Revealed Religion or Relevant and Radical?

I have conservative Evangelical friends who reject the radical Protestantism of the Episcopalians and mainstream Lutherans etc. with their homosexualist and feminist agenda. “They have nothing to do with us!” they cry. “We conservative Evangelicals are the true Protestants. We are faithful to the Bible. We will never change. We preach ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’” And so forth. But is this true, or are the conservative Evangelicals also enthusiastic about the homosexualist and feminist agenda?

I don’t see them lining up to endorse same sex marriage, but what about their views on the feminism? Let’s see what is happening at Zondervan–the largest Evangelical publishing house. They are the sole publishers of the very popular Evangelical Protestant translation of the Bible–the New International Version. This version of the Bible holds about 50% of the market share of new Bible sales. Back in 1997 they said they were going to produce a ‘gender free’ version of the NIV, but then backed down after their conservative Evangelical audience put up a big stink. But they’re back at it again, and the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) is going to be published.

Their aim is to ‘correct the masculine bias’ of the Scriptural text. Terms like ‘Father’, ‘Brother’ will be changed to ‘Parent’ and ‘fellow believer’ or ‘brother or sister’. ‘Men’ will be changed to ‘humans’ etc. You know the schtick. It’s everywhere now. So why does it matter? To read an excellent critique go here. The author makes a very good case, with numerous examples to show how changing the ‘gender bias’ in the Scriptures is not only unfaithful to the original languages, but subtly transforms the theology and the nature of the divine relationship with the human race.

There are a couple of things that interest me about this bit of news. First of all, I find it odd that the Protestants regularly blame Catholics for ‘adding things to Scripture’ or ‘adding extra books to the Bible’, while Protestants have been at it since the beginning. It started with the Protestants removing the apocryphal books from the Bible, Martin Luther wishing to cut the epistle of James and the Book of Revelation etc, and adding ‘faith alone’ to his his version of Romans 5:1 in order to make Scripture support his theology. Now we have the Protestants (who are so fervent in their sola Scriptura beliefs and so fervent in their love for the Scriptures) tinkering with the eternal word of God for politically correct motives. Nothing new there then.

Secondly, Zondervan’s willingness to adjust the Scriptures so that they more suitably reflect the political and social views of wealthy Western Christians shows that they are firmly in the ‘relative’ not the ‘revealed’ side of the debate on Christian identity. Is the Christian faith revealed by God and unchanging at its core, or is it a human construct built up from the spiritual longings of human beings in particular cultures and circumstances? It would seem this brand of conservative Evangelicals–if happy to adjust the Scriptures which they should regard as sacrosanct–falls into the ‘relative religion’ camp rather than the ‘revealed religion’ camp.

There is a more subtle point to be considered here. Does the faith remain unchanging in every detail in every cultural situation and in every age? No. Things do change and must change. Otherwise the faith ossifies in only one cultural and contemporary expression. The question is not whether the practice and expression of the faith should change, but how much it changes, and more importantly–what are the principles on how it changes? What are the criteria for proper development of the faith? Bl. John Henry Newman’s study of the Development of Doctrine gives the best guidelines for how the faith may change and develop. Simply put, it develops in continuity with what has gone before. There is a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, and this is combined with the magisterium of the church–which guides the development in an authentic way.

Without this idea of a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, and without the magisterium of an agreed external authority, the Evangelicals who want to alter the Bible to be gender free are standing on the same philosophical shifting sands as the radical liberals they so despise. The Protestant religion wars in the United States have the ‘conservatives’ standing against all the radical liberal agenda, and yet philosophically they are on the same relativistic ground. They both hold to two of the same foundation principles which are mutually contradictory. 1. sola Scriptura – the Bible is the sole (or at least ultimate) source of authority 2. Private interpretation – you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.

Both the radical Protestants and the conservative Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate authority, and both of them make the Scriptures say whatever they want them to say. The two parties come up with totally different conclusions. They are opposed utterly, but the philosophical foundation on which they stand is the same.

