Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prayer at Congressman's Dinner

What would you pray if you had the opportunity to pray at an event for some of your elected officials?  Tonight, Congressman Aaron Schock graciously invited me to pray at the beginning of his fundraising dinner, with Speaker Boehner in attendance as well.  This is essentially what I prayed:

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for Representative Schock’s kind invitation to me this evening, to allow me the privilege of praying for my congressman, the man you have sovereignly placed in leadership over me, and to pray for Speaker Boehner, and to pray for our meal and our time together this evening.

Father, in your word, you tell us there are two loves that cannot coexist in our hearts--a love for the things of this world and a love for You. 

And so my prayer is first for those of us who are guests this evening. We confess that as individuals, we are sometimes motivated to engage in the political process by a love for the things of this world instead of a love for you. In this tent are people who have been entrusted with vast resources. Each of us here are wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of the majority of the billions of souls in this world. And, yet, our heart’s temptation is to be motivated to engage in the political process simply to gain more resources.  We love the things you have given us instead of loving you.

At times, we have distorted conservatism to mean that not only should government be limited but our own personal generosity should be limited as well. We pursue wealth and as individuals ignore the plight of the widow, the orphan, the poor and the foreigner.

Let us hold the material things you have given us loosely. Help us to participate in the democratic process not because we are angry or afraid of what others may do to us but instead because we have a desire for your honor and glory.

I also pray this evening for Speaker Boehner. I pray that he would not love the things of this world; that he would not seek after the approval and applause of men; that he would see even the Speaker’s gavel as a tool to be used instead of a prize to which to cling to whatever cost; that he would not crave the approval of influential or seductive voices within his party who have only their own good as a goal.

Instead, may he seek to pursue your desire for government. May he be your instrument to bring about a government that protects its citizens, rewards the one who does good and punishes the one who does evil. .

As I think about our country Father, I know of no greater atrocity than the evil of abortion. May Speaker Boehner lead the Republican party to do more than cynically play lip service to the protection of the unborn for pro-life votes. May Speaker Boehner unite pro-life Republicans and Democrats to promote the sanctity of life.

And finally this evening, I pray for Representative Schock. May he not love with the things of this world. Even as he prepares for the 2012 elections, let him see this congressional seat as yours and not His own. Let him not be in love with the approval of his party, his party’s leadership or even, Father, the approval of we his constituents. Let him be willing to do the hard things that are the right things even when we disagree with him. Protect him morally as he lives and works within a culture that loves power and prestige and the exaltation of self. Allow him to have the attitude of Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself even to death on a cross. Allow Aaron to serve in a spirit of humility and treat others as more important than himself.

And Father, because we cannot love both the things of this world and You, I pray that You would teach us how to love You. I pray that the gospel of your son Jesus Christ would be boldly proclaimed. I pray that men and women here and in our country would recognize their need for a savior, repent of their sins, and place their faith in your son Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.

In Jesus' Name I Pray,

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eugene Nida's Legacy

Last week, Eugene Nida passed away at the age of 96. Many have never heard of Nida but anyone who has read a modern Bible translation has been influenced by his work.

What is the best way to translate the Bible? Some argue that one should make the translation as literal—or as close to the original text—as possible. This means preserving the original language word order and sentence structure as closely as possible. The resulting translation is often hard to read, but close to the original language. This type of translation philosophy is called “formal equivalence.”

Nida argued for a type of translation he called “dynamic equivalence.” He believed that one should attempt to aim for a “thought-by-thought” translation. Phrases and idioms in the original language should even sometimes be changed to make the most sense in the culture of the people who are receiving the text.

Morgan Feddes, reflecting on his passing in Christianity Today, writes:
In his work, Nida emphasized the importance of cultural context—both the cultural context of Bible and the cultural context of the language into which the Bible is being translated. One example he liked to use was the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, where the sheep represent those who have done the Lord's will, and the goats are those who haven't. "Look out, because in most of Africa, sheep are regarded as very bad animals!" he said in his 2002 interview. "The translator, of course, cannot change all the sheep into goats and the goats into sheep. But you've got to have footnotes to explain the cultural difference. Otherwise, you're going to give an entirely wrong impression."
As I think about the influence of dynamic equivalence on Bible translation, I see both positives and negatives.  Positively, it forces us to think realistically about the changing nature of language. Idioms, phrases, and definitions of words are constantly evolving. Bible translation should recognize that.

I also appreciate the way in which dynamic equivalence strives for clarity in communication. Our goal in coming to God’s Word should not just be to know that our translation is right but also that it is understandable.

Finally, I appreciate the philosophy’s emphasis on application. God’s Word is not lifeless but living and active.

