A Plea for Realism: The Version Debate Lives On, Part 1

Borrowing from the subtitle of Don Carson’s The King James Version Debate, I would like to make one more “plea for realism” in the midst of the ongoing and often impassioned version debates.  I recognize that this issue is a matter over which genuine believers sincerely differ and that the reasons for such often strongly-held differences include denominational and/or local church traditions, historical biases, stylistic preferences, and theological presuppositions, among others.  Unfortunately, these differences have at times resulted in bitter controversy, vitriolic polemics and unwarranted division.

While embracing a single version to the exclusion of all others was not historically a test of orthodoxy or even a watershed issue within historical fundamentalism, I continue to be mystified (and saddened) by those who want to make it a litmus test for fellowship.  Having come out of a strong KJV-only heritage myself, I am well aware of the arguments and emotions that fuel the debate.  While I would like to think that we will eventually get beyond this impasse, virtually every semester, I find myself drawn into a discussion with a “concerned” pastor or prospective student whose first question is ‘what version or Greek text do you use in the classroom?’  Whereas I certainly respect another believer’s preference for a particular version, I am troubled when that preference becomes the measuring stick for evaluating the spiritual condition of other believers, churches, or institutions.  While I am not so naive to think that this three-part blog posting will persuade those deeply entrenched in a particular tradition, I would like to take this opportunity to state the position of Calvary Baptist Seminary and express my heartfelt desire that a spirit of Christian grace and forbearance might characterize the ongoing discussion.

Both individually and as an institution, we affirm that God has uniquely revealed Himself to mankind through His Word, the Bible.  In its entirety, the sixty-six canonical books of Scripture, comprised of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New, constitute God’s complete and authoritative written Word.  We further assert that the original manuscripts (the autographs) are God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and therefore infallible and inerrant in every respect.  That is, we affirm verbal, plenary inspiration.  Moreover, while certainly applying to matters of faith and practice, we hold that inerrancy, extends to any area to which the Bible speaks, including those of history and science.  As the Bible is God’s record concerning Himself, His creation, and His working through redemptive-history, His Word is the authoritative guide by which His people are to live and by which all of humanity will ultimately be judged.  We reject the notion of inspiration or authoritative status for any non- or extra-canonical work such as the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha.

We believe that God has preserved His Word through the ages in a variety of languages and translations and that no single version or translation tradition is the exclusive repository of God’s Word.  (We are not suggesting by this that all versions are equally valid or accurate, a point to which we will return later).  Moreover, the defining and critical terms “inspiration” and “inerrancy,” in their strict technical usage, are limited to the original manuscripts (or autographs). Yet, to the degree that a particular version accurately translates the words and faithfully conveys the message of the autographs, one can rightly speak of that translation as the Word of God.  In the next postings, I will address two key issues involved in the version question, namely, the nature of the text and the nature of the translation.

The First Thanksgiving Proclamation-June 20, 1676

The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed,

It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God’s Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.

How shall they hear without a preacher?: Through a Ukrainian window

Today’s wonderings and wanderings were actually written several years ago during a teaching mission to Kiev, Ukraine.  I was reminded of these thoughts as I was wandering through my computer files this week.

Through A Ukrainian Window

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Silent figures cold and gray

Through the sunless dawn;

Off to work at break of day,

Tread along on and on and on.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Workers dressed in grays and browns

Walking on their way to town.

Slosh and jostle, never speak;

As I through my window peek.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

No need of clock or rooster call.

No need of sunshine’s bright embrace.

Each morning stirred from sleep’s slow crawl,

By the murmured shuffling of their pace.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

From bedroom window thinly veiled,

I watch each morning in the dew;

Silent masses without fail,

Pass me by each day anew.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Shadow figures in the night,

Pass in silence left and right.

I see no smiles, I hear no cheer.

They pass below so far — so near.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Marchers silent as they pass.

Eyes with penetrating stare.

Mouths locked in wordless cast.