Both believe the Bible is the authority and both believe it is okay to translate the Bible  (and add ‘study’ notes) to make sure it is interpreted the way they wish. This means they are in constant battles, “The Bible says this. No it doesn’t it says this. Yes but it doesn’t really mean that it means this. That’s what you say, but I say it doesn’t really mean that it means this.”

Without an external agreed authority to determine how the Bible is interpreted and how the faith may properly develop what else can they do?

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04653644792930523119 Brian

    It appears to me that Christianity has become just another self-help program for many people. When I go to the bookstore, the "Chrisitan Inspiration" section makes my stomach turn. Much of Protestant theology is so superficial and without roots that it really has difficulty in fulfilling any other role. So, people may not understand why an accurate translation is of any real importance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13173059707881271764 Jakian Thomist

    Should we be surprised? We live in the 'genderless' era, where passports only list 'parents' not fathers and mothers and birth certs are changed to reflect 'gender status' updates.Why not change the Bible to suit the prevaling whim also? I'm sure Zondervan expect a handsome profit catering to a 'liberated' protestant market.Thankfully, Catholic Development is not the same as doctrinal evolution. Evolutionary change brings outward influences in – gender balance and political correctness come and lay seige to the truth.Whereas development unfurls what is already 'in' and brings it out, like a growing seed – the truth grows in its splendor without betraying its roots.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Brian–indeed. Once the supernatural religion of the salvation of souls is forgotten what is left but a form of 'spiritual' self help? JT– good point about development vs. evolution. I think you've given me a springboard for another blog post. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13388899986377479033 torculus

    "The Protestant religion wars in the United States have the 'conservatives' standing against all the radical liberal agenda, and yet philosophically they are on the same relativistic ground."Yes, exactly!Q. "Without an external agreed authority to determine how the Bible is interpreted and how the faith may properly develop what else can they do?"A. Admit that Christ founded One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that He gave to the Apostle Peter the keys to the kingdom and the authority to guide and govern the Church, the same Church under Peter's successors that determined the Canon of Holy Scripture. That being the case, non-Catholics should flee their sinking ships and come home to Rome!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11994673962810075076 Nick

    This is gonna cause a few Christians to officially join the Church…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00657046440837419925 Thomas

    Cardinal Ratzinger gave an address in 1988 on biblical interpretation at St. Peter's in Manhattan. He noted,"(Exegesis)…must come to acknowledge…the space for understanding, which does not do dogmatic violence to the Bible.."It can appear Catholic interpreters can have their own wide range of views as they seek to establish their own "brand" in the academy. Historical-critical should not mean debunking but understanding. The "reformers" kicked out two legs from the Church's three-legged stool; they wonder why their seat lacks strength?Regards.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16751516602395247675 Randy

    I am not sure you can exclude the Catholic church from this critique. I see the "brothers and sisters" language appearing in my misslette.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04843514873861242426 Howard

    Please, father — Protestants didn't remove apocryphal books from the Bible, they removed the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. Just because they use the wrong term doesn't mean that we should, too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04843514873861242426 Howard

    I should also add that this kind of tinkering with scriptures sounds very familiar. I hear it at every Mass, with "Brothers and sisters" (occasionally, "Sisters and brothers"), but even more so in the Psalms, which have been reworked fastidiously to avoid as much as possible the use of masculine pronouns for God.Whenever I'm considering buying a new Bible, one of the passages I check is Psalm 1. If it's something other than "Blessed is the man…" I'm immediately suspicious. (In the NAB, it's, "Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked….")

