Something for you at iTunes U

iPods play files that are downloaded to a computer and then transferred to an iPod. There are also other “portable devices” that play these computer files known as MP3 files. “iPod” is the name of the device sold by Apple.

One can transfer “sound” to a computer and then to an iPod from a variety of sources such as a voice recorder, CD, or an Internet Web site. For iPod users the major downloading site is “iTunes.” The iTune Store is available when the software is downloaded from the Apple Web site  (http://www.apple.com/itunes/overview/). iPods are chiefly associated with listening to music. “Young people” have been primary users, downloading millions of songs and making “iTunes” a cultural icon.

Why should we in the church be interested in iPods and iTunes? For many reasons these days.

One is that a growing number of churches put audio files of their Sunday worship services on their Web site so they can be downloaded to a computer and also to an iPod. Anyone, anywhere  can then listen to the service.

Some churches go on to establish a “channel” on iTunes so their worship services are available on that busy site. You can “search” the site and find music, movies, TV shows, iPod games — and services from “First Presbyterian Church.” If you visit the iTunes site and type “Presbyterian” into the “Search” box you will be amazed at all the “hits” you get!

But now there is another reason why Christians — and Presbyterians — should be interested in iTunes. Recently a new feature called “iTunes U” appeared. Educational institutions present all kinds of content, from student orientation materials, to school videos, to lectures from many academic disciplines. The lectures are now full enough to provide a virtual feast for learners. In some institutions whole semester courses can be downloaded — for free! — and then transferred to your iPod or MP 3 player. You can listen to a lecture on ancient philosophy while you work out at the gym!

This is an exciting addition to learning in the church. Some theological seminaries are now also on iTunes U. There are a number of lectures on religion from colleges and universities on I-Tune U. Add to this, now, the resources from theological institutions and one has to think this is about “as good as it gets!”

Three seminaries that have been leading the way in making resources available for iTunes U are Concordia Seminary in St. Louis; Reformed Theological Seminary in several locations; and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. These represent three very different theological perspectives. But materials here are available for the edification of all Christians. From campus speakers and events, to chapel services, to full course lectures, there is a trove of materials here which makes solid theological scholarship available right on your desktop — or your iPod!

At Concordia, you can listen to courses on Fundamentals of Greek, Elements of Biblical Hebrew, or Lutheran Confessions. At Reformed Seminary, there are basic courses in Bible, Church History, and Theology, as well as on C.S. Lewis and the Puritans (with J.I. Packer). You can even hear talks by Reformation scholar, Frank A. James III on “The Calvin I Never Knew.” At Fuller there are lectures and chapel services featuring both Fuller faculty and visiting scholars who give the seminary’s annual established lectures.

Well-known Presbyterians show up in I-Tune U with various institutions. At Seattle Pacific University you can hear master pulpiteer, the late Bruce Thielemann preaching three sermons on dealing with disappointment. Donald Hagner of Fuller Seminary presents a lecture on “New Testament Themes of Body, Resurrection, and Afterlife” at Concordia Seminary. Darrell Guder of Princeton Seminary delivers the Payton Lectures on the Missional Church at Fuller Seminary. Presbyterians Marianne Meye Thompson and John Thompson are both heard at Fuller along with numerous contributions by Fuller President, Richard J. Mouw.  If you go to the Divinity School “group” of the Religion section at Duke University, you can hear Pittsburgh Seminary New Testament scholar Dale C. Allison Jr. present two lectures on “The Historical Jesus and the Theological Jesus.” All these Presbyterians — and more.

So there is something for you at iTunes U! We are witnessing a huge explosion in the kinds of “delivery systems” we use for information and entertainment in the 21st century. There is a kind of “iPod-ization of the World,” it seems. More and more different “bits” and “bytes” of information are available with little cost and at great convenience. The pros and cons of this cultural reality can be debated. But this is our world, today.

The great advantage for Christians is that salutary dimensions of technology can be used for God’s good purposes. The availability of theological resources through iTunes U is one of these dimensions. One hopes more theological seminaries will supplement materials on their own Web sites (and be sure to check these!) with participation in iTunes U so there is a clear focus for where this kind of content is available on the Internet.

Let’s hope too that seminaries will hear a “call” to digitize audio recordings they have amassed through the decades and make these available beyond library walls on their iTunes U channel. Can someone help fund this?

We have the most unprecedented opportunity in history to receive and to share theological resources with the world. Presbyterian Christians should use the treasures “iTunes U” can bring to live out our basic conviction that “faith seeks understanding.”

Donald K. McKim, an ordained Presbyterian minister,  is academic and reference editor for Westminster John Knox Press, Germantown, Tenn.

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