The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

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Logos 5

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Logos(Note: while there is an almost endless variety of material available from Logos Bible Software, this compound review is based around Logos Bible Software 5, the Bronze base package, and the Gold Reformed package. A very similar version of this material first appeared in stages at Reformation21.)

What is Logos, is it any use, and should you be interested? The temptation in considering this product is simply to reel off a list of the material that is available, but that is a little like displaying the menu without showing you round the kitchen and introducing you to the chef. I would like to give you something of a tour.

I will divide my review into three elements, considering the underlying platform, a typical standard base package, and then a typical specialist base package. I hope, in this way, to provide a reasonable overview of the product. In writing this review, I should make clear that my reading instinct is to have an open book in one hand and a pencil in the other. I like to engage with my books, and to read them face to face, as it were. So, I come to a platform like Logos with a measure of caution, though not really suspicion, more of an old-school inclination when it comes to the reading experience. At the same time, I am not going to dwell overmuch on the pros and cons of hard and soft copies of books more generally.

First, the underlying platform is Logos Bible Software 5. The basic application is free and can be downloaded to just about any mainstream device or operating system, including PCs and all the iStuff, Android and Kindle. In other words, most users will be catered for.

The application itself opens on a desktop or laptop looking something like a busy webpage or blog. It can be fairly thoroughly customised and personalised, stripping out the extraneous stuff and advertising and giving you potentially useful streams of information, but you may still end up with flows of material you are unlikely to use. That said, that is just the splash page, and a couple of clicks takes you straight into the meat. The layout itself is fairly intuitive, and will be rapidly familiar to anyone with a modicum of computer sense. Playing with the various icons and buttons gives a rapid and developing sense of how things fit together and flip around. In similar fashion, apps opening on phones and tablets are well-designed, and have a familiar and straightforward feel about them, especially as you begin to get used to the tools available.

Of no small moment is the fact that even the standard fonts and settings are easy on the eye, with clean and bright design setting off clear and crisp texts. For those for whom reading off a screen is not natural or particularly pleasant, this is at the better end of the experience, with further options to customise as you wish. Tied in with that are the excellent utilities for highlighting and annotation. Again, for someone who likes to interact with a book, if I am going to be reading this material online, being able to mark it up like this is a genuine boon. I still have no instinct for it, but the scope is there. There is a broad variety of appearance in the highlighting, and a good and clear system for notes, allowing them to be well-organised and easily tracked.

The basic app itself gives you a lot of functionality. Even with a single Bible version, you can create your own reading schemes and memorisation programmes, start picking up the regularly-offered free resources, and being piecing together some low-level capacity. For those finding their way more slowly, and perhaps stumbling a little, my limited experience with the helpdesk is that it is staffed by proper humans who are intelligent, skilled and helpful, demonstrating the kind of persistently polite friendliness that makes Brits wonder if they are secretly being made fun of.

The available training is good – short and clear (if sometimes a little cheesy) videos, helpful tips and tricks – but you will need it to maximise your investment. For example, simply watching through a playlist will very quickly overwhelm you. Little and often will be the way forward. With so many options and countless tools, you will need the training both to work out what you can do, and then you must decide whether or not you want to do it, and then how to do it best. Like many such platforms, there is utility here that many will simply never need, no matter how much they might tell themselves they want it. Of course, for ‘power users’ (great phrase!) many of these tools will be meat and drink. As so often, you do not want to over-buy and end up paying for resources and tools you will never use.

The search tools are fantastic, even if they can take a little time to do all the processing with such a massive database to cover. A great deal of human endeavour (as opposed to mere mechanical data-crunching and algorithmic wizardry) has gone into connecting references, so that searching for an individual’s name, for example, will throw up instances in which that individual is referred to without being named. This gives the student a far more sure grasp on the available material. Of course, the downside of so much material is that you can be overwhelmed even by the more simple searches, leaving you needing to use the search limiting functions wisely and well. A similar issue arises as you begin to learn to use the various windows and tools available. Before long, you might be thinking, “We’re gonna need a bigger screen.” Bear in mind, too, that there are hypertext links all over the place: potentially distracting, yes, but often these various tags and links offer rapid and brief insights and demonstrate valid connections without taking you away from the main thread. The main questions will be: do you need and can you handle the deluge of data?

