Relevant Leader, March/April 2005, pp. 13-14
By Winn Collier
With Google’s recent announcement of its library project, grabbing volumes from the world’s best research libraries such as Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan and Oxford, the trend toward electronic media is breaking old boundaries. John Battelle, professor at UC-Berkeley, is eager about the dramatic new possibilities. “People will find books they never knew existed,” Battelle said.
An electronic transformation is also taking place with the theological resources available in software packages. Theological study is gradually morphing from a scribal effort pouring over the printed page to a digital effort cradling a laptop. This is not the say that books gone digital will replace the warm experience of fondling the bent pages of a favorite title. As any book lover will tell you, this just isn’t going to happen.
Certainly, some are quite put off by the advancements of electronic media. The title of Sven Birkert’s tome, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, reveals his concern. He believes the medium should be avoided, as if digital is evil.
The reality I see is far different. For certain sorts of books (and I would put theological resources in this category), the potential offered with the emerging software applications for biblical study is extraordinary. The benefits are numerous. As a pastor whose library shelves need a visit for TLC’s Clean Sweep, I am in desperate need of breathing room. Just from the software titles I received to review for this article, enabling me to convert some of my reference works from hardback to digitalback, I have freed up enough shelf space to consider adding knickknacks to my bookshelf décor. I am considering Hummels, or perhaps vintage Smurfs.
Economics provides another benefit. For instance, with Logos’ top-line product, the savings is roughly $7,000 when compared to purchasing the same volumes in standard format. With digital, you get more bang for your buck.
The most obvious benefit is the instant access of such wide-ranging sources and tools. With a few clicks, I can read a Church father, tear into a biblical passage with a world-renowned scholar or parse Hebrew verbs (and few joys surpass parsing those Hebrew verbs). And it is portable, snugly stored in my laptop.
To get a taste for what is available, I have surveyed the field to offer an introduction to a few of the best digital theological resources on the market. Read with care. You might feel compelled to add a few to your wish list.
The backbone of any venture into the new horizon of theological study is a base software system offering the necessary Bible versions, language tools, dictionaries and foundational reference works. There is none better than the package Logos has put together. Logos is billed as the “largest digital library,” and they aren’t dishing hyperbole.
The base package for ministry leaders is the Pastor’s Library ($299). It provides the essential reference resources needed for digging into the meat of Scripture. The information is so vast it can be overwhelming for the newbie. However, Logos has created an opening portal that is intuitive, crisp and provides clear direction for researching any passage or topic. Type in a Scripture reference, and a virtual library appears, offering links to commentaries, maps, word studies and potential associated themes to encourage your study in directions you might never have imagined.
With its new Series X collection, graphically driven tools have been added, giving the sometimes sterile and counter-intuitive world of textual research a warm tug in the human direction. One of the more colorful (and helpful) of these improvements is the “Bible version rivers,” graphing multiple translations and showing where the divergence appears in order to provide interesting places to dig deeper.
If studying the original languages is your passion, Logos’ high-end editions (priced between $399 and $999) will astound with their breadth and integration. For instance, in the Greek text is a right-click menu linking individual words with dictionary entries, lexical tools and a list of passages where the same word appears. Joe Desloge, professor at Gordon Conwell, said he knows “of no other software available with as much recourse as this program.” I would have to agree.
For those interested in more technical and critical study of the biblical text, the best digital commentary set is the Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson $749). This is a 58-volume beast dishing up some of the most carefully nuance and exacting work available in modern biblical scholarship. With Bruce Metzger among the editors, the quality of theological acumen is indicated. Individually, a number of these titles are considered among the best commentaries for their respective biblical book. While the editorial direction of the set is touted as evangelical, it is very ecumenical, even pushing the evangelical boundaries at times. It has wide respect across many traditions.
One powerful feature is its seamless integration into the Logos platform. When you search any passage on topic in Logos, the particular Word Biblical Commentary volume appears where associated information can be found. If you have ever sat beneath a pile of books, perplexed by where to find that source you just knew was there (somewhere), this feature will be you dream come true. Even better is how different resources can be linked. If I open a Bible version screen in Logos and then link it to a screen with a Word commentary, they will scroll simultaneously. As I jump around in one, the other jumps with me. Amazing.
InterVarsity Press offers a number of incredibly valuable theological reference works. Its Dictionary of Biblical Imagery is an encyclopedia of the literary images, metaphors and motifs in Scripture. The Bible Background Commentary offers a fascinating survey of the cultural, political and historical undercurrents behind the biblical text. The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters provides a catalog of the far-ranging subjects and interests of the Apostle Paul, gathering information that would previously have taken hours to collect.
These volumes and 14 more are now available digitally with the Essential IVP Reference Collection (IVP, $144). As far as a collection of random resources, this collection seems to be the best available. This resource also integrates fully with Logos, providing another seamless tool as well as the ability to jump between the books and the Scripture. Further, within each resource, key words are hot-linked so you can flip between pages with ease.
Whatever you technological comfort level, there is an electronic resource to aid your study of Scripture. Welcome to the digital age.
© 2005 by Relevant Leader and Relevant Network. Used by permission.