Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 By The Books

If you’re interested in checking out my year in books, you can do so at my Goodreads page, here. If you’re lazy and don’t want to click through all my books individually and read my reviews or ratings, then this is the post for you, because I’m going to do an overview of my year in reading. These books will be organized by date finished. Some of them I started in 2014, and finished in 2015, others were started at the beginning of the year and finished late. The easiest way to do this was by finish date. Normally, I try to provide links to books, but… well, I’m the lazy one there and don’t feel like it. Click the link above and use Goodreads to find them.

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians – Helmut Thielicke
This was a text in a senior level college class I took 3 or 4 years ago and it is a classic. It is technically a lecture that has been recorded and published as book. As a person who has a high-level Bible/Theology degree, the words and encouragement of this book are quite helpful. I think this book will become an annual read of mine. This text is a great reminder that education and understanding cannot be allowed to be put above the task at hand: making disciples. It is no good to spout all the modern (or ancient) scholarship in the world if it is counterproductive.

Ordering Your Private World – Gordon Macdonald
This book was a required reading of sorts by our Lead Pastor at Crossway (Check out our new logo and website!). We are part of a weekly small group where Ron spends time intentionally building into the young staff in order to help build us up into long-term ministers. This was a book he liked and so we all had to read it. It was a decent enough book, but the content was not really that new to me.

From Epic to Canon – Frank Moore Cross
This is perhaps my favorite book of the year, but even if it’s not, it’s in the top 3. Cross was a genius when it came to Semitic languages and cultures and as a fledgling scholar, this book reminds me of just how much potential there is in the world of critical biblical studies. I had referenced a chapter of this book in a paper I wrote on the “Midianite Hypothesis” about 3 years ago, but hadn’t read the whole thing. Technically, I skipped a chapter this time around too on the poetry of Lamentations… but, I don’t feel guilty.

Final Crisis – Grant Morrison
Interestingly the only graphic novel I read this year. Perhaps there is a reason for that. No, it’s not that I don’t like them, I love them in fact. I think this book just ruined the flavor of them for a bit. It was one of the most convoluted books I’ve ever read, and unless you’re familiar with about 300 pages of other source material, I don’t even recommend picking it up. It was a decent ending to the “Crisis” series, but it was nowhere near as good as Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis.

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home – Richard J. Foster
This probably takes the slot for favorite of the year. Foster is amazingly able to render me speechless in a beautiful theology while teaching me how to pray. This book is, as A Little Exercise, probably going to become an annual read. If you are looking for a robust book on prayer, you truly cannot go wrong here. Foster so adeptly ties Church History, Scripture, and his life experience all together to teach something that is very hard to teach.

Activate – Nelson Searcy & Kerrick Thomas
This is a book I read for my position at Crossway. I oversee our small group ministry and am constantly looking for ways to make the ministry work better and more efficiently. This text served as a vital piece to how I am considering changing our small group system for the next year.

The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Truly the Wheel of Time is a work of art. Jordan is perhaps the most successful person since Tolkien to create not only worlds for his fantasy to take place in, but the cultures which he creates are truly compelling. He is especially gifted when it comes to explaining these cultures. It is easy for an author to over communicate or under communicate what needs to be known, but Jordan does so perfectly.

Simply Christian – N.T. Wright
I am quickly becoming an N.T. Wright fanboy. I know that he writes at a much more popular level than some would have him do, and I know that he makes some leaps in his theology at times, but his understand of the relationship between God’s realm (heaven) and ours (earth) so impacted me that I have come to better understand the narrative of scripture (which you can see in my sermon on Revelation, here). I cannot recommend this book highly enough as a great entry point into a more robust Christian theological understanding of the world.

Introducing Christian Mission Today – Michael Goheen
This was a school text for a class I took on the Mission of the Church (as was the N.T. Wright text, above). Goheen’s text is certainly a great summary of the mission of the church and even better summary of the issues that face the Global Church in the coming years as the Global Church changes. However, the book is quite dry, reads rather slow, and is often repetitive as one facet of one section applies to another as well. He also has a rather lackluster view of modern education and government that he never really warrants in the book.

