God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
- Paul Simon, Slip Sliding Away
I’ve been holding back from blogging recently; there’ve been a few fires burning in the mission for a while, and while adding fuel would make me feel better it wouldn’t help anyone else. But one thing that I have really been dwelling a lot on is the third commandment:
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.
לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא
What does this mean? Observant Jews extended the commandment to include a ban on all uses of God’s name (“putting a fence around the law”), and so it’s often thought of as being a prohibition against saying “God” or “YHWH” for trivial purposes. But
נָשָׂא שֵׁם does not mean to utter the name (נָשָׂא never has this meaning), but in all the passages in which it has been so rendered it retains its proper meaning, “to take up, life up, raise;” e.g., to take up or raise (begin) a proverb (Num. 23:7; Job 27:1), to lift up a song (Ps. 81:3), or a prayer (Isa. 37:4).
- C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament
Names signified identity and authority. When we are instructed to pray in the name of Jesus, that means to speak with the full authority of Jesus, as if Jesus were speaking himself. And the word שָׁוְא, “vanity”, is used for both meaningless or pointless things and also false and delusional things—in particular, false prophecy. (See Exek 12 and 13) And prophecy is speaking with the identity and authority of God.
So I think this commandment is much more about loose talk claiming God’s authority than it is about loose mentions of God’s name.
At various points during the unbloggable, I have noticed an amazing amount of loose talk claiming God’s authority. One can observe a process which men have handled and mishandled from end to end, and still someone will stand up at the end and say “this is the situation that God has given us.” I am sure you have seen Christians factionalising, scheming, and then either appointing or voting for leaders, before claiming “These are the ones that God has ordained.” And I want to shout, “And how, precisely, did God make that clear? Because it looks very much like you ordained it.”
Part of this is the inevitable result of the God’s-will-is-whatever-ended-up-happening theory of sovereignty that is so common within contemporary Christianity; but I think there is more to it than that.
There is, psychologically, a need for safety and understanding in the midst of confusing times; people want to feel that there is a purpose and a meaning to the chaos they are experiencing and want to bring something positive out of that chaos, and the name they give to that purpose is “God’s will.” But in this sense, loose talk claiming God’s authority is actually idolatry, because it seeks safety in comfortable explanations about God, rather than in God himself. To say that God is with us through the earthquake is an expression of hope; to say that God sent the earthquake is an expression of resignation.
There is also the terrible temptation of using authority claims to shore up our own identity, and taking the name of God is the ultimate appeal to authority. This is also idolatry. At the root of all spiritual abuse is a leader who claims that he (and it normally is a “he”) is acting with the authority of God, and therefore that any challenge to his authority is actually insubordination to God’s will. Similarly, once someone claims “this is what God has ordained for us,” any attempt to change, dispute or improve the situation is viewed negatively; and so this too is an expression of resignation rather than hope. It removes the potential that God might have wanted something different.
One of the major themes in Kosuke Koyama’s theology is that the Old Testament is a treatise against idolatry. He talks about obvious gods and the non-obvious God. The Israelites were sent forty years between Egypt and the promised land to teach them to depend on a non-obvious God who would lead them day by day through the midst of wilderness. They failed; they preferred the safety and security of the obvious god of a gold idol. Knowing the temptation we humans have towards preferring the obvious, God instituted many commandments against idolatry in order to encourage his people to trust in Him alone.
The third commandment is one such. It is a call to avoid claiming the authority of God for our human pronouncements, to avoid wrapping up our fears and our ambitions in a garment of incontrovertibility. It is a call to trust instead in the non-obvious God who would lead us through the wilderness, rather than the obvious god of our own explanations. It is a call to be more circumspect, more humble in our God-talk.
Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God,
for God is in heaven and you are on earth!
Therefore, let your words be few.
