[Oct 2005, note on gifts/donations added 2020; badly in need of review/updating...]
A quick overview...
The Christianthinktank: A safe place to get data about religious doubts
A free, public website—over 8000 pages—organized by questions and objections
“Questions you always wanted to ask at Church, but knew you would get suspicious looks if you did”
People send in hard questions—about their beliefs, the Bible, or God—and I do the research and write up responses—very DETAILED responses (long-winded). I have a backlog of thousands of questions—I only get to do 2-5 per year, depending on length.
It’s a safe place—no registration, no ‘tracking’, no cookies, etc. And when I answer a question, I routinely change gender, age, occupation, school, etc.
People can see that their secret questions and/or doubts are not ‘evil’ or ‘heretical’—many people have the same questions, and they can read on the Tank how one might approach those questions, intellectually and with an honest heart.
God uses—IMO—questions and doubts to help us personalize our spiritual journey. “God has no grandchildren”—He wants personal, vibrant, peaceful, and warm relationships with us as individuals. And doubts help us define who WE are, in relationship to His self-disclosure.
The website is generally well-respected by the skeptical leadership (some of whom are my friends now).
There are other subjects up there, but not much—mostly personal issues such as dealing with depression, failure, rejection, etc.
When was the thinktank first created?
It was created and posted up in
It was listed in the "What's New at NCSA" on Feb 3, 1995. (Screencap-pdf of the page as archived by Wayback machine--trimmed to just the two relevant pages. here)
How big is
It was originally 220 pages of text. It was approximately 5,000+ pages in Jan 2005. About 8K printed pages in late 2012 (est).
most popular pages on the Tank?
The Objections list (for obvious reasons) and the personal letters from me (Man behind the Curtain).
Is the material copyrighted, or can it be used 'at will'?
It is prayerware. (smile)
people work on the Thinktank?
Only one, but he is an extremely fragmented individual...
Huh? I have never heard of a one-man thinktank...aren't they supposed to have MORE THAN ONE person in them????
When I first started the Thinktank it was SUPPOSED to be exactly that--with more than just ME in it! (Normally Thinktanks have several 'thinkers' in them). My goal to was gather good-thinking, grace-living folks to assign various objections and issues to them for THEM to write a response. I would then, theoretically, review/edit/add-value to the piece, and then post it. My first attempt at this was to post the Atheist Manifesto and ask for readers to write responses. The first two I got (before I quickly shut the process down!) were really sub-standard and of too low a quality for me to use. They clearly meant well, and were eager to serve, but the answers were the 'pat' answers that had betrayed me and so many others before, in discussions with level 4+ skeptics. and the tone was a little too harsh, as well...I was then faced with the NIGHTMARE (for me) task of telling them "I cant use your submission, which you wrote JUST FOR ME, and poured your heart into"...I personally don't have the heart to do that, even infrequently, and so I stopped soliciting articles in early spring of 1995. I tried one more time in 1997 for a couple of weeks, and got MUCH better stuff (I requested biblio and had a minimum length requirement), but then I discovered that it took as much of my time to ANALYZE and VERIFY their work, as it did for me to write one from scratch...I decided at this point that the Tank was about MY RESPONSES to these, that God wanted ME to share what He would teach ME about these questions, and not simply to aggregate other opinions...I PERSONALLY was to wrestle with these--in the faith and worldview He would grow in me in the process--and be blessed in the process of helping others...
I later realized that
the people that were qualified to help me, ALREADY HAD
ministries--duh--and didn't have extra time to
help me (just like I
have had to refuse so many appeals to help others)...so I have
understood the 'personalized' nature of so many writing
I see...do you accept unsolicited articles from others and post them?
No, for the same
reason--I would still have to read, analyze, and sometimes
these...I just don't have the time to do this--I am too busy
to generate new content and answering the questions in
What about rebuttals? Do you accept and post these?
I did a couple of times, but wasn't really happy with the result, and abandoned the practice for several reasons. There are plenty of sites out there that have rebuttals of my piece already. I have to pay for every byte of info I post, so I don't like paying for stuff I don't write. The management of this site (with indexes and all) is already laborious, and every new piece (by me or others) adds to this task.
