Denominations and bible translations

The universal church is divided between denominational lines. A sign of this division is that we differ in the translation we prefer to read in our pews and pulpit. For example, in evangelical churches, the NIV generally reigns supreme. In “Word of Life-type” of pentecostal-charismatic churches, the NKJV is widely used in study. In mainline churches, e.g., Episcopal/Anglican, Presbyterian-USA, ELCA-Lutheran, the weekly staple of lectionary readings are usually taken from the NRSV/RSV. In the Roman Catholic Church, the NAB is the officially approved translation. In conservative evangelical churches where the bible is studied in-depth, the NASB is king. In ultra conservative churches, the KJV is considered the only “true” word of God. Forgive me for making these broad generalizations but my purpose behind making these generalizations is to show that there is a relationship between denominations and bible translations. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, there is, at least, an ounce of truth in this.

This was first made most plain and visible to me when I first began to attend seminary. In my seminary, a Lutheran seminary, the NRSV was the only translation I had ever heard read from during chapel services. Believe it or not, the NIV is almost seen as a foreign translation, even a despised one by some Lutherans with liberal tendencies. This was rather disappointing for me when I started seminary. However, I am sure that this same bias also exists in conservative evangelical seminaries. I am almost certain that the NRSV or NAB would never be read in a conservative evangelical or pentecostal seminary/bible college. Many evangelicals have never even heard of the NRSV. The NAB and Jerusalem Bible are also rarely or never read from in evangelical or mainline churches. In conservative evangelical churches, where I have attended most of my life as a young person, the NIV, NLT, NASB, and NKJV were usually the translation of choice. I had never heard of the NRSV or NAB until I started to cross over the great denominational divide to visit some of my mainline and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. You could imagine the cataclysmic shock I experienced when this naive conservative-charismatic evangelical attended a Lutheran seminary.

So what am I saying? Is there a point to all this? I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that we, as Christians, are divided along denominational lines and it tends to affect the bible translation we prefer to read from. Our personal theologies and worldviews determine how we translate our bibles, which in turn, also affects the translation we prefer. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, it is true. If we do not see this, we really have our heads stuck in the sand. Our preference in bible translation is proof that we are divided and separated by our personal theologies and worldviews. No, I am not an ecumenist who thinks that we should all be the same and believe in the exact same ideology and theology. And no, I am definitely not an advocate of a one-world church. I admit that I also have a preference of translation, ideology and theology. But what I do advocate is that we ought to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ from different denominations. Behind the different theologies and worldviews, the true universal church may be bigger than what we first thought it was. (logos: Lutheran, Alliance, Presbyterian, Methodist, Assemblies of God, Episcopal)

Bible study with non-native English speakers

I’ve been in Taiwan now for over 3 weeks and it’s been kind of lonely at times because finding English-speaking people is not easy. Much of my wife’s family cannot speak English, except for her sister who is a nurse at the hospital. It is amazing how so many people here value the English language. They would love to be able to communicate with someone in English. Since I was yearning to speak to someone in English I set out to find a facet of release. I came here with the intention of starting an English bible study and so I brought with me two bibles in the NLTse. With permission from one of the fellowship’s leaders, I just started an English bible study with a group affiliated with a campus ministry called The Navigators. We had our first bible study last night and we started by looking at Romans 7. I asked them what translations they each brought. Every person brought a different translation: NIV, ESV, NRSV, and I had an NLT. Now I regret not bringing a more formal translation. Being that their English was not at a particularly high level, I too quickly assumed that a dynamic easy-to-understand translation would be more suitable to use in a bible study context. As we got deeper into the study, I found the NLT to be a sort of a hindrance because they were all using a more formal translation than I was using, I quickly reverted to their pulpit bible, the NKJV. I felt more formal with this more formal translation in such a context.

What I have learned is that one must not assume that non-native English speakers will be better off with a dynamic-equivalent translation. It all depends on their level of English training. For those who had a very limited English-language training, an NLT might be suitable but for those with a certain level of English training, I think the T/NIV or ESV is good too. This group of young people obviously had some English-language training. In fact, most young people here know some English. If I had another chance to bring another bible here to Taiwan with me, I would bring my TNIV and even more NASB. It’s a nice balance of formal and dynamic equivalence but yet simple enough that non-native English speakers can understand without much trouble. Around here, English bibles are a little more difficult to come by—especially newer translations like the TNIV. Another thing that I will not forget for the future is that a more formal translation is always better for bible study; especially if you plan to do a more indepth exegetical style of study.

