Thinking Out Loud

April 20, 2013

New Calvinists Must Support the Brand at all Costs

There are many different nuances of meaning to the term propaganda, but one has to do with “what a group or organizations says about itself.”  While self-promotion is not a crime, there are times when there is simply no need for it, and one of those is in the area of Bible translation.  By all means do all marketing necessary to introduce your version. This is a subject that will deeply affect a high percentage of Christ-followers, so tell your story.

I love the book How to Choose a Bible Translation for all Its Worth by Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee. Yes, it’s published by Zondervan, but it is full of raw transparency as the translators wrestle over difficult decisions in making the original text understood by English speakers today. Recently I reviewed The Story of The Voice, a translation so remarkably different that the backstory is a delight to read, especially to see how much this new generation of translators revered, of all translations, the KJV.

Why Our Church Switched to the ESVBut you have to be careful if you are both publisher and beneficiary, and if your translation has already been in the market for many years, one also might question why a propagandist title like Why Our Church Switched to the ESV by Kevin DeYoung needs to be written at all.  But to question that is to not appreciate the need the New Reformers have to be seen defending the brand at all costs, and the ESV is definitely the default Bible translation brand for the New Reformed. 

I wrote about their brand loyalty here several months ago; and for the lesser lights in the movement, spiritual brownie points are earned by constantly re-blogging and re-Tweeting the writing of those more recognizable; many of whom themselves are constantly copy-and-pasting the writings of those higher up the Reformed hierarchy.

In reviewing DeYoung’s answer to the ‘Why” question, Derek Ouellette finds some inconsistencies in deYoung’s translation standards.  DeYoung also points out that his church switched to ESV from the NIV, and limits the book to a comparison of the two, at the expense of all other possible options. So by design, a book like this is going to have an anti-NIV orientation. Ouellette notes,

Anybody moderately versed in the Bible can hold two translations up and compare selected verses to show why one is better than another. The average reader will not have a counter-comparision book on hand which is why she or he should read a book like this with caution.

Choosing a BibleMy comment would simply be that this is not the first time around for Crossway to publish a book of this nature.  Leland Ryken’s 2005 book Choosing a Bible — same publisher, same price, same 32 pages — was similarly biased.  The publisher blurb states:

Leland Ryken introduces readers to the central issues in this debate and presents several reasons why essentially literal–word-for-word– translations are superior to dynamic equivalent– thought-for-thought–translation. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize the need for a quality Bible translation.

Yes, and you don’t need to be a theologian to know propaganda when you see it, do you? The “dynamic equivalent” translation in view here is, nine times out of ten, going to be the NIV.

I realize that Why Our Church Switched… isn’t exactly a new release, but Derek Ouellette’s look at it reminded me that people need to be discerning about what motivates people to publish this and other similar things.  A good Bible translation will rise and fall on its own merits, and doesn’t need an apologetic serveral years down the road.

A verse that comes to mind here is Proverbs 27:2, and just to show there’s no hard feelings, I’ll quote it in the ESV:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.

December 5, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

Not only these, but there was a link list on Saturday as well. *UPDATE* 8:00 PM — Yes, I know about the PSY parody. We might run it here Friday. Click to watch Farmer Style. *END UPDATE*

Religiously Confusing Sign

  • The lynx is not alone this time: We end today with some book covers which appeared here in a 2008 post dealing with whether or not Fluffy and Fido will be in heaven. These are real books that were available for purchase when the post was written. First we took the Chuck Colson position that argues against animals in the afterlife. Then, four months later, in August, 2008; I was persuaded by the Randy Alcorn position which argues for furry friends, though not resurrected ones. Trust me, you could split a church over this topic…

Animals in the Afterlife

July 21, 2012

The Comment I Didn’t Leave

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

So there I was yesterday surfing the blogosphere, when I came across the writings of John Plougman, a blogger who makes no attempt to hide his Calvinist leanings.  He makes this shot across the bow in a post titled: John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo

Anthony Lane’s chapter “Calvin’s Way of Doing Theology” in Calvin: Theologian and Reformer, edited by Joel Beeke and Garry Williams, begins with this paragraph:

John Calvin is best known for his Institutes of the Christian Religion. This work went through five major editions, and Calvin continually revised it for most of his literary and pastoral life. Like Augustine, he was one of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.

