“The web…is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together,” says a character in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. He was talking about “the web of our life,” but the same “mingled” character applies to the theology resources on the other web — the internet. Such a vast quantity of theological material is available online that the greatest need of users is reliable guidance to the best resources. Fortunately, a few leaders and curators can be found out there. Here is a guide to the guides, followed by an overview of the more nebulous world of theological blogging.
Theopedia: In addition to serving as a miniature encyclopedia keyed to theological topics and written from a conservative evangelical perspective, Theopedia maintains a helpful list of links to online resources.
The Wabash Center’s “Internet Guide to Religion”: The subject headings on the main page include ethics and biblical studies, but click through to the “theology” page and peruse a mix of articles, books, syllabi, and bibliographies for teaching and learning.
Princeton Seminary’s Theological Commons: This is a great portal for searching more selectively among the many volumes digitized at the Internet Archive. The 76,716 books and journals in the Theological Commons are already curated down to those that focus on theology. As the conversion of out-of-copyright print sources continues, especially via Google Books, the problem of searching among them for relevant results increases. Theological Commons is a leader in this field, and since it is based at a historic seminary library, it may be institutionally stable as well as well positioned to keep up with the changing trends of book digitization.
Journal Table of Contents: A service of the library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this page shows how a simple idea, carried out well and consistently, can be a great help. The library scans the tables of contents of new journals as they arrive. One needs to have access to a good theology library to actually look up these new articles, but no other service currently available makes old-style browsing possible quite like this.
GlobeTheoLib: This project has an amazingly awkward name, but those who register at no cost can use this World Council of Churches project to get access to a wide array of academic resources. This site is especially helpful for pulling together the resources from many other sites. Expect this site to grow rapidly and become even more helpful.
Several sites host major collections of digitized theological material. Because each includes things not found elsewhere, it is worth keeping several in mind.
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has a name that sounds like it predates the internet, and it does go pretty far back. Housed at Calvin College, the CCEL deserves an award for its staying power. For reliable access to the Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers (Schaff and Wace) set, this is our best bet, rivaled only by the great Roman Catholic site New Advent.
Many additional patristic texts not found in the old Schaff and Wace series can be found at a sub-page of R. Pearse’s Tertullian Project.
Religion Online is a set of books and articles assembled by W. Fore and hosted at Claremont College. The content seems traceable to The Christian Century, which has its own extensive web presence, but this site also includes many books not available elsewhere.
R. Bradshaw’s Theological Studies continues to grow in scope and depth. The site boasts 11,000 articles originally published in print journals and now available in portable document format (PDF), some of them not available even through library electronic subscription services.
An interesting, recent trend is that many graduate schools now make all of their dissertations available online. Dissertations in Bible and theology at Durham University, for instance, are easily downloadeded.
Princeton theologian B. McCormack recently mused that theology blogs had diminished from promising, perhaps ca. 2005, to disappointing ca. 2011. “There was a time,” wrote McCormack, “not so long ago, when theological blogs had the capacity to educate, to push the boundaries in a healthy way, to teach me what the new generation was thinking and how best to address them. But I fear we have reached a turning-point.”
McCormack had in mind the loss of seriousness in the theological blogosphere. But many observers note that there has also been a drop in the quantity of theology blogs worth following, and in the overall quality of writing to be found. Perhaps the problem is just that B. Myers got a full-time teaching job, taking his Faith and Theology blog down to hobby status from the all-out theological blitz it once was. There are still a number of good theology blogs, some by professors (Jamie Smith keeps the chatter at a high level at his Fors Clavigera) and some by amateurs (autodidact N. Norelli tends toward biblical studies, but has a healthy interest in trinitarian theology in particular at his Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.
Yet in the absence of a truly great theology blog that would be a reference point for theology on the web, I close this survey by listing a few of the desiderata for a theology blog. It would have many brief book reviews, and even some reports on recent journal articles from the periodical literature. A great blog would cover the current events in academic theology: obituaries of significant scholars, notices of job changes for major academic posts, and calls for papers for upcoming conferences and theme issues of journals. There could even be reports about what happened at recent theological conferences — “conference reviews” to go along with book and article reviews. A great theology blog would feature short interviews with working theologians on theological topics, asking them about recently released books but also about projects they are working on that will not see the light of publication for some time. The instant turnaround time of blogging would even allow for reports from various theology schools about the projects currently being researched by active doctoral students.
And, why not? These new media combinations of information clearing houses and journalism exist in other fields, such as biblical studies and philosophy. Theology should not lag behind in rethinking its communication style.