Elevator Pitch - Why This Ministry?

If I were trying to sell you on this ministry and only had a limited amount of time, here’s how I’d go about it. Many of the things mentioned here in brief are expanded on in greater depth on other pages. This is intended to be the “summary version” of what value this site brings to the table.

Ichthys readers interested in how this site compares to Ichthys should look here.

1.1 Content focus and methodology

  • This site highly prioritizes conciseness, focus, and clarity, making its writings shorter and more to-the-point than many alternatives.
  • All writing on this site is completely focused on what the biblical text says and means, and just about nothing else. Wherever scripture leads, that is where this site goes.
  • This site does however examine application in depth, with an eye towards making (sometimes) abstract Bible teaching easier to apply. The idea is not to lay down hard-and-fast rules, but to give a good starting point for individual application. Detailed discussions identify relevant variables in application, but leave the specifics up to the reader.
  • This site offers content at different levels, to make it useful to as wide a group of people as possible.
    • It has different content levels aimed at different levels of spiritual knowledge. There are resources for both new believers and seasoned spiritual veterans.
    • It has different writing levels for different levels of technical complexity. While all writing on the site strives to be as accessible as possible by avoiding unnecessary complexity, there is also the ability to go between a higher level version and lower level version of all content. The two are basically the same, but the lower level version uses a Bible version written at a lower level (the NIrV) in quoting scripture, and also omits complicated technical discussion.
  • All content is corrected, updated, and enhanced over time, with no lag-time whatsoever. Unlike books that can retain errors and suboptimal content for long periods of time between published updated versions (for example), all writing on this site is continually improved and revised.
    • For example, Q&A pages are commonly updated to include new Q&A chains, incrementally growing longer over time.

1.2 Content types

This site offers 8 different content types:

  1. Topical Studies: in-depth studies, in the manner of longform non-fiction books.
  2. Pages: shorter topical pages dedicated to brief but thorough treatments of individual concepts.
  3. Q&As: questions and answers by topic. Some of these Q&As come from correspondence with site readers, while others (both questions and answers) are completely of my own creation.
  4. Ministry Info: preparation and ministry information for specific ministries (e.g., apologetics, evangelism, music).
  5. Guides: video guides on various matters (e.g., using Bible study software).
  6. Study Group Recordings: recording archives of the meetings of a weekly Zoom Bible study group.
  7. Greek Resources: resources relating to the study of Ancient Greek.
  8. Hebrew Resources: resources relating to the study of Biblical Hebrew.

Breaking up the content on the site like this makes it easy for readers to find the resources they are interested in. Lack of useful content organization is a major pet peeve of mine, one this site very much tries to avoid.

1.3 Special content sections

This site has clearly distinguished special content sections with specific background colors for different kinds of writing. Marking out content like this is trivially easy on the technical side of things, but has huge benefits. Being able to tell at glance what a section deals with lets readers instantly focus in on and/or avoid specific kinds of content. Here’s a list of the special content sections this site makes use of:

  1. Quotes (silver background): writing from sources that is too long to incorporate into the body of the text with quotation marks. Under some circumstances, scripture references are displayed in these silver quote sections.
  2. Sidenotes (yellow background): writing that is somewhat unrelated to the greater point(s) at hand, but may nonetheless be useful and applicable.
  3. Indirect reasoning (blue background): writing discussing matters that we can and should be dogmatic about even though they are not directly addressed in scripture, because scripture addresses other things that are indirectly related.
  4. Application (green background): writing discussing application of biblical truths as a function of personal circumstances. The discussion found in these sections is much less black-and-white than all other writing on this site.
  5. Technical discussion (orange background): writing discussing technical matters, such as points of Greek and Hebrew grammar and lexicography, scholarly arguments about textual issues, difficult topics in biblical archaeology, and so forth.
  6. Cautionary notes (red background): writing focused on heading off false teaching. Cautionary notes also address possible pitfalls and traps in application.

This sort of fine-grained content sectioning seems to me to be very useful, even though I have not seen it employed a great deal elsewhere.

(Note: longer post hoc notes in posted Q&A correspondence use this same concept of sectioning by altered background color, although this particular case is somewhat semantically distinct from the other sections listed above).

1.4 Webpage ninja-powers (contrast static documents and especially paper resources)

Having content on a website allows for a few very helpful things that simply aren’t possible with static documents and especially paper resources. Hyperlinks and interactive JavaScript are exceedingly useful.