First Time Dad – John Fuller
This is perhaps the worst book I read this year, but that is less the book’s fault inherently and more related to when I read it. As you can probably guess from where it falls on the list, I read this book after already having been a father for 5 or 6 months and so much of the information (if not all of it) was old news. The book was further brought low by a number of traditional evangelical platitudes that really just made me roll my eyes. Sue me, I’m a more liberal, liturgical theologian.

Small Group Vital Signs – Michael C. Mack
The greatest strength of Mack’s book here is that it is a book that small group leaders can read and make immediate impact in the overall strength of a church’s small group system. Many books are written to Lead Pastors or Small Groups Pastors and are, therefore, above the level of a lay small group leader. That is not the case with Vital Signs, and I am grateful for this book. I have plans in the next year to give this book to all small group leaders and go through the vital signs with them.

Serving With Eyes Wide Open – David A. Livermore
This was the final of the 3 class books on Mission and while this one was quite easy to read, it was also less robust. It was, however, incredibly good at reminding readers that there is more to serving than the work we are doing, that it is just as valuable to be culturally aware and intelligent in order to allow the Spirit to teach us as we minister to others.

The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
I am a huge H.G. Wells fan, and have read 2 of his other books—though that was a long time ago. This is actually a book I’ve owned for probably 8 or more years and just never got around to reading it. I’m weird that way. I am incredibly grateful that I finally did get around to reading the work as it was 100x better than I expected it to be. It was suspenseful, tragic, and shocking while also being short, and relatively accessible. It is a book dating back to the late 1800’s so the writing is not as easy as Harry Potter, but it’s nonetheless a great place for any science fiction fan to at least visit.

Toughest People to Love – Chuck DeGroat
This book would have taken the worst of the year spot if it hadn’t been for First Time Dad. This was another work, required read. This was not, however, for our small group, but rather for our staff retreat. The book was fine, but it was not superb by any means. The book was disjointed in its 3 parts, and needed to flesh out all of its concepts more than it did. Unfortunately the combination of spastic concepts and shallow at that meant the book required a lot more extra-textual conclusions to be made.

Fusion – Nelson Searcy
Written by the same pastor as Activate, I was intrigued to see how a church the size of Journey Church handled first time guests. It’s one thing to grow as a church, but the bigger a church grows, the harder a church has to work at actually developing people into disciples, to say nothing of the challenge of attracting and attaching new people to the Gospel. Fusion did not disappoint. Just as Activate left me wondering how to adapt the principles to Crossway, so too did Fusion.

The Story
This was an all-church study we did at Crossway. I enjoyed it but, fair warning, it is quite long. 31 weeks is a long time for anyone to stay interested—even when we’re talking about the Bible. Further, I have some issues with some of the cuts that were made when compiling the book by Zondervan (for those who don’t know, this is a sort of novelization of the biblical story). For instance, why is James not there? Why do we skip so much of the Old Testament? I guess the answer is, because 31 weeks is long enough.

Small Groups for the Rest of Us – Chris Surratt
As stated above, I try to stay focused on small group trends and this book was the #1 seller on the topic on Amazon. Couple that with the fact that it was released this year by a multi-site church, and this was one of the most helpful books I read for church this year. However, it fell to the same problems that all small group books seem to in my opinion: it assumed the superior place for itself. I get that you like what you’re doing, but we are not all churches in Nashville with 4 campuses and a robust ethnic and generational congregation.

