The Scandal of Unprepared Pastors

In an article titled Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Church? The Answer Will Shock You, one paragraph stood out to me:

90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

I once taught on prayer at a pastors’ conference. The speakers had been running late, so I kept my talk short—seven points and about 20 minutes.

After the session a young pastor came up to me and said, “That’s all well and good, but what do I do when a member of my congregation comes up to me and asks for prayer? How do I pray for someone?”

In the conversation that followed it turned out that in going through the United Methodist process for ordination and completing his Master of Divinity degree he had not taken a single class on prayer.

Now I could talk about the importance of learning about prayer. I do think it is a critical study. But that’s not really the issue. If this young pastor’s seminary had offered a class on prayer, I still doubt it would have prepared him to meet the needs of a congregation.

In one church