  • This site utilizes an interactive table of contents for each content page that allows you to directly link to all content sections (being able to directly reference specific parts of pages is very convenient), and dynamically updates its styling based upon where you are on the page so that you always have a good idea of your relative position. (This table of contents is independently scrollable so you can skim headings while retaining your position in a document).
  • Rather than merely quoting blocks of scripture as plain text, this site offers readers the option of using the API of the STEP Bible app – an excellent free online Bible study application – to embed interactive scripture passages right into the site’s writings. Using these embedded windows, you can instantly view cross-references, pull up parallel versions for comparison, and make use of an exhaustive original language concordance – all without leaving this site. You can resize the height of each embedded window independently, according to your preferences.
    • The embedded STEP Bible windows are especially useful whenever Greek and Hebrew come up, as the Greek and Hebrew texts have full morphological tagging and are cross-linked to lexicons.
  • This site has verse tagging that automatically displays scripture when hovering over verse references. Unlike many other implementations of the same feature on other sites, this site, via the settings page, allows you to choose the specific Bible version used as well as show or hide special links to Logos Bible Software.
  • Rather than using citations (which are cumbersome both for me as the writer and you as the reader), the writing of this site directly links to the vast majority of all sources used. This is perhaps not greatly surprising when it comes to things that are online to begin with (e.g., materials from Ichthys), but this site also directly links to digital reference books: Bible Dictionaries, Lexicons, Systematic Theologies, Church Histories, and so on. For example, here’s a link to the BDAG lexicon entry for the Greek word κύριος: BDAG > κύριος. In much the same vein as the already-mentioned special content sectioning – useful functionality that for whatever reason does not seem to be commonly offered – this full resource hyperlinking (inclusive of digital reference books), despite its seemingly obvious superiority, is something rather unique to this site.
    • I maintain a detailed resource index listing all the resources I use and link so that anyone (although especially other teachers) can buy the digital resources I use to instantly jump to the materials I reference. People with paper versions can still follow along based on the link text (the procedure I follow in forming this link text is explained on that same resource index page).
  • Whenever useful in writings, this site includes lists of links to related content so that readers can instantly find more resources on topics they are interested in. Many of these links to related content will be internal links (i.e., links to other things on this site), but some may also link to resources off-site, especially Ichthys resources.
  • The change history for any page can be viewed by looking at the page’s Markdown in the content folder of this site’s GitHub repository. This lets one get an idea of how a page has been updated over time.
  • In-line with this site’s focus on continual improvement, it is very easy for site readers to submit typo corrections and suggest more substantial content improvements. Every content page has a link in the menu sidebar titled “Edit on GitHub” – after clicking on this link (and creating a GitHub account, if necessary), anyone can instantly submit suggested content changes by editing the page’s Markdown. (Of course, I have to approve the changes before they actually go live on the site). You can find a video guide describing this process here.
  • Speaking of sidebar links, many pages on this site contain additional convenience links. Based on these links, readers can:
    • Instantly go back and forth between the higher and lower writing levels for the webpage.
    • Toggle on and off embedded scripture windows for the webpage.
    • Instantly jump back to the top of the webpage.
    • Go one page up or one page down on the webpage. While having links in the sidebar to accomplish this isn’t particularly useful when you have access to a keyboard that has PageUp and PageDn keys, when you are on a tablet or a phone, this allows for paginated reading, which is superior to scrolling when reading in-depth rather than skimming. (See more here).

2. Ministry-level advantages

2.1 Open to questions

This ministry encourages reader questions – questions that might, for example, ask for clarification on a point of teaching or for elaboration on something that is hard to understand. Being able to to have one-on-one conversations with teachers when needed is a large help, and not to be underestimated.

I personally have benefitted from email correspondence in such a way, having asked the teacher behind Ichthys many, many dozens of questions over the years. (Ichthys has a similar contact policy).

2.2 Staying up to date

This ministry allows for multiple different methods of staying up to date with content and site happenings more generally. Of the below options, you can use whichever one(s) work best for you.

  • There are comprehensive RSS feeds for all the various subgroupings of content you might want to stay posted on (e.g., for all the different content types). For what it is worth, RSS feeds are how I personally tend to stay up to date with sites I follow.
    • Having separate RSS feeds for different groupings of content (like this site does) is especially useful, as it lets you have a finer-grained approach when tracking new content.
  • There is a mailing list for staying updated about the ministry and wider community.
  • Things posted to the mailing list are also put up on the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages at the same time, so that folks can stay updated through whatever channel they are most comfortable with.

2.3 Useful meta pages

This ministry maintains a few high-level pages that enhance the site’s usability and functionality:

  • Links Page: contains an annotated list of ministries and Bible study resources I recommend.
  • Settings Page: contains interfaces for changing site-wide settings: preferred writing level, verse tagging preferences, and so on.
  • Glossary: contains brief (2-3 sentences max) definitions of various terms that come up in the site’s writings.
  • Subject Index: contains links to full pages and subsections of pages on this site, organized by topic.
  • Passage Index: contains links to places (full pages and subsections of pages) where I address specific passages from scripture. As a rule of thumb, any time I personally translate a passage, the page or subsection that passage shows up in will be linked here, and the translated passage itself will be linked in the Translation Index (as below). However, the Passage Index also contains links to individual pages or subsections where I do not personally translate a passage, but just talk about it.
  • Translation Index: contains direct links to passages that I have myself translated from the original languages.
  • Resource Index: contains the exhaustive list of the Bible study resources I personally use, as well my procedure in linking to resources (including digital books, via Bible software APIs).