Don’t Say “$#%&X” In Church! – Bo Chancey
The shortest book I read this year was not the least potent. Chancey’s book came out of a call to God for help on preaching and teaching the importance of lording over our money rather than our money lording over ourselves. He eventually preached a series on the chapters of this book (which can be found here). I read the book for a few reasons. First, it appealed to me as Crossway enters into a series on Generosity to see another pastor’s thoughts. Second, it was a free book. Third, I was really trying to get 24 books this year, and this was a short book. However, the biggest reason was that I was truly impressed by Chancey’s approach to giving. The premise of this book is that we can all pray the prayer “Lord, show me what percentage of my income is generous.” And doing so allows us to serve God with our giving, and take control of a major idol.

War of the Ancients: The Sundering – Richard A. Knaak
I am a huge Warcraft fan. In fact, of all the fantasy universes, I don’t think there is one that I enjoy as much as Warcraft. I had read the first 2 books of the War of the Ancients trilogy years ago, and had never gone back to finish the series. After talking with a friend of mine about the series, I realized I needed to finish the series up and fill in some holes in my own Warcraft knowledge. I highly recommend this series to anyone familiar with Warcraft. If you are not familiar with Warcraft, there are better places to start (like Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos)

Stories from Ancient Canaan – Michael D. Coogan & Mark S. Smith
This book is comically one of the first I started this year and I only just finished it at like 9pm on New Year’s Eve. It’s not a hard read. It’s not a long read. It’s just not the most compelling read either. It’s interesting though because I truly believe that God put the desire in my head to finish the book when he did because a lot of the ancient myths of Ugarit have, at some level, a tie to the mythological stories of the Bible—namely apocalyptic literature. Further, in reading the theology of these Israelite neighbors, you get a better understanding for why some of the things that the Lord commands in the Law are commanded, as well as some of the problems that the Israelites have with their neighbors in books like Judges. This is a really good place to start if you are looking for comparative literature with the Old Testament as Coogan and Smith do an excellent job not only summarizing each myth, but also explaining—where applicable—what possible relation there is to the Bible.

Well, that’s my year in reading. I hope my reading inspires you in some way, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about specific texts if you’d like. For many books I’ve got more complete reviews and ratings given on Goodreads, which you can find in the link at the top. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Familial Language as a Strengthening Aspect of the Church

I don't know about you, but I used to be incredibly critical of people who called one another "brother" or "sister." I'd roll my eyes, and think well, that sounds insincere or what is this, the hood? Yes, I was ignorant, and, even more so, intolerant. It felt strange to me to refer to someone by a relationship status, something I only did for parents and grandparents. I don't even call my own brothers "brother," and people who say "friends" when addressing others are just as silly in my opinion, but that's a different topic.

Interestingly to me, though, I've found that there may just be something to the Judeo-Christian Scripture's understanding of this terminology. That is to say, I think Paul may have been on to something. By my count, the NT uses the word αδελφ- upwards of 340 times. Now, this word in the masculine singular means brother, in the feminine means sister(s), and in the masculine plural can mean brothers or brothers and sisters, much the same as relational language in other languages (e.g. Spanish). That is a lot of usage for one word.

For anyone who's read Paul, you'll know that he uses this word a lot. The idea for Paul is that we have all been adopted as sons and daughters of God through the work of Christ (which I've blogged about here). If then we've all been adopted as family then we've also been arranged in such a way towards one another.Therefore, Paul is attempting to build relationship with the people whom he's writing to by recognizing, in front of them, that he believes they are in this together, and it gives him the relationship to them he desires for any admonishment and encouragement they require.

Jesus, too uses the word frequently in his teaching to emphasize his point. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), Jesus says that if you hate your brother, you are committing a sin. So as to say that if you hate even the person whom you'd have a good reason to be that angry at, you need to forgive.

But enough of the Biblical explanation for the term. Even when the name annoyed me, I knew that the Bible used it. But I've learned something about using this kind of language that is hard to understand until you start. There is a sort of mental realignment that occurs when this language comes out of our mouths. Let me explain.