Is there no joy for them to share?

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Separated by so little space,

From window’s pane to silent race.

Yet a measure too great to span;

Language separates man from man.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

“How shall they hear,” the preacher said,

“About our Savior who has bled?”

“Who gave Himself for them to die!”

But in silence — they pass me by.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Chuck McLain

A Sure Sign of Unbelief: Keeping the Bible Out of the Hands of People

Ever since the Reformation put the Bible into the hands of everyman, opponents of the truth have decried the availability of the Bible to be read and understood by more than just an elite clergy. The pre-Reformation scholar William Tyndale made it his goal to translate the Bible into English so that even a plowboy could know more than the priest. The combination of the invention of the printing press and Martin Luther’s German Bible helped fulfill Tyndale’s dream for the German people. In a short time, the emphasis on education promoted by the Reformers, combined with new translations into the language of peoples in different nations resulted in an educated and biblically literate laity.

About a century later, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes expressed his horror at the prospect of an “everyman theology”:

After the Bible was translated…every man, nay every boy and wench that could read English thought they spoke with God Almighty, and understood what he said when by a certain number of chapters a day they had read the Scriptures once or twice over.

Thomas Hobbes, Works, ed. William Molesworth (London: n.p., 1839-45), vol. VI, 190.

Hobbes’ sentiment is a common one among those who reject the authority and inspiration of Scripture. For most of its history the Catholic Church has discouraged anyone but priests from reading and interpreting the Bible. And movements such as the emerging church which minimize Scripture as authoritative by making it just one of many ways that God reveals himself, do essentially the same thing. Even some conservative pastors, by their lack of exposition of Scripture, fail to encourage their congregations to be reading and studying Scripture.

The only way to avoid another spiritual dark ages, such as was much of the medieval age, is to keep the Bible in the hands of every believer, encouraging reading and studying. When people know the Scriptures, they are not easily led into error. Preaching should teach people how to read their Bibles by the progress of a sermon through the text, carefully connecting the content of the sermon with the text of Scripture.

Anything that encourages the reading and studying of Scripture is an important effort to ensure belief and buttress the truth. Anything that detracts from Bible study should be suspect. The Scriptures in the hands of everyman has always been the greatest defense against unbelief.

When Vice Sounds Nice

In our market-driven culture, slogans help make the world go around. We hear them on our radios and iPods. We see them on our TV and computer screens. Some of the slogans seem innocuous– “Think outside the bun” (Taco Bell) or “Like a Good Neighbor” (State Farm).  Other slogans could become problematic if they are applied too broadly– “Obey Your thirst” (Sprite) or “Have it your way” (Burger King). Unfortunately, some are morally insidious. Two billboards that I have seen alongside the road come to mind. One was advertising a gentlemen’s club (an oxymoron in itself)– “Feed your curiosity” and the other an adult bookstore–“Mature Fantasy.” Of course, it would have been more accurate to say, “Indulge your lust” and “Base perversity.”

What is a Christian to do? It is very difficult to avoid a world of slogans. Rather, God has called us to be in the world without being like the world. This is no easy task. One way forward, though, is to actively think. This was Paul’s advice to a Christian community in Philippi living in an unfriendly world. Paul does not prescribe isolation but rather insulation. He argues that God has called us to critically evaluate the mixed messages around us through the lens of Scripture and then to dwell on what pleases God (Phil. 4:8). Working in tandem with such discernment, Paul argues that we actively pursue the teachings from the Bible, which we know please God (Phil. 4:9). It is a call to be proactive rather than reactive or undiscriminating. If Paul were living today, perhaps he would say, “Just do it.”

Doug Finkbeiner

Preaching and Sacred Music

Haddon Robinson writes of preaching, “A preacher can proclaim anything in a stained-glass voice, at 11:30 on a Sunday morning, following the singing of hymns. Yet when a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority.”

