The burden of conscience

Some fellow named Henry tracked back to my open letter about TNIV here at the blog, and I go a kick out his response. Not “got a kick” like “I enjoyed it a lot” but a “got a kick” like “I can shoe you his shoe print”. I’m sure he wasn’t trying to be mean, but I think he wound up being something worse than mean. And I’m not going to get a chance to do his whole post on this subject before I’m off for the week, so this little bit is going to have to be enough.

Let’s take a look:
A friend tipped me off by e-mail to a post, and I think it is appropriate to respond. The poster, Centurion, expresses his concern about Christian booksellers and publishers, and their choices in terms of what to offer their customers, especially considering that many of them regard their business as a ministry as well.
Let’s keep something in mind here: CBA and ECPA both represent themselves as ministries – so to hedge one’s bets and say “many of them regard their business as a ministry as well” is somewhat distracted from the actual facts.

There is also another problem: who, exactly, wants to but books about faith and life from someone who’s in it “as a business” instead of “as a ministry”? I don’t know anyone like that – even people who shop Amazon for price on their religious books. When you ask them, “do you think that Amazon demonstrates any discernment about the kinds of books they sell,” those people will tell you flat out: “I don’t shop Amazon for anything but price. But I only buy things from them that come from Christian publishers.” What does that say about what people think Christian publishers are doing?

In their mind, there is a level of discernment going on someplace. And that is the problem, isn’t it? Let’s read more from Henry:

I’m a Christian publisher, a very small one, offering 15 titles at this point, some of them my own, and I certainly do have a conscience about what I publish. My conscience, however, seems to tell me something substantially different than Centurion’s.

I need to address a couple of minor points, but then I’m going to simply tell you what my conscience as a Christian publisher requires of me.
Centurion says:
That’s my second point: the two most-vivid proclamations of the Gospel in the NT are unquestionably Acts 2 and 2Cor 15 — and both of those proclamations place the authority of God’s word as the centerpiece of how and why Christ died. That is to say: whatever it is Christ did (died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day) was “in accordance with Scripture”: it happened because Scripture said it would happen. In that, Scripture is our most precious possession in the Christian life. . . .
This is an example of the most bizarre set of statements I have seen about the gospel and the place of the Bible in Christian life. (I refer to a set of statements because I have seen quite a number of similar statements over the years as well as recently.) I’m sorry for the strong term, but I simply can’t think of anything less forceful that nonetheless expresses what I see here. Let me illustrate. I’m going to travel to Atlanta, Georgia in a few weeks. As I follow the highway from here to there, I will proceed “according to the road signs.” But those signs will not become the center of my trip, the purpose of my trip, nor will they be my “most precious possession.” They point the way. Jesus is the object of our faith; the Bible is one of the things that points the way to Jesus.
Think about this: someone who calls himself a “Christian publisher” has branded the statement “Scripture is our most precious possession in the Christian life” bizarre! I’m sure he thinks Spurgeon, Piper, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan and the Westminster divines are all equally “bizarre”.

In Henry’s view, you can come up with the Gospel without Scripture. The odd thing, really, is that Paul and Peter disagree with him. However, it is very insightful to find someone like Henry who is willing to put all his cards on the table in the first round. Scripture isn’t necessary in his view: it’s only useful, and other things can be sufficient to do the work that Scripture does.
But further, Centurion appears to believe that this somehow means that Christian book stores should avoid the TNIV and possible new and different bindings of the Bible because they don’t fit in with that agenda. He’s not very clear as to what he thinks dealers should and should not carry, other than putting the TNIV front and center in his general complaint.
Interestingly, that’s not what I said at all. The context that I am writing as a Christian retailer who sells many different kinds of bindings in Bibles, and frankly a wide variety of translations, is somehow lost on Henry even though the preface of my open letter says it is in response to the “going back and forth between some fellow Christian Retailers on an e-mail list I belong to.”

