* Bravo to CT for the issue on translation! [Oct. 27]. The articles on inclusive language were well written and informative. I have often confronted these issues in teaching mixed groups. I have also felt the frustration of the limitations of our language. (I tend to agree with Wayne Grudem that the ambiguities of the language will not be resolved any time soon.) Both authors demonstrated the pitfalls of following a rigid methodology in translation. Grant Osborne's affirmation that there is room for "both literal and dynamic translations" should challenge every translator to render the most accurate translation of each passage, rather than adhering solely to one methodology or another. When the best translation is offered apart from an agenda, both the serious student of the Word and the population at large will benefit.
* I couldn't help but be struck with the different approaches in Osborne's and Grudem's articles. One was struggling over issues like "singular and plural" while the other was trying to determine how best to communicate God's truth to a biblically illiterate generation.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
* Anyone who has studied the textual history of the Scriptures (which I'm sure Grudem did at Cambridge) will see the difficulty he raises by referring to an original (a term he doesn't define in his article). Is oral tradition the inspired original? Or does inspiration only occur when pen is put to parchment? Is the original text that which was finally put forth by the redactors and editors who supposedly made changes to reflect what God exactly wanted, or were they distorters too?
I, too, consider both Wayne Grudem and Grant Osborne good friends and agree with each of them at different points as they debate translation theory. What proves decisive for me, however, is my experience with raising two daughters and interacting with their friends. They have no trouble understanding "those who do something" to mean "and you, too, if you do it." But I've stopped counting the number of times I've heard the questions "why not brothers and sisters?" or "why not women too?" One can teach them that "men" means "men and women," but it still doesn't feel the same to women, and it's not the way their friends or their teachers talk. The question nobody is addressing is why couldn't Zondervan/IBS have published the NIVI for those of us who wanted it (I had to go to England to get my copy!) and still keep publishing the old NIV intact for those who wanted it? Not to do so is a heavy-handed censorship that is utterly astonishing.
Prof. Craig L. Blomberg
* Osborne is correct that inclusive language may be used when the context demands it. However, his claim that this is not a gender issue is hard to fit with his concerns about offending readers. Are today's readers likely to be "offended" simply because a given translation might not fully explain the meaning? Or is offense more likely taken—in our pc times—when feminist interests are rebuffed? It's one thing to make the Bible understandable to each generation. It's quite another to make changes that are demanded by those whose ideology has from its secular manifestation in the 1960s onward been characterized by opposition to a number of Christian beliefs.
In providing clear and thorough coverage of the gender-inclusive Bible language debate, CT was at its very best. At first glance, it appears CT upholds a neutral position, favoring an approach that engenders mutual respect by providing some much-needed light to replace the heat that has been generated over the last several months.
But despite the appearance of neutrality, the magazine did indeed take a strong stand, one with which conservatives in this debate, I suspect, would take issue. For it is they who have demonstrated—through their actions and threatened actions—that they think only one way of understanding these complex issues can possibly be correct. That way, of course, is theirs.
Standing up for one's convictions can be admirable, even courageous. But there is another word to describe efforts to silence the voices of capable and sincere brothers and sisters in Christ. That word is tyranny.
L. Katherine Robbin
I find myself embarrassed by the statement that women in general have felt left out by the wording of the KJV, the NIV, and similar translations. In the Bible classes I have taught and continue to teach, no woman has made any such complaint. None have failed to understand, in whatever context, the meaning of the word man. I have read of the complaint and would have thought that the current demand for "inclusiveness" had come from feminist circles had the translators not assured me of my error. Please, go ahead and translate—but could you do it without making women look silly and ignorant?
* Let me get the game plan right: We make some 20,000 "generic friendly" alterations to our already "user friendly" modern version of the Bible. With this action we gain the unqualified support of the yuppie generation, Generation X, as well as the technical support of the translators of the NRSV, NLT, NCV, CEV, the NIVI, and possibly now and even the Sierra Club!
We garner the marketing expertise of both Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. We flood the market with millions more Bibles for a world of younger adults who are computer literate and MMX proficient but could care less for reading a book—any book.
However, the penultimate value is the fact that we have taken some of the burden from the Holy Spirit of God to convince men (sorry for the masculine gender slip) of their sin by giving the world a Bible that attempts to offend no one and is, by design, much easier to understand. Really?
James R. Quinn, Ph.D.
In beginning his discussion, Osborne makes the statement, "We must be careful about attributing motives to actions." Near the end of his discussion, however, he commits this very offense by opining, "Concern over inclusive language in translating the Bible is degenerating into a heresy hunt." Notwithstanding Osborne's faux pas, vigilance with regard to heresy is never a degenerative condition.
With all due respect to the strong points Dr. Grudem raised, William Tyndale was strangled for producing a translation that was not dependent upon additional explanation.
Your debate concerning Bible translations was boring and virtually meaningless to those of us who hold to the "King James only" position as the best standard English translation.
