When I was in seminary, one of most common questions I would hear students as was
“What is the best commentary on [insert book here]?”
Seminary students ask the question when they have a class that covers a particular book, and pastors ask it when they start a new commentary series.
The Standard Answer
If you ask a seminary professor, he or she will often have a few recommendations and some of them, like John Walton of Wheaton, even make lists and post them online (sadly, Walton’s is no longer available). But not everyone has access to a seminary professor, so students and pastors are then pointed to a few published commentary reviews like the books by D. A. Carson, Tremper Longman, III, John Glynn, and Jim Rosscup or the excellent online lists from ministries like John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries, R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, and the Denver Seminary Journal and even individuals like Jeremy Pierce and Mark Heath.
The New Answer
When I was in seminary, I used these lists extensively, but one day I was in the library and I had forgotten my copies of Carson and Glynn’s lists, so I wasn’t sure what to check out. Since I didn’t have anything to do, I went over to a computer and checked the movie reviews on rottentomatoes.com (the site that collects movie reviews and posts an average rating).
And then it hit me. Why not create a rottentomatoes.com for commentaries?
Why not collect all those reviews into a giant database, average and weigh them, and allow people to add their own reviews?
And so in 2008, that’s what I did. That summer I registered www.BestCommentaries.com and started entering in thousands of commentaries and thousands of reviews. By the end of the summer, I had a pretty good little tool that’s grown a lot since then.
Expanding the Concept
This summer, I decided to give it a fresh look and rewrite the core database interaction code that makes it all work. It’s being used so much that I’ve added some advertising to help pay for the hosting, but I hope it’s not too distracting.
I’m also looking into expanding into theological studies as well as areas of practical Christian life. Those kinds of books are a lot harder to “rank” because they are not as comparable as commentaries on a book of the Bible. For example, I’ve started collecting recent books on technology and faith (which includes my own). But each book brings something unique to the table, and it would be difficult to say which one is “better.” So in these categories, I’ll probably just use them more as a bibliography for reference and leave off the rating/ranking part.
Since it’s something I often address regarding technology other people have created, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some kind of reflections on the possible unintended consequences of the site.
Perhaps the most obvious and central issue is that, in some sense, a machine is making recommendations about the word of God on the basis of an algorithm. Each person looking for a commentary has a unique set of needs and some titles will better meet those needs. A personal recommendation from a wise and trusted friend would always be better than a Google-ized list.
And yet, I made the site.
I did so because I thought it would be more helpful than harmful. For all those people who don’t have a friend knowledgeable in commentaries or don’t know about Carson or Longman’s books, I thought BestCommentaries.com would be really helpful and at the very least better than nothing.
I’m surely biased, but I also think BestCommentaries.com is more than just “better than nothing.” It’s really fun to see what the collected wisdom of the saints can look like. God has given all of those men (Glynn, Piper, Longman) incredible wisdom and here it is combined together.
Every once in a while the reviewers agree so strongly that a commentary rises far above all the others. In these cases, it’s fun to see the church coming together to affirm the work of a fellow brother and praise it as a gift from God. Carson’s work on John is so highly regarded it’s the highest ranked book on the site, and I’m certain that if we asked Carson about it, he’d say, “To God be the glory.”