I’m back from Greece and Turkey now, with two weeks with nothing to do but work like a  wild-person day and night on my book project on Christian tours of heaven and hell in relation to their Greek and Roman predecessors.   I’m madly into Virgil’s Aeneid just now.  Great stuff.  I’ll say more about it anon.

But it seems like a good time for me to pause for a day and take assessment of developments on the blog and get your reactions.  I do this a couple of times a year, as old-timers will know.  My basic questions:  How is the blog going, from your point of view?  And is there anything we should change/do differently?  Any feedback at all is welcome – just let me hear it.

The goal, of course, is to keep the customers satisfied and to draw more in.  I’d like to use the blog to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the early Christian movement more broadly, for three interrelated reasons.  First, of course, is that I think this material – both the history and the literature of early Christianity — is of vital importance for understanding our world, our culture, and our civilization.  Whether we are people of faith or not, whether we are drawn to Christianity or not, and, in short, whether we like (or love) it or not, our entire history (past and present) can’t be understood without knowing about these Christian roots.

But, second, most people are woefully ignorant about early Christianity.  Or rather, the vast majority of people are woefully misinformed about it.  Everyone seems to have an opinion about Jesus, the Bible, the earliest Christians, etc.   But very few people actually know anything about these things, let alone scholarly information based on careful study of all the ancient sources of information.  People basically think what they have heard (often repeatedly) on TV, or at Sunday School, or in some popular book written by someone who was regurgitating what she read in another author who was repeating what he heard from a preacher who was vaguely remembering what she heard once in seminary.  Etc.    On the blog you get actual scholarly information based on rigorous historical and literary analysis – not just my personal views, but 99% of the time views widely shared by intelligent and hard-working experts who have devoted their lives to the topic.  That’s all to the good.

The third reason is intimately related but far more broad-based.  We live in very, very scary times, far scarier than any I’ve experienced in my brief 63 years on this planet.   Times are scary for all sorts of reasons (you can come up with your own list), but one of them is that the very idea of “truth” is under extremely serious assault.   Huge numbers of our fellow citizens don’t appear to believe in truth or to care.  They can’t tell a lie from a truth.  They don’t think expertise is anything other than personal opinion.  If they hear something different from what they want to think, they reject it.  If someone shows it’s a lie, they claim the person is deceived and bad-intentioned and out to destroy us all.

The basic problem, as I see it, we are moving into an age where evidence doesn’t matter.  All that matters is rhetoric and claims, whether based on evidence, no evidence, or flat out deceit.   This ain’t good.

I’m a proponent of truth and evidence and solid argumentation.  I hope you are too!  But we need to fight against those who don’t care about the truth so long as they get what they want.   The blog is a tiny, minuscule attempt to stand up for expertise and evidence and real historical knowledge.

ANYWAY, enough of the rant (one that not even I saw coming!).   Back to the details of the blog.  I’d like feedback.

Recently I’ve done a couple of things that I’d like your opinion on.  As you may have noticed, I’ve started using “guest posts” more frequently, with scholars in the field contributing guest posts on something they’ve done or are doing their research on.  I have more lined up.  But what do you think of this as an addition to the blog?

For the blog’s first several years I had readers ask (sometimes plead) for other voices than mine.  But every time I asked a fellow scholar to contribute a guest post, they hemmed and hawed, and said something about being busy and, well, they never did it (even when they said they would).  But as the blog has grown over the past couple of years, I’ve come up with a new strategy with much better success.  I’ve told a colleague about the numbers of members, around 7500 just now, plus thousands of more who tune in via Facebook, Twitter, and the blog Podcast, and pointed out that if they’ve just written a book this is absolutely free advertising among a crowd that is deeply interested in the sorts of things they’re doing and would not know about their book otherwise.

That seems to be doing the trick!  But what do you think of the idea of guest posts?   Am I doing too much of that sort of thing?  Not enough?  About right?   Give me some feedback.

ALSO, this past couple of weeks I’ve posted a short thread of much more technical scholarly posts (re-posting them actually) to show the level of argumentation that gets done in academic circles rather than for general readers.   I am certainly not inclined to do that a *lot*, but it does seem worthwhile to do on occasion, in part to show that scholars who state their views are not simply stating an opinion based on guessing but on the basis of a very close analysis that simply is not possible for anyone lacking the training and expertise (in ancient languages, a broad knowledge of ancient literature in those languages, other scholarship over the centuries, etc.).

But is that worth doing on (rare) occasion?  Or not so much?

The other thing I tried was that blog debate with a conservative Christian who wanted to prove there are no contradictions in the Bible.  I found the exercise frustrating – as I knew full well I would – but it did seem to spark a bit of interest.  And we used it to raise extra funds.  It brought in probably $3000 or so altogether.  So that’s good.   But what do you think?  Do you like that kind of thing?

I doubt if I would do too much of it, since if I were to debate an established scholar on any topic of interest I couldn’t just whip out the posts, but would have to do serious research.  That would be an enormous effort, comparable to writing an academic article.  Not sure I can do that.  But maybe on some topics on some occasions?  What do you think?

The ultimate goal of the blog, as you know, is to raise money for those in need.  Need is increasing these days.  I’d like to keep growing the blog – growing it exponentially rather than incrementally if possible.  If you have any ideas about how to do that, do let me know!

And give me any other feedback you’d like.  This blog is for *you* — I want it to meet your needs and expectations.   Many thanks for being part of the venture.