With so many Christian resources now available on the web it can be a hard job sorting the wheat from the chaff. That’s why here at Christianity we’ve gone out into the fields, scythes in hand, and brought back a bountiful harvest that will keep your bellies full for years to come. There are blogs, news, music, education, comedy, and even apps that you can put on your phone. So why not pop on the kettle, sit down at your computer and let the world come to you...
If you’re a leader or member of your church worship team then you’ll know how hard it can be to keep developing both the songs that you do and the abilities of the musicians involved. This problem was spotted by Tim Hughes and Al Gordon who now run the excellent Worship Central site. Here you’ll find a wealth of tuition videos for musicians that cover useful subjects such as atmospheric guitar, being a backing vocalist, and drum patterns for particular songs. There’s also plenty of teaching on worship available either as videos on the site or on audio podcasts you can download.
Other cool features are blogs by various worship leaders, free new songs complete with chord charts, and a forum where you can discuss all things worship related. If you’re looking to move on from singing ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ every week then this site should be your first port of call.
Free ESV Bible App
Smart phones and iPods have taken the world by storm in the past few years, bringing with them the now ubiquitous app. These little programs have dedicated functions and so many exist that Apple uses the advertising slogan ‘there’s an app for that’ in their marketing.
Thankfully Crossway, a not-for-profit Christian publishing company, has produced its own free app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad which contains the ESV Bible. Visually it’s very pleasing, and the app allows you to scroll through the text, tap on any verse you want to highlight, bookmark for later reading, or to see any related articles or comments. The app itself is downloaded onto your device so once you’ve installed it there’s no need for an Internet connection. Search for it on iTunes.
With more of us spending a large portion of our time sitting in front of a computer it’s good to know that BibleGateway exists. The site is an online Bible that’s searchable by keywords, which is great if you’re trying to remember a verse but can’t quite recall exactly how it goes. There are multiple versions available including NIV, NASB, KJV, NLT and even several foreign language translations (so if you’ve ever wanted to know how John 1 reads in Swahili this is the place to go).
Commentaries accompany the text, accessible by the click of an icon, and there’s also the very useful feature of searching by topic – perfect for those in-depth Bible studies. Reading plans are available either on the site itself, via email, or by RSS feed, and there’s even a ‘verse of the day’ feature that can be listened to. Bookmark it now.
An essential app for your smartphone is the YouVersion reading plan. As we all know, a structured approach to reading the Bible can deepen our understanding of the themes and the times in which they were written. This app offers a wide range of plans that allow you to study scripture differently as you work through them year after year.
You could choose to follow a chronological path, canonical, blended testaments, or simply a classic one-year version. Each day your verses are ready for you and are then ticked off as you read them. There’s also a percentage display to let you know how far you’ve progressed and the amount of days left until you finish. It does require an Internet connection but as free wifi is often available in coffee shops it just becomes a good excuse to sit in one with a latte while feeding your soul.
Apple’s flagship online store has recently celebrated selling over 10 billion songs, making it the largest music retailer in the world. But alongside Lady GaGa, the Beatles, and Leona Lewis there’s a lesser known part to iTunes that is a hidden treasure. iTunes University includes various free audio and video lessons from some of the most prestigious academic centres in the world, including Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Westminster Theological Seminary. Here you can study courses in theology, history, psychology, and a host of others in the comfort of your own home, on the bus, or even while out for a run.
The teaching is top-notch and the courses go into enough depth to be genuinely enlightening. So, no term-times, you’ll never be late for a lecture, and homework is optional. Reserve your seat of learning now. iTines is a free download from www.apple.com/uk
In recent years the speed and reliability of broadband has led to a change in the way people interact online. One excellent example of this is St Pixels, one of the world’s first online churches. Before you begin to worry, this isn’t some mysterious cult that’s popped up on the Internet offering salvation for $10 a month.
Instead it’s a secure, intelligent, and genuinely loving environment where Christians can come from around the world to worship together. Meetings take place in a virtual church, akin to a chatroom, with someone leading the service and encouraging responses from the congregation. In many ways it shouldn’t work, but on my last visit I found the service both moving and edifying. Recently the church has set up a peer-to-peer discipleship section so members can keep themselves accountable to each other, something naysayers have often said is missing online.
If you’ve ever wanted to study theology at the prestigious Spurgeon’s College but don’t fancy quitting your day job or moving to southeast London then its new online college might be just the thing. From the comfort of your own armchair you can work your way towards a certificate, diploma, or even full degree. The courses are modular and have no set time limit so you can study at your own pace. Each student has a module tutor assigned to them to aid in their studies, and the courses are supplied online in a multi-media format. At the certificate level modules cost £100 each and there are nine compulsory and a choice of eight optional ones that you can mix and match to achieve the 120 credits that it takes to achieve the qualification. There’s also a sampler module if you just wish to dip your toe in.
