Friday, September 25, 2009

Nevertheless, Love Your Church

Ray Ortlund, pastor of Emmanuel Church in Nashville, TN, had a great post yesterday, "My Church or the Kingdom?". In it, Ortlund addresses the common notion that building up God's kingdom is more important than building up one's own church. He asks:

Suppose I said, "My passion isn't to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I'll work for that. I'll pray for that. I'll sacrifice for that. But don't expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I'm aiming at something grander."

We would rightly call such a view of marriage absurd. How can one have a passion for Marriage without having a passion for one's own, particular marriage?

Likewise, Ortlund points out the absurdity of working for "The Church" without working for one's own, local church. How often do we say things like, "It's not about going to church, it's about being the Church"? How often do we strive for "global justice" while neglecting the pursuit of justice in our own churches, home and neighborhoods? How often do we rail against "false doctrine in the Church" while making little effort to build our own churches up through solid, Biblical doctrine?

I'm reminded of Paul's admonition to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. In it, Paul gives undoubtedly the most exalted, transcendant view of marriage ever written, probing the unsearchable mystery of marriage as a cosmic portrait of Christ and the Church. Lest his readers be tempted to then say, "Ah! So what really matters is not marriage itself, but that greater spiritual reality that it signifies", Paul pointedly returns to the necessity of loving one's own spouse. He says,

"This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph. 5:32-33, NKJV, emphasis added).

Paul knows our temptation to focus on abstract spirtitual principles and neglect our day-to-day duties. His point is that, if we are ever to glorify Christ and the Church in our marriages, we must start by individually, daily, loving our spouses. Only then we ever hope to reflect the greater image that marriage points to.

I believe Paul would say the same to us today in relation to our churches. "Yes," he'd say, "by all means be Kingdom-minded. By all means, seek to build up the universal Church. Nevertheless, let each one of your in particular love your flawed, human, local church. Only then can you ever hope to truly build up the Church and the Kingdom."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Perspectives on Translation: Ryken vs. Fee & Strauss

Regardless of your opinion on Bible translations, it's important to educated yourself about the issues involved in faithfully translating the Biblical messages from the original languages into English (or any other language). That's why it's imperative to listen to people on both sides of the "Formal vs. Functional Equivalent" debate. Too many unfortunate misunderstandings arise when individuals either blindly latch onto formal equivalence translations as the most "literal" (and therefore most "accurate"), or consider only contemporary relevance and side with functional equivalence in contrast to (supposedly) "wooden" and "archaic" formal translations.

As with most complex issues, the truth is somewhere in between. While volumes have been written on translation issues, two good (and free!) introductions to the arguments for Formal Equivalence and Functional Equivalence are, respectively, The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken (advocates formal translation) and It's All Greek To Me by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss (advocates functional and mediating translations). I won't hide the fact that I'm more persuaded by Fee and Stuart's arguments, but Ryken's book does highlight some issues worth considering.

I should also note that Leland Ryken has a new book coming out this week, Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach. The Crossway blog has a series of interviews with him about the book and translation theory in general.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NIV Study Bible in Renaissance Leather - Cheap!

Those of you who follow me here know that I'm a TNIV man, but I have a great deal of love for the good ol' NIV too. And when it comes to study Bibles, the NIV Study Bible has been the evangelical gold standard for years. Right now, CBD is offering a compact NIV Study Bible in Renaissance Fine Leather for the insanely-good price of $34.99. That's about what you'd normally pay for the paperback edition. My main Bible is a TNIV Reference Bible in Renaissance Leather, and I can tell you it is some of the nicest, most supple leather you'll find in a Bible.

Of course, the NIV is due for an update in 2011. But if you can't wait, don't be afraid to jump on this deal. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thoughts on NIV2011

When I first saw that TNIV was being discontinued and replaced by an updated NIV in 2011, I was disappointed. However, upon thinking more about it, I'll admit I'm cautiously excited about the whole development. While I lament the failure of the TNIV to ever really take off, I think this presents a wonderful opportunity for the Committe on Bible Translation and the church at large. Here are my thoughts:

1) The unfortunate saga of the TNIV has certainly been educational for anyone working in Bible translation. It seems the NIVI/TNIV translators genuinely underestimated the negative response to the "gender accurate" translation policy. A few factors probably contributed to this:

Bible translators spend their days immersed in the study of linguistics. They deal day in and day out with the complexities of language and the challenges of transferring meaning from one language to another. Linguistics and translation theory are second nature to them.

On the other hand, the majority of pastors, let alone laypeople, have neither the time nor the training to think on this level consistently about nuances of language. They justifiably rely on English translations to understand the Bible. When a new translation, no matter how linguistically warranted, sounds "different from how I've always read it", it's understandable that many readers could get nervous.