I would imagine that we all have coworkers that drive us crazy just a little faster than our other coworkers. Unfortunately, this is even true of church work. I have some coworkers that I can be around and work with longer than others. It's just the nature of teamwork. However, what I've found is that when I intentionally refer to the people who may be annoying me as "brother" or "sister" it can actually increase the solidarity between that person and myself. In the same way that I love my biological brothers when the annoy the ... out of me, so too can I remember that a coworker and I are laboring together for the propagation of the Good News of Jesus as we seek to bring living hope to broken people through growing relationships with Jesus.

It sounds like a stretch, I know, but I've been surprised at how it works. It actually reminds me of something that our marriage counselor told us in premarital counseling, "It's a lot harder to stay mad at someone when you know you have to pray with them." I've been surprised to find that to be incredibly true. Humbling ourselves before God together makes it hard to go to sleep mad at Lauren, similar to recognizing that whomever I am referring to as "brother" or "sister" is a coworker in Christ, and Jesus asks us to be unified.

I recognize that the example I've been using is about coworkers, but please understand this is true for everyone we come in contact with at our churches. That woman who always comes up and complains. The man who always has a better way of doing things than you. The teen who never works hard in children's church and leaves you to deal with the ankle-biters alone. All of these people are our brothers and sisters. You know that. But I'm telling you that if you act on that knowledge, and allow it to be part of your life, you will experience the relationship that we cognitively claim to be familiar with.

Image found here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

John 15.13: A Reminder in Light of Syria

Ever since the Paris terrorists attacks, reportedly carried out by ISIS, the question on a lot of people's minds has been "What do we do about Syrian Refugees?" This question was raised initially because one of the suicide bombers was found with a Syrian passport. Republican pundits quickly ramped up their political agendas and began speaking out on a number of things. Donald Trump made the callous comment that if only those people had had guns, they could have defended themselves (and then got all his supporters excited when he used it as a reason we should have guns). Ted Cruz was the first to take to the camera by saying that at this time we needed to halt all Syrian placement in America because we could be next, despite his exact opposite belief last year (Source). Now, to be fair, Bernie Sanders didn't win anyone over who wasn't already leaning his way when he said that Climate Change was still more important than ISIS. My own Facebook wall is full of comments like "#NukeTheMiddleEast." I even saw one meme that said "I have a bag of 10,000 M&Ms, but I poisoned 10 of them. How many of you liberals will grab a handful?" It saddens me to no end because I just think it's not how Jesus asks us to relate to the world around us.

Here is what I mean. Jesus says in John 15:13 - There is no one who has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends. With this passage in mind, I want us to ask: How does this world-view influence our response to Syria? I want to ask a series of questions, and I will then answer them.

Q1 - Why would we allow Syrians in?
The current state of the Syrian conflict
This is where we need to start. Some may not realize everything going on in Syria right now. The BBC has a great synopsis of the conflict which you can find detailed here, but the main reasons are this:
  1. A quarter of a million people have been killed in the last 4 years in the region surrounding the Northern Holy Land. 
  2. 11 million (that's 6 zeroes) others have been forced to flee for their own safety, leaving their homes.
  3. The land of Syria is not just home to two battling powers, there are as many as 6 different forces battling for control which means that quite literally, no one is safe.
  4. What began as a political struggle turned religious when ISIS seized the moment to jump at an unsteady political presence
All of this runs together into a humanitarian response being required. There are men and women who are fleeing their homes--something that is hard enough--having witnessed loved ones, neighbors, and nearby communities be destroyed. They are fleeing because if they don't their lives will be added to the ever-growing death-toll.

Q2 - Why would we not?
The reason that many people changed their mind (and the reason that many who were against it from the start are more vocal) is, as mentioned above, there was an initial link of the Syrian refugees to ISIS's attack on Paris. The thought process was justified--especially in light of what we knew a week ago--and is, perhaps even justified after knowing that the passport was fake, and that the man was not Syrian, but Turkish. The man was still able to get from Turkey to a receiving country, and was able to carry out part of a terrible act. It could be possible for that to happen again, though I would think it's not very likely for fake passports to get through customs now as we have seen the weak-spot. I'll even remind readers that the Tsarnaevs were immigrants which came to America with cruel intentions. It is examples like these which serve as the basis for a lot of the "Why we should not" argument.

