Thinking Out Loud

February 10, 2022

Bible Gateway Pulls the Passion Translation

I wrote this to appear at a book trade blog I continue to write and edit, only to preview it and discover that I had formatted it for this one accidentally. It then struck me however that this a fairly major development, and it does speak to the sometimes awkward issue of “translation versus paraphrase” which I have covered here in 2018. So I think it’s worth sharing here as well. There are three links below and I encourage you to follow them.

The decision by BibleGateway.com to remove The Passion Translation (TPT) from the platform should, at the very least, give retailers pause. There have been a number of vocal critics of TPT since its inception, but Bible translation is always an emotionally-laden issue, especially in Bibles not the product of a large committee.

The decision, made at the end of January, came to our attention on February 9th, with a news article at Christianity Today. It noted that the original Living Bible and The Message — also single-author versions, as is TPT by Brian Simmons — remain on Bible Gateway, but added that,

“Eugene Peterson, was clear that he was putting the Bible into his voice—describing the project as a paraphrase, not a translation. He even said he felt “uneasy” about its use in worship and personally still preferred the originals in his devotions.”

The issue seems to be that TPT insists on calling itself a translation. However, an article on February 7th in Eternity Magazine, points out some striking differences, quoting their translation expert John Harris:

“The first is temptation is to add too much to the original text. This is the kind of thing The Message sometimes does, but Peterson does not claim that what he has written is the Word of God.

“The second temptation is to add things which were never there in the first place, to put explanations in the text itself. Here lies the real danger because there is always the temptation to add words which push the text towards a particular theological position.”

The Passion Translation is a good example of this, according to Harris.

“Philippians 1:2 says: ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)’

“In TPT, the same phrase reads: ‘We decree over your lives the blessings of divine grace and supernatural peace that flow from God our wonderful Father, and our Anointed Messiah, the Lord Jesus.’”

The issue is a bit obvious! Greek, 11 words. NIV 14 words. TPT 27 words.

“There are obviously many additional words. A relatively harmless addition here is the word wonderful. Yes, God is wonderful, but the original is not talking about the wonder of God and so to use the word is to add to what the Bible originally said. We cannot add words, even good words, and say it is faithful to the original text,” says Harris.

A very short time after TPT was published, a revised version appeared with significant changes. When quoting TPT, one needs to be clear if they’re quoting the first second edition.

Criticism was swift to arrive when early editions appeared, but at the website Escape to Reality, author Paul Ellis offers something positive:

There are plenty of critical reviews pointing out what TPT gets wrong, so let me point out some things it gets right. Let’s start with this well-known passage from John 15:2.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit…

  • He takes away (ESV/NASB/NKJV/Darby/Wuest)
  • He taketh away (ASV/KJV)
  • He cuts off (ISV/MSG/NIV)
  • He breaks off (GNB)

For years I have insisted that these are bad translations of Jesus’ words. Jesus doesn’t cut or remove unfruitful branches; he lifts them up. As far as I know, TPT is the only Bible that gets this right:

He cares for the branches connected to me by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches. (John 15:2, TPT)

Does this matter?

If you are an unfruitful Christian, would you rather hear that Jesus plans to cut you off and take you away (something he never said) or that he will lift you up? Bad translations hurt people; good ones encourage them to trust Jesus.

TPT is scheduled to be completed in 2026. The Christianity Today article quotes the publisher:

“An exhaustive and thorough review and update of the entire Bible will be undertaken ahead of its release in the next 5-6 years,” BroadStreet said in a statement. “The review of the text by our team of theologians and industry professionals will continue to address feedback, as has been our approach to-date.”

…One of the things which emerges from this at the retail level is the difference between Christian bookstore proprietors who got into the business because they saw some pretty décor items at a gift show, and those who are able to engage with the theological concerns of thoughtful customers. A store that cares about the potential impacts of the products you carry, needs to see the CT article in full because it raises important issues.

