CCEL: The Vision

I would love to build the CCEL into a theological library containing 1000 of the most important public-domain works for theological study, containing:

  • Around 1000 volumes, selected by theologians and ministers from a variety of Christian traditions, to cover important topics for theological study and edification. A premliminary list of books wanted is available, but much more work must be done to develop it.
  • A good Bible translation for study that can be distributed relatively cheaply, such as the NRSV
  • Coverage of topics important for theological students
  • Commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons, and other reference works
  • Classic sermons and sermon illustrations
  • Indexes to the material by scripture reference (WWSB) and topic
  • The Bible and other important works in the original languages
  • Greek and Hebrew dictionaries and study tools
  • Markup of the texts in XML to identify theological subject matter, scripture references, etc.
  • A flexible, easy-to-use search engine
  • "Guided tours" or self-study guides on various topics

How will the Library be Distributed?

  • It will continue to be freely available on the Internet
  • It will be available inexpensively on CD-ROM (or DVD).
  • It will be distributed cheaply or for free to as many English-speaking, CD-ROM-drive-equipped theologians, ministers, missionaries, and seminaries in the 2nd and 3rd worlds as possible
  • Since the texts are public domain and no copyright will be asserted, the texts will doubtless appear in many other print and electronic editions, as is already the case for the texts on the CCEL

What will it take to Get There?

To scan and mark up 1000 volumes of 1MB each, a company might expect to pay around $3,000,000. In order to do this in a project without funding, we will have to depend on contributions, sales of the CCEL CD-ROM, many hours of volunteer labor, the use of existing Internet resources, a longer time-frame, hard work motivated by love, and the grace of God. The current CCEL CD-ROM has around 200 volumes and is four years in the making; extrapolating suggests a 20-year project.

Immediate tasks include:

  • Selecting a committee of theologians and ministers from a variety of traditions and developing a bibliography
  • Defining an XML-based markup language for representing information important for on-line bookreading and theological study
  • Developing the organizational structure for a theology- or subject-oriented index to the information
  • Writing programs and developing databases to support the indexing, searching, and organization
  • Continuing to find, scan, and proofread the 1000 texts

How can I Help?

  • Tax-deductable contributions can be made to Christian Classics Ethereal Library · 3201 Burton St SE · Grand Rapids, MI 49546.
  • Purchase the CCEL CD-ROM. Give one to a friend. Make sure your favorite bookstore carries it. Review it for a magazine.
  • Anyone with important electronic texts in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin should let me know about them. Better still, if you know one of those languages, you could help by typing in a text.
  • If you download, print, and read one of the books on the CCEL, circle any possible typos and send the printout to me for correction.
  • Eventually, there will be a need for many students of theology to identify and mark theological topic and scripture references in texts.

Will it really happen?

Humanly speaking, it seems unlikely. On the other hand, four years ago I would never have expected to be working with old theological texts, let alone maintaining a library accessed millions of times a year or producing a CD-ROM and distributing it worldwide. God has paved the way.

So, it is clear that the project will happen at least in reduced form, because it is happening, through the grace of God. Pray that it will continue to progress. It may be the most significant advance in theological libraries since Gutenberg.

Harry Plantinga

Addendum: Five Years Later

In the last five years, we have made some significant progress in the project as described above. The XML-based markup language (ThML) has been designed and implemented throughout the library. We have an architecture that converts ThML documents to desired formats, an installable architecture, and a java search engine. The infrastructure is getting close!

We have more than 500 volumes, some 300 of which are in ThML. Much more work remains in digitization, proofreading, and markup. Since the current works no longer fit on a CD, it is apparent that the final library will have to be on several CDs or on a DVD.

In order to develop the bibliography, we created an on-line bibliography development system [not yet re-created in the new CCEL framework] where CCEL users can suggest additions and vote on the importance of various works.

We have worked for years on trying to set up a relatively easy method of editing XML documents, so that volunteers can more easily prepare documents for use on the CCEL, without great success so far. Current methods still require significant technical knowledge of XML, etc. This is an area we will address in the future. When it is easy for less sophisticated users to prepare books, we expect the list of volumes available will grow much faster.

God is faithful and has supplied what I needed to work on this project of his for the last ten years. It still looks like a 20-year project from here. Half done!

August 8, 2003

CCEL Vision: 2006

God has been faithful, and the project as described above is getting closer to completion. We have nice search capabilities and CD-ROM software. There are 650 XML documents. More than 5000 older CDs have been distributed, free or at low cost, to overseas missionaries, ministers, students, and other interested users, with permission granted to make and give away copies -- so there is no telling how many copies are in existence. Several new CDs are in the works.

This vision has changed little over the years. Probably at the end of 20 years we will have more than 1000 documents. To protect the project, copyright has been asserted on XML files, with permission automatically granted for all uses other than large scale or commercial republication of books.

Use of the web site has continued to grow for these thirteen years, with about 600,000 visitors viewing 6,000,000 pages a month.

Lately, I have been focusing on building the CCEL into something that will last beyond my eventual retirement from the project—which is hopefully still a few years away. We are trying to build revenue through donations, advertisements, and CD sales, so that the CCEL can hire 2-3 full-time workers.

In all this, the goal continues to be to make available classic Christian writings, promote their use, and build up the church.

September 19, 2006