With these words Robinson places a filter on preaching. He is not suggesting that the only acceptable words in a sermon are the actual words of Scripture. For Robinson, preaching includes the reading of Scripture, but also includes much more: explanation, application, and even illustration.  The central issue is that each of the words spoken serve the task of bringing the Scriptures to light.

I believe a similar filter can be applied to sacred music. This is not to suggest that sacred music must be limited to the songs contained in Scripture, though these songs have too long been ignored. It is, however, to suggest that a central purpose of music in the church is to communicate God’s truth.

So, sacred music must communicate the truth accurately. Not unlike preaching, if sacred music is to move beyond the transient power of sentimentality, is must fully engage the power of God’s eternal truth.

What TV Does to Us Spiritually

I am not against television per se, but I am a firm believer that the cumulative effect of many hours spent watching TV is a spiritual and mental dullness that can rob a Christian of the ability to think biblically, and therefore, to live biblically.

Greg Beale states this so eloquently in his recent excellent book on idolatry, in which he makes the point of Psalm 115:8—that those who worship idols become like the thing they worship. That is, the idols of our hearts, against which we are warned in 1 John 5:21, change us, as we give ourselves to them. The greatest deception in the world since the Fall has been that people can worship gods beside Jehovah without being destroyed in the process. Beale, then, applies this principle to television-watching today:

Many Christians watch television, and many watch it when they want to sit back and relax and not have to use their minds much. This can certainly be a form of relaxation, but it can also become an uncritical openness to the media’s worldview. Subtly, unconsciously, we absorb this worldview by a kind of mental osmosis. And what is the typical TV worldview? It is a worldview with little to no awareness of, or sensitivity to, God’s working in everyday life, in the details of our life.

Have you ever heard a TV character say, “Well, let’s look at Scripture and see what God says about this. Let’s pray about this”? Or when have you heard someone on TV say, “Let’s go to the pastor and learn what the Bible says about this problem”?…

The absence of God in mainstream media should alert us to the fact that when we uncritically leave ourselves open to the perspective of the media’s worldview, then slowly but surely, it leads us to cease thinking of the things of the Lord in the details of our everyday life. In this worldview, God is not active in the specific affairs of the world or in our individual lives.

At this point you may be thinking, “Yes, but the shows I watch are not that bad! I don’t watch shows with immorality, or extreme violence or profanity.” (That’s how I was starting to justify myself when I was reading this!). But Beale proceeds to show why this is, in fact, so dangerous to our hearts and minds:

And when we imbibe this worldview uncritically, it makes us feel a little bit abnormal, a little bit unnatural in relating to God and being sensitive to his sovereign activity in our daily life. We may even feel awkward mentioning this to anyone, whether to believers or unbelievers. I would dare say that many Christians have been more influenced by the media than they would admit. The media’s worldview has subtly become an idol we easily reflect. And that mindset–that God is not active in the daily affairs of people–can destroy us. What we revere we resemble, either for ruin or restoration.

Greg K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (IVP, 2008), 299.

Wow, this is convicting. If you, like me, at times fail to speak freely of God’s working in your life to believers or unbelievers alike, it could very well be that you have been made to believe that such expressions are abnormal, and are best kept to yourself. This influence may come from many sources, but it is certainly pervasive on television. What a contrast between the way life is lived in the community of a Spirit-filled, Scripture-centered church, and the way it is lived in the world! But how often have we adopted the more reserved and silent worldview, resulting in the absence of God in our speech because that is where we truly live. In this case, our spiritual expression in church on Sundays becomes the exception to our behavior, rather than the rule.

So here’s the challenge: let us cast off the deleterious effects of such an idolatrous worldview by any means necessary (Heb. 12:1-2). Whether the source is television programming, our friends and family, or even our reading material, let’s reject this empty worldview and return to a bold, verbal acknowledgement of the sovereign and ever-present working of God in our lives! In doing so, we will be returning to genuine worship of God, and as a result we will resemble what we revere to our own restoration.

%d bloggers like this: