Today is the seven anniversary of the blog. My first post (which I reposted a few days ago) appeared on April 3, 2012. I never thought it would last this long. I figured I would run out of things to say in about six months. Hasn’t happened yet! There’s so much interesting material back in ancient Christianity, starting with Jesus and the New Testament, and going on up through the next three hundred years, that it seems inexhaustible. And readers have so many interesting and important questions, many of them that take numerous posts just to answer (without even getting into the weeds).
When I started the blog I was really not sure what it would be or become. In *principal* I knew what I had in mind. The idea was guided by two desiderata: (1) to disseminate scholarly knowledge about the New Testament and early Christianity to a wider reading public of non-scholars, in terms that were intelligent and sensible, but not overly technical or loaded with jargon or requiring extensive background information; and (2) by doing so raise money for charity.
The entire idea of the blog – suggested to me by a friend in a late-night bar, as it turns out – was to figure out a way to use my unusual (translate: weird) skill-set in a way that would benefit someone other than myself and fellow scholars. Most of us who become scholars do so because it is a passion we have to pursue (if we didn’t *have* to do it, we’d be crazy to try. It’s way, way too much pain getting a PhD in a field like this.). In short, it’s about us.
And we write our scholarly articles and books for others who share our passion and think it’s important for the world at large. But rarely do we, as scholars, give a ton of thought to that world at large, except – this is a huge exception – in our undergraduate classes, where we pass along our knowledge to 20 year olds who need to be educated in important topic. But what about people who are no longer in college?
Some of us publish trade books for general audiences, and for a lot of authors that’s all about disseminating their knowledge for the public good. For a lot of others it’s about fame and money. For most, I suppose, it’s a combination of the two. So that’s a benefit to the world at large. But in high-level academic circles, that kind of publishing is looked down upon – this will surprise a lot of readers – as “selling out,” and not being “serious,” and “sensationalizing,” and “being all about the money and not about the scholarship,” and …. and lots of other negative and minimizing things. No professor in a major research university who writes trade books for general audiences is rewarded by her or his institution for doing so. More often they are looked down upon. No way in the world a book like that will help for tenure, promotion, or salary. And many, many colleagues really do kind of smirk at it and think you’ve given up on anything serious. Oh boy do they. “You’re just a popularizer.”
But some people do see the need to reach broader audiences, and I’d say it’s a growing trend. Or maybe it’s just that it’s the part of the stream that I find myself often (not always) swimming in. And there are other trends throughout society to make scholarship known to the wider public, most noticeably in venues such as the Great Courses, which, if you don’t know about, you really should!
In any event, this friend of mine over a glass of wine suggested that start a blog about the New Testament (he was a non-scholar, but deeply interested in reading and learning) for interested normal folk (as opposed to abnormal scholars) and pointed out I could charge for it. I thought he was crazy. For one thing, who would join? For another thing, I don’t need the money. I’d rather spend my time working on scholarship. But he pointed out that I could give the money away to good causes.
That got me seriously to thinking. Maybe I *could* do that. I’ve always had a soft spot for charities helping the poor and needy, the hungry, the homeless, the outcast. (I’m one of those people who can’t believe that *everyone* doesn’t have that soft spot.) And so I put the idea in the back of my mind and every now and then would think about it, what it would entail, how much of my life it would take, how it could actually be pulled off. It took a couple of years before I thought seriously about pursuing it.
As I recall it (this would be eight or nine years ago) Steven Ray, the computer whiz, website designer, and skilled administrator who has been with me from the beginning and keeps this ball rolling on both the macro and micro level, contacted me out of the blue (he maybe had read one of my books?) to see if I needed any computer / website / social media assistance. I looked into his work, decided to start talking to him about the possibilities of some kind of blog (or app or whatever) to raise money for charity. He was gung ho. We worked it all out over the course of months and months.
There were all sorts of administrative headaches: I had to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, get a lawyer involved, draw up documents to make us official, etc. etc.
And then there was the problem of how to structure it: what to post on, at what level (not high-level scholarly obviously; but where to pitch it?), with what tone (how to avoid Internet rudeness and vitriol!), and how often? I figured that if people were paying, they needed constant content. And so I determined to make it 5-6 times a week, about a thousand words a post, on a range of topics over Christianity’s first four centuries. It’s pretty much turned out that way. Now seven years later it is five times a week, roughly 1200 words a post.
My initial thought was that we could raise $20,000 a year after we got established, and that seemed like a good goal to me. But I wondered if I would want to sustain it for more than a couple of years. It turns out that I no longer seem to have a choice!
So, the very, very good news. The blog continues to grow. We have over 7100 paying members. The revenue has grown steadily, massively beyond my original expectations, moving into what seem to me to be fairly whopping numbers. During this past year (as of this morning) we raised and distributed $158,000 to charity. That’s an increase of more than 13% over the year before, 34% over two years ago. Altogether, we have now raised and distributed over $700,000. That’s some serious money. As an ambitious and driven fellow (I try to think of this as a good thing, so long as it’s under control), I continue to set higher and higher goals. I’d like us to do even better next year.
The blog seems very healthy in every other way as well. Posts come out regularly; we get lots of comments; I try to answer all the questions. Over the past seven years I have made 2013 posts (this will be 2014); that is over five and a half per week, each and every week. Haven’t missed a week yet! And we have received from all of you, and posted, 80,459 comments! Over eleven thousand a year, 220 a week. Yikes. And growing
There’s a lot more that can be said, but that’s basically where we are. A couple of final comments:
- If there are things we think we can improve, *please* let us know, whether involving either content, conception, lay-out, customer service, anything.
- We very much want to grow both in membership and revenue. Two ways you can help us out. We would appreciate both very, very much.
- If you are really happy with the blog and want to show your appreciation, please consider making a donation to the blog. We have received donations from $5 to $5000. We will take anything you can give and will be forever thankful. None of the money comes to me. It ALL goes to charity. But it is the reason I keep this thing going, even though it consumes a chunk of my life that I could be devoting to other things I really long to do as well. But who can turn a back on all the good things connected with the blog?? All donations, whether one-time shots or set up as ongoing periodic contributions are very, very welcome.
- Also, please spread the word about the blog. That doesn’t cost you a penny. There are lots and lots and lots of people who would be interested in joining, if they only knew about it. Tell anyone who is potentially in that crowd: family members; friends; neighbors; members of your church; synagogue; or civic group; your dentist, lawyer; or plumber. And consider giving GIFT memberships (easy to do: just click the button on the homepage) to some of these.
In conclusion I’d like to thank Steven for his incredible hard work and dedication to the blog. It wouldn’t happen without him. He is skilled, sensible, and savvy. And thanks to all of you as well. You are not just the paying members; you are the raison d’être!