Q3 - How then does John 15:13 tell us to act?
Well, if I am reading the opposition correctly, the main reason that we might not want Syrian refugees to come is that they could come and kill us. More specifically, that there is a chance that ISIS sends someone to infiltrate the refugees and wreaks havoc here. The rhetoric claims that in light of the 11,000,000 people who've been displaced from their homes, the threat of letting even just one man or woman with terroristic intentions through the border is too costly. But this is where I believe Jesus' words strike the biggest chord. Jesus tells us that those who are at risk of death need to be saved, at all cost, even our own lives. And that is what is happening to these Syrians. They are at immense risk of death, and need the world to help them live. By turning them away, we tell them that our lives are worth more than theirs. Jesus says that this is not what it means to love. It seems to me, then, that the Christians that are inhabiting the countries where Syrians are being relocated to, need to be asking their governments to open up the borders, letting them in, and the Church needs to be doing what it can to treat these Syrians as friends. Jesus tells us earlier in John that the world will know we are his disciples by the way that we love one another.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 
- John 15:13

Image found here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Governor Hassan

This letter shall arrive in the mail in just a few days, but I have decided to join my voice with the voices of others crying out for America to not turn a cold shoulder to our Syrian brothers and sisters. Below you can find my letter.

Governor Hassan,
As a citizen of this beautiful state, I ask you to not join in the xenophobia running rampant in our country. I do not envy your responsibility to protect our state, but to not allow those seeking refuge out of fear is to act in a manner that displays self-centeredness and self-love instead of true LOVE, and compassion. we have not yet been attacked in America despite having refugees for months, and if we only act out of fear from attack we must not really be a place to "live free or die."

We need to be reminded of the humanity of these refugees , the terror of their homeland and the grief associated with being displaced from one's homeland.

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." - Leviticus 19:15

Yes, I am a pastor of a church in Nashua. But I do not allow my fear of ISIS's feelings toward me keep me from acting justly: the downtrodden need to be taken care of. We live in a nation founded upon innocence before guilt. To reject Syrian refugees is to pervert that belief and sentence innocent men and women to death for others' faults. 

Perhaps Syria should not accept our help because one of us could be the next Dahmer, McVey, or Son of Sam. We'd cry foul there, and we should do so here. May we not forget the story of Christmas involved the Son of God being sent away heartlessly.

Yours Truly,
Adam Tomlinson

Monday, November 16, 2015

My Advent Fast

In a little under 2 weeks, we will be in the time of year known by many as Advent. While for some Advent is just a time to get a piece of chocolate out of a calendar, it is for many others a time of anticipation. In fact, the notion of the advent calendar was to help build the anticipation. It is a time of anticipation because the theme of Advent is the coming of Christ. In a beautiful way, the Advent season so perfectly encapsulates the Christian thought by representing both the anticipation of a past event and a future event. We anticipate the coming of Christ's first arrival while also looking, with an even greater anticipation, his second arrival.

What you may not be aware of is that this period of anticipation is marked in different ways throughout Christian tradition. The Advent time is a time of feasting and fasting for many. There are a number of feasts for various saints throughout the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas and some traditions fast for as many as 3 days a week during this time.

I am planning taking up a Lenten-esque fast during the period of November 29 to December 24. In a manner of building my own anticipation, standing in solidarity with a world that deeply needs Jesus to arrive, and culling my own brokenness and self-centeredness. I do not expect it to be easy, and while it may seem petty to some, I assure you that it is not to me.