Tired of mainstream music? Growing weary of the same artists being played on the radio all the time? Corneas still recovering from the visual assault of neon colours and badly arranged pages on MySpace? Then let your search for the next big thing guide you to Reverbnation. This site is home to thousands of independent, emerging artists from all around the world, which you can search for by genre or even location – allowing you to tap into the music scene in your area. The layout is clear and simple with each artist having their own page which can feature songs, videos, biographies, tour dates, and even press clippings. Contact details are available so you can book them or simply say hello. Of course if you have any songs of your own then you can sign up for a free account and get your music out into the world.
Apple’s talismanic CEO Steve Jobs recently stated that people didn’t want to buy music any more, but would rather rent it. It might seem a strange statement to make but when you see Spotify you realise he might have a point. After installing the free software on your computer you can listen to pretty much any music you like at no cost. The occasional advert comes between tracks, but less often than the radio and without the chatter from the DJ. For an additional £10 a month you can also use the service on your iPod or Smartphone and download the albums to the device so you don’t need an Internet connection to listen to them. There’s a massive collection of Christian artists, with many of the latest releases available, and a great ‘Related Artists’ feature that will help you discover more music you might like. Brilliant.
Books are most wondrous things: cheap, eminently portable, and home to wisdom and adventure. As excellent as they are, there are some occasions when they just aren’t practical. Try washing the dishes, driving your car, or even walking down the street while you’re reading and the results will be either a soggy book or physical harm. That’s where Christian Audio comes in. The site specialises in audio versions of Christian books which can be downloaded to your iPod, PC or smartphone with ease. One problem with audiobooks is that they are usually much more expensive then their printed brethren, but as these are mp3 versions the costs are kept to a minimum, which is a real blessing in the current financial climate. The site also gives away a free audiobook each month, with recent titles including Desiring God by John Piper and Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff. A truly indispensable site.
News and Opinion
Calling itself the ‘Internet Newspaper’ the Huffington Post is one of those rare success stories of a blog that now makes money and is thought of as a serious journalistic publication. The Post is comprehensive and covers almost every subject you would expect from a news site, such as politics, sport, tech, the arts, and of course religion. The focus may be heavily American, and the content doesn’t limit itself to just reporting on Christian issues, but the writing is always intelligent, balanced, and informed. Due to the Post’s online format it also has the enviable position of being up to date and able to report on events as they happen. As a barometer of the spiritual condition of the world it makes for fascinating reading that will challenge and inspire in equal measure.
Many of you will be familiar with the excellent Ship of Fools site, and if you’re not then you really should be. Now in its 13th year (that’s 91 in website years) the Ship has grown into an online community with lively bulletin boards (called Heaven, Hell and Purgatory), that discuss such important subjects as ‘Religion and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Haggis Hunting’, and ‘Songs or Hymns suitable for a dog’s funeral’. The weird and wonderful are brought to the fore in ‘John Calvin’s Newsround’, and weekly reports about church services are filed by the ‘Mystery Worshipper’. There is a serious side to the site too, with regular features looking at modern culture and world events, plus many controversial and difficult subjects discussed in the chatrooms with mature and wise contributions. For a one-stop-shop that meets many of your daily needs the Ship of Fools is a very worthy choice.
Jonathan Acuff’s blog is a great place to go if you want to read musings on the Christian life that are painfully honest, challenging, a touch irreverent, but most of all funny. Covering subjects as varied as ‘Praying for things we shouldn’t pray for’, ‘Elbowing someone during a sermon’, and ‘Having a black belt in worship crowd control’, Acuff’s writing style is witty and insightful. Being a preacher’s son and spending most of his life in the Church has given him copious amounts of experience and material to draw from, all of which is done with a real sense of love that allows him to point out faults without seeming judgemental. The blog has become so popular that a book baring the same name was released last year containing some of the best posts from the site, of which there are many. Something to definitely brighten up your day.
This blog was started in the year 2000 by the now sadly deceased pastor Michael Spencer. Since then it’s come to be regarded as one of the most influential and intelligent sites around. The ground covered is far and wide, with Spencer’s desire to find a ‘Jesus-shaped spirituality’ often coming into conflict with how he saw the US evangelical movement behaving. Although he never baulked at tackling a difficult subject, his posts always contained much grace and were deeply considered. Spencer passed away at the beginning of 2010 but such is his legacy that the site has carried on, with his good friend Michael Mercer continuing to write new posts and search the archives for Classic Monk reprints of some of Spencer’s best entries. The book Mere Churchianity (Waterbrook Press) was printed after his death and is a fine collection of the remarkable man’s thoughts and hopes for the Church.
Church Mouse is a cross between a Christian news service (albeit selective), and a newspaper diary column, with a slightly irreverent selection of news titbits. The author states ‘What interests the Mouse most is how badly people in church are able to relate to people outside church,’ but its is actually a bit broader than that. It is often critical of the Church and its actions, but usually fairly gentle with it. It will also point out clear issues with those who are commenting on the church too. In any case, it makes an interesting read.