Translators need to be constantly aware not only of the linguistic merits of their translations, but also of how changes to familiar renderings are likely to be received by everyday readers (yes, I realize the irony, in that this was the very concern that drove the production of the TNIV in the first place). Now, I for one think that the gender policy followed by the TNIV is appropriate. However, many readers (and a good number of pastors and scholars) did not. In retrospect, perhaps the CBT and Zondervan should have done more to anticipate the negative response that followed, and worked more to educate pastors, scholars and everyday readers about the rationale for the changes before moving ahead with the translation.

2) While many have interpreted the today's announcement as a concession that the TNIV and its translation philosophy were a mistake in themselves, I don't think that's at all what Zondervan or the CBT meant.

Let's analyze the thrust of the statement. According to Biblica CEO Keith Danby:

"The first mistake was the NIVi. The second was freezing the NIV. The third was the process of handling the TNIV."

First, the release of the NIVi was a mistake, according to Danby. That may well be - I'm not really competent to comment on it. I haven't read much from the NIVi, though I admit to being less than comfortable with some statements in its preface. It seems that the NIVi was what really touched off the firestorm (for example, see Grudem & Poythress' The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words). However, whatever one's view of the NIVi, it was not the TNIV.

Second, according to Danby, the freezing of the NIV was a mistake. To which I give a hearty amen! Zondervan and the IBS (now Biblica) should never have allowed the NIV to become forever stuck in 1997 (actually, 1984, the date of its last previous revision). It's now been 25 years since last NIV revision, and a lot of developments have occurred in the areas of Biblical languages and archaelogy. The NIV needed revision in 1997, and it needs it even more twelve years later.

Third, notice what Danby did not say. He did not say that the TNIV was a mistake. He said that "the process of handling the TNIV" was a mistake. And on any account, mistakes were made. It could have been introduced more tactfully. It could have been presented as a more accurate Bible for all demographics (along with the inclusion of more "grown up" bindings), rather than being marketed primarily as a niche Bible for the 18-34 year old crowd. Zondervan could have ceased pushing the NIV and marketed the TNIV as its replacement. In hindsight, I'm sure that Zondervan and Biblica would say things could have been handled more skillfully in regard to rolling out the TNIV alongside the "frozen" NIV and in regard to the ill-fated negotiations with the Colorado Springs folks (though they felt, it would seem justifiably, backed into a corner).

3) The Committee on Bible Translation has its work cut out for it. They have to walk a razor's edge in updating the NIV. Douglas Moo, head of the CBT, implied that the 2011 NIV would probably incorporate around 90% of the NIV and 95% of the TNIV. On one hand, if the updated NIV rolls back all the gender-related changes introduced in the TNIV, the anti-TNIV crowd will be happy, but many TNIV supporters will likely feel betrayed and jump ship (presumably to the NLT or NRSV). Not only that, but such a move would call into question the need for an update at all. Personally, I doubt this will be the direction taken by the CBT.

On the other hand, if the 2011 NIV is seen by TNIV opponents as keeping too closely to the TNIV in regard to gendered language, it risks tipping the balance once and for all against not only the NIV, but against the concept of dynamic equivalence as a whole. The anti-DE voices have been swelling for a while now (witness the popularity of John Piper's "Get a Bible with All the Words in It" video and Leeland Ryken's The Word of God in English), and combined with a growing informal ESV-onlyism, could signal the death of the legitimacy of dynamic equivalence in evangelical circles.

Regardless of your stand on translation philosophy, the CBT deserves our prayers.

4) Whether you loved the TNIV or loathed it, give the new NIV a fighting chance! While there's lots of speculation about just what the updated edition will look like, the truth is nobody will really know until 2011. TNIV-lovers need to be willing to give the new NIV a fair reading, without reading it through a lens of assumed misogyny in the wording. TNIV opponents need to be willing to give it a fair reading as well, without imposing their feelings or objections about the TNIV onto this new work.

While he and I would hold different views on the TNIV, Al Mohler provided a generous response to the new development, noting:

"In the end, the update of the NIV to be released in 2011 will have to stand on its own... When released, the updated NIV will deserve and require the attentive study and review of all committed evangelicals."

In summary, I'm cautiously optimistic that the 2011 NIV will incorporate the best of the TNIV, but be more palatable to those who were never going to embrace the TNIV. Let's pray so.


Well, well. What a disheartening start to my day. Zondervan/Biblica announced today that they will soon cease production and marketing of the TNIV. An updated NIV is slated for 2011. While I'm disappointed, I can't say I'm shocked. Here's wishing the updated NIV team (NNIV?) all the best.