Additionally, I try to produce stand-alone pieces wherever possible, so substantive rebuttals get 'incorporated successively' into the revision process. Most major revisions to a piece are due to my receiving a great rebuttal and my incorporating the material as pushbacks or additional discussion points. So, the rebuttals are heeded, but not posted. The goal of the progress is to get a piece that grows in accuracy and comprehensiveness, through this process and over time.
But one of the more
important reasons is that my readership comes to read a
position on some issue. The readership--both
skeptics, and in-betweeners--tell me consistently that they
see MY analysis on something--not someone else's arguments or
rebuttals. So, I try to focus there, as I try to think through
questions and issues.
I am accumulating rebuttals, for when I can go back and address
How many questions are in your backlog? Do you intend to answer all these? If not, which ones will you do?
I estimate I have 2000-3000 questions currently, but some of these are duplicates (and many will have been answered in related pieces). I doubt seriously if I will even attempt all of these--some are well over 5-7 years old and many have little bearing on the themes of the Tank.
In 2000, I started prioritizing which questions I focus on. I have three criteria, presently:
The more difficult the question, and the less 'satisfactory' I find the traditional answers, the higher the priority. [Somewhat related to this is whether the question 'bothers me' still.]
Questions/objections that imply/assert that God is not the good-hearted Love I have come to know (e.g., that He is cruel, capricious, or uncaring), get very high priority.
Questions that are submitted by more than one person get a higher priority.
Sometimes I have to take a break from a series and do a smaller piece, for sanity sakes.
Those are the general
guidelines, although I am sometimes a victim of whim and
though, and even occasionally sensitive enough to be
the Wiser One (smile)...
How much time a week do you spend on the Tank?
Varies by binge and
workload...probably varies from between 0 and 30 hours.
How long does a typical piece take to write?
Depending on the
research required, it comes out to about 5-10 hours per page.
into in the 3-5-7 week range, calendar-wise.
Who is YOUR favorite apologist?
I wish I knew...One of the tragedies of this effort is that I don't get to read other folks' stuff in this genre...so I have links up to some other folks (who come highly recommended by my readership) but I am not able to even check out their stuff...I get to read the scholarly stuff in the specialty areas, of course, but these would typically not be considered 'apologists'.
Also, I have a quirk in that I rate people on 'tone'. The person described as 'giving an answer' in the famous passage in Peter:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"
If 'gentleness' and 'respect' are supposed to be warp and woof of the apologetic response, then there are far too many apologists failing due to 'tone'.
On a 'tone' basis, I
find C. Stephen Evans, Winfried Corduan, and John Frame warm,
winsome, and 'in compliance' with the Petrine passage
although I am not sure they would be in the 'apologist'
se. [But remember, I haven't read a whole lot in this
this is NOT a 'condemnation' of those not on this tiny list!]
Who are your favorite authors, then?
I assume you are not talking about vampire and werewolf novels, so I will stick to Tank-subjects (smile).
I buy every book I can get my hands on, by the following authors: Martin Hengel, Craig Evans, John Walton, Michael L. Brown, Ramsay MacMullen, Edwin Yamauchi, Ben Witherington, any of the Wenhams (smile), Craig Blomberg, E.E. Ellis, James Hoffmeier, John Currid, K.A. Kitchen, D.J. Wiseman, F. F. Bruce, Alfred Hoerth, Bauckham..
Do you have any published works? Why or Why not?
Nothing published in this field. (I have many published articles in the IT management field, but none in Tank-areas.)
I get a lot of readers asking this question, and encouraging me to publish something for wider, not-just-internet, distribution. So far, this hasn't been feasible for me, for a couple of reasons:
Most of the stuff on the Tank would require MASSIVE editing to get into book form. [See the question "Grammar" below...] Currently, the format of many of the more 'dense' articles are 'outline and quotes' --not something that makes for a good published work. This would require either (a) me to divert huge amounts of time from creating tank content/answering the backlog of critical questions; or (b) me to get enough money to hire ghostwriters to do this [and it still would require my time]. I have actually used ghostwriters in other fields, and have found that 'chemistry' is more important than I would have thought. I have known a handful of people who could undoubtedly do this very well (much better than I!), but with whom I would not attempt this. And the person I would trust most with this--my oldest daughter--is way too busy with the unfolding of her life to contribute significantly.]