On the other hand, I do have some concerns with translations that rely too heavily upon the dynamic equivalence philosophy. First, in an attempt for greater readibilty in English, dynamic translations can distort the actual meaning of the text. For example, compare the NIV (a somewhat dynamic translation) with the ESV (a more formal equivalence translation).

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7, NIV)

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV)
The NIV has created two sentences and two separate commands: “Humble yourselves” and “cast all your anxiety.” The ESV, however, correctly translates the passage to show us that there is only one command: “Humble yourselves” and one of the ways we obey that command is by casting our anxieties upon God.

Second, the attempt for greater clarity can mar the intricacies of Scripture. As Robert Thomas argues, if Paul wrote an epistle that was a “10” in terms of complexities in syntax and argumentation, have we translated it faithfully if we make the reading level a “3” or “4”?

Finally, by having Bible translators make interpretive decisions for us, we limit the possibilities. As Thomas writes:

Which interpretation is right in 1 Thess. 4:4, the one which says that Paul speaks of control over one’s own body, as in the JB, NEB, NIV, PME, or the one that says he speaks of taking a wife in marriage, as in the LB, RSV, and GNB? Or should the translator shun the responsibility of making a choice, as is done in the KJV, the NKJV, and the NASB?
I believe that the more formal translations are more faithful to the text and help us understand the Word more accurately.  Dynamic translations, however, can be helpful in allowing us to understand the force of some texts.  All good translations involve a certain amount of interpretation and Nida helped us understand how to think more carefully about what is being communicated in a translation...and that's a good thing.

The words of the KJV translators in the preface to their monumental work are a fitting conclusion to this discussion on the nature of translation:

“To those who point out defects in [the translators works], they answer that perfection is never attainable by man, but the word of God may be recognized in the very meanest translation of the Bible, just as the king’s speech addressed to Parliament remains the king’s speech when translated into other languages than that in which it was spoken, even if it be not translated word for word, and even if some of the renderings are capable of improvement. To those who complain that [the translators] have introduces so many changes in relation to the older English version, they answer by expressing surprise that revision and correction should be imputes as faults. The whole history of Bible translation in any language, they say, is a history of repeated revision and correction.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Morality of Intellectual Simplicity

David Warren, a Canadian journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, wrote this intriguing paragraph in a recent column:

There are some issues that are too simple for intelligent people to understand. Most moral issues are like that. The problem isn't distinguishing between right and wrong. That is not always as plain as day, but usually it is. The problem is finding a way to justify doing the wrong thing. And once you think you have found it, the people still arguing for doing the right thing may be dismissed as "simplistic."
He was contrasting competing economic theories and, while he may or may not be right about his conclusions, he accurately describes a real phenomenon.  Often human beings use their intellect to justify evil. Paul tells us much the same thing in Romans 1:21-23:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
The unregenerate heart leads us astray. Self-proclaimed wise persons behave foolishly. They turn their God-given ability to think and reason toward useless ends as they pursue evil instead of God’s glory. Their thinking becomes futile. Like those Warren writes of, their intellect is turned toward exercises in justifying evil.  Intellectual sophism presents a labyrinth of complex arguments to reach a rather simple conclusion: reject God and His authority for your life.

Does this mean that we as Christians should reject intellectual endeavors? The criticism leveled by the secular humanist is that Christians are intellectually bankrupt. We are fools who fail to understand sophisticated, nuanced arguments.

But our critics have presented us with a false dichotomy. I do not have to choose between the futility of human-centered reasoning or the vapidness of a mindless, zombie-like Christianity.

The problem that Paul describes in Romans 1 and to which Warren alludes is not that people are being intellectual. Intellect is a gift that has been given by God to be used.  The problem is the fallen nature that attempts to utilize that intellect, oftetimes to construct complicated arguments advocating rebellion against God.

It is not as though the intellect exists outside our person or is a tool impervious to the biases of our selves. Our intellect is twisted. Our pride causes us to turn our intellect away from self-introspection of deeply held beliefs and direct it toward defending our prejudices and attacking others. Our intellect is wielded by a mind that has been shaped and modled by this current world and its thought patterns. Indeed, those who are heralded as “revolutionary thinkers” are often those most enslaved to the mores and thought patterns of our time.

The answer lies in the gospel. The redeemed mind can be renewed (Rom 12:1) and set itself on things above not on things below (Col 3:2).