I am planning to give up Facebook and Twitter usage throughout the Advent period in a hopes to blog more (I'm planning a post in the next few days to explain what I've been doing), read more (I am behind my Goodreads goal by 5 books!), and spend more time in Scripture (which is, unfortunately, so easily neglected). In this way, I will feast on the good and beautiful words of God and his children, while fasting from the thing that keeps me bogged down in needless, mindless, and selfish time wasting.

Again, this will not be easy for me. When I open Google Chrome, my hands instinctively type "fa" and strike enter--even when I don't get on the internet to check Facebook! I'll be removing my messenger and Facebook apps from my phone, and will need to find different ways of communicating with friends. I've taken up letter writing and am happy to write you a letter if you so desire. I will, however, continue to check email (because I have to for work), and I will be reachable by phone.

I would appreciate your prayers as I enter this time of fasting. Pray that I am prepared mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally for this fast that I believe will do nothing but deliver good things to me if I will only endure the anticipation!


The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them. In that day they will fast. 
-Mt 9:14-15; Mk 2:18-19; Lk 5:33-35

If you are interested, here is a sermon that I preached a few months ago on the topic of fasting.

Image found here

Friday, October 30, 2015

Acts 2:38: Baptism and Forgiveness

This last week, in small group, we were discussing the sermon of Peter on Pentecost to the crowds in Jerusalem. When I'm able, I do enjoy reading along in my Greek Bible. I don't (always) do this as a way to fact check a speaker, more often it's a way for me to keep skills fresh by reading along and not being required to translate quickly (it's easier to translate along with, just as it is easier for a child to follow a long in a story without sounding out words, or remembering what they mean). Anyway, while I was reading along, I noticed something that was, to me, fascinating. Below, you will find Acts 2:38 in Greek, and while that may not mean much to you, I want to at least show it to you.
Πετρος δε προς αυτος, Μετανοησατε, και βαπτισθητω εκαστος υμων επι τω ονοματι Ιησου Χπριστοθ εις αφεσιν των αμαρτιων υμων, και λημψεσθε την δωρεαν του αγιου πνευματος. 
Here is how I would translate this passage:
And Peter said to them, "Change your heart, and be baptized, each one of you according to the name the name of Jesus Christ [εις - to be discussed below] forgiveness of y'all's sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Below, I want to highlight a few of the most commonly read versions of the Bible and their treatment of this passage:
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - NRSV
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - NLT
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - ESV
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - NIV
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. - KJV
Now, if you don't know Greek, you are not seeing what I am seeing, so let me fill in the gaps for you. The Greek word εις, which I bolded above, is, in its most basic definition "into." However, not a single translation has used it that way. Rather, they have rendered the word "for." Now, we need to understand that there is a very common trend, especially in dead languages like Koine, that prepositions especially can take a usage that abnormal, or odd. But I think we have to always look at how the traditionally understood usage can be understood in this way.

If you go to the link I provided above with the Liddell-Scott definition of εις, and are able to make heads or tails of it, you'll notice that there is a way for εις to indicate "for." In an "elliptical clause" which refers to words that are left out because they are implied, εις can denote a word like "for" when the verb being used does not imply a motion to or into something. In this way, we can understand that the verb "be baptized" does not imply a motion to or into in the strictest sense, and therefore could be said to use "for." But in my, admittedly amateur, opinion, this is not an elliptical clause. There is no information being left out.

Rather, I think there is a sense of motion here, in an abstract, theological manner. You see, Peter is telling the people to move themselves from the state of their hearts (ignorant or antagonistic to God's work) as previously existent, into the new place of their hearts (accepting and participatory), which is signified in the forgiveness, the Grace, of God. You see, the word "αφεσιν" could be seen as the state of being that the people are not yet inside of, or at least have not yet come to.