And I think I have already used way too many of my own.Subject tags: theologybiblerants
Mission work is full of military metaphors: we talk about “targeting” individuals, “mobilizing” workers for an “advance” on the “field”. Many organisations have realised that this kind of talk is deeply inappropriate, but it still remains perhaps because there is an underlying mindset which still thinks in those terms. In particular, mission in the age of the buster and boomer generations is still based on a command-and-control mentality.
The controlling assumption amongst older agencies is that new missionaries come to the field helpless, with no knowledge or experience, and sign up to the mission agency to await their marching orders. They need the help of the agency to get them where they feel God is calling them to be, and in exchange for that help, they willingly submit to the direction of the agency leadership. Even in decentralised and bottom-up organisations like my own, we take new recruits and tell them what to do. And this worked well in the past, when new missionaries were helpless with no knowledge or experience, and when missionaries were expected to stay on the field for their whole career and there would be time to develop their own ministry after an initial period of orientation and gaining mutual trust.
But these controlling assumptions are no longer true. The Internet means that younger generations of missionaries come to the field with much more knowledge and information about the country, the mission, and the work; access to international travel means that they may well have visited the field independently; shorter expected careers means that they are eager to get into ministry (read: independently) as soon as possible without “wasting time”.
So rather than expecting agencies to help them get into mission, they (quite rightly) see themselves as being in mission, and that means that the need they feel is for partnership rather than direction. They expect to be consulted, advised and coached. To put it crudely, they come expecting a travel agent and are surprised and disappointed to find they’re being told what to do.
Stuck in the middle, in Generation X, I can see boomers and millennials talk past each other because of these different expectations. Boomers think that millennials are uncommitted, overly independent, and unwilling to sacrifice and submit to authority; millennials think that boomers are slow, controlling, and expect others to fit into their organisational boxes. If agencies want to retain millennials—and if millennials want to continue to work with older agencies—both sides need awareness of these differing expectations, to communicate their own hidden assumptions, and show flexibility towards each other.Subject tags: theologymissiologygenerations
Coming from the programming world into mission, I’ve noticed that there are various concepts which are best practices in the technology sphere which also apply more widely to mission, or to organisational systems. Another one is the principle of Not Invented Here.
Putting it in organisational terms, when you have the opportunity to solve a problem, there are two ways you can do it: with internal resources, or external resources. When I’m in a bad mood with my organisation, they never get this right. If we decide to write our own training course, I think “Dear goodness, there are thousands of training courses in the world; is there really nothing suitable out there already?” Yet if someone comes in from outside to give a lecture on something, I think “Don’t we have anyone in house who knows about this?”
My personal irritability aside, there is a balance to be found here, and I think that most of the time we do go for the internal approach. We’re not, as an organisation, very good at networking, at using resources, at partnering with others, even when it would make a lot of sense. And so what we need to remember is
The person with the best answer to your question might not actually be within your organisation.
My feeling is the bigger the organisation, the more likely they are to reinvent wheels in-house and the less likely they are to look to external sources to solve their problems. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, in a bigger organisation, there is more of a feeling that the expertise must be there somewhere. If you’re doing a child protection policy and you’ve got a team of four people and none of them know anything about child protection, then you call in a specialist from outside; if you’ve got an organisation of two thousand people, well, one of them must know something about this.
Another reason is that the bigger the organisation, the more tempting it is to believe in your own uniqueness. Other people’s training courses may be all very well for their needs, but we are a beautiful and unique snowflake and nothing out there already can possibly meet all the requirements of our specific situation! So we develop our own. (I am partly tongue-in-cheek here because, after careful reflection and contemplating the alternatives—and in this case, there really aren’t any—I am in the process of writing our own in-house training course.)
The problem is that developing your own solution is costly in time and resources. In the programming world, it’s normally considered bad form to reinvent the wheel if there is a genuinely decent alternative already available. Just use the other guy’s code already! On the other hand, the downside of using the other guys answer is that it requires you to trust the other guy. Organisations, even Christian organisations, aren’t particularly good at trusting the other guy. Asking a question of an external domain expert might get you the answer you want within minutes—but it’s harder to prove that you’ve done the job well and done your due diligence. On the other hand, a committee of ten non-experts working on the problem for six months must come up with a good solution, because everyone can see that they’ve put so much more work into it; even better, by spreading the work around to a committee, the person asking the question doesn’t have to take responsibility for the answer. A much better way to tackle the problem—unless you actually care about getting the right answer.