A world that does not make sense

As I look at all the young faces at Virginia Tech murdered by the gunman named Cho Seung-Hui, I ask myself: “How could anyone do such a thing as to kill all these innocent people and then turn the gun on himself?” What could cause such a person like this to commit a murder of this magnitude, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Was it clinical delusions, mental imbalance, or sin and evil, or all of this?. I really don’t know and don’t know how to give an answer or reason for this sad and tragic event at Virginia Tech. I try to make sense of it but I cannot. This week is a week of mourning, especially at this time, we pray for the state of the VT students, their families, the state, and nation. Please remember to pray for the victims and their families. (For a Christian perspective, see Chuck Colson).

Lord, we don’t know the words the pray
but we ask that you help the victim’s family,

Be with them as they mourn for their loved ones—
their child, their friends, their father, their mother.
Let them know that You are there with them
in this time of extreme sadness, helplessness, and tragedy.

Zondervan’s challenge to erase its racist material

I first saw this link to Christianity Today’s article in MarkDRobert’s blog. Now, it’s my turn to respond to CT’s article: Speaking Up for Asian Americans. (Sorry if I sound like an old dog barking too loudly at night. If I lose some friends due to this post, that’s okay because what I have to say is something I believe is right). I am increasingly convinced that the entire Christian community does have a responsibility to be more sensitive, and more conscious of our hidden sin of racism (and this includes people of all races and ethnicities–myself included). The most deceptive sins always seem to be the subtle ones–the one’s that easily get passed undetected on our moral radars. Zondervan published a skit produced by The Skit Guys that poorly and in very bad taste, caricatured Asian Americans. Mark Oestreicher (apology), president of Youth Specialties, and The Skit Guys (apology) issued public apologies. The article on Christianity Today stated: “Oestreicher called the character in the skit a “horribly, inexcusably, and unquestionably racist” portrayal of Asian Americans, pointing to an underlying “systemic racism” within the organization for okaying the skit’s publication.”

I am sure the Asian American Christian community appreciated such an apology; however, some damage is already done and is difficult to reverse because a trust has been violated. However, I am sure that over time, there will be forgiveness and reconciliation for Youth Specialties and The Skit Guys. I am sure that they have produced learning material that has edified the church’s youth and I thank God for that. But I must also say that it reveal the embarassing and shamefulness of racism, which still exists today, and is giving people a bad taste in their mouths. Most Asian American Christians today, like myself, tend to be evangelical in their theological outlook, and are customers and even fans of some of Zondervan’s products. It is very possible that some Asian Americans will have lost trust in their products and their ability to monitor what gets published and what doesn’t. My point is that morality is an important issue for us Christians; it is a central issue for most of us, and racism is definitely a moral issue. It is not a side issue that can be easily swept away under the carpet, ignored, and forgotten. There needs to be forgiveness, reconciliation, and reparation. That is the Christian way–Christ’s way.

I must say that this depressing issue reveals a systemic racism that must be acknowledged and dealt in a serious and tangible way if Zondervan is to regain credibility in the eyes of Asian American Christians. I think a company like Zondervan should also hire some god-loving Asian-American Christians on their editorial staff in the hopes that things like this do not happen again. Thanks to an outside third-party, Rev. Soong-Chan Rah (blog), who called Zondervan on this. However, these prophetic calls should not only have to come from outside third-parties. They should also come from within the organization before it ever has a chance of germinating. Sorry if I have begun to sound like an opinionated prophet (prophets are usually lonely people because they go against the grain). I teach Sunday School and would have been totally embarrassed and probably quite unhappy if I had been using this teaching material. Thank God I wasn’t using it.

It never used to be in my conservative nature, but I am coming to see that, sometimes, it may be necessary to have certain systems in place to get rid of systemic racism (and also other negative -isms); it can act as a form of checks and balances (but like Congress, it doesn’t always work). I would also like to see an editorial board that is more sensitive to racial issues. I know this can be political, especially within evangelical circles; however, it doesn’t have to be. Anti-racism and other -isms are not necessarily a mainline Christian thing to support. Evangelical Christians should support other issues that evangelicals have not necessarily been associated with, e.g., environment, racisim, social justice, etc. The motivation behind such a system is for the purpose of dealing with the age-old problem of human sin. I don’t think this is an issue of whether one votes Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. It’s a matter of doing the right thing. If godly Christians do not take an active role in eradicating sin and dealing with the consequences of human sin, then who will? We must take a stand on such issues. The evangelical sufferagettes did, Abraham Lincoln did, William Wilberforce did, John Wesley did, so why not us today? (Personally, I think Rick Warren is doing a good work. Christians like him are waking up to a more socially-conscious outlook and are seeing how their faith can play a positive role in our society and our world today).