2.4 Community

This ministry has a group of consistent readers and contacts that compose a community of sorts. With this group in mind, this ministry:

  • Maintains an active prayer list. If you want me to add/update/delete a prayer list request, just email me (steven@bibledocs.org).
  • Runs two weekly online Bible studies over video chat (presently using Zoom): a study focused on the original languages (Greek and Hebrew alternating weeks) on Sundays, and a more general Bible study on Saturdays. These are completely open to the public, although everyone participating ought to be aware that:
    1. These studies are recorded and publically posted on YouTube (so care needs to be taken to not talk about personal or sensitive things when the recording is rolling).
    2. Due to the open nature, participants are not screened beforehand. There is zero tolerance for unacceptable behavior (problematic actors will be swiftly removed), but no absolute guarantees can be made.
  • Offers discussion forums where readers can interact with one another.
  • Overseas a contact network, through which interested parties may be able to find others among the readers and contacts of this ministry who can help them with specific matters, or just find others to talk to more generally.

3. Technical advantages

This site has a lot of careful design that has gone into it, giving it a competitive edge. (At least in my completely-biased opinion). For example:

3.1 Superior raw performance

This entire site is static (built with Hugo) and hosted on the fast global content delivery network (CDN) of Netlify. Since everything can be cached on global edge nodes, local copies can be sent to site readers across the world with minimal transfer latency. The site is basically as fast as possible, in other words. Don’t just take my word for it: go ahead and check this site on website speed testers like testmysite.io.

  • Contrast sites that render a new webpage for every new request, like many WordPress sites. Aside from page rendering time, these sites also can’t be cached on CDNs as effectively.

On top of all this, this site’s design is lightweight (further enhanced by gzipping and minification for most all resources, including gzipping of images), and attempts to avoid overly heavy resources and frameworks. Even in the cases where only so much minimization can be done, since the entire site is static, local browser caching is very effective, meaning that most heavier files used only need to get loaded a single time anyhow.

  • This consideration is important for folks who have slow connections and/or limited data plans, like many folks in the developing world.

3.2 Optimal navigation and menu structure

This site takes pains to have dead-simple site navigation in the form of a persistent sidebar with no nesting. While a scrollbar may be necessary depending on your screen’s height, the presence of the scrollbar signals to the user “hey, scroll to see more menu links!” This type of menu navigation maximizes clarity, visibility, and “obviousness” – with the last concept being by far the most important principle in user interface design. Information scent (the idea of “where do I need to click to find…”) is maximized without depriving the user of functionality by having too few menu options.

  • You should read this critique of the so-called “hamburger menu” to get a sense of why all of the above is important and makes good design sense.
  • A vertical sidebar menu is used rather than a horizontal menu – even though either would work about the same in terms of information scent – because vertical space is more precious than horizontal space for web reading. The optimal typographical length of lines in text is narrower than desktop and even many portrait tablet screen widths, so you can see more content at any given point in time if you use a sidebar menu rather than a horizontal menu. Full stop.

3.3 Tailored mobile UX

Rather than simply “not losing functionality” when screen sizes get smaller (i.e., passing the bare minimum threshold of mobile responsiveness), this site takes pains to have the best user experience possible at various smaller screen widths. For example:

  • At mobile phone widths, a bottom bar is added, mimicking the bottom bars that phone operating systems already use. Rather than an unintuitive hamburger menu icon, the buttons to open the menu and page table of contents are clearly labeled.
  • At mobile phone widths, any block quotations of scripture being displayed in embedded windows via the STEP Bible app’s API are transitioned into plain text in order to save precious screen space.
  • At phone and tablet widths, more padding is added to the table of contents, since it will be actuated by finger presses rather than mouse clicks. Finger presses are much less precise, and it can be a big pain to click on a small (unpadded) link with one’s finger.
  • Etc.

3.4 Intelligent custom handling of embedded iframes

The embedded STEP Bible app windows have been designed to offer a streamlined reader experience:

  • The site does not render the embedded STEP Bible app windows until they have completely loaded (failing to do such leads to the embedded windows stealing focus as they start loading, causing the page to jump all over the place). Before such a point, the space they would take up is matched pixel-for-pixel with empty containers, so that when the embedded windows do load, they do not disrupt the reader by causing content to reflow. (N.B. for technical folks: lazy loading of off-screen iframes is the eventual ideal, but see here and here. What I explain above is me using client-side JavaScript to effect something similar to built-in browser lazy-loading – we’ll see when the HTML spec gets around to firming up the behavior of iframe lazy-loading).
  • The reader can dynamically resize the height of each of the embedded STEP Bible app windows independently, according to their preferences.