The article cites some people in the Neo-Calvinist/Reformed communities who are naturally going to be opposed to anything that’s not ESV, but bookstore owners need to weigh all the evidence and allow it to, at the very, very least, temper future ordering of TPT products. But let us be clear, Charismatic and Pentecostal customers have historically been a driving part of the Christian publishing business, and alienating customer segments is never a good idea.

This has all developed in the last few hours, but for Christian retailers, I would think it also presents the distinction between titles which are accepted only as custom orders, versus things carried in-stock. Store owners are investing their capital in their inventory and need to feel at peace with where those investment dollars are going.


Footnote: The issue of textual additions came up before with The Voice translation, however all of their supplemented words and phrases were placed in italics, a tactic which had precedent in the decision of the KJV translators to include extra words in italics to clarify meaning. True, in English we use italics for emphasis — see what I did there! — but they wanted to be careful to adopt an already existing convention. Readers knew what was core text and what was added. Because The Voice followed a dramatic/script formatting, transitional paragraphs were added, but they were also made visible by their lack of verse numbering. With TPT, it simply not clear where one ends and the other begins, and this appears to be one of the major issues scholars and academics have with TPT.


Another example of people adding to the Bible text is the Amplified Bible. There again, the use of parenthesis makes it absolutely clear when words are being used to amplify basic meaning. It occurred to me while re-reading the example in Philippians 1 above that Brian Simmons was doing the same thing in TPT, but again, there was no use of parenthesis or italics, so the less-informed reader would take away TPT’s rendering as “what the Apostle Paul says” in verse 2, when in fact, that is far from the case.

December 8, 2016

Worldwide Shortage of Christian Book Titles Continues

Other customers also got confused:

Lynette Eason’s Without Warning is the second book in a series and released a few weeks ago. Joel Roseberg’s Without Warning is coming in March, 2017.

without-warning-books

This sort of thing happens a lot.  In 2013 it was two music releases:

But 2016 has been a particularly rough year, especially this fall:

unashamed2

However, it’s clear that some Christian musicians didn’t quite grasp how to play the game:

where-the-light-gets-in-and-shines-through

Personally, I’m guessing the light gets in through the same hole it gets out (or shines through.)

So why or how did I discover the forthcoming Joel Rosenberg release? Because they were using the same hashtag on Twitter at the same time this week. Does nobody check these things? Where are the social media savvy types who are supposed to know what they’re doing? 

Let us know if you spot any Christian publishing or music sources of confusion.

June 2, 2016

Largest Independent Wholesale Distributor of Christian Books to Close

After several days of speculation, Send the Light Distribution (STL) of Bristol, Tennessee confirmed on Tuesday night that it will be shutting down in a brief email and website posting:

STL Closing

While you probably never heard of STL, they were a key conduit in getting Christian products to the brick-and-mortar retail community, with more than 10,000 wholesale customers. Despite this, the announcement this week has been greatly under-reported in Christian-focused media.

Send the Light DistributionSTL provided one-stop shopping for bookstores who would otherwise need to deal with each individual publisher. Of the more than 500 vendors who work with STL — which included book, curriculum, Bible, music, DVD and giftware creators — nearly a third were exclusive, meaning that STL was their warehouse, under the subsidiary Advocate Distribution banner, which allowed an equal playing field with books released by major publishers such as Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Baker Books, etc.)

Those independent publishers must now scramble to find new avenues of distribution, though the options are very limited.

The first option is Anchor Distributors of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, which has had a strong Charismatic emphasis which may temper the enthusiasm of STL’s more conservative publishers, although many of those are already represented in the company’s inventory. Anchor recently purchased Word Alive, a Canadian Christian book wholesaler, and is now the only remaining Christian distributor.

(A well-known company in Cambridge, Mass., Christian Book Distributors, primarily sells to consumers, not to bookstores. Despite having the word distributors in its name, it is not considered a wholesale supplier.)

