My favorite part of preaching is the preparation. Each week, starting on Tuesday morning, I look up the lectionary texts for the coming Sunday, read them through and then start ruminating upon them trying to find a common theme – or something that needs to be said in the congregation’s local context. By Thursday or Friday I generally have some idea of where I think I want to go with the text. That’s when the fun part happens.
I’ll find that there’s generally one phrase or image in one of the three lessons that ends up being the fulcrum point of the sermon. Once I’ve identified that I start opening up the bible research tools in earnest. That’s the part I look forward to each week. The study session usually lasts two to four hours and as I’ve said, those hours are the highlight of my week.
When I went to seminary I expected that because of my background in science and mathematics I would find my greatest joy in systematic or applied theology. Oddly enough it turns out that I fell in love with biblical studies. I took every New Testament course I could cram in my schedule. I spent way more money than we had to build up a personal library full of the classic biblical research texts. Don’t even get me started on my bible translation collection…
I spent all that money on books because, given my desire to be a traditional anglo-catholic slum priest, I figured I’d never have the sort of easy access to research material as I had while a student at Yale. Turns out that my call, with one exception, really hasn’t been either that of a traditional anglo-catholic nor in economically depressed areas. But I have a pretty large library of reference books, and with a big enough table, they sufficed to do the sermon prep I wanted to do. It was a bit time consuming to chase down all the possible leads I’d find doing my reading but it was manageable.
My younger brother, who’s a CMA pastor, asked me once why I wasn’t using any computer bible study tools. (I think that was in the mid-nineties.) Frankly I didn’t know such things existed. I was in the process of learning how to build computers from spare parts again as a way providing equipment for the parish I was serving and software was a luxury that we couldn’t really afford. But my brother has spent some money on something called Logos Bible Software and he showed me one Christmas what he could do with it. My grandmother had given us a nice gift that year, and with my wife’s permission, I spent some of that on one of the early Logos Scholar packages.
I messed around with that software for a long while but I never really invested the time to learn what it was capable of doing. And then came the great hardware crash of 2004 and my subsequent move to Apple hardware. Logos was a windows only program and while I gained much moving to an Apple, I regretted the loss of access to my electronic books in the Logos (Libronix) format. But, serving in Bethlehem at the time and teaching at Lehigh I had access to a good library (and the Moravian Seminary within walking distance of my office) and I was able to manage. I lost that access however when I moved to Phoenix. Wanting to still be able to access the standard references, and having learned what a great timesaver it was to do that electronically, I spent some money to buy one of the Accordance Bible Study packages for the Macintosh. It worked differently, but I was able to manage and I’ve used that since as my primary bible, concordance, reference library. A year ago Logos came out with a Mac based program that let me regain access to my older library again and since then I’ve used both in tandem. (I have an overlapping collection but have unique favorites in one or the other collection.)
So this week, while I’ve been home with the flu, and trying to find something useful to do, I decided to spend some time learning how to use the various packages. And now I’m rather cross with myself that I didn’t do this before.
If you have a copy of Accordance, you really need to start watching the excellent podcasts that they are making as tools to show people how to use their software. I’ve spent the mornings watching the whole lot. While I don’t use some of the specific techniques for bible study that are being demonstrated, just seeing the capability of the software has opened up whole new workflow ideas to me. I’ve had the best time this week working on my sermon on Job and using the tools demonstrated to get into the actual text itself. I’ve even bought one of the cheaper bundle packages from Rejoice to round out my collection of Hebrew tools to make this easier in the future.
I’ll eventually do the same with Libronix as well I suppose. But at the moment the Mac version of the program lags in functionality behind the Windows version – and while I’m grateful to have access to my older purchased reference works again, I’m leery of spending too much time or money in this particular system until the promised new version for the Mac arrives. The conversion from my Windows reference library to the new Mac one was a bit spotty, I lost access to some of my texts (through my own lack of careful record keeping) and as such Libronix in it’s present form just can’t compete with what I’m able to do in Accordance. I have watched a couple of the videos on the website, and I suppose spending some money to fix the holes in my library would help, but as I said, I’m going to wait and see for while. If on the other hand, you’re a windows user, do take a close look at the Libronix training materials. They run regular training seminars around the country. I’m told that unless you’ve attended one of the seminars, you’re simply not going to be able use the software to its fullness. The one real advantage that Libronix has going for it in my mind though at the moment is that it’s possible to purchase the entire Yale Anchor Bible Commentary series in the Libronix format. (It’s not available in Accordance.) I have a number of print copies of that series, but owning the entire set is something that I’ve always dreamed of.
Of course both have the new Hermenia series. That series is causing me to start thinking about how many lunches I’d have to skip to be able to save up the money to purchase…
What sorts of software do you use? Do you find it helpful? Any tips about how you learned to use it better?