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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Launching Today: Glo Bible (Bible study software)

A few days ago, I got an email from ChristianBook.com about Bible software. I usually don't pay very close attention to that email, because although I've used QuickVerse and Logos both fairly extensively at various times, and sampled other Bible software packages, I've found the free e-Sword to have everything from the commercial packages that I've ever needed. Generally, what I want is to be able to compare a fairly large number of English translations of the Bible easily. That means finding them quickly and then having the other translations at your fingertips. I like to have some commentaries available to me, too, as long as they cost me little or nothing. Photos of the Holy Land, videos, that sort of thing... even maps... generally have left me cold when they come from Bible software. But in that email, the simple, distinctive packaging of one of the boxes caught my eye enough to get me interested in taking a look.

The package that caught my eye was the new Glo Bible software, which comes out today. And the more I saw, the more interested I got! Now, I haven't held a copy of this software in my hands. I haven't used it. I haven't even seen it in action in person, only on the demo videos. It looks to be fairly resource-intensive, so it might even not work very well on the aging computers I have at home. But boy, if you can get it to do what it's doing in the videos... WOW!

I'll give you a brief introduction, kind of to help you get your bearings beforehand, and then you can take a look at their demo videos and see what you think for yourself. If you've used Bible software before, put that out of your mind for a second, becuase that's NOT the way this thing works. I don't even think there's a place that you can type in "John 3:16" and get the verse to come up... this is a different interface to the Scripture text. You access the Scriptures using what they call "lenses." The five lenses are "Bible", "Timeline", "Atlas", "Topical", and "Media". You could think of them as paths that all eventually lead to the same place... the Bible text ("Media" is a little different, because in addition to Bible text, it also leads to videos, pictures, immersive 3D tours of Bible locations, etc.) The "Bible" lens presents the Scriptures in the way we're used to seeing them... starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation, and all strung out in their whole 66-book canonical (Protestant) order. The "Timeline" lens comes at it from a different perspective: Bible events are laid out in a time line from beginning to end. Events in the life of Jesus are all there in their real-time order, for example, not segregated out by each of the four Gospels. The "Atlas" lens actually plots the Biblical events out on a map of the Holy Land, so if you wanted to see everything that ever happened in the Bible in Bethany, or in Jerusalem or wherever, you just have to check that place out on the map. The "Topical" view presents Scripture by topics... the same basic premise of ScriptureMenu.com but in a much flashier way. The "Media" lens is where you will find photos, videos, and those really cool 3D tours of sites related to the Scriptures you are studying. You can also combine lenses, so, for example, you could find everything that Jesus said in Jerusalem during the Passover in the book of John (which is the example from their demo videos). Interested? Here's the short & sweet video about it:



Looks cool, huh? If you have about fifteen minutes to spare, take a look at these two demos that demonstrate the usage in a little more depth:





I was totally WOWED after watching those demos! To my way of thinking, this is the first time since searchability (which I saw happening way back in the late 1980s) that Bible software has been created that can actually do something you can't do just as easily with a paper Bible. Because the features are based on "tags" placed on the Scripture verses by humans and not straight text searchability, the relationships between the verses feel a lot more organic.

However... this may be a shortcoming of the software as well. If the people who tagged the text have a different theological perspective than you do, you may not agree with the way they've arranged things. Are you pre-Trib, mid-Trib, post-Trib? Depending on which is your theory of choice, the books of Revelation, Daniel, and even Isaiah and other prophetic books may not show up the way you'd like to see them in the Timeline lens. What about that passage from Isaiah about the king of Babylon... is that about a man, or about Satan? Your answer may effect whether you agree with the Timeline view on the placement of the passage.

I also immediately noticed something in the demo of using multiple lenses together to narrow down your search. About five minutes into the "part 2" video above, there is a screen showing the location of all of the words of Jesus in the New Testament. There are passages in each of the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation... but what about this passage in 1 Corinthians? Looks like an unintentional omission to me. And the Topical view has potential to show Theological bias even more, especially in hot-button topics like abortion or eternal security. Don't get me wrong; every single study Bible and commentary has a bias, so this couldn't be an exception. But I don't see different editions of Glo based on your eschatology or whether you sprinkle or dip. I don't see a Catholic version and a Protestant version. Whatever is there, is there.

