It’s an unfortunate fact that New Zealand lacks a strong cultural niche that recognises and promotes theologically conservative Christian scholarship of excellence in the humanities, specifically philosophy and theology, apologetics and biblical studies that interacts with some of the radical scholarship of recent decades? The choice here seems to be between denominational/theological partisanship that paints itself into the corner of irrelevance on one hand and liberalism where scandal and smugness is more important than truth on the other.
Are there people out there in this small pond who aren’t like that? Yes. But is there anything out there to encourage them? Is there anything to aim for? Are there parachurch organisations with this sort of scholarly orientation to aspire to be involved with, as there are in other countries? Not at all, as far as I can tell. Do we have colleges of higher learning with this sort of emphasis? Well we have Christian colleges of higher learning, but none who seem to taking any steps in this direction (one of them has made some muted murmurs about future possibilities, but that is as far as it goes). Are there networks through which Christian scholars can connect to others in their position? Not really, no. Do secular universities look kindly on those qualified people with primary interests in these areas? Well, there aren’t many Universities in New Zealand anyway, but the answer is still no. Were I a vocal sceptic I would have better chances – sad but true. Does your own church have enthusiasm for the unique contribution someone in this position can offer in its teaching programmes? Not in my experience.
What to do? I was recently reminded (by Madeleine of M and M actually) of a slogan that we have in my part of the world: “World Famous in New Zealand.” It has the following usage:
The phrase “World famous in New Zealand” is a commonly-used phrase within New Zealand. It is used to describe items that though famous within New Zealand are unknown in the rest of the world, whereas similar items and people in larger countries would have a far higher media profile and would therefore be famous worldwide.
The term is simultaneously both parochially proud and self-deprecating. It indicates a pride that a small country should be able to produce individuals which, in the opinion of the speaker, would be of a necessary standard to become world famous, yet at the same time it recognises that these individuals come from a country which does not have a high international recognition factor, and therefore these individuals are destined to remain “big fish in a small pond.”
Given the lack of institutional / organisational or professional interest in high level Christian apologetics and the study of what I’d call the Christian liberal arts, anyone in New Zealand who is passionate about those fields of study and has a passion to see standards improved in New Zealand will eventually get “World Famous in New Zealand” syndrome. There they sit with a PhD and a passion and not much else. An axe to grind but nothing to grind it on. Unless they are uncommonly well resourced they can’t just start a school, and there are no pre-existing well connected networks that they can make use of to put themselves out there. In musical terms, there’s no orchestra to join, they have to be a street performer and hope that enough people happen to notice them.
Well, this blog is my main street performance. Another New Zealand Blog that most of my readers will be familiar with, M and M, is the street performance of Matthew and Madeleine Flannagan – what I say here applies in their case as well. Here in New Zealand it’s regarded as a bad thing to personally promote the quality of what you do. Tall Poppy Syndrome is alive and well, and if you’re seen to be noting your own achievements, people want to tear you down. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, so this blog post is about as overt as it gets for me: This blog and podcast and the work behind it, along with Matt and Madeleine’s blog and the work that goes into it, are world famous in New Zealand in roughly the unfortunate sense outlined earlier. OK, so we and our websites aren’t that famous in New Zealand, but they have gained some recognition beyond New Zealand. Were we in other contexts with access to better resources, networks and opportunities, I don’t think that there’s anyone who visits either of our websites who would doubt that our profiles would be considerably higher. Either of our blogs on its own has a lot more traffic than the website of the Prime Minister of this country – heck, a lot more traffic than the website of the New Zealand Parliament. However, to get the kind of kudos that is going to have any impact on future opportunities, it’s an unfortunate fact that we have to put in an effort significantly greater than we might elsewhere. That’s where you, the reader, come in. A person can do all they like, but unless there’s a public, there’s no profile. I need to continue to expand the readership base of this blog, and also the listening audience of the podcast, so that I can enhance the reputation of them both. If you like what you see here on a regular basis, here’s what you can do:
First, come back often. Increased traffic is one way to improve the site’s ranking and visibility. I’ll do my best to keep good material flowing so that there will be something waiting for you when you return.
Second, spread the word. If you like what you see here, chances are other people will too. Let them know about it. Even if it’s just a matter of sending an email to someone who has some interests in philosophy or theology – or even just interesting material from a Christian perspective. Drop them a line and say “hey, I don’t know if you’ve seen this before, but there’s a blog you might be interested in. There’s this podcast there too. Check it out, let me know what you think.” This is all the more relevant if there has recently been a discussion on something that I’ve written on in the articles section of the site or at the blog. Especially do this with teachers or ministers. It’s not all about data oriented things like traffic statistics. The fact is, I want people to be exposed to what I have on offer because I think it’s worth seeing. The more people see it and the more word of mouth spreads, the more visible this place becomes.
Third, via the link on the right hand side of this page there’s a link to the page for the podcast at the iTunes Store. You’ll need iTunes installed to go there. Some people who don’t necessarily visit the blog much at all still listen to the podcast via the iTunes store. The store has a massive audience and a huge number of podcasts for people to subscribe to for free, and more peoples might check out mine if you write a review of it there.
Forth, In addition to word of mouth, a good way to draw attention to the blog is by linking to it. When a subject comes up elsewhere at blogs or discussion boards, feel free to provide a link to an article or blog entry that I’ve written on it. Please don’t just spam websites with links of course. If you have a blog of your own, you’re more than welcome to link back to blogs entries I’ve written here.
We’ve got to change the Christian intellectual culture here if we’re going to see change, and we have to establish a couple of voices to do that. Count me in, and I think M and M make natural partners in crime (and I already know they feel the same way). Let’s make this a huge year by kicking this site up a notch and taking over the world. Do you see the Alexa “Traffic Rank” box over on the right? That’s the world wide ranking of this web address (www.beretta-online.com). For November and December this blog was ranked #5 in New Zealand and M and M, in December, were ranked #3. But to make waves from new Zealand, we’ve got to do more than would ordinarily be required. That worldwide ranking needs to be below 100,000 for both of us. It means putting in a concentrated effort in getting quality material online, and it also needs the help of those who support what this site is about.
Are you in?