Then come the base packages. These come at a range of levels, the most popular likely to be Gold, Silver or Bronze. There’s also a Starter pack with some of the very basic materials, and then the system runs up through materials more suited to an academic environment (Platinum and Diamond) until you get to the all-singing and all-dancing Portfolio package, the everything-you-could-ever-want-with-cheap-deals-forever option.

Materials on the base packages are organised under various headings: data sets (basically, bundles of organised information); ancient texts and morphologies; ancient texts in translation; apologetics; Bible commentaries; Bible history and culture; Bible introductions and surveys; Bible reference; biblical studies; church history; counselling; devotionals and spiritual formation; English Bibles; exegesis and interpretation; interlinear Bibles; lectionaries; maps, photo and media; ministry resources; original language grammars and tools; original language lexicons and word studies; parallel passages and harmonies; preaching and teaching resources; and, theology resources. There really is a bewilderingly rich array of resources, and – again – it will do the buyer well to make a careful and full comparison of what is available and to select what he really needs or can use, rather than to get mindlessly greedy. Even the lower level packages contain material enough for the average lifetime and then some.

It is worth pointing out, too, that the proof-reading and editing on all this material is high-grade. It is a sweet relief to read electronic text that has been either scanned or typed and then carefully assessed and corrected (with the added bonus of a quick link for any time you might spot a typo). For those who blood pressure has risen as they have wrestled with some mangled screed, trying to w0rk ont vvhat Is gcing 0n, this is a real plus. Work has gone into making these reader’s documents. Hurrah and huzzah! Among other things, this quality – together with helpful gizmos like the pasting tool with automatic footnotes – makes this an ideal tool for writers, scholars and pastors who write out their notes in full. No excuses for plagiarism here!

At the same time, some of this is beyond helpful. For example, the sermon starter is a bit of a non-starter for me. Yes, if I search the passage I have in mind, it immediately offers a wealth of technical and explanatory material. But it is also very quick to let me choose a topic, and then offer me texts to preach it from, which makes me slightly uneasy: it is too much of a gift to the user looking for a means to vault into the saddle of his favourite hobby horse. While it is great to have all the passages of all your available commentaries available at the click of the button, Logos users will still need deliberately and actively to work at this. As it is, it seems or too easily becomes mechanical, even artificial. To be sure, the material is put on a plate, but – for all the investment of real people behind the glowing screen – it cannot prepare a sermon for my congregation, it cannot meditate on the text for me. You cannot put the Holy Spirit in a box. At best, a tool like this serves you food (sometimes too much) that you need to digest. Such an offering, generous as it is, too easily imposes itself upon the preacher, and potentially clogs up his thought processes and forces him down channels that may not be particularly profitable to him in his particular circumstances. It could make a man inclined to carelessness or laziness that bit more careless and lazy. I can imagine addresses that, because this tool has been abused, are reasonably well-themed collections of what is actually gobbets of disjointed material. That is not the same as a sermon. And just because you have a wonderful tool in your box doesn’t mean that you should be always using it for everything.

Finally, there are the specialist packages and bundles. Here, my example is the Gold Reformed package. That’s important, because Logos is a company that caters to a lot of tastes, and the undiscerning palate could end up with poison as well as tonic. Fortunately, this package is a tonic indeed! Linguists will salivate over the lexicons, grammars, interlinear Bibles and a few of the ancient texts. Historians will indulge in the oldest works and their translations, as well as enjoying a splendid collection of church histories and historical theologies, not to mention a great bundle of the church fathers. Confessional and creedal believers will find a wide range of material at their very fingertips. Preachers will enjoy the range of genuinely classic commentaries and the preaching and teaching resources. People like me will also luxuriate in the magnificent selection of theology, including some Puritan classics (such as Owen, Sibbes, Bunyan) and other gems (Witsius, Edwards, Shedd and Warfield, to mention but a few). And then there is a range of other helps and tools for Bible studies, including various reference works, maps, Scripture harmonies, data sets and the like. All of this, evidently, has been chosen to cater to the appetites of those who are more or less Reformed in their inclinations or convictions, and all the usual suspects are more or less in this bundle. Again, the great issue here is, “How will I use this?” Care will be needed to ensure that enthusiasm does not trample over wisdom, and eagerness swamp utility.