That may change, though. Based on information you can find at BibleGlo.com, a lot of new stuff is coming down the pike... a full-length audio version, for example, and Web accessible and mobile phone versions, not to mention social networking features. It sounds like some of these new features will basically be downloadable. I can't see why there couldn't be separate flavors, using the same Bible text and multimedia materials, but simply tagging the Scritpure verses slightly differently... and then Glo owners could sort of "subscribe" to the "channel" that they fall in line with, and their own copies of Glo could change to reflect their own biases toward the text. It appears that Glo will ship with the KJV and the NIV (it's a Zondervan product, and they own the NIV text) but there are negotiations taking place to add other versions... I probably wouldn't plunk down the money for myself until my ESV was represented. The very limited number of translations available at present is, to me, another very puzzling omission.

Oddly, I don't actually see in the demos a way to do a straight word search. Can you find all of the places that the word "soul" appears in the text? Maybe so, but I don't see it... you might have to visit BibleGateway.com for that one. What about links to original-language materials? Where are the Strong's definitions and other similar material? I guess you'd better not delete your link to Blue Letter Bible quite yet. Now, I should be totally fair... those capabilities may be present in the software but not in the demos. Or maybe they have been intentionally left out in favor of cool stuff like 360-degree walk-throughs of historical locations and other stuff that would interest a more casual reader in the Bible text. Obviously, this software is not targeted at your basic seminary professor or knowledgeable pastor... this is layman's software for people who want to know what God says about something but don't know how to find out. But I do hope there is a doorway there that people can walk through and get into more depth with the Scriptures.

And that is my biggest concern with this awesome piece of software. Let's say you buy Glo, install it on your laptop, and then spend the next three weeks figuring out how everything works. You become a Glo expert, and you can find out which Scripture verses refer to insects with six legs, or which verses are about women whose names start with the letter "A", or whatever other crazy lookups you can think of. You continue to use the software every day, and you continue to find nuggets in the Word, but you never actually read all the way through any book of the Bible. In fact, you rarely read three verses in a row all at once. You use the lenses to severely limit which verses you read, based on what you tell it you want to know about. In that scenario, not only have you given yourself a bad case of Scriptural tunnel vision and destined yourself to begin to share the bias of whoever tagged the verses, but you are robbing yourself of the insight you can gain from context. You've turned yourself into someone who gets his Theology from the "promise box" on the kitchen table, or the snatches of Scripture that you hear in songs on Christian radio. I think the danger is that we can turn ourselves into fans of the Bible instead of students of the Bible. The Word is not a Whitman's Sampler where you can eat the ones with the caramel in them but leave the ones filled with pink stuff for your Aunt Gertie. The Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition. In an age where it is easy to zero in on specific verses, and where many preachers skip from one verse to another in the course of a message with no reference to context, we're not used to just plain old reading the Bible like the book it is. Now, Glo has a Bible reading plan built in (and it sounds like the plan is to have the mobile version and even the audio version sync up so that if you read a chapter at home and then listen to the next chapter in the car, eventually all of that information winds up back in Glo!) and there is absolutely nothing to stop you from reading it straight through (the Bible lens would actually be pretty great for that), so the "danger" isn't really a danger, but a caution to not let the very cool features of the software package deceive you into thinking you know all about what the Bible says just because you clicked into the Topical lens. To truly know the Word takes effort. Hard work. A great shovel is only the first step in digging up the riches present in the Bible. Software that can bring some of them a little closer to the surface for you is a great start, but it's not the whole journey.

Even the coolest, shiniest, round-buttoniest software won't turn you into something you're not. If you're not a student of the Word, this software (or any software) will not change that, although given the right circumstances, a snazzy interface may get you to engage the text in a way you wouldn't have been otherwise. When it all comes down to it, either you're hungry for the Word, or you're not. This software probably won't make you hungry. But if you are hungry, this software could be like an express train from your house directly to Olive Garden. It'll get you to places you never thought to go, faster and easier than ever before, and in ways you never dreamed of (or maybe you did dream of but never thought it could actually happen).

I hope I actually get a chance to play with this sometime. Besides being an awesome tool, it just looks incredibly fun! I doubt it'll have me giving up my ESV Study Bible (my favorite Bible study resource of all time), but it could add a dynamism to my study times that wouldn't be there otherwise. I'll be watching Glo to see where it goes next. Glad to be here at lift-off!

1 comment:

Adam said...

Thanks for the well reasoned praise,criticism and all out humor in your post.

Disclaimer: I am one of the developers :)