But seriously, the person with the best answer to your question might not actually be within your organisation.Subject tags: technologyOrganisational Change
“Man is God appearing in the universe, appearing visibly in the midst of all he created. That changes the meaning of man, doesn’t it?
“I can see you Masai shaking your heads and saying, No! Man is not God. We know man, and he is filled with evil. He fights, he kills, he destroys, he does everything to separate others, and to separate himself from them.
“I say to you Masai: you have not known man, you have never seen a man. Creation is not yet finished. What you see is creation groaning and moaning even until now yearning to be finished and completed, to be the body of God.
“But suppose the fullness of time had come and the work of God was perfect, and there appeared a man who was perfectly a man, according to the plan of God, a man completely human. If, once upon a time, there was such a man who was so completely a man, so perfectly human, then there would be no other way to describe him than to say: this man is God-God appearing in the universe. Isn’t that so? Jesus was that man.
“Perhaps the really surprising thing that the man Jesus did in his lifetime was to show us, not only what God is, but what man is.”
- Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered
I’ve been thinking recently about key themes to teach Japanese Christians, particularly thinking about the pre-Christian Japanese worldview. For instance, when I preach a sermon, I often try to find a way to show the difference between faith and idolatry—seeing ourselves as part of God’s story, rather than using God as a cosmic slot machine; I try to show that God does not operate in terms of bachi or karma but reward and punishment is more nuanced and less straight-line than that; and I really, really think we should be hammering on about the completeness of forgiveness and grace at every opportunity, because they’re so fundamental and so counter-cultural.
But there’s something recently I realised about modern Japanese society that also merits a correction from a Christian perspective. It’s about the role of humanity.
Japanese society is, on the whole, pretty down on humanity. Japan has often been called a country of robots, and the reason for this is an underlying assumption that humans are things that we haven’t managed to replace with machines yet and so issue with a precise set of instructions to make them more like machines. And what underlies that is that arbitrariness, judgement, and discretion are all sources of error, and so cannot in any circumstances be allowed, because error cannot in any circumstances be allowed. And the way to reduce error is to remove discretion and mechanise everything a person does.
So a train driver is someone who points at a signal, looks down the line, reads across his timetable with his finger, points again… and also drives a train. Shop attendants enter the customer area, stand to attention at a defined point on the floor, bow to exactly 30º, and so on. Robots are being developed to provide care for the elderly, obviously because of a population crisis, but such a substitution wouldn’t be acceptable if it wasn’t agreed that robots can provide a similar level of care to mere humans. (More consequences of this dehumanisation principle are obvious to anyone who has had to deal with Japanese bureaucracy, or has tried to present an idea that hasn’t been tried before.)
In that context, it’s vitally important to show how Jesus was God’s “yes” to humanity.
Jesus’ pre-eminent title for himself in the gospel of Matthew was “Son of Man”. There’s no real scholarly consensus about what Jesus is referring to by that self-designation: was it a humble “this human being”? Was it a reference to the apocalyptic, exalted and triumphant representative of Israel in Daniel’s vision? Was he presenting himself as the pinnacle, as the “son-of” formula might imply, humanity at its best? We don’t know, but we do know that the incarnation shows that God himself was happy to be part of humanity, happy to identify himself with it and as part of it. Another title the New Testament authors used for Jesus was Emmanuel: God with us. Through becoming human, God affirmed humanity.