The other option is Ingram Publisher Services which is part of Ingram Content Group, the world’s largest independent book distributor, which deals in a wide swath of printed materials including books from other religions, erotic literature, etc. which would be equally repulsive to STL’s conservative clients. Furthermore, Ingram recently slashed the wholesale discount to smaller stores unable to meet its new $5K minimum.  (Full disclosure: …including the store this writer is associated with. While we still have access, we no longer can afford to pay a premium price for products and still remain sustainable.) (Point of information: Other publishers and distributors don’t do this, though the size of individual orders can affect discounts received; some smaller stores could view Ingram’s actions in this as simply hostile.)

Given the choice, Anchor would be the better option.  Without new distribution avenues, stores dealing in print books may be forced to tell customers that a favorite author is no longer available.

The closing of STL also ends Great Value Books (GVB) a company which began as OM Lit, a fundraising arm of Operation Mobilization.  STL had recently folded GVB into its primary warehouse. Bargain books are great deals for customers and can also contribute positively to a bookstore’s bottom line.

The closing of STL also affects another segment of the Christian population: Homeschoolers. Unless someone steps up to buy it, HomeSchoolCatalog.org will end when STL shuts down. As it did for bookstores, the homeschool division allowed families to purchase all their supplies from a single source.

So why the closure? In an article at CT yesterday, STL president Glenn Bailey stated, “When companies get creative and find new and better ways to do things, like Amazon Prime … at the end of the day, that kind of thing also destroys the current or past way that business had been done.”

But some see this as just a delayed ripple effect of the bankruptcy last year of Family Christian Stores. Literary agent Steve Laube disagrees, telling CT: “If their demise had been six months ago, I would have made the correlation [to the FCS bankruptcy]. But today it is merely a reflection of the shift in retail buying patterns. Ironically, it doesn’t mean books aren’t selling, when in fact they are. Instead it only means they are being purchased in a different place.”

For publishers and bookstore owners alike, this is a sad time. We wish them — and the nearly 100 employees at STL — the best and encourage you to pray for all who are impacted by this.

 

 

 

 

 

January 17, 2015

The Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven

Boy Who Came Back From Heaven product lineScreenshot of a book industry page listing product related to Alex Malarkey’s story.

Alex Malarkey, the boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now recanted his story. The Washington Post provides the update:

Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The best-selling book, first published in 2010, describes what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir — with its assuring description of “Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World” — became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism,” which has been controversial among orthodox Christians.

Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

Referring to the injuries that continue to make it difficult for him to express himself, Alex writes, “Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short…. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

Continue reading at Washington Post.

I guess we have to take this at face value. Alex and his mother have been reported as trying to get the truth about the story out there for some time. Still, there’s something about Alex’s final comment, the idea that people should only read the Bible, that suggests he’s been influenced by some ultra-conservative or fundamentalist individuals or group.

Should we get rid of all the books in the same genre? Right now there is a huge backlash online concerning “Heaven Tourism” books like Heaven is for Real by The Burpos and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. Although we carried the Piper book at the bookstore I’m involved with, I carried it in very small quantities until I was able to watch the hour-long video that goes with a curriculum of the same name. That changed my mind. And I think that Todd and Sonya Burpo have been very realistic about whatever it was that Colton experienced; there’s no denying that he was party to information after the experience that had never been shared with him, and that they, like Don Piper, were very reluctant to go public.

We ran this quotation a few days ago here in the link list:

“Among conservative Christians who think critically about these matters are Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, both of whom have written on the subject. In discussions with them, they seem to agree that while NDEs [Near Death Experiences] have debatable significance in giving us a glimpse of heaven, and little to no value in proving the Christian faith, they do have significant value in discrediting naturalism (the belief that there is no transcendence to nature) and scientism (the belief that science can explain all things). Why? Because, at the very least, NDEs give evidence that there is a conscious part of individuals that transcends the body and brain. NDEs give evidence of the soul.”

Read more at Parchment and Pen.