Gregory A. Martinez
Thank you for the articles on the controversy over the NIVI. Now that we have learned that it has both strengths and weaknesses (like every other Bible translation), will the Colorado Springs group please remove its ban and allow us to purchase a copy?
Pastor Fred Martin
Evangelical Free Church
* My wife and I spent 18 years as Wycliffe Bible Translators with a group that may have numbered 10,000 people in the early 1900s, but due to terrible cruelty in the world's quest for rubber, no more than 150 people remain. Is it any wonder that I am so enthusiastically devouring the excellent articles in your annual Bible issue: The Translation Mandate?
Wycliffe Bible Translators
* Being under 30 and having grown up in public schools, in my peer circle, I rarely hear the term "man/he/him" or any spin thereof used to refer to anyone but a person of male gender. Many of my peers find traditional Bible language sexist and chauvinistic, written from a culture where women were largely perceived and treated as a male's property. Osborne asks an important question that we evangelicals should consider more intensely, "How would Isaiah or Paul say this today to get his meaning across?"
* Opponents of inclusive-language Bibles need to stop hiding behind accusations of "tampering with Scripture" and admit openly the implications of their beliefs: that Jesus came to earth to save men, and that such salvation is available to women only secondarily and by analogy.
Kingston, Ont,. Canada
* With the aid of the Holy Spirit and the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must faithfully wrestle with the meaning of the Bible. Some Christian leaders have called for more careful accountability when scholars translate gender-specific and generic language, and we agree that this is appropriate. However, some individuals believe they have already resolved these complex questions and now seek to impose their views on publishing companies, translation societies, educational institutions, and the church. They have even launched a national advertising campaign to promote their translation principles, going so far as to publish lists of trustworthy translations of the Bible based on their criteria. This campaign could have a polarizing effect on the church.
We are convinced that the church has room for both types of Bible translations. Those who favor one approach should not accuse those preferring the other of narrowness or of introducing destructive contemporary cultural trends into the Bible. The present advertising campaign risks dividing the Body of Christ over an issue that is hardly settled for most of us.
A better venue for moving forward in this discussion is an open forum where all sides are represented. On February 6-7, 1999, Wycliffe Bible Translators, International Bible Society, and United Bible Societies will sponsor a conference hosted by Wheaton College which will examine in detail the issues of gender terminology in Bible translation. Hopefully we can examine fully these critical issues in the spirit of Christian charity and intellectual rigor to see if we can reach common ground. What a tragedy it would be if the Scriptures which have served as a source of unity for believers through church history would now needlessly become the cause for division in the body of Christ over differences in translation! In the meantime, we call on evangelicals to approach this subject with humility and grace and urge evangelical organizations to stop sponsoring ad campaigns that use power and persuasion as the "rulers of the gentiles" do lest shame be brought upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The undersigned represent the opinions of some members of the Biblical & Theological Studies and Biblical Languages Departments at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
James K. Hoffmeier,Robert E. Webber, J. Julius Scott,
Alan F. Johnson, Richard L. Schultz, Gene L. Green,
John McRay, Gary M. Burge, James P. Callahan,
Herbert M. Wolf, Arthur A. Rupprecht, Gerald F. Hawthorne,
Your Bible issue went a long way toward clarifying the issues on the language debate and moving us past slandering other believers. Unfortunately, the two-page advertisement ("Can I Still Trust My Bible?"), endorsed by a number of leading evangelicals, left the false impression, by inference, that such excellent translations as the NRSV, NLT, NCV, and CEV cannot be trusted. This can only be a disservice to the evangelical community. Many a sincere saint will be deprived of rich Bible reading blessings because of the suspicion cast upon such fine works and the scholars who produced them.Prof.
Oral Roberts University
I was on The Mall in Washington, thrilled to see the emphasis on denominational unity and especially thrilled because I was one of the dozen or so scholars who helped develop the statement on denominational reconciliation to be distributed at pastors' conferences and rallies. I was also thrilled to be part of the Bible issue on inclusive language, which threatened to be so divisive; I believed Wayne Grudem and I were going to be a part of a new approach to dialogue on key issues like this before we took sides.
However, I was shocked when I saw the ad cosponsored by Jim Dobson and CBMW, calling on all publishers to adopt their guidelines or else and telling all evangelicals what versions were alone safe to read. How can these Christian leaders decide an issue when all the evidence has not even been examined? How can they turn an issue like this into another litmus test for orthodoxy? Denominational reconciliation is impossible so long as more and more issues (predestination, women in the church, a 24-hour day at Creation, inclusive language, to name a few) become tests for orthodoxy and exclude large numbers of evangelicals. Are we entering a new era of rigid doctrinal demands? Is denominational reconciliation just one more unattainable dream?
I beg these leaders to reconsider their positions and to quit dividing evangelicals over issues that should be placed in an "agree to disagree" category in the church.
