You have stumbled into the little corner of the internet where I do my public thinking. By trade, I'm an evangelical missiologist and theologian. My family and I live in Houston where I serve a network of roughly 340 Baptist churches here in the city as a missions strategist. I'm also on faculty as an instructor of North American missiology for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Primarily, the notes in this commonplace book will deal with topics of theology and ministry. By thinking in public, instead of keeping these notes closed up, I hope my thoughts here will benefit others. And perhaps, these thoughts will be sharpened as well.
Since the notes are non-linear in nature, it's a little overwhelming at first. If you're looking for a starting place in my notes, you can start at the Map of Content in order to get a high level view of the topics covered. If you're interested in learning a little more about the commonplace book approach, just keep reading here.
The Commonplace Book.
The commonplace book has a long history and deep roots. For hundreds of years, scholars, writers, and thinkers in general carried what amounts to a scrapbook that they used to compile all of their notes. The book captured thoughts and became a place where those thoughts sharpened each other, giving birth to new ideas.
Commonplace books have been used by many of the greatest minds. One of the earliest references to the concept is the work of Marcus Aurelius.Aurelius, Marcus. The Thoughts of the Emperor M. Aurelius Antoninus. Boston: G. Bell & sons, 1897. They were common throughout the Rennaissance and have even been a mainstay of theologians. Many like Philliip Melanchthon publishing their works with the title Commonplaces.Why are so many great Lutheran books called “Commonplaces” or “Loci”?
The Digital Garden
Another, more recent, trend is the concept of a digital garden. A digital garden is an online space for public thinking and idea generation. If you're a scholar, researcher, or knowledge worker of any kind, you know what it's like to have a notebook full of half-baked ideas. Those of us who think and write for a living are constantly capturing ideas, and if we're not careful, that's as far as the process goes. By placing those notes back out in front of everyone, it creates a level of accountability to continue processing them. It also allows for the free exchange of ideas, which should be the goal of scholarship in the first place. That's when we turn a corner from note taking to note making.
How is this different than a blog?
There is certainly some overlap between this commonplace book and a traditional blog. Both are means of publishing information, of disseminating content created for a particular purpose. But, there are some important distinctions as well. A blog is linear in nature, with serial posts. These articles are also mostly polished products. With a blog, you don't hit publish until you're thoughts are finished. We need well-articulated, well-edited thoughts in the form of articles. I'm a big believer in the process of working your writing into this type of content for the good of others, and in my case hopefully the good of the church. I have a blog where those articles land. You can find it here: The Peoples Next Door. For another excellent treatment of the development of digital knowledge management, see Chris Aldrich, Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book, who provides a concise outline of the various methods of commonplace books with attention to digital renditions today. It's a quick read that covers a lot of ground and is well-sourced with other articles.
If a blog is the showroom, think of a commonplace book as the workshop. The thoughts stored here are not serial in nature. They are also not linear in format. Instead, this space houses networked thought that is changing all the time. These notes live and grow as my own research and study hopefully forms my thoughts. In this space, I can share the workshop with others, so that my thinking happens with scrutiny from others and as a means of spurring others on to think as well.