My encouragement to you is to engage your mind. Think critically. Think carefully. Challenge your old thought patterns. But do all this not in your own pride but in submission to God as He reveals Himself in His Word.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Defense of Sunday School

On Sunday afternoons, our family piles onto the couch and the kids begin to tell me what they learned at church in the morning. Each child is able to tell me what they learned about God and His Word as a result of their time worshipping with our family at Bethany Community Church. I find these times with the kids encouraging for several reasons, one of which is the joy of having others in the church re-enforce the things that we are trying to teach our children about God and His Word.

Some believers argue that age-segregated Sunday School classes are—at best—detrimental to the family or—at worst—unbiblical and contrary to Scripture’s design for the church and family. Many argue for what they call a “Family Integrated Church (FIC),” which they define as the entire family staying together for times of teaching and instruction.

My purpose in this article is not to attack the FIC model. Indeed, there are several strengths to that philosophy of ministry. It rightly recognizes the importance of parents—especially fathers—shepherding their children. It also draws attention to the failure of many youth ministries to fulfill the purpose for which they were intended. Youth ministries sometimes degenerate into a playground for adolescents. Instead of fostering deeper maturity they exacerbate the immaturity.

At the same time, age-segregated ministries like children’s Sunday School are not unbiblical. On the contrary, there are some very biblical, God-glorifying aspects of ministries that allow for a period of time of age-based instruction. Here are a few of the reasons I rejoice that we offer special ministries for children.

1. Children have a special need for instruction.

Broad, generalizing statements like “modern youth ministry is contrary to Scripture” are problematic because Scripture does seem very much concerned that children receive special instruction. Moses in Deuteronomy, the psalmist, Solomon in the book of Proverbs, all understand that children have a special need for instruction. Paul refers to the understanding he had as a child and how he put it away as he became a man (1 Cor 13:11).

A good youth ministry recognizes that children have a special need for instruction to help them gain wisdom. A more accurate statement than the one above is “many modern youth ministries are failing to fulfill the Biblical mandate for the church to disciple its younger members.” This does not invalidate the concept of having times of age-targeted instruction.

2. Children need a proper theological understanding of the family of God.

While parents are to be the primary tool God uses to disciple children, they are not the only tool. In the Old Testament, the entire community punished the wayward and rebellious child (Deut 21:18-21). The New Testament expands the idea of family and teaches us that every believer is part of the family of God (Eph 2:19). A Sunday School system that encourages other adults to speak into the spiritual development of my children helps them see that the church body is larger than just our family.

3. Children must learn not to idolize their nuclear family.

The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon. A far more prevalent understanding of “family” throughout human history includes uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and crazy fourth-cousins.

It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family. This means training them that the family exists not just to spend time with itself but to be engaged in ministry in the lives of others outside the family. This means that families will have to do difficult and inconvenient things for the health of the church.

This improves the ability of the church to minister to individuals who do not have a spouse or children. It also helps provide a structure for children who do not have the nuclear family that may be the cultural norm in the church.

4. Children should be innocent of that which is evil.

It is important for adults to be innocent of evil (Rom 16:9). How much more should we strive to protect the innocence of our children! Allowing some times of age-segregated ministry allows adults to discuss concepts that children amy not be prepared to consider. It also allows them display transparency about issues in their lives—such as parenting—that children might not understand.

I applaud much of the motivation behind the family integrated church movement. I pray that our church is able to offer additional ministries that provide for the integration of the family into the church. I encourage us at BCC to take the lead in discipling our children. At the same time, I praise God that He has provided other men and women to disciple my boys and girls.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vacations, Homes, and Heaven

This past week, our family went to Horn Creek Christian Camp, near Westcliffe, Colorado. It was a wonderful but long week.  After we arrived home on Sunday evening, our youngest daughter went around the home exclaiming, “We’re home! It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” We obviously have some work to do on our daughter’s theology (she has made a habit lately of proclaiming any positive event a ‘miracle,’ but given my driving, maybe she’s on to something).

Even though I wouldn’t call our arrival home miraculous, I am grateful to God for bringing us home safely. I enjoy travelling and seeing my children have fun, but at heart I’m a homebody. On vacation, the bed isn’t my bed. The kitchen isn't my kitchen. The shower isn’t my shower. When I arrive home, I look around and there is a sense of “Yes, this is how things are supposed to be.”

That is why, when I travel, Hebrews 11:13-16 often comes to mind. After describing those whose lives displayed extraordinary faith, the writer of Hebrews explains why they had the ability to live such lives:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (ESV).
The appropriate response for believers in this world is to feel like they are “strangers and exiles”—they are not at home in the trappings of this world. The entertainment and financial systems and political structures of this world have their place in our lives but we recognize our distance from these things even as we interact with them.

My prayer for you this week would be that you have a godly sense that things are not quite right and that you long for heaven as you live for God’s glory in this world.