I think there’s more to it than that, though. Jesus came to redeem our humanity. As the Donovan quote implies, Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human and truly alive. Jesus was also God’s “no” to all that mechanises and dehumanises. The Pharisees sought to mechanise by reducing religious observance down to a series of rules; Jesus rejected them by showing a way to God based on relationship and principles. (One implication is that in mechanising societies like Japan, we have to be particularly on our guard against Pharisaical tendencies within our churches, but that’s a topic for a very different time.) The Romans sought to dehumanise by reducing the Israelites to colonial servitude; Jesus resisted them by showing Israelites how to maintain and restore their dignity even in the midst of an oppressive situation.
When a society like Japan seeks to strip people of their humanity—through overwork, through the constant pressure of unattainable expectations, through deliberate oversimplification of the complexities of human behaviour—we as the Church have the same message of restoration and resistance; firstly to restore the humanity of our own members and secondly to point an alternative humanity to the society at large. We need to preach Jesus the Son of Man, who willingly shared our humanity, who perfected and redeemed it—not just the other-worldly Son of God.Subject tags: theologyjapanmissiology
I’m editing a book on the history of the Japanese Orthodox Church. It’s a fascinating story for me because the pioneer missionary period was by far the most successful in Japanese Christianity. One missionary and a couple of short-termers planted hundreds of churches and a hundred thousand church members. It’s amazing. What I didn’t realise, until working on this book, was that after the church was handed to Japanese leadership how quickly everything went to hell in a handbasket, with the effect that the Japanese Orthodox Church soon lost over 90% of its membership and has never recovered.
In fact, the plan was not to hand it over to Japanese leadership. The pioneering missionary, St. Nicholas, insisted that the church needed to remain pastored by foreign missionaries for at least a hundred years so that the principles of Orthodoxy could be fully inculcated into the Japanese culture and mindset of the believers. Any less than that, he presciently argued, and the church would fall into syncretism and schism. It’s quite a challenge to modern missiological thinking—get the church self-governing as quickly as possible!—but when you consider how different Japanese values and Christian values are, you realise the man had a point. Should you hand a church over to the first generation of believers, who have exposure to a few years of Christianity and, sociologically speaking, over a thousand years of Japanese cultural history? Which values do you think are most likely to assert themselves? Would you prefer to see Christians running the Church in a Japanese way, or Japanese running the Church in a Christian way?
So, anyway, Nicholas was not keen to hand the church over. But then Nicholas died, and his successor Sergius took over as bishop. He was a softer target, and the Japanese church leaders pressed him to accept more indigenous control and indigenous structures. The Meiji and post-Meiji eras had a strong democratic movement and the Japanese leaders insisted that the Orthodox Church ought to be made more democratic—to keep up with the trends in Japanese society. (Anyone who knows anything about Orthodoxy should already be aware at this point quite how little Orthodox principles had been inculcated amongst Japanese leadership.) Sergius wanted to see more Japanese take over leadership of the church and eventually pave the way for a Japanese bishop to succeed him, and so was not against this in principle; but the leaders pushed for more and more “independence” until the Church was ruled by a “democratic” Consistory and Council and the office of the bishop was completely sidelined.
This was obviously something completely unknown in Orthodox history and ecclesiology, but the Japanese interpretation of this was that it showed that non-Japanese Orthodox did not properly understand how things should be. According to the Japanese Orthodox newspapers and magazines, the idea of a ruling bishop was “dictatorial”, “autocratic”, and “despotic” precisely because it reflected “Russian-style behavior.” What Japanese Orthodox possessed, in their more co-operative, democratic councils and the Japanese “special life of the heart, almost unimaginable to other peoples”, was the essence of “pure Orthodoxy”, and the Japanese began to lecture the missionaries that they had got their own faith wrong.