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14807873592896092136 Anthony S. “Tony” Layne

    @ Randy: Where we see "brothers and sisters" in the Mass isn't in the texts of the Scriptural readings, but in the language of the liturgy. The priest can say "brothers and sisters" in address to the congregation (e.g., "Brothers and sisters, let us pray that our gifts may be acceptable to God the almighty Father") without changing the theological substance. But God still remains the Father and Jesus the Son: the necessary distinctions Fr. L is talking about are preserved.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01147001268219328161 Kelly Wilson

    There are statements in here that I would not have expected from a Catholic priest (from a point of view of Christian charity, but also since a part of me assumes that a good education would have been part of his intellectual formation). My impression is that precision has been sacrificed in favour of making particular points. Perhaps that is a common aspect of posts here? I don't know. I haven't read the blog much before.I'd like to make two points, rather unconnected with what I feel to be is the questionable quality of this post. 1. As for the supposedly "gender-free" Bibles, I find a lot of people don't quite know how to engage with the question of inclusive language.For example, someone who used the Mundelein Psalter this morning for Morning Prayer would have found the following in the Intercessions: Christ…grant us the spirit of humble service to our fellow men.Now hearing this, it wouldn't be too hard to determine that what is intended is the whole of humanity and not simply men. If at a certain point in the future it was found beneficial to use language that would more fully reflect that understanding (like "people" or "all your children,") or something along these lines, I really don't think most people would have a problem. The fact is that meanings that people attach to particular words do change, and sometimes so as not to provide unnecessary obstacles for people it is wise to use language that is not an obstacle. It's the same with Bible translation. We can do an extremeley literal translations and attempt to use the best approximation of an original word, or we can use what we feel is to be the best approximation of what meaning that word intended to convey. Which do we do? It seems neither, in themselves, are inappropriate.Now, I don't know exactly what the TNIV has in mind, but doing this (what I have described above) is different from changing particular images. For example, changing very specific masculine images or very specific feminine images that the biblical authors use as images for God, wouldn't be appropriate. For example, Jesus' use of the very specific image "Father," would be a very different kind of change than the change from "men" to "people." Most translators know this, and normal people need to understand this distinction when they think they are being orthodox in condemning inclusion.2. Yes Protestants read into Scriptures. Yes an interpretation of the Scriptures by a Protestant can look Protestant. But have you ever read any Catholic apologetical works? Someone like Armstrong? He is a remarkably poor exegete, and if you haven't been trained (which he, I don't think, has) then that's undedrtandable, and not a point against his character. But he combines his ignornance of interpretation with the questioning of the catholicity of a very good exegete (someone like Brown who, for example, someone JPII once identified as a model for biblical scholars).So I wouldn't be too hard on Protestant interpretations that aren't very good. We have our own that aren't very good. A parallel might be the celebrating of difficulties Anglican people are experiencing. We have our own difficulties too.Anyways, back to interpretation.We have a useful tool in the historical-critical method, which, when applied properly, can lead to substantial agreement between Catholics and Protestants about what is being read. Do the Scriptures mean more than what an application of the historical critical method can ascertain? Of coarse. Have we come to assert, over time, more than the biblical authors consciously attempted to? Yes, and that's okay. But the historical method can be a good point of contact, a good ecumenical tool, and when used properly proves that in seeking to determine just what was the intention of the origianal author, there can be a good deal of agreement. K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05469033520001541448 Lagniappe

    Ah, Zondervan is not a Christian/Protestant publishing house anymore. It is owned by Harper Collins. Thus, they can print what they want, anyway they want under the guise of a protestant translation (though it originally was and a dynamic at that).Next, Catholic Bibles also have study notes. And their exegetic attempts at making Jesus' brothers "cousins" may have some minor basis; however, it is the protection of a dogmatic perpetual Virgin that is in play. Liberal Protestants do NOT hold to a Scripture that is inerrant and are the mischief makers of the Bultmanns', Jesus Seminar, and other miscreants who have wrongly use textual criticism with abandon (and much has been disproved).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09087270710114392727 Magister Christianus

    This is precisely why I am being drawn to Catholicism after a lifetime as an Evangelical. There must be an agreed upon external authority, as you say, else this kind of contradiction can exist.Our pastor just mentioned in his sermon a survey by the Barna Group in 2010 that said the Christian church is becoming less theologically literate and that we were facing an unprecedented theological free-for-all. I could not help thinking, "What do you expect?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18138004129894177863 JARay