That said, if you do not have this material sitting on a shelf, and don’t have the space on the shelf for it, and you could with legitimacy make this kind of financial investment and then make it a true spiritual investment, who would begrudge you the blessing of plunging into such an ocean of delights?

And then, as if that were not all enough, there are other bundles of themed material catering to your theological or denominational convictions, your scholarly predilections, your favourite publisher, or just about any other various you choose to mention. Some of the bigger bundles might strain older hard drives, so be aware of that.

Finally, on top of all that, there is a wealth of further material, authors Christian (from just about every tradition and of every stripe, from the über-orthodox to the horribly heterodox) and secular (from modern classics to ancient scholarship), allowing the reader with time, appetite and available funds to build a massive library, which – if well chosen – would prove a blessing to anyone. Really, to some of us, wandering through these pages risks turning us less into the kid in the candy store: “Ooh, I like that! Wow, I like those!” and more into Homer on the sugar pile: “Mmm, sugar!” There is a real danger, especially on the better deals, of simply buying all the books you intend to read, rather than the ones you need to read or actually will read. This is a temptation with the physical library as well, but electronic purchasing is often just that little bit easier, and the fact that the book does not lurk before your eye reminding you of your investment can too easily soothe the pang of conscience.

However, at this point, it is probably worth mentioning pre-publication special prices, community pricing on new material, and the generous pricing structures and helpful payment plans allowing the full cost of the more expensive products to be spread over a number of months. If you already have a product and it is part of a new bundle, Logos will usually pick that up and adjust prices accordingly. If there is a new product in the pipeline, early interest usually secures a significantly lower price, but you do have to be in it to win it. Because of the significant price for some of these products, it is worth keeping an eye on these.

And, to be honest, the greatest barrier will probably be the price. Look at the savings, and you are likely to go mad with glee. Consider the cost, and you will be rapidly sobered. This is not a cheap tool – those payment plans will be, for many, both a blessing and a necessity! Again, the judicious, prayerful selection of what will be of genuine use and profit is demanded in the light of so much (and so much that is good) on offer.

So, should you consider Logos, and – if so – for whom? I think that the answer is, essentially, thoughtful and careful yes. There will always be lazy and shallow readers for whom a product like Logos becomes a route to the veneer of understanding, a sort of expensive rent-a-quote or short cut to Twitter profundity. For example, it is all very well to inform others that the venerable Sibbes suggests that “if the Scriptures be compared to a body, the Psalms may well be the heart, they are so full of sweet affections and passions.” But why did he say that, and where, and to what end? Sure, it’s a great quote about the Psalms, but ripped from its context it shines well while it warms little. (I did still put it on Twitter – sorry!) However, such abuses are not the fault of the software, but of the user. Caveat emptor!

So, who might use this well?

It may be that some earnest pastor or eager reader has limited physical space. In such an instance, Logos would provide a wealth of material without further preventing the rapid oscillation of deceased felines. Similarly, for those who feel the need to downsize and are willing to trade in the material for the insubstantial, selling off the paper library might provide for it to be more or less replaced in the cloud. There might these days be men who would simply rather have their books in a black (or silver, or whatever) box rather than on a shelf. For the modern digital reader who has eschewed the bound volume (a tragic case, but still a mad possibility) then something like Logos is simply one of the best ways forward, if not the best way. Of course, by making such significant investments, you are essentially relying on Logos to be there for you, at least for the balance of your lifetime.

Another obvious possibility would be someone entering or graduating from seminary or Bible college. To be honest, I would still buy such a fellow a well-bound set of some spiritual father of proven worth, and bid him take up and read. But I would not be averse to giving him what I hope would be a pretty permanent head start on his library by a wise investment in a Logos package. Of course, you are looking for such a man to develop the capacity – both of attitude and ability – to use the gift so given. Nevertheless, a sponsoring church or a generous individual could very readily give this as a toolbox on entry or a gift on graduation.

What about that brother who is heading into some distant or difficult place to preach the Word of God? Missionaries needing to travel lightly or discreetly might find these resources a wonderful boon, enabling them to take with them in fairly readily accessible form (presuming such things as a reasonable supply of electricity) the sort of library that in days past was the sole preserve of a fairly well-endowed theological college.