The run-up to the Second World War provided the perfect pretext for forcing the resignation of the missionary bishop Sergius; the anti-bishop faction in the church cut off his pension, leaving him “literally starving”. The only concern was who to replace him with. The Russian metropolitan wrote to the church’s administrator that the Japanese Orthodox Church simply does not exist without a ruling bishop in communion with the global Orthodox community. Of course, the Japanese Orthodox Church did not want a ruling bishop, so the Committee set out to find someone malleable enough to take over and came up with two candidates—both of whom understood what the real deal was and refused the job. The Church then essentially split in two around the two factions, literally fighting in the streets over the possession of the Tokyo Cathedral. For a while there was the suggestion of having two bishops; eventually, the Church gave up on promoting its own clergy, and the Church, which had been so adamant on its own Japanese “independence”, requested the urgent provision of a missionary bishop from overseas, this time from America.
However, the new bishop, Benjamin, was also unable to pacify the rioting factions, and soon the very people who had sacked their previous missionary bishop for being too authoritative kicked out their new missionary bishop for not being authoritative enough. Once again they were unable to choose a replacement, with two “fellow bishops” holding an uneasy truce. All the while this infighting progressed, the Church was hemorrhaging members and the Orthodox Church in Japan completely missed out on the post-war boom seen by other Christian churches. Nobody seemed to care.
I do wonder how Nicholas would have felt to see his core ideas rejected, his missionary successors scolded and deposed, and his long and arduous efforts at church planting utterly squandered. Maybe he was right—given the quality of leadership available, keeping the Japanese church foreign-run for a hundred years would probably not have been a mistake.Subject tags: theologyorthodoxyhistorymissiologyjapan
One of the things that keeps me, well… still a Christian is my ability to maintain a strict mental separation between Jesus and his followers. I think it’s a way of thinking that’s also popular with the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd. You know how it goes: I find the figure of Jesus amazing, intriguing and inspiring, even though I think quite a lot of the things that individual Christians have done are ugly, hateful and hypocritical distortions of his message. In general, we’re mean to the world around us, and by God are we even meaner to each other. But I continue to believe, because the person of Jesus is still amazing and I don’t blame him for the horrific behaviour carried out by the Church in his name.
This is a comfortable rationalisation, but it has dawned on me recently that it’s not a position I can take with any theological justification. There are two massive flaws in this reasoning. First, orthodox Christian theology identifies the Church as “the body of Christ.” The apostle Paul wrote to churches which had people involved in the worst kinds of distortions of the Christian message, and reminded them that they were the body of Christ—Jesus’ hands, feet and miscellaneous other bodily parts. Christ is associated with his Church as the continuation of his existence on earth.
Secondly, there is also an orthodox Christian doctrine that states that the power of the Holy Spirit works to transform the Church into the likeness of Christ. Paul says this twice, once in the future tense in Phil 3:21, and once in the present tense in 2 Co 3:18. So it’s going to happen and it is happening, we’re told.
Putting these two doctrines together, I am forced to conclude that either the Holy Spirit isn’t particularly good at His job, or the likeness of Christ isn’t actually at that pleasant after all. Either way it seems I can’t keep Jesus but kick out the Church, because Christians claim and have always claimed that, spiritually, they’re the same. Which is a big shame, because if the Church wasn’t the body of Christ, I’d be kicking it out in an instant. But it is.
So if I want to persevere with Jesus, I have to persevere with the Church. I’m somehow strangely encouraged that Paul saw the Church at its worst and still said it was the body of Christ. But right now I’m having something of a hard time following his reasoning.Subject tags: theologyrants
Short but simple:
Read everything you send out from the perspective of the most recent recruit to your organisation. If they can’t understand it without tons of assumed background knowledge, you’re alienating and disenfranchising them. (And probably lots of other people too.)
What I’m talking about is this kind of rubbish:
SPAD team met last week to discuss issues arising from the latest TPS review; please send any further contributions to GC by 28/8. We value your input!
But obviously not your input, because you have no idea what I’m talking about and I don’t plan to explain it to you.
The problem is that assumed knowledge makes things easier for the author but puts the burden of understanding on the reader. Needless to say, in any decent sized organisation there are going to be quite a few people reading, one hopes; making lots of people work harder (and even long-standing members will need to make some amount of mental effort to recall the details1) just to make things easier for one person seems a wee bit selfish.