    Your correspondent Kelly seems only to believe in the historical-critical exegesis of scripture. He also has some difficulty in spelling. I rather think that he would be amongst those who want to cut out the word "men" in the line of the Creed which runs "….for us men and for our salvation" because, as the feminists say, the word "men" excludes 'women', which it certainly does not! What they fail to see is that by excluding the word "men", so that the line runs "….for us, and for our salvation" they have excluded everyone outside of the actual church building and they have also excluded all men (and women) who have been on earth and who are to come on earth! That is because the word "us" now simply includes only the congregation saying the Creed, and Jesus most certainly did not only come on earth and suffer just for that particular congregation. A little word can make a world of difference when it is put in, or missed out!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01147001268219328161 Kelly Wilson

    JARaY,I wrote originally:"Do the Scriptures mean more than what an application of the historical critical method can ascertain? Of coarse. Have we come to assert, over time, more than the biblical authors consciously attempted to? Yes, and that's okay."So against your reading of me let me repeat that clearly we need more than this method. But this method is absolutely crucial in attempting to ascertaing the literal sense. The PBC document entitled (I think) "On the Interpretation…" says as much (as does BXVI in his recent book length interview), as well as laying out a host of methods listing their strengths and weaknesses.As for the inclusive language, your point notes dangers, and I agree, but in itself, the desire to make language more precise so as to fully communicate with today's listeners is a noble goal. Particular applications of that goal aren't going to be perfect, and in certain cases damaging. That's why we need to be careful. All of which provides an ironic transition into the issue of my "spelling." If there are errors, it's because I write quickly, which might also explain why I kept in my grumpy comments about the quality of this post….

  • http://openid.aol.com/jllfolarin Joe

    This post is intellectually lacking. There are many other ways to show how the church (both Catholic and Evangelical) has fallen into the traps of relativism, and needs to find its way out. Changing these generalist gender pronouns is simply following the evolution of the English language. From about 50 years ago and before, the generalist pronoun in English was always masculine. Now this aspect of the language is more precise, and thus our newest translations follow the language change…ie 'Blessed is the man who…' becoming 'Blessed is the one who…'. This is linguistics, not theology. I think it's noteworthy to mention that many languages, including Chinese, do not even have a distinction between masculine and feminine pronouns, and thus this issue doesn't exist in their language. This post comes across to me as a masked rehash of traditionalist arguments for using archaic and irrelevant forms of language and music in church so as to give an effect of seeming 'holy' and 'timeless', as if retaining forms of language and music that were popular 500 years ago somehow sanctifies the liturgy. I have a feeling that 500 years ago people were arguing for the use of forms another 500 years older, and thus we continue to beat the air today. Could we perhaps move on to matters that really matter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    Joe,Take another look at the post. Fr. L isn't just talking about generalist gender pronouns. He specifically mentions the changing of gender pronouns that have a theological impact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13300831169438013894 Joe Lake

    The English word “man” has always had as one of its meanings “humankind.” Any attempt to cease using it with this meaning has nothing whatever to do with linguistic change, which comes structurally from within the language and cannot be decreed in a normative fashion from outside influences. In other words it is a political and cultural force which dislikes the usage. It has nothing to do with linguistics, the structure of the language itself.What such right think reminds me of, for example, is the Bolshevik banishing the use of the older Russian word for Mr. or Sir, replaced by “comrade”, for obvious political reasons. What Russians ended up with was no proper word for respectfully addressing someone they don’t know, since the word “comrade”- “tovarishch” had repugnant associations for nearly everyone. And they still don't have such a word. The communists are gone, but their baneful affect on language remains.Joe Lake

  • http://squarepegs.wordpress.com/ squarepegs

    Fr. Dwight,Zondervan is owned by Harper Collins, which is owned by NewsCorp. Think "Bart Simpson Does the Scriptures." This revision is not so much arising from Evangelicalism as being imposed upon it. "Is the Christian faith revealed by God and unchanging at its core, or is it a human construct built up from the spiritual longings of human beings in particular cultures and circumstances?"The RCIA group I went through last year was led by a man who maintained the latter. Another teacher on the team (the one who taught Morality) supports gay marriage and thinks the all-male priesthood is simply the result of old men protecting their turf.


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