Grant R. Osborne
Editor's note: As a policy, we do not print letters that respond to specific ads, but since the subject of the advertisement under discussion had to do with the editorial positions of the articles themselves, and so possibly influenced how they were read, we decided to print the above letters.
High praise to Gary Burge, author of "Are Evangelicals Missing God at Church?" [Oct. 6]. It's abundantly clear that his position at Wheaton has enabled him to put his finger on the pulse of young evangelicals. I'm a Bible college student in my late twenties, and as I read the article I felt he was giving expression to some of my deepest desires for change in the way we so haphazardly worship.
It has become my firm conviction that while evangelicalism certainly possesses life, it is the amorphous and clumsy life of flesh without bone. Our living mass needs to be poured over bone, that is, over the form-giving, stabilizing structure of liturgy. Some churches have the bones without the living flesh, others have the living flesh without the bones. We are desperate out here to be flesh and bone, life and structure.
Who will speak for us? Who will guide us? What happens when something analogous to the Oxford Movement is unleashed in an age of electronic media and communication? Could we unwittingly create a monster? It is not enough to know what is wrong! How do we fix it without tearing the church apart? Help! May the Spirit of the triune God make us into the Son's unspotted bride.
Robert A. Heim
I am in awe of the misunderstanding of worship. Do you really need an "environment" to communicate God's holiness to you? I suppose worship at home is out, then? Someone seeking a divine "encounter" on Sunday morning or expecting a building, person, or decorations, and furniture to evoke an encounter will leave unfilled!
Mary A. Stuckwisch
Gary Burge hits the nail on the head. The points that should be stressed are the lack of a vertical dimension in the spiritual lives of conservative evangelicals, their extreme preoccupation with practical works, and their hostility toward the mystical side of the faith.
Most evangelical teachers encourage their people to have a personal devotional life, but they almost never tell them that the chief end of a devotional life is a personal relationship with God. Indeed, knowing God ought to be the chief end of life for every Christian. Conservative evangelical teachers almost always encourage the devotional life as a means to other ends: Practical fruits are what is desired, and God is included because we cannot get these things without him.
This is why God seems absent from evangelical worship. Changing the forms of worship will not cure the problem.
Burge's most serious omission is Scripture. When I read so many words of man, and observe virtual absence of God's Word, I can expect an unsatisfactory result. When I fail to read, and heed, his instruction on worship, I most certainly will fail to give him pleasure in my worship.
W. Lee Troup
Neither Burge nor Robert Webber included the most important aspect of worship. The powerful guiding role of the Holy Spirit!
* Never once did Gary Burge mention the heart and core of Christianity—Jesus Christ and his cross. Rather, he focused on the pastor and what he has to do to make worship more entertaining and beneficial.
Pastor Mark Gabb
* I was converted with the understanding that if I sought elsewhere, I would be getting a god that was false and would eventually be subservient to and destroyed by the True God. I tried to have an open mind and positive attitude as I began to go to church. Years of this white knuckle attempt at being a good sport has become years of denial. I don't know what I would have done if my faith wasn't grounded in theology and doctrine; I can only guess that I would have looked elsewhere for God because of the absence of him in the church. I've tried several different kinds of church that I could agree with doctrinally: I have experienced an encounter with God perhaps four times through it all. I got into chant before anyone else I know, read the books that Gary Burge said were in the book bag of his students, and developed a worship service complete with candles, robes, incense, gold things, wine, and food that I can carry around in a box and take it to where I want to be. I've been so used to creating an atmosphere of worship on my own, that if it were done at my church I would probably fall out of my pew with shock. "What's God doing here? I didn't have an appointment with him until 2:00 p.m." I was under the impression that I was alone in my frustration.
* The article suggests that pipe organs, stained glass, and high ceiling cathedrals will in some way bring you closer to God during services. I am under the impression that faith in Jesus Christ and a daily walk with him as Lord and Savior is all God requires for the closeness Burge is longing for. Any Christian looking for closeness to God on Sundays alone has a problem that no organ or building can fix.
I wonder if it is feasible to design a "one size fits all" worship experience. As Campus Chaplain at Wheaton College for 11 years, I wrestled with the impossible challenge of providing chapel programs to meet the diverse worship needs and expectations of the students. Obviously it was an impossible dream.
I think Burge's definition of worship as "a divine encounter that touches many dimensions of our personhood" is valid. We each respond to the model of worship that is in harmony with our own individual personality and temperament. Christians tend to gravitate to the church whose style of worship best aids them in fulfilling that indescribable urge to reach out to God.
However, what is helpful and inspiring to one Christian might be boring and irrelevant to another. Somewhere there is a church that models the style of worship that is compatible to our own individual needs and aids us in worshiping God "in spirit and in truth." We should join it and no longer feel that we are "Missing God at Church."
Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address if intended for publication. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot respond to individual letters. Write to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/260-0114. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ( * ).
Copyright © 1997 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.