So now LifeWay Christian bookstores are going to — officially — carry the 2011 revision of the New International Version after all. Profit over principle?
In some sense, yes, but buried in the story is also an admission that in making an earlier decision, the delegates to last summer’s Southern Baptist annual meeting did not have all the correct facts in front of them and went with a knee-jerk reaction instead of getting all the facts. Do that, and you’re always forced to backpedal.
With the strongly emotional issue of Bible translation, this type of response is all too common. A handful of self-styled academics have a legion of followers who believe every words they say about “other” translations, even though the facts — and real academics — don’t support their wild claims. But there are many people out there who would rather believe the worst, and I know this because they make a regular point of sending me email forwards that insist the sky is falling.
At issue is the updated edition of the NIV Bible and a motion that a delegate to the convention put forward in June recommending that entire SBC denomination ban the translation. Some SBC pastors who had been preaching from the revised text immediately discontinued its use.
The bookstore chain and its affiliated publishing company is owned by the SBC, and is a major cash cow. LifeWay’s trustees have decided to go against the recommendation of their parent denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, and continue merchandising and selling the 2011 revision of the New International Version of the Bible published by Zondervan.
But the USAToday story, excerpted below, says the chain “won’t endorse it;” which is a throwback to a controversy a few years ago where the company placed consumer advisory warning stickers on some products (i.e. The Shack) which it did not ‘officially’ approve. Next generation writers like Donald Miller were a particular target in October ’10; though it paled in comparison to a September ’08 decision to pull a music magazine from the shelves with a cover story on female pastors, while continuing to print and market materials by Bible teacher Beth Moore.
The comedic value of this, “We’ll sell it to you, but we don’t approve of it” policy is, like the policy itself, without limits. Lifeway could bring in just about anything in print, CD or DVD without having to sanction it; which means it could make forays into the wider ABA book market or carry CDs or DVDs which its customers enjoy and are buying elsewhere, without compromising principles.
But does a warning notice or sticker on the product exempt the company from those principles? And isn’t that warning somewhat unnecessary when it’s dawning on SBC leadership that the new NIV isn’t guilty of the translation crimes of which it is accused?
Here’s the story from USAToday:
Complaints that the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is inaccurate and too gender-inclusive are not going to stop one of the world’s largest Christian resource producers from selling it.
That translation was criticized at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. Church representatives there approved a resolution asking Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources — owned by the denomination — to take it off its shelves.
Critics said the translation, which was updated in 2011, is filled with errors when it comes to language about gender, using “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” and “they” instead of “he” for a single pronoun. That kind of approach undermines the authority of the Bible, they said.
LifeWay’s trustees disagreed.
After having a committee review the 2011 NIV, they voted unanimously this week to keep selling it, while making clear they don’t endorse it…
…That decision disappointed the Rev. Tim Overton of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind. Overton wrote the resolution against the NIV that passed in Phoenix.
His resolution initially was rejected by the committee that vets resolutions before they are presented at the annual meeting. But he brought it to a floor vote, where it was approved.
Overton, like many other Southern Baptists, believes in verbal plenary inspiration — the idea that every word of the original texts of the Bible comes from God. Adding words to a translation undermines that belief, he said.
“If it says ‘brother’ and you say ‘brothers and sisters,’ you are adding to the Scriptures,” he said.
Marty King, spokesman for LifeWay, said a committee of trustees reviewed the NIV to decide whether it was acceptable. Under Southern Baptist rules, he said, they were not required to comply with the resolution, and representatives at the annual meeting had inaccurate information about the translation.
“People thought this Bible used female language for God,” he said. “It does not. We think that messengers* voted without accurate information.”
*insider term for delegates to the SBC convention