It’s not been a good year for Tyndale, either; they were also the home of Mark Driscoll’s Resurgent imprint. The earliest indications here in Canada are that suppliers will take inventory back, but subject to normal return policy; in other words, only stock you purchased in the last 360 days.

I also need to clarify that the last link is to a blog called Parchment and Pen, and the upper story contains a link to Pulpit and Pen. Confusing. The people at the latter are also part of the group called #the15 who are trying to hold LifeWay retail stores more accountable for the things they carry that are inconsistent with the store’s and the Southern Baptist Convention’s standards. Needless to say, they’re jumping all over this in the same way the mainstream press is jumping and punning all over Alex’s last name. For them, the timing couldn’t be better; however, this affects all of us who have retail stores.

“So,” I hear you saying, “You seem like a smart guy, why did you carry this book in the first place?”

I have a certain amount of skepticism about many of the titles customers at the bookstore order — we sometimes deny orders on certain subjects ranging from what constitutes hate speech under Canadian law in some titles, to books that encourage rather severe corporal punishment of children — but frequent ordering means that titles find their way into core inventory. (That’s what happened here, we passed completely on what are called ‘pre-pub’ or pre-publication offers.) But I don’t think it would be right to look at similar books in my store and say that we as owners, managers and staff lack discernment. Honestly, our “heaven tourism” books are all on a lower shelf. From Betty Malz to Aldo McPherson these stories have an appeal to a certain type of person, but then, I personally distance myself from most prophecy titles, yet there’s no denying that there are people saved and attending church today because of The Late Great Planet Earth and even the Left Behind series.

I’m not thrilled with everything the Christian publishing industry produces, but to toss everything except the Bible means to toss out a vast catalog of Christian literature that includes everything from the writings of the Early Church fathers to the great classics of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Furthermore, many of our spiritual heroes claimed a number of strange and mystical experiences, many of which we don’t talk about today.

To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to display ’em, and know when it’s time to take ’em down. This one is done.

July 8, 2014

On My Bookshelf

bookcase - roseland greene blog

One of the blessings of this blog is that your faithful readership has led to increased generosity on the part of several Christian publishers.  Unfortunately, not every book gets reviewed, but I wanted to mention several to you.

Before we begin, you’ll notice many books for men in this list. Okay, there’s only four, but that’s significant. Men’s books don’t sell well in the Christian marketplace, so this emphasis is a bit of a surprise. Plus, all four are from HarperCollins Christian Publishing group. Hopefully the market can sustain all this activity happening at the same time.

The Hope Quotient – Ray Johnston (Thomas Nelson) — More than just a motivational or self-help book, this California pastor has packed this book with charts and graphics as well as supporting scripture references and comes at a time when many people feel hope is lacking. The HQ test allows readers to test their own Hope Quotient.

Rare Bird – Anna Whitson-Donaldson (Convergent) — The real life memoir of a mother whose 12-year old son was washed away in a nearby creek following a freak rainstorm. This book releases in September from Convergent. To get a taste of this, check out this post on her blog, The Bridge: One Terrible Night. Releases in September.

Small – Craig Gross (Nelson Books) — The founder of XXXChurch.com writes celebrating the ordinary and the insignificant. While the book is general in nature, Gross incorporates story from his rather unique ministry. This book is releasing in August, and unlike the others listed here, I’m already one-third of the way in, so we may end up doing a full review on this one. (Trivia: This is a must-gift book for anyone who serves their local church as a greeter!)

7 Ways to Be Her Hero – Doug Fields (W Publishing) — The author of the classic Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and teaching pastor for the last 22 years at Saddleback is back with seven steps men can take to improve their ability to be a husband. He’s already got my attention with Step #1: Don’t Say Everything You Think.  Oh, oh!

The Dude’s Guide to Manhood – Darrin Patrick (Nelson Books) — The chaplain of the St. Louis Cardinals names twelve different characteristics that can be developed in any man of various stages in life.