This idea of explaining things from the perspective of the newest member goes double for Christian organisations which claim to give “greater honor to the lesser member.” But for any kind of organisation, plain English makes sense. If you continually bamboozle your newest recruits, they’ll disengage, stop reading, and no matter how much you value their input they’ll never contribute to your darned TPS review.
A few friends have shared this article by Joseph Kim, explaining why he’s a missionary to Japan. It does a pretty good job of some of the context to Japanese society, even if some of the figures are off.1 I should love it. But…
He manages to lose me at the second sentence:
Japan doesn’t seem to fit the model of a mission field.
If you agree with this sentence, this is a good opportunity for you to rethink what your mental model of a mission field is, and why. So, what does a mission field look like? Are you picturing starving children, slums, poor sanitation … are you perchance picturing a developing country? Would you say, then, that God is only interested in sharing His love with people in developing countries?
And yet I wonder why we’re talking about countries in the first place. Actually the primary objects of God’s love are not countries but people, and people who need God’s love can be found everywhere—all over the world, even, yes even in countries which themselves send missionaries overseas. God is interested in reconciling the world to Himself—all of it—and that is what He has been doing all along.
I do wonder where the image that “mission field = developing country” comes from, because I can’t think of any defence for it, theologically, scripturally, or practically. Perhaps it’s a holdover from the colonial ideas of the White Man’s Burden, where we privileged few had the God-given responsibility to fix the problems of the rest of the world. If you or your church’s mission board do have that kind of “model of a mission field”, then perhaps I would encourage you to stay at home a little while longer. We don’t need any more Livingstones right now.
And it’s that very ingrained way of thinking about mission which leads naturally to the rest of Joseph’s article. (And I have to be careful here, because I’ve done the same kind of thing many times myself in the past.) If our understanding of mission fields is that they are particular countries with particular problems, then order to convince people that Japan is really “a mission field”, then you have to point all the things that are wrong with the society. Come see, it may seem like it’s doing OK but it’s actually a broken country after all!
Well sure, there are things that disgust me about Japan; there are things that I love about Japan. There are things that disgust me about the UK and things that I love about the UK. But fundamentally I’m not here because I think that Japan is broken and needs me to come help fix it. I’m here because God loves its people, and wants them to be reconciled to Himself.
The next time I do any deputation, any mission promotion about Japan, just as an experiment I’m going to try not to play into the “model of a mission field” stereotype, but see if I can challenge it and subvert it; try to get people to see that God is interested in everyone, wherever they live. That way, as well as promoting involvement in Japan you give people a bigger understanding of who God is and what He’s about as a bonus. The thing is, actually there isn’t a country in the world where God doesn’t want to see His Kingdom come, or people come to know and love Him. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself; that’s why I’m here.
On and off over the past month I’ve been working on a new project. I’d been asked to look into the possibility of writing a Bible study application supporting Japanese Bibles on mobile devices. Yes, there are such things—I use Accordance as my own Bible—but the Japanese support for them is pretty poor. In particular, no furigana. Being a programmer, I decided to solve the general problem, and wrote a generic, customizable library, called Tertius. Tertius is released under a very permissive license, and it allows people to write their own Bible study applications. My Japanese application—once we have been through the tortuous process of negotiating rights to use the Biblical text from its owners, the publishing companies—is a simple use of that library.