Then, again, what of the pastor who – in addition to his labours in his home church – has the opportunity to preach and teach as he travels? I do a scrap of this from time to time, and there have been occasions when either I have needed or just wished for access to my library while on the road. Perhaps there has been a need to produce something new or develop something old at the drop of a slow-falling hat. Or, some question or issue has arisen and – in addition to the tools immediately to hand and the functions of the memory, all with the help of the Holy Spirit – I have wished that I could just flip open a certain volume to refresh my memory as to what some giant of the past had to say on the subject. With a healthy bundle of Logos resources on laptop, tablet or phone, a good number of those resources are a good deal closer than they used to be. In addition to that, I can search those resources more readily and effectively than before. And yes, I could easily turn this into a jeremiad for an age in which we do not train the memory adequately, but the fact is that we do not, and here is one means to make up something of the deficit.

So, will I be throwing away my library? Of course not! As I explain to my wife whenever the need arises, books are instruction, decoration and insulation all in one, the perfect way to adorn a wall. Indeed, it is fascinating that even the advertising videos often show people hunched over their computers . . . while sitting in libraries or studies surrounded by ‘proper’ books. To be honest, that is my ideal. There is never a substitute for knowing your Bible, and then knowing your own books. Where Logos is an aid to that, it is a wonderful aid. But the excellence of the tools can never be an excuse for poor preparation and endeavour on the part of the workman.

So, that is why Logos gets good press. It is an outstanding resource, or compendium of resources, intelligently and intuitively put together, offering the relatively well-heeled or wise investor a great wealth of material from which to select. Indeed, judicious selection and diligent employment are essential for healthy and fruitful output. If genius is indeed one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then Logos will provide a shortcut to no-one. What it will do is to give matter to perspire over, but arranged, ordered and offered up in such a way as to maximise your perspiration. For that, I warmly commend it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 16 July 2014 at 13:20

Posted in Reviews, Technology

Tagged with ,

Online life and church life

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Michael Kruger offers some interesting thoughts on rescuing church from a facebook culture. He writes:

I have to ask the simple question: What affect does “social media” technology have on the way we view church? What affect does it have on the way we conceive of life in the body of Christ? Of course, much of social media is positive. And the church has used this technology to advance the cause of Christ. Moreover, I cannot miss the irony of writing about the affects of technological forms of communication on my own website! Nevertheless, I do have some concerns—and so should you. Here are a few characteristics of a “Facebook culture” that we certainly need to reckon with as believers:

1. Short attention span/limited learning style.

2. Low view of authority/over-focus on equality.

3. “Surfacey” interactions/artificial relationships.

4. Lack of Physical Presence.

5. Low Commitment/Accountability.

Do read his explanations and conclusions and recommendations in full. They are thoughtful and careful, and worth considering. As he says, the problem is not that technology creates such patterns of sin and ignorance, rather that it provides a ready channel for the sin and ignorance that already exists in our hearts (I cannot imagine many pastors saying, “Yup, everyone in the congregation had a monster attention span married to a right view of authority until Facebook came along!”).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 5 May 2012 at 07:22

Posted in Technology

Tagged with ,

E-commandments

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David Murray distils 10 digital commandments from Erik Qualman.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 February 2012 at 17:23

Posted in Technology

The inventions between me and the world

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Sometimes, Christians with a sympathetic view of culture (like myself) have a tendency to treat it all—including technology—as though it were neutral, but this isn’t the case. Like all of creation, the technological world bears witness to God’s glory and goodness with its undoubted helpfulness, its moments of beauty, and its occasional ability to inspire awe. But also like all of creation, it bears the stain and destructive power of sin, introducing us to whole new ways to destroy relationships, disrupt our lives, and distract from the glory we were created to behold.

I enjoyed Mike Cosper’s thoughtful piece on technology (remember, he’s a New Calvinist, so he means Apple!) and the distance it puts between us and the reality – the people and things – with which we need to engage.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 27 October 2011 at 11:30

Glued to the crystal bucket

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. . . Christian parents must be concerned, not just with what content children are watching, but how much exposure they really experience. Something has gone wrong when the default position of the television is on, rather than off. There is something even more wrong when children and teenagers have televisions and Internet access in their bedrooms.

Al Mohler highlights an American report about the dangers of early and unfettered access to screen entertainment and “education.” Helpful reading for parents.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 October 2011 at 19:10

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