I am a believer in church unity and naively believe that we can have unity in the universal church. For the sake of Christ, and unity in the church of Jesus Christ, let us be the church that God calls us to be, not only one that is multi-denominational, but also, multi-ethnic. If Christ has called the church to live in harmony and unity, it must be multi-ethnic and even multi-creedal. Unity in diversity is possible. If we live and abide by the golden rule: to treat others as we would want them to treat us, and live empowered by the Holy Spirit, we would have fewer problems and truer unity. I was late getting in on this topic but here is a link to an interesting discussion that had been going on concerning this topic on Camy’s Loft: Chinese Take-Out and Sushi for One.

The church’s unity in diversity

What a magnificent Easter! My wife and I have seen two excellent large-scale musical/drama productions this Easter: Face to Face and So High the Price at two large local churches. One was a large pentecostal church, and another was a large evangelical church. I couldn’t help but notice the two different styles and emphases. The pentecostal’s Face to Face tended to show more miraculous healing scenes and gospel narratives. The evangelical’s So High the Price showed only one healing scene but mostly scenes of non-healing gospel narratives. The pentecostal church had a very well-trained and professional feel in its music and drama, which is likely due to its emphasis in contemporary worship music and teaching style. Whereas, the evangelical church had a very good orchestra. Each church had its own strengths. After reflecting upon the various scenes from the two fine productions, I remember that each one had scenes that the other did not have. If I were to have seen only one production, I would have missed some valuable and important scenes and music that were not present in the other production. But when I put the two together, I got a fuller picture of Jesus’ story.

So what is my point in all of this? This is also how we can think of the universal church. All churches, all denominations, and all traditions have different areas in which they like to emphasize. Therefore, all of us have become accustomed to our own particular theology through the preaching and teaching we hear. This is a part of the invaluable religious/spiritual enculturation process. I used to be isolated within only one style of worship and theology, and therefore, heard one side of the Christian story. But now, after having voluntarily exposed myself to seeing and hearing the different views of the wider Christian church, I am able to be more welcoming to the different ways of viewing the bible and understanding theology. Each of our different views in the universal church are not necessarily opposed to one another. They are just different and can offer all of us a fuller picture of who Jesus is and how he works in all of our lives. There can be unity in diversity.

There are many well-meaning Christians who may be afraid of diversity for fear that too much diversity may bring about disunity or disharmony. This danger may be countered when we leave room for Christ Jesus to occupy the first priority in our lives. It is only through the power of Holy Spirit who can give each of us the courage, openness, and the liberty to deal with all our differences. God is bigger than all of our differences and it is only through the Spirit that we can be renewed with a larger capacity to receive, even a theology, that is bigger than our own. As fellow believers of one household of faith (oikoumene) from various traditions, let us be encouraged to listen to, and try to understand one another, even if the other’s viewpoint may seem opposed to our own understanding of theology. I am definitely not talking about collapsing our individual theologies into one, nor even a formation of an organic union of denominations; I am talking about a unity in the Spirit! I believe that spiritual unity is the will of God. I have found that through this openness, my capacity to think theologically and be welcoming of other theological points of views has increased. I do admit that I still have my personal biases but this cannot be avoided, due to the fleshly limitations that is common within each human being. I also admit that this is difficult because we still desire to aim for an orthodox theology. Open-mindedness should not mean that we forfeit our freedom to think critically. God has given each of us the right and the ability to think critically of our theology. Critical thinking is a requirement of “working out” a good sound theology. An openness to the critical ideas of one another can help us build a better overall understanding of the scriptures and of biblical theology. For the sake of one, catholic, and apostolic church, let us remain open to the Spirit’s work of building unity in the midst of, what may seem like, chaotic diversity.

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (NET Bible, Eph.4:2-6).

Sorry if I lost your comments from this post. I had to delete the original post due to a Blogger problem, then re-post the entry.

Happy Easter to everyone!

