Post subtitle: “Was the NIV really good enough for the Apostles?”
Robbymac and I were joking last evening about the number of times we seem to link each other, and there I’ve done it again… mainly it’s because we’ve known each other for 20 years, have a not entirely dissimilar background, and are discussing many of the same themes. It’s okay, I’ve only known Jamie for about a year now, and he gets enough linkage from here as well.
In any event, Robbymac dropped a book on me last night, Mark Driscoll’s The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out. He’d just finished it on the plane, summing it up as a fairly short read, nothing really new (it’s an older book now) but a good read and worth lending to people just grappling with the whole emerging chuch context.
While digging into it lightly this morning, I recalled Rob’s recent post dealing with containers and content, quoting Len Sweet (who I see has a forthcoming book whose title looks like it could cause me some angst). Thinking of the message of the gospel as the content, the theme goes that you can change the presentation — the container — at will as needed for best effect, but the content remains constant.
Driscoll gets to talking about Billy Graham and his Steps to Peace with God tract which had great effect in a culture of people who had just come through a world war and were seeking peace. My mind jumped to the Four Spiritual Laws with similar thoughts, just ahead of Driscoll’s own thinking in the book, on how they fit into a context of the acceptance of the four Newtonian laws of physics. In my mind, they fit a modern context with easy accpetance of tidy absolutes. Unfortunately neither one addresses a postmodern context, which left me thinking that we could really use a re-drafted tract that was culturally relevant; I already have a picture of it in my mind’s eye, but I’m not quite sure yet if our methods today require such a tool or if it might lead us away from the means we’re starting to say are most effective. (Bob Robinson was working on one a while back, but it’s coming back 404 now.) Anyway, Driscoll went on to talk about Billy Graham as a great man worthy of deep respect, saying essentially that it was pointless (or improper) to critique his methods, as they were effective and appropriate in his time. And we need methods that are effective and appropriate in our own time.
This got me to thinking… we ditched the King James Version (finally) after determining that somehow, it just didn’t seem as culturally appropriate as it had 400 years ago… and it seemed to take almost that long to figure it out, too. As time progressed, evangelicals finally stopped switching around between the NASB and the NKJV and settled on the NIV, but it occurred to me while thinking through this whole theme that the NIV is sitting at around 40 years of age now. Sure, it’s had some revisions, but so did the KJV and NKJV. Our oldest daughter is changing schools this year, from one christian school to another, and both use the NIV as their authorized, approved, and recommended Bible. When we bought her what is her first “grown-up” complete Bible for Christmas last year, we got her an NIV for this reason… but what I really wanted to get for her was the NLT, which I felt would be a better translation for her since it’s much more readable. But we didn’t, because it’s not the one they use in school.
When I was a kid, I had a Living New Testament — the cover had a picture of Jesus with children running around and playing. Kid’s Bible, of course; checking the inscription (I still have it), it was presented to me on my sixth birthday. I didn’t read it much, of course… but one had to begin learning at that age to tote their Bible to and from church faithfully. Next to it on the shelf with an inscription dated a year later is my first real Bible, both testaments. No fancy cover, and inside, it’s pure KJV, baby. Ouch. I don’t remember reading it that much, as a child I cut my teeth a bit later on The Living Bible. You know, the one that I could mostly understand at that age; at least the words were in current everyday use and were in recognizable sentences. Mine was a paperback that I wore out, trashing the binding until it now has sections that are basically down to looseleafs. I still have it, but I keep it in a bible case from which I evicted a later NKJV. I basically learned to read with that Bible. Literally.
Anyway, now I’m wondering how long before people in evangelical churches are defending the NIV as the only true inspired Word of God like they did the KJV. More likely, it’ll become entrenched because “it’s the version people are familiar with.” Well, I still have many verses committed to memory from the KJV, but that doesn’t mean it’s my reading-Bible-of-choice. But still, I’m thinking, “which people?” Should familiarity in church be a criteria for translation selection? If you were introducing someon to the Bible for the first time — as a child or as a new believer, which translation would you use? The one everyone else in the church is familiar with or the one that’s otherwise the best choice for them? Ah, there it is, and well spotted: the thin edge of the wedge. At the thick end? Speaking, reading, and praying in a vernacular that’s been outdated for 400 years.