New Theology website proves uncommonly valuable
Last of a nine-part series spotlighting each GCU college as the fall semester begins.
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
They can go online anytime they want to see it … and hear it.
It’s a new website, theologycommons.org, that houses both an e-book and audiobook for Christian Worldview 101, required of all first-year students, and the new CWV 316 class, which takes that discussion to the next level.
For years, GCU students have said that the CWV material, written by faculty members, opened their eyes to what Christianity is all about. But people outside the University who have gotten to see it over the years – pastors, school principals, even spouses of students – also found it illuminating and weren’t shy about telling Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology.
“We’re trying to offer some resources to people who want to go a little deeper,” he said. “We thought, ‘Let’s just put it out there – GCU tends to be very open-handed about its resources – in a way where people can access it.
“Students often say, ‘I grew up in the church, and I had no idea this is what Christians believe or this is what Christians have historically practiced or the way they’ve come to these topics.’ Christian Worldview connects people with broader, deeper, more academic conversations. Students have gotten excited over the years about what this dialogue is about and how deeply it goes into matters that matter.”
Dr. Daniel Diffey tells the story of a student who was visibly upset during the first week about having to take the CWV 101 class. By the seventh week, she sent him a personal note and said the class had changed her life.
CWV instructors regularly share stories just like that with each other. That kind of thing happens when students learn how to view the world from a Christian perspective.
“Romans 12:1-2 says, ‘Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ We’re supposed to view everything through the lens of what it means to be a Christian. It’s not just Sunday morning. It’s, ‘How do I approach my job?’ It’s, ‘How do I interact with others on social media?’” Diffey said.
“When you think about that for the first time and you begin thinking about those big-picture issues of life, maybe for the first time ever, it really opens up students’ understanding of the world and the way we interact with God, the way we interact with others, the way we do every area and aspect of our life.”
The e-book contains the 11 chapters for CWV 101 that were used before this academic year plus seven new chapters for CWV 316. Diffey and Dr. Rich Holland each wrote two of the new chapters and shared the content editor duties. Other Theology faculty members contributed the remaining chapters and served as peer reviewers.
The key to this work is simplicity. If a concept is more complex, it’s boldfaced and then defined.
“When you’re writing something like this, you have to present very complex ideas in a simple manner so that they can be understood by someone who is approaching the text for the first time,” Diffey said. “Maybe it’s even someone who doesn’t know what you mean when you say, ‘Turn your Bible to John 3:16.’ They might be like, ‘How do I find John 3:16?’”
The process of writing the new chapters and then creating the website took about a year, and Holland said there was one other important consideration:
“The really hard part was making sure that all of the chapters, even though they were written by different authors, still spoke the same language. We wanted it to be cohesive and consistent.
“For the student and anyone else reading the book, we didn’t want it to come across as a collection of loosely related essays. We wanted it to come across as one book with one main theme, and I think we did really well with that.”
There were two other things that everyone agrees were done really well: the creation of the audiobook and of the website itself.
Audiobooks have become all the rage in recent years with the development of sophisticated listening devices. Just walk around your neighborhood, and you’re bound to see someone wearing cordless earbuds. Chances are, they’re listening to a podcast or audiobook.
An RSS feed was created to push the theologycommons.org audiobook to an Apple podcast. Best of all, it’s free.
“It opens up to a whole new readership or audience,” Diffey said. “Many people don’t read anymore, but a lot of people listen to audiobooks. A lot of people today hear and understand better than they read and understand.”
It was equally important that the audiobook be produced well, and that’s where Eric Johnson, Manager of the GCU Recording Studio, comes into the picture – and the sound.
Johnson has taken on the task of recording each chapter and is almost halfway done even though he didn’t start until late June. He estimates that it takes 10-15 hours to read, record, edit and publish each chapter. Just recording a chapter takes three hours alone.
“If I trip over a word, I have to stop and start again,” he said. “It takes two editing passes – the first one cleans it up, the second pass trims the timing so it doesn’t run too long.”
He also has to make sure that what he read is exactly the same as the text. It’s worth the effort.
“He did a great job,” said the college’s administrative assistant, Nyomi Mosley. “The first time I heard it I was like, ‘Oh, this works!’”
Mosley’s work in managing the creation of the website drew similar praise from Hiles and the faculty. Before now, Theology Commons was Room 141 in the Theology Building – a place, like a reading or math lab, where students could consult an instructor or instructional assistant or tap into reading materials.
The pandemic meant that space had to be closed temporarily, but it also meant the website was needed that much more.
“It was actually a really fun project,” Mosley said. “We wanted those resources to still be available to students. We already were thinking about moving to the digital platform, and with what was happening, it was the right time.”
The website went live Aug. 24, and students will hear about it early and often when ground classes begin Sept. 8 with three weeks on an online platform. There are plans to fill it with plenty of other content, including material for the new Barnabas Pastoral Program.
But as Holland noted, there’s something else they hear consistently from Theology faculty:
“I work really hard to be true to GCU’s approach as a missional university. I try to present the defense of the Christian worldview in a way that is not offensive to people who are not Christians. I take that very seriously, as all of our faculty do. We want to be friendly because we look at this as an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people who might not know it.”
Now they can readily see it AND hear it. Either way, it’s bound to give them a new sense of what the Christian worldview is all about.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
Also in the series:
GCU Today: GCU pledges its allegiance with teachers
GCU Today: CSET programs earn prestigious accreditation