I also thought: I have this way of easily generating Bible study applications; it’s pretty good; why don’t I just make a Bible study application with it? Now of course, there are already dozens of such things, but they’re either (a) not very good, or (b) too expensive—by which I mean, more than zero. As I’ve already intimated above, the hard bit about Bible study applications is not the interface; the interesting bit is the Biblical texts, resources, tools and so on, most of which are locked up by for-profit publishers. This annoys me no end. I have a strong belief that the Bible is God’s gift to the world, and access to it should be free.Open Access Bible Data
So immediately the Tertius project spawned another project, which was to collect decent, modern, and permissively licensed Biblical information, lexicons and so on, put them into a bunch of standard formats to enable them to be used by Tertius and/or other Bible-mangling projects. There are others also working on the same issue, but often on a more ad-hoc basis, with little co-ordination between individual works.*
These days there are actually some pretty good permissively-licensed Biblical information. For instance, SBL, in particular, deserves (qualified) praise for releasing a Greek New Testament with apparatus under a nearly sane license! That allowed some people (bless them!) to mark up the SBL’s Greek New Testament with morphological tags and lemmas; I was able to align those lemmas with Strongs numbers, and so for the first time we now have a decent, modern, tagged, aligned and analysed Greek New Testament available for free, something which can easily cost upwards of $50. Similarly with the Hebrew Bible.
I think this is a big deal. We now have Bible study tools—-original language texts, lexicons, apparatus and so on, all without any licensing costs. And since I’m giving Tertius away, we can now have a Bible study environment for pastors, preachers and scholars around the world, all completely free.Tertius, the App
So, the upshot is that Tertius, the mobile application, is now available for Android:
and for iOS:
This was my first experience of getting applications into the relevant app stores, so it doesn’t do everything I need just yet—see below for more on that. It does enough to be useful, and to pass Apple’s review process. (On the fourth attempt. It was worse than passing a driving test.)For the desktop too
One of the nice things about the way that Tertius is written, as a HTML5 application, is that it’s possible to use it if all you have is a web browser. There are other Bible study applications which try to provide similar features, but they’re often based on more complicated models which require more support on the computer.
(When I initially started writing Tertius and announced it on Facebook, the desktop support was cripplingly slow. I’ve fixed that. It’s quite speedy now and doesn’t leak memory any more.)Where next?
Tertius does more-or-less everything that I wanted it to do in order to fulfil the requirements of the Japanese Bible study app I was originally developing, before I got carried away with the general problem. There are a few things in the pipeline; the version on the various app stores currently only supports Strongs’ Greek and doesn’t do it particularly well, but as mentioned in the footnote I am working on the ability for it to read and display multiple dictionaries both of Greek and Hebrew; I also have partial support for displaying interlinear as well as parallel, and I would dearly like to have proper interlinear support of aligned texts, now that we have aligned texts; in the gimmickry department, I have a Bible-in-a-year reading plan about to go in, and there’ll also be a way of quickly accessing liturgy. (How many times have I been asked to give a benediction and spent the whole of the last hymn scrambling to find the end of 2 Corinthians in Japanese?)
One thing that it doesn’t quite do yet for Japanese is that the interface and the Bible reference parsing software (which is itself a separate, permissively-licensed library) still only deals with English. That sucks. I need to fix that soon. :-)
Anyone who wants to add features to Tertius is welcome to. The code is not too complicated; fork it and send me a pull request.
But as I mentioned earlier, the interesting bit of Bible applications is not the interface, but the texts. That’s where the value is. I had thought about including more foreign language Bibles but I have decided against that. The idea behind Tertius is that it lets you generate your own Bible study application. Therefore there’s no point bogging down the reference application with tons of different languages that most users’ wont use; they should simply gen up their own Tertius containing Bibles in their own preferred languages.
There should be more texts, though. I want to include the SBL apparatus; and in general would be nice to get better tools: modern Biblical encylopedias, dictionaries, references, more texts and so on. But for that to happen, I will need to work on bug number 1—and for that, I will need your help.*: For instance: the Hebrew Lexicon project includes two Hebrew lexicons in XML, Strongs and Brown Driver Briggs; the XML schemata are incommensurable between the two, and Strongs’ Greek uses a totally different schema again. The marked-up Hebrew Bible marks up words using Strongs numbers in a completely different format to the lexicons, and so on. One of the things I’m working on is to convert all the dictionaries to a standard XML dictionary schema, the LIFT standard, so that applications only need to read and display data from one format. That sort of thing. Subject tags: theologytechnologybible