Be The Dad She Needs You To Be – Kevin Leman (Thomas Nelson) — One of the foremost experts on family dynamics, prolific author and speaker Leman really needs no introduction as he delves into the relationships between fathers and daughters. There is much practical advice here; fathers of girls might want to keep this book handy.

The Good Dad – Jim Daly (Zondervan) — The President of Focus on the Family comes into many of your homes via radio each and every day, though often while the Dad in the family is at work. (I’m betting at least 70% of Focus listeners are female). The book is somewhat autobiographical as Daly didn’t have the benefit of great role modeling.

Love Well – Jamie George (David C. Cook) — The subtitle is Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck and encourages the reader to move beyond the paralyzing effects of fear shame and hopelessness.  This book releases in August.

Losing Your Faith, Finding Your Soul – David Robert Anderson (Convergent) — This book is releasing through the “edgy” imprint of Waterbrook/Multnomah, so it is no surprise that it deals with going through that period of life when lifelong faith assumptions start to unravel and beliefs about God, faith and church are in flux. The Connecticut Episcopal pastor deals with times we experience a “shift in our spiritual foundation.”

Nobody Knows: The Harry T. Burleigh Story – Craig von Buseck (Baker) — That this book is in hardcover adds to the mystery here. The book is subtitled, The Forgotten Story of One of the Most Influential Figures in American Music. In this case, we’re talking about the original American music form, Negro Spirituals.

Crash the Chatterbox – Steven Furtick (Waterbrook) — After getting downright giddy about Furtick’s first two books on this blog, you would think I would have done anything to get my hands on an advance reader copy of his third book. But alas, I’ve allowed myself to become jaded by all the online attention being given to Furtick’s $1.75 million (U.S.) home. I may get to this book yet, or read it privately without doing a review. I guess I’m just too disappointed in how this author’s journey is playing out, and it’s unfortunate because I had high hopes.

December 17, 2013

What Christian Publishers Want: It’s Not Great Writing

Christian publisher query form“I can say without reservation that the bigger the platform the less the author has to say…”
~Scot McKnight

At the blog Jesus Creed yesterday, Scot McKnight posted a sample form that one publishing imprint uses to respond to author queries. WARNING: It’s got nothing to do with anything the author may feel led to say in print. It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you. It’s all about trivialities like Facebook friends and Twitter followers. FURTHER WARNING: If you’re already disillusioned with the Christian publishing industry, this story won’t help. 

Scot McKnight is highly respected and widely read, so it’s not surprising some high profile people — some authors themselves — chimed in on this one:  

Skye Jethani: I had a conversation with a publisher recently about these problems. He shamefully admitted that in today’s Christian publishing world a Eugene Peterson would never get published. Another literary agent said it’s much easier to get talented writers published by non-Christian publishing houses–they’re less beholden to celebrity and platform. Arg! I suppose it’s not worth fighting. In a few years we’ll all be serving one master anyway–Amazon.

Karen Zacharias: We are a celebrity-driven culture which is why platforms matter. Not for content, but for economic value. It’s a business. Many of my author friends have quit the business in the past couple of years, as their work and merit has been devalued by the digital era. Not that being an author was ever a money-making venture, but it’s even less so for mid-list authors than ever before. There are days when I think I will quit and go get that job at Dairy Queen after all. 

Dan Kimball (tongue in cheek): When looking at this form, there is a very obvious mis-focused attention to the questions being asked. They should be including ones like: “If you were on a deserted island for a year and had to listen to only one kind of music the entire time, would you listen to rap (with clean lyrics) or contemporary country western?” “How many times have you seen the David Lynch movie Eraserhead?” “Please provide a list of concerts you have seen the past 18 months?” “What hair gel do you use and please provide a short paragraph listing the specific reasons why you choose that hair gel over another?” If they would only ask these questions, then it would show they are critically thinking about what they are publishing. I hope there is change, it can happen. 

Basically, with the release of this form, the Christian publishing establishment has been caught red-handed.

Click to read: Platform and Publishing

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