Here is why I like this understanding of what Peter says in Acts. All the of the translations given above have been used by various churches to argue for a salvific nature to baptism (i.e., those who are not baptized cannot or, at least, do not have their sins forgiven). The NRSV, which is largely considered to be one of, if not the, best Bible for academic work is arguably the worst here because it actually claims that the waters are "so that" sins are forgiven, not just "for" forgiveness, which is a problematic nuance that shouldn't be overlooked. Suffice it to say, that I think there is, in our translations, a misrepresentation of the theological idea of forgiveness.

Yes, my translation still implies something that we must do, but it doesn't imply that our forgiveness is contingent upon our decision to be baptized. Rather, it calls us to accept it and place ourselves in the new status as a forgiven creature as a response to the Good News. It does not, however, imply that baptism is a do-or-go-to-hell decision, which is how I would say that I was raised.

This was a fun blog post to write (and makes me think about a potential masters Thesis), and I hope it provides you something to think about: What is the difference between being baptized into forgiveness, and being baptized for forgiveness? I think it's important, but maybe you don't. Let me know below!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Bible Translations: My Love-Hate Relationship With the ESV

Before I jump into this post, let me say: yes, I can translate the Bible from its original languages (Greek and Hebrew), but no, I don't do so exclusively. If I'm not preaching, or reading for devotional value, then yes, I will do so, but more often than not, I am reading my English bibles for personal devotion. 

This is a picture of one of the most written on pages in my Bible
In 2008, my mom and dad bought me an ESV Study Bible for Christmas. I had heard about it at a church that my family had visited when the pastor gave a bit of a commercial for it during his sermon. I was impressed with all the extra stuff it had, and didn't own a study bible at the time, besides I wanted to be a pastor and didn't really know that it was better to do the research on my own.

That English Standard Version Study Bible quickly became my every-day Bible, unless I needed a Bible for class, in which case I would take a much smaller one. I ingested the words of that Bible and was in it regularly, making notes for myself and processing what God had to say to me.

However, as I matured in my study of the Bible and better understood the processes that go in to translating a "version" of Scripture, I found myself steering away from the ESV. You see, the ESV is firmly placed in an incredibly Reformed tradition of scriptural interpretation. You may not think that scriptural interpretation plays into translation, but you should understand that it really does. For instance, we must understand that when a biblical translation rooted in the Reformed tradition, seeing a word like "elect" be the chosen translation of a word like εκλεκτος is not incorrect, as it simply means "selected" or "chosen." But it is not a neutral decision either. Rather, it is an understanding of how God relates to those who are in his Church (a theologically loaded term referring to a Predestination-related worldview). Long-story short, our theological understanding of Scripture and God's work in the world significantly impacts our understanding of Scripture, even in its original languages.

Because of this realization, and because of my own struggles with the Reformed Tradition, I drifted away from my ESV because I felt like it was a perversion of Scripture (even if only to a small degree). This was partially due to some pressure by fellow classmates, but partially due to my own issues. I quickly gravitated towards the NRSV--the version we were encouraged to use in seminary. But the switch to a new Bible led to a problem I had not foreseen: I stopped reading my Bible. I didn't stop reading my Bible as often. I didn't stop reading my Bible as Reformed. I didn't stop reading my Bible as intimately. I just plain stopped reading my Bible.

I recently bought a new NRSV Study Bible for myself that I had thought would help me devotionally because it was focused on spiritual disciplines and reading Scripture through a lens of application. But that hasn't happened. I truly have not read my Bible nearly enough, and I couldn't figure out why.

I'm still not completely sure why I stopped finding Scripture so meaningful, but I recently sort of rediscovered my ESV Study Bible. I have brought it home, I took it to church. It's like discovering a long-lost friend. In fact, the notes I'm already re-grappling with are reminding me not only of God's work in my life previously, but even of the power of Scripture. I'll be blogging in the next few days about one such rediscovery. It's an interesting phenomenon, but for whatever reason, my distaste for the theological framework of the ESV translation committee has been outweighed by my need for this version in my life. It's a love-hate relationship, but it's a relationship that I have to foster, because without Scripture, life is just too hard.