My complaint about the TNIV, as you can read for yourself, is that it whitewashes the controversial nature of its methodology. Now, if the Bible is just a "signpost", my complaint is, of course, nit-picking. What the Bible says isn’t actually of first importance but of far secondary importance – if it is not the actual words of God written down, not meant to be sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work.

The problem is that this is exactly what the Apostles taught about Scripture. Isn’t that odd that Paul and Peter actually hang the integrity of God on His word and whether or not he keeps it? (cf. Acts 2, Romans 3)
So let me be somewhat clearer here. What does my conscience require of me as a Christian publisher. First, I do include some of my own writings on my list of publications. This is because the original purpose of my company was to publish materials necessary for classes and seminars offered by Pacesetters Bible School, Inc. As I continued to work, that list expanded, and I very quickly heard this question: Are you going to publish things that you disagree with? People who knew my own doctrinal positions, and knew that I was publishing some of my own material, thought that I would publish only books that supported my own view. But my conscience would not allow me to do that. [Emph added]
Let’s think about that for a minute: his conscience would not allow him to publish only books which had doctrine he agreed with.

That’s somewhat staggering. What scope is he talking about here? For example, would be publish a book which denies the resurrection? How about a book which denies the consequences of sin – a book which says that sin is not a death sentence for man in and of itself? The extraordinary thing about his complaint, of course, is that he pleads conscience in this matter!

Isn’t our conscience exactly what we are supposed to use to separate the false from the true? Even in Henry’s view where conscience is formed by nature and history and the bunnies and the puppies, conscience is what keeps us from doing what’s wrong. And apparently, it is far more wrong to refuse to publish a book because it is doctrinal pap than it is to publish something which will confuse or mislead the reader.

Let’s be clear about something here: I don’t think that it’s wrong to have a publisher who is willing to publish Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran titles – I’d actually admire someone who could do that well. My concern -- and it ought to be the concern of pastors, elders, and teachers in the church -- is that Henry is plainly advocating for the liberty to print anything without regard to its doctrinal substance.

For example, it was irresponsible to publish Jim Rutz’s Mega Shift. Its ecclesiology was reckless and waters down the effectivity and ministry of the local church; Barna’s last book Revolution was equally irresponsible. I have reviewed both of these books here at the blog if you are interested in more detail on those complaints. It is also irresponsible to publish books by people who have been proven to be fraudulent prophets; to publish teaching books by people who demonstrate a lack of concern for the Trinity; to publish books which apply deconstructionist literary theory to the Bible; to publish books which claim that Christ died to make you rich, happy and healthy.

And in the end, my complaint about TNIV centers on this kind of error, not the problem of paedobaptism vs. credobaptism or some other such important-but-not-deal-breaking denominational doctrinal application.

My conscience as a publisher suggests the following:
Let me also say that if your conscience is only suggesting things to you, it’s not worth listening to.
* Respect the ability and responsibility of the individual believer to make choices as to what they read and study
That’s an interesting assertion. Does Henry really believe that a 16-yr-old who has just made a confession of Christ has the same ability to discern truth from error as a 30-yr-old believer who has spent his time since his confession of faith being discipled by men of good conscience who have been faithful to the Gospel?

If the reader has a responsibility to be exercise discernment, why does the publisher not actually have that same responsibility? For example, when a writer says something like, “your Bible is only a guide; Christ is the real object of faith and you should seek Him whether your Bible helps you or not,” don’t you think that the publisher has some obligation to consider that even Catholics affirm that the Bible is more than just a signpost and is critical to the formation of faith in Christ?

Publishing books is a form of teaching. In exactly the same way that a University tacitly promulgates what its faculty teaches as truth, a Publisher is tacitly promulgating what it prints and distributes as truth. There is a duty attached in the Bible to being a teacher, and that duty includes a higher standard for representing the truth. (James 3)

That's all I have time for. Listen: be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day. And try to find more use for your Bible next week while the sidekicks are running the asylum than as a bookend. And be kind to them -- they're not used to the spotlight, such as it is.