- Theological Education
Online book clubs at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library offer motivation, discussion opportunities.
"It just grew out of life’s situations. I believe it was a project God prepared for me and prepared me for." This is how founder of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), Harry Plantinga describes the online book club and library project. CCEL is referenced by many thousands of websites and institutions around the world including University of California at Santa Barbara and the Zion, Illinois public library. The books it contains have made their way out into the world.
"The Christian Classics Ethereal Library started way back in 1993, when there were only about 1000 websites in the world," said Plantinga, describing his family situation and the impetus for developing the online library.
He had learned that his two older children were deaf, by some defintions. After lots of testing, doctors were unable to eliminate Usher Syndrome, which is the leading cause of deaf-blindness.
"This scary possibility caused a crisis in our family, and I found a copy of the book, 'The Imitation of Christ' on a Gopher site (precursor to the web). It was helpful for me. However, I wanted to share it and it wasn’t in the public domain, so I scanned another edition and made it available. Then I read 'The Confessions of St Augustine,' which was also helpful for me, and I scanned it and made it available. What began as an hour a day of helpful reading grew into a web project that reaches millions," noted Plantinga, recounting how he started to share his resources with others.
There has been many forms of healing along the way.
"It doesn’t look as though Peter and Anna will be losing their vision. They are both doing well in graduate school," continued Plantinga.
The online book discussion groups are intended to provide a social component to the study of classic Christian books.
"The social aspect gives us motivation to read and opportunity to discuss and learn from each other," said Plantinga, describing one of the challenges of the project as "finding and training good leaders."
Scholars, clergy, and lay people use the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, fulfilling the stated mission of the organization to "build up the church by making classic Christian literature widely available and promoting its use for edification and study."
Other benefits of online book clubs include increased social interaction and recent research indicates that reading and discussing inspirational books can increase your happiness and self esteem, connection to community, and even your brain health. In a 2013 journal article, "Women bound to be active: differences in long-term physical activity between completers and noncompleters of a book club intervention," J.L. Huberty said, "compared with noncompleters, completers reported decreases in body mass index [became thinner], higher motivation for physical activity, higher ratio of benefits [self-esteem] to barriers [time], and more consistent physical activity. Completers more directly discussed the impact of their improved self-worth on their physical activity."
The CCEL offers nine online book clubs. Topics range from Christian mysticism, to the Book of Acts to “Pray, Praise & Ponder.” The groups can be found here. New members are welcome to subscribe.