That may be true, that Calvin wrote as he learned, but there is an obvious difference between Augustine and Calvin in this.  For Calvin, the fundamental substance of his theology never changed. A look at all five editions of the Institutes will reveal a development (and sometimes substantial), but never a fundamental change.  Unlike Augustine, he never had to write a book of retractions.

It was all I could do not to post this comment:

This is so sad. But there are stories abounding how Charles Darwin recanted his theories on his deathbed, and one can only speculate that perhaps Calvin did the same.

My wife counseled me to leave well enough alone. So I did. Sort of.

Doctrinally confused?  Maybe this will help.

August 26, 2010

The Cultization of Calvinism

It happened again yesterday.

My son got a package in the mail from the Christian camp where he did a four-week leadership training course, containing a magazine and other resources.

John Piper was on the cover of the magazine, there were advertisements for Crossway Books and the ESV Study Bible, a couple of references to Mark Driscoll, a reference to the Together for the Gospel conference.  And many such clues that this was not really a mainstream Christian publication.

I’m okay with that.   I told him he should make an effort to read every article.   I’m glad the camp took the time and expense to send it to him, along with an encouraging personal letter from the two directors of his leadership course.   We actually worshiped in a Christian Reformed Church just two weeks ago.

But it was another reminder how there are different clusters of people, belief and thought; and how, just as Calvinists of previous generations were somewhat segregated by Dutch ethnicity, today New Calvinism has emerged as a dominant (especially online) cluster.

Some of you probably like the word cluster over the word cult, but in fact, any identifiable group fits the dictionary definition; the problem is that we’ve tended to use it in the last 30 years or so as an abbreviation of false cult, which is another matter entirely, usually involving unique books and writings considered to be divine, and often the presence of private compounds and Kool-Aid.   However, of the eight definitions of cult at dictionary.com, only #6 indicates “a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.”

The decision by the largest online Christian book distributor to set up a separate site just for people of Reformed doctrine is another example of this.  The company has massive buying power, and has a large share of the Christian book business, but surveys revealed it was seeing only a trickle of commerce from Calvinists because they preferred to buy from their own sites, where presumably materials are carefully filtered.   The larger company had no choice than to do that filtering.

But this is something that neither Charismatics nor Catholics have ever propelled them to do.    The Charismatic and Pentecostal world — as any visit to the Elijah List site will confirm — has its own authors and a large supply of its own worship music, distinct from the mainstream worship we hear on Christian radio.

But Calvinists are readers, and as the blogosphere indicates, many are also writers, though a good percentage of the bloggers employ more of a ‘cut and paste’ approach to content generation.   (With, I might add, a great overlap into another emerging subgroup, the Academics.   American prosperity has permitted large numbers of U.S. Christians to enjoy advanced and continuing education, but much of the writing, as Acts 18:15 and 2 Tim 2:14 reminds us can consist of quarreling about words which leads to strife.   See also this post.)   On the other hand, other brands (or cults!) of Christianity tend to be more about about doing which is why the internet has, just as one example, a critical shortage of Salvation Army bloggers, as I noted in back in May ’08.

But because of the fragmentation taking place, I suggested to the senior editor of Christian Retailing magazine that instead of just having Charismatic and Catholic specialty bestseller charts, they should also have a Calvinist or Reformed specialty list each month as well.   Really, if they’re going to do the former two, they might as well do the latter.    But what if he takes my advice?

The result would be distinctively Reformed shelves in Christian bookstores (which probably already exist in some) where Calvinists could browse the shelves untainted by titles which disagree with their views.   And what is the result of that?

The larger picture is that it takes Reformed people and Reformed literature out of mainstream Evangelicalism, and takes mainstream Evangelicalism out of the Reformed sphere of awareness.   It increases compartmentalization; a kind way of saying it advances what I’ve termed here the cultization of Calvinism, which, I would think from God’s perspective at least, is rather sad.

What is, in a discussion like this, the better part?

I believe one of the healthiest dynamics of Evangelicalism has been the cross-pollination that takes place through inter-denominational dialog (Br. – dialogue) and worship.    Instead of conferences where only one theological brand is raised, we need to encourage events in which a variety of voices are heard.   Instead of bloggers posting blogrolls where they are afraid to list someone who is outside their faith family, we need to be familiar with the much wider Christian blogosphere.    Instead of encouraging Christian young people to only read certain authors and one or two particular Bible translations, we need to encourage them to study the wider compendium of Christian thought.

Basically, we need to avoid situations where our personal preferences lead to being cut off from the larger, worldwide Body of Christ.

Paul Wilkinson

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