If I had the money for the ghost-writer, I would likely invest it in language translation services instead--getting the more useful articles of the Tank translated into Arabic, Chinese, Euro- and Slavic-languages, for example.
And then there is the hugely practical matter that I have ZERO contacts with any of the publishing companies, nor do I have the time to 'sell this' to them.
Also of some
concern to me is that my thinking is still being
transformed…there are articles I wrote 5-6 years ago that
I have pulled because I am not sure I agree with my
younger-self now…(smile)…Some articles are fairly exempt
from this (i.e., the less theological and less
philosophical ones), but in some cases those are the more
important ones to publish anyway…and now, I am
ready/anxious to go back through the 4.5-5.0K pages of the
Tank and REVISE/UPDATE the pieces! And I haven’t even
finished the first round…sigh…
Needless to say, I still ponder this, and from time to time I pray about this, but the lack of time and connections pretty much 'de-prioritizes' this for me for a while…
What have been the biggest changes you have seen in the Tank over the years?
1. The first one I remember came within months of the opening. I got an email from somewhere in Southeast Asia, asking me to insert the full quotes of the material, rather than just referring the reader to the footnotes. The writer explained that this was not useful to many international readers, who simply would not have access to those referenced works in their local libraries. I realized quickly that this was an infrastructure problem, and that to serve/help these people would require me to change my habits. So I began placing the source material into the documents at that point. Somewhere between 20 and 25% of my readership in the first year or two came from overseas… [it is now up at 33%... see -visitor counts by countries ]
2. Then there was the big 'organizational change' of the front-end. I had gotten SO MANY complaints about how hard it was find stuff on the site, that I did the revamp and added the new indices. This has helped considerably (at least in reducing the complaints--but maybe I made it worse and they just gave up…smile). The original frontpage (sniffle, sniffle) looked like this: oldwelcome.html and I changed it to this: oldindexflat.html.
3. The sheer volume of questions forced me to prioritize. I have old answers to questions like "What are the names of the 12 disciples?", which is rarely used in apologetic interactions…I wouldn’t be able to TOUCH that one, given the workload today…
4. I discovered in 2001, with the rewrite of the Copycat series, that I now 'shout' my arguments less, and instead use data more than I did when I first started…(embarrassed smile)
5. The download and read-offline option is used pretty heavily; I am glad I was able to add that capability.
6. And of course, the 'ways' to get to the Tank have 'proliferated' (instead of changed…sigh)…there are still literally thousands of people who still link to the original URL for the site (which no longer works): www.webcom.com/~ctt.
About 8-9 months later, my hosting provider allowed us to remove the tilde, allowing the next set of THOUSANDS of linkers to refer to www.webcom.com/ctt.
I eventually got very, very tired of trying to spell this out over the phone, so I got my own domain name: www.Christianthinktank.com, which simplified matters. And there are thousands of folk who link to this name, also.
since people could not remember to add the hyphen to the form
since the non-hyphenated version was owned by a Domain-name
squatter!), I purchased three easier-to-remember names:
cttx.com, cttx.net. [I don’t know if anyone is using this
than me at this point.]
I finally (in 2012) was able to
purchase the non-hyphenated (why
is that hyphenated?--smile)
7. And most recently, after several sweet friends offered to 'help me re-design' the homepage ("in case I wanted to"…knowing smile), and after I got this piece of 'forceful feedback' (LOL):
"your website sucks. it lacks for creativity, it looks terrible (i.e. the use of an 'image' for your home page), it is functionally difficult and time consuming to use i.e. difficult to find wanted information (even with the search engine provided), and to continue to repeat myself, the home-page's general orgainization [SIC] of subjects, indexes, mission statement is annoying and unclear...well, geez get yourself a web designer because the content is AWESOME and the web-site SUCKS."
"because the content of your site is worth sharing with the world, you should spend due-time in constructing a website that efficiently, effectively, and elegantly delivers the information. thanks a lot for your effort to provide this free and valuable information"
So, I decided to re-do the front-end, and get away from the bulbous image, and move to much-more-easily-updated (and faster-downloading) text. I won't ever use a real web designer (no matter how forceful the feedback), since I never want to use any of the scripting, Java, ASP, etc. higher-tech (I have these turned OFF on my browser, so I don't intend to limit my visitors in this way). But the content organization is only slightly improved by this, and the limiting factor is NOT the design, but rather the WAY I write. My writing is often so 'rambling' or 'wide-topic-ed' that pieces don’t fit easily into one bucket--hence the topic index has to index into the middle of articles sometimes! I cannot see an easy way out of this, since I don’t intend to re-write all these massive articles (sigh) anytime soon…but I am thinking and brooding about the issue more…
What have been the biggest surprises to you, about how the Tank experience has gone?
There have been MANY such surprises, which include ("but are not limited to"):
1. I was amazed at how many people 'like me' there were out there, and amazed how 'isolated' every one of them felt. The niche I serve is apparently statistically too small to have more than one of us per group (smile), and hence, we sometimes get 'looked at funny' when we ask these types of honest questions.
2. I was amazed at how many techies had degrees from Bible colleges, seminaries, or Christian liberal arts schools! I bet a thousand such came through in the first year alone.
3. I was amazed at how the peer pressures to "conform to dogma" were also manifest in the skeptical community. I KNEW they were operative in the organized church, but I was naively surprised when skeptics would occasionally confide in me about the pressures to be 'closed-minded' AGAINST the faith, and express fear over being socially ostracized in the skeptical community, in ways little different than in some Christian communities.
4. I am still surprised at how people respond when you take their questions, doubts, rage-against-God, and hurts seriously…
5. I am always surprised at the powerful knee-jerk tendency of humans (myself DEFINITELY included!) to caricature, slander, and understate the position, arguments, and data of an 'opponent'…honestly, gentleness, respect, fairness, and understanding cost extra, apparently…
6. I was surprised at how very, very real the love between myself and Tank readers could be felt. The loving-whom-you-have-not-seen ministry of the Spirit had generally been "part of the theological framework or substrate" (that's the most sterile phrase I could come up with for this…smile), but the experience of this in my heart with thousands and thousands of emailers over the past six years has blown me away.
7. Of course, the view I get here of God's work in a 'segment' of the populace all over the world gives me insight to providential patterns that most would never see. I can 'see' through reader feedback and stories, and email exchanges, the subtle and nuanced providence of God, in ways it is difficult to believe. "Chance" surfers, odd URL sharing, searching for "X" and ending up at the Tank, copies of an article found in a lobby, even looking for the 'other' Glenn Miller (smile)…The patterns are like threads in a tapestry, and the Weaver is unbelievably wise and tender…I am constantly amazed at His quiet and below-radar working, in so many lives…I am so often driven to 'fits of silent and tearful worship' by simple emails/stories that come through…
8. Long-time tank readers will also note that I have been consistently surprised that God wouldn't let me do this full time (ROTFWL)…
9. I am surprised that God will leverage the tiniest of details, in spite of my intentions or lack thereof…I have gotten 'this helped me SO much' emails about the most MINUTE and unintentional phrases in my pieces, that I have sometimes wondered if the 'meat' of what I write makes any difference at all…I will get such an email and immediately think of the 'gather up the fragments; don’t let anything go to waste' comment by our Lord.
10. I have seen so many awesomely beautiful hearts come through and take time to share with me, by the tens and tens of thousands, that I understand better each day about the Bride of Christ. My experience of the 'church' has been mixed at times, as for many, but over the past few years I have been able to see more and more of the beauty of the invisible church. I have seen incredible grace-formed, love-sculpted, Spirit-infused hearts, in such a wide diversity of lives and backgrounds and expressions, that the love that the BrideGroom (our Lord) has for His Bride (the invisible, spiritual Church) begins to make sense. I pray each morning that the Father would 'beautify' the Church more that day, toward that Eschatological Marriage…I personally have looked through a groom's eyes of love and warmth and closeness and infatuation at a bride before, and to think that my Lord now looks at me with such honor, such companionship, such pure love, such uplifting attention, such 'semi-infatuation'--!!
Do you ever do debates or public speaking about apologetics?
has ever asked me to, in the entire 18 years of the Tank...
(apparently, people can tell from my writing that I would not be good at this, or at
least that I would never shut up before
the lights in the building were turned off... smile... hmmm, is verbosity
one of the spiritual gifts?
if so, then I got a
'double-portion' without even
But as for debates, though, I don’t think I would be any "good" at them, unless we really, really narrowed the topic down…I think VERY slowly, partially because I have to think through so much detail about everything.
The way I work requires me to 'forget everything else' and 'learn a new field' with each topic/piece. There is NO WAY a human could keep all the information about ANE and G/R history, archeology, consciousness studies, non-linear systems(!), the biology of predation, rabbinic and G/R literary genres, philosophy, biblical and systematic theology, and linguistics (some of the areas "traipsed upon' in the Tank) in their head AT ONE TIME. I can barely hold ONE of these in 'colloidal suspension' (my term for this experience) for longer than a week or two (without getting sick). I have to re-learn a subject matter any/every time I have to review an earlier piece!
I use a conveyor belt metaphor for my mental processes. When I have to stop one topic or train-of-thought and move to another, I have to stop the belt, unload all the boxes and parts on the belt, load the belt with DIFFERENT parts/boxes, and then resume the process. Context-switching and/or task-switching is very, very consumptive for me, intellectually and physiologically.
So, when I finish a Tank piece, I have to 'unload the material' before moving on to something else (like work or "real life"). I have to flush the head somehow, and the next tank article cannot actually accomplish this (because it doesn't allow the system to 'cool down')--hence the vampire/werewolf/Destroyer novels. So far, they are the only thing I can 'use' to flush the head and avoid getting a cold from the pace-induced suppressed immune system. Just years of experience talking here, folks…
By the way, this labor-intensive process is part of the reason I have to go into such level of details on these pieces: I cannot afford to have to re-visit the issue to deal with something 'I missed the first time'. It is so expensive to have to go back and re-learn a whole subject matter, for perhaps a single missed argument or data perspective, that it is LESS expensive to make sure you deal with every conceivable issue the FIRST TIME. [The analogy I use for this I learned in the martial arts--in a multiple assailant attack, the rule is to make sure that the first person you 'take down' does not get back up to fight you AGAIN…]
That's probably more than you wanted to know about this (smile), but at least that is why I believe I would be less-than-useless in a debate. It takes so long for me to 'remember' the data and logic of the subject matter, and I can only do 'one' at a time…and the simplest of topic and facts would toggle me into 'Bozo the Clown' mode…
What about chat-rooms--do you ever participate in those?
I get requests every month to try to help out in one, and more urgent requests to just post ONE reply to some thorny post, but I simply cannot do this... I cannot say ANYTHING in so few words--sigh--and I have learned that once you post into one of those, you are FOREVER having to respond2responses2responses2response, etc, etc, etc. I already have SO MANY unfinished series! I just cannot go there.
What is the biggest complaint you get about the Tank (aka "Why is your grammar so horrible??!")?
This issue is my biggest disappointment... I get complaints about how 'long winded' I am--but I have a 'justification' for that one (i.e., the need for detail). But, I occasionally get an honest letter like this:
I am an atheist, and I would like to give Christianity a chance. Your web site would be instrumental in this process, because I believe that it is the greatest resource on Christian apologetics on the internet. However, your grammar is so messy that it makes your lengthy articles virtually unbearable to read and follow. I know that a lot of people think the same about your articles and are turned-off. It would be wise to do something about this.
And, although I would love to be able to 'hide' and simply dismiss this as some kind of 'atheist convenience', or a case of them 'running from god' or something ["a lot of people think the same..."], I just know the guy is right. I write like I speak--conversationally, in an oral style, and with all the fits-and-starts of an 'exploratory soliloquy'. Rabbit-trails, anacolutha, sentence fragments, billions of 'doubled-dashed' sentences--but it's my actual personal style. I talk and live that way (and, "no", this scatteredness is NOT reflected in how I care for my apartment...before you ask...smile). Even my technical, professional writings 'sound' like me (although I do heavily edit those, and have a marketing VP reading over-my-shoulder). On the Tank, of course, I proof everything I read several times for content and nuance, but I don't have the time to make huge grammatical and stylistic changes--I am 'lucky' to be able to do it AT ALL.