This Easter season, my family and I have been blessed to see two excellent large-scale drama productions Face to Face and So High the Price at two local churches a few blocks from my home, plus a Maundy Thursday service where the altar was stripped and our feet were washed as a symbolic reminder of Christ’s death and his example of servanthood to humanity. What a wonderful experience in celebration of our Lord this Easter!
May everyone have a happy Easter and you celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus’ resurrection from death is proof to humankind that God has the power to heal us and forgive us of our sins. Father God desires to live in our hearts even in this life here on earth, and be united eternally with his children. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has given humankind the power to live as God’s children today and for all eternity. Praise the Lord!

Today’s Evangelicals: still "sold out" for Christ

I was surprised to hear the term “fundamentalist” used by some people to describe evangelicals. Most evangelicals do not even know what a fundamentalist is. It is actually a pejorative term that should not be used to describe evangelicals. Today’s evangelical churches have no resemblance in form and style with the evangelical churches of the 1960s or 1970s. Today’s Evangelicals have become “mainline” Christianity. The old mainline churches have lost their place of primacy to the evangelicals as the shapers of mainstream society.

In my experience of being a blend of pentecostal-evangelical-Lutheran, I kind of have my foot in both worlds and am familiar with both worlds. Post-modern evangelicals have a very acute understanding of what the post-modern world is about. They feel they are called to engage the world, e.g., social, political, financial. The New Evangelicals would repudiate separatism and anti-academia. The New Evangelicals do not want to return to the good ol’ days of Little House on the Prairie and Leave it to Beaver. In fact, they have no idea what it is. The new generation of evangelicals see themselves as post-modern, missional, prophetic, theologically-minded, and desire to make the practice of their faith and theology relevant to today’s post-modern age.

In today’s post-modern evangelical churches (or meeting places as some call it), their worship music, language, culture, and ways of speaking are so post-modern that one might even have to look twice to differentiate it from post-modern culture. I am not saying that the post-modern evangelicals condone a lax moral lifestyle. They definitely do not condone sinful lifestyles. Style must be differentiated from substance. Today’s evangelicals want to live out their lives “sold out” for Christ but they have the style of the post-modern culture. I think this is very Pauline, i.e., “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22, TNIV). As missional Christians, aren’t we all called to carry out the Great Commission?

Salt and light in the world

After my wife came back from BreakForth in Edmonton, AB, I noticed in her a renewed passion for God and spiritual things of the Lord. It made me reflect and ask: “How much of what we learn in the classroom is really useful in the real world?” What I am learning in seminary does seem far away from the average layperson in the church. Sure, academic learning is useful for the mind; it does builds understanding. But in the real world of congregational ministry, is the theory/theology I learn going to really impact the average layperson? Perhaps to a certain extent pure knowledge may help them but to genuinely influence a person, one ought to have some spiritual depth within. An empty vessel is just an empty vessel. An empty vessel has nothing to offer others. It is only out that which comes from the abundance of one’s spiritual depth that will impact a person. People don’t care about how much we know. They care about how much we love and care about them.

As we ask God to fill us with more of the Holy Spirit and become more like Christ, and shape us more into his image, we will be more useful in the service of God. The Spirit calls each of us to be in a closer relationship with the Lord. As we connect with others, others will sense a spiritual depth within us and will cause them to become more hungry and thirsty for the presence of God. When our own spiritual “cup” is full, God’s presence will overflow out of its abundance. In this way, we may be the salt and light in this world. God calls the church to be in mission for others. The purpose and mission of the church can be empowered as each of us become like salt and light.

Have a Merry Christmas.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to save the world and give a fresh start to all. Christmas is not about shopping at the malls for presents, buying and opening gifts, being with friends and family, a white “snowy” Christmas feeling, or even about singing Christmas carols. It is simply about the birth of Jesus Christ. No matter how we consumerize Christmas and hide the season behind a Santa Claus, reindeers, presents, or multi-colored lights, when it all comes down to it, and at the center of it , Christmas is about Jesus Christ. Have a Merry Christmas and a great new year in 2007.

Preaching that moves the heart and soul

Sermons preached from the pulpit are sometimes heard loud and clear, but most sermons are heard most loudly when it is done softly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Preaching empowered by the Spirit moves the heart and the soul to action, repentance, and submission to Jesus Christ. Dry intellectual-type of sermons like this overly-theological stuff on my blog doesn’t do much for the soul either. Finding the right balance is tricky sometimes. Perhaps a preaching style with a combination of John Wesley, Charles Finney… and Veggie Tales might work? (photo: Rev. John Wesley, a revivalist preacher)