open letter

I was shovelling out my e-mail this morning and was reading some of the chatter that was going back and forth between some fellow Christian Retailers on an e-mail list I belong to. The topic was TNIV, and there were some people saying that it's not a great translation and they aren't carrying it; others were somewhat angry that a retailer was making a content decision (take your astonishment to the meta), and yet a third group appeared -- saying that an argument like this was dishonoring to Christ.

yeah. So I sent the following e-mail to that list, and I thought you people might enjoy it as the first post of substnace this week:

Oh brother. When I read emails like this topic has inspired, I think that we retailers are doing more harm than good for the sake of the Gospel -- but not in the way implied by some. I have a couple of thoughts on this subject, and believe me when I say that I have no one in particular in mind as I spin these notes out to the list. You can throw rotten produce at me when I present on Strategy at CPE. :-)

The first thing to say about "arguing" is this: we are supposed to contend for the faith, amen? The Gospel is not some truth-less blanket that just gets thrown over things, and whatever happens to be under it this morning as we cast it out wide is not "the Gospel for today". The Gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes. But believes what?

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. While we have an interior witness of the spirit, the Gospel doesn't go out by means of interior witness: it goes out by the Gospel being proclaimed. What gets proclaimed -- if we follow Paul's example and his own words -- is the testimony of Scripture.

Third, that means the truth of Scripture doesn't change -- it's not a mutable template which we can upgrade. We receive a Gospel we are expected to then declare. The question is: how does this apply to translation efforts? For example, what's the purpose of the a translation -- is it to provide the Gospel in the context of "every tribe, tounge and nation", or is it a somewhat-worldly pursuit to remarket a product?

This third point is the critical issue for those of us who are Christian retailers who profess to be in a ministry. Without naming any vendors, let me say that we must discern whether or not a publisher is trying to remarket an existing product at the expense of fidelity to the mission of spreading the whole Gospel to the whole world.

For example, let's assume (not conclude) that all translations in print today are generated by the motive to evangelize (an assumption, I suggest, that is faulty): are new binding types a violation of the kind of spirit we want to see cultivated in the body of Christ? That's a hard question -- because what it really asks us is if we are trying to make disciples of men or consumers of product -- who are hungry for the next big thing.

That is a hard question -- because personally I sell a lot of "new" bindings. You know: duotone, tru-tone, gripper, 16 different kinds of "leather", etc. People like new bindings -- especially in the context that 60% of Bibles are given as gifts. But are we marketing a binding, or are we being the beautiful feet of the Gospel?

When we look at the question in this way, we have a larger problem: how "new", exactly, is the TNIV? Did the NIV need an update? Why? Who is the target of the TNIV? Do those people have a theological persuasion?

There is not one person on this list which sells the New World Translation (the Jehovah's Witness bible) because it's not "just another translation": it is a faulty translation with a theological agenda. By no means is the TNIV as-bad as the NWT, amen? It's not a cultic corruption. But it is something we need to be aware of: a translation which takes ecclesiastically-volatile subjects like the gender-specific language and in many ways glosses over the problems.

So when we think about this problem, let's specifically think about what we are doing for and to the body of Christ. Is it more controversial to take a stand against marketing the Gospel, or is it more controversial to simply ignore legitimate controversy and simply let things pass through our stores which do more to confuse people than to help them grow in faith.

God bless you all as you think on these things, seek guidance from your pastors and elders, and resolve to do God's work for God's sake and God's glory and not for the approval of men.