So, this is a point of deep discouragement for me--I know I need to take more time (which I don't have) to do this, but I don't have the resource...I'm like the Soup Kitchen that runs out of food because it just doesn't have enough for all the folks that come ask, or the shelter who has to turn folk away because they don't have any more empty beds. I could produce LESS material (at higher grammatical quality) or MORE material (at lower grammatical quality). I consistently choose the latter (thinking the content is more important), but I know (as per the above letter), I do so at the cost of not being able to serve those I wanted to 'be there for'...
All I can say is 'I am sorry'...
Note: Lest I become TOO discouraged--I guess--the VERY NEXT morning, after I posted this addition to the FAQ, THIS email showed up in my inbox (from Latvia):
IMHO, this is really valuable site that you have made up. I am atheist (and besides a bit of philosopher) and I really appreciate your critical, smart and fair thinking when discussing problems, dilemmas and religion. Thank You very much.
keep up the good spirit, XYZ
Am I thankful, or what?...(smile)
Do you take donations?
No... [But see the 2020 update note below after this first answer...sigh]
Every so often some sweet-hearted saint comes through and 'chides me' for not letting other people be a part of/share in this blessing/ministry by allowing them to contribute (i.e., that I am being "selfish", by keeping this "all to myself"). I know that that is the normal way these things are supposed to run, so I respond appropriately: I guilt-whip myself into setting up a page, special bank account, paypal code, credit card capability, and/or even designated 501(c)3 ministries that will 'adopt' me. I 'obediently' announce and offer this option, and, while the page is up, I get one, maybe two or three, gifts--per year. Half the time, the person who suggested I do this, doesn't even do anything--? So, I feel stupid and embarrassed--for trying it again (I have done this probably 4-5 times during the life of the Tank)--and I have to go through a familiar 'old struggle' again in my mind. (A friend of mine, very close back in the late 90's, told me I was a very selfish person--even 'idolatrous' once-- for spending so much personal time on the Tank, when it was obvious that God wasn't supportive of the effort, by not providing for its support through donations or Christian support. Believe me, I know the Paul-tentmaker theory inside and out (I have to 'use' it often...), but when such criticism comes from an 'insider', it's really tough for me to ever quiet that voice down.)
Now, I try to explain to the sweet email person that gifts are probably best spent elsewhere anyway. My book bill alone for Tank research approaches 5-digits almost every year (some years, over that, actually). [Very few of the books I buy are even IN the inter-library-loan system (they are expensive books, new books, specialty books that won't get there for months/years.)] That sum would feed, equip, clothe one or two or three overseas missionaries for a year--and God has given me this job that lets me do this without any tax on the Body, or diversion of funds from the field. So, I don't get upset or bitter or negative about this at all. But I don't want to waste any more time setting up a donations page, just to have to take it back down again with an "I told you so, self" again.
Besides--I would INFINITELY PREFER to have 30minutes of sincere prayer for my fruitfulness than $3000 in donations...believe me! And I have TONS of people who (I think) pray for me--so I am happy with that awesome level of support!
But in 'dark nights of the searching soul' sometimes--I gotta tell ya--this issue can cut like a ice-cold and well-aimed stiletto.
But see now this 2020 Update Note...
What are the biggest challenges you face in 'doing Tankwerke'?
an easy question: sin in my life, settling
for less than God's best, sin, fear of failure and of
misleading His precious children, sin,
feelings of superficiality
and triviality, sin, fatigue from irrational
intimidation by every slightest thing,
sin, avoiding the hardest questions
in favor of the easier ones (prioritization), sin,
the emotional drain of trying to be something I am not (normal, healthy, social, etc), sin, insensitivity, and sin.
[or, for the elite insiders
wearing Viking helmets:
'sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, eggs, and
What happens to the Tank site if you fall over dead tomorrow?
Verbosity will be reduced and Quality will probably improve (lol)...
Seriously, though, I
have prepaid for the site for many, many years
into the future, and the access keys/login/account credentials have been
'vouchsafed' to a trusted family member.
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christianthinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)