked beneath these primary options are several expandable secondary options which include daily devotionals, a prayer journal, and quick access to the user's library.

Entering a book, chapter or verse in the Study Passage area will provide an immediate dropdown list representing major themes from that passage. For example, typing "Romans 5" results in a dropdown list providing quick links to "Peace with God Through Faith (Romans 5:1-11)," "Death in Adam, Life in Christ (Romans 5:12-21)" and so on. A search in any of the areas sends the software immediately sorting through the available resources. In only a few moments the user will be presented with a screen displaying links to information in a short list of favored Scripture translations, commentaries and dictionaries. In-depth searches through the entire library are only one click away. Languages can be toggled between English and the original with the click of a button while differences between English translations can be glimpsed immediately and visually in cluster diagrams. A sentence diagramming utility is available for those who are serious about mining the depths of the original languages while a helpful graphic compares the passage in several translations and charts the variations, immediately identifying those areas which have generated the greatest amount of variance. Literary typing, cross references, a list of important words, relevant hymns, maps and topics round out the report.

Entering a word in the Word Study area provides a dictionary definition, and a list of keylinks to dictionaries, lexicons and word study resources. It also presents an exceedingly helpful diagram of the words roots in both Greek and Hebrew and a list of the word's usage in a concordance. As always, deeper searches are only a click away. Of course a person could also enter a Greek word in the Word Study area. Doing so provides an exceptionally useful report presenting links to a variety of dictionaries and lexicons, a list of grammatical relationships, a diagram plotting how the word has been translated, a list of the uses of that word in the New Testament, and a list of the uses of that word in the Septuagint. There is even an audio guide available which will pronounce the word. Many more options are available by clicking the links that are always present.

Entering a term in the Study Topic area leads to a quick list of related entries taken from a variety of Bible dictionaries. A search through the rest of the library will lead to a list of references to the topic from any of the other resources, whether commentaries, reference titles or books.

The user interface within Logos is highly customizable. A Bible can be quickly and easily linked to a commentary on one side of the screen so it will scroll automatically as a person reads through a section of Scripture. Many windows can be opened concurrently, with simple tabs available to cycle through them. Text can be easily copied and pasted from Logos into a word processor. The user can define collections of books and resources and set the program to search only particular collections. He can take notes on any passage of the Bible, can highlight as much or as little as he wishes, and even insert visual markings in the text. There are too many options to list.

For a program boasting such volume of information and with so many options available, Logos is surprisingly easy to use. Still, because the software can seem intimidating, Logos includes a brief but helpful video tutorial that will guide a user through the basic tasks. Further training, either through a Camp Logos seminar or through Morris Proctor video seminars, can prove highly beneficial in ensuring that a user is able to access and enjoy the advanced features of the program. While even a novice can use the program to great effect, a little training will surely go a long way. I would recommend pursuing at least some education, either formal or with the help of someone familiar with the software.

While Logos does not require a state-of-the-art computer, it is a beefy program and will require a system with at least a high-end Pentium III processor and 128 megabytes of memory. Practically, though, a system significantly more powerful than the minimum specifications will be required to run advanced searches in a timely fashion. The speed of the processor and the availability of RAM will prove the most important factors in increasing performance. Because plenty of hard drive space will be required, especially for some of the more advanced packages, a user will want to count on setting aside at least 3 gigabytes on the hard drive. A screen with a resolution of 1024 x 768 will make for easy reading, especially if it is 17 inches or larger.

Overall, I was impressed with the advances Logos has made since even Series X, the prior version of the software. The feedback of those who use the software has clearly proven invaluable in streamlining workflow, in making searches more relevant and useful, and in ensuring the workspace is free of clutter.

Conclusion

Not every pastor can adapt to the digital age and not every pastor wishes to. Pastors have been effective at their calling for many centuries without the benefit of software libraries. Those who have been in the ministry for many years and who have accumulated a significant research library will no doubt find themselves lost without their favorite commentary sets and their well-worn concordances. Others will be unable to read significant texts from the glare of a computer screen. For these people, a software solution may prove confusing or ineffective. And this is no cause for shame, for ultimately, the decision to transition a library to electronic format will be a matter of personal preference.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of software solutions will be to those who are still building their libraries or those who wish to reduce their libraries. In writing this review I spoke to students who have relied on Logos to help them create excellent, cost-effective pastoral libraries. I spoke also to a pastor who has purchased electronic copies of several commentary sets so he can send his printed copies to other pastors whose libraries were lost in Hurricane Katrina. For such people it seems that it is becoming increasingly important and beneficial to invest in this type of software. There are a host of benefits in doing so. A digital library such as Logos allows resources to be searched with far greater speed and in far greater depth than with printed books. New resources can be added easily, regularly and for less than the cost of printed material. Resources offer a level of interactivity that simply cannot be duplicated in the printed word, for a single click of a mouse can instantaneously take a person from a Bible to a commentary, dictionary, or lexicon. A library containing hundreds or thousands of volumes can be transported as easily as a laptop computer. But surely the greatest benefit is in the ability to instantly search a vast number of resources and be presented with a clean, effective and intuitive results. Imagine if you could instantly search for a single Bible verse in the hundreds or thousands of books on your bookshelves. Such a task would represent a monumental undertaking. But with Logos, this is but a few clicks and a few seconds away. Logos likens their product to a research assistant who has both read and memorized every book in your library and who is always available to compile a detailed report on any word, topic or passage, with sticky notes to mark the page and paragraph in dozens of varied volumes containing information relevant to any query. Such a metaphor is not too far off the mark.

Bible software is an excellent means to maximizing a pastor's study library and study time. Logos offers incredible value in both content and functionality. While not an insignificant investment, it will surely prove a valuable one.

In a later review I hope to examine some of the resources available to Logos users and show how these resources can prove valuable to any pastor.

© 2006 Used by permission.