Tim Challies Visual Theology - Books of the Bible iPad-sizedAs I was just going through Twitter and seeing what all people have been posting about today. I came across a neat Biblical visualization from Tim Challies. Seeing this reminded me that I’ve not done much of an update here (or MMM) about the All Books Project that I’ve been working on. So, let’s talk spatial interfaces (a topic seen in a recent meetup I attended) and theological literacy – and why these merge nicely.

The Web is A Space, not Just A List
As my friend Nigel Scott frequently illustrates/explains, much of what we see online is basically a series of lists. Literally, there’s nothing much more happening with what we see on a webpage other than a series of lists being graphically enhanced in front of us. The good thing is that its able to be managed (this is how many people’s minds work), the bad part is that it is only navigable in ways that are implied by the person(s) who made the list. If you will, if there’s not structure in the list, then it can’t be reorganized and represented.

This is where the ‘net sits right now. There’s very little in terms of other ways to get in and around content. Now, those in the database world will be happy to talk to you about non-relational databases. But, that’s not enough. What if, much like people give directions to get to someplace in NC (grrr), you could be pointed to an arbitary series of points and end up at a destination? This is what I mean by spatial orientation, and its something that even the best lists that we deal with online don’t offer a means to get around.

Theological Literacy Didn’t Follow Theological Innovations
One of the statistics that you find when you start dealing with literacy and education is that of illeteracy rates around the world. On a global scale, the number is something like 60% of the world is or chooses to be illerate. Literacy is defined as having a functional knowledge of reading and reading comprehension. Without that funcitonal knowledge, you are essentially disabled in the eyes of “developed” nations/cultures.

When it comes to theological literacy, or (in a finer frame) biblical literacy, one would be able to define it similarly. If a person is unable to read and comprehend the basic faith “tome,” then they don’t have a functional knowledge of that faith. This is one of the reasons that creeds and confessions came about. It was not possible to teach everyone how to read the book, but it was needed to teach everyone what about the faith needed to be understood. The Apostles and Nicene Creeds, Westminister Confession, and Roman Catholic Catechism (to a wider degree) were made for this. The problem is, people still just don’t know. For one reason or another, theological literacy sits in a seperatist, classist frame. You either are of the theological elite who were taught (or stole) it, or you are led by those who are the elite.

Now, if we look at the implications of the point behind the printing press, we could make the argument that with lowered printing costs, it should be possible that more people have an ability to mitigate some of that gap. And it has happened, there are many autos where people have a Bible on the rear panel – collecting dust. And now we have the Internet, another shift in this paradigm of accessible messages. Has access improved this theological literacy, or increased the ability for us who know to subugate those who haven’t figured it out yet? And why is it still in the domain of a “publisher” to determine whether a Bible is readable in this space? Doesn’t the educational-access foundations of the Internet grant that being able to learn shouldn’t be limited by region or publisher’s stakeholders?

Spatial Interfaces, Open Texts
Bringing both of these together to some sort of point (if you’ve read this far, thanks).

Theological books are merely a series of lists and notes. Commentaries on top of commentaries, on top of believed and documented facts. Why should the navigtion of this be curtailed to scrolling or swiping a button? Why can’t I start zoomed out and see some sect of information, and then zooming in reveals more, and then zooming in more reveals more, until I get to the text itself – where I can then start drawing associations between what I came from to where I’m going.

With the All Books Project, this is what I’m aiming for. Since that original post, I’ve started adding semantic information to various levels of zoom (testament, book, and chapter levels). I’m doing this by just adding colors (using colors to denote meaning, no there’s no legend as this is a personal project and I know the colors). Becuase I’m using an open licensed/open source iteration of the Bible as well as extra-biblical items, I’m able to create something that gives a bit more meaning than simply a picture (no offense to Challies creation, its nice really), and also have something that goes beyond anything the offline-print metaphor could offer without much heft, cost, or control.

Theological literacy could be defined in actions like this:

The ability to read, comphrehend, teach, and create documents which follow accepted and/or disputed tennants of faith

And if we are saying that web/Internet literacy should include being able to utilize the tools of the web to add to the knowledge and expereinces here, then why wouldn’t we forsee the two merging?

Ok. I see it merging. Not just merging, but, being part of that disruption of industry and process that the web has induced on a larger scale.

So I look at Tim Challies work, and I say “great. Go further.” A visual interface of the Bible, at least at this level does much to convey wholesale truths and enough literacy to read deeper. We should be building and enable folks to build more items like this. As techies whom also carry faith alongside, its our mandate to do so. The tools are here. All Books and other projects will point to the value in this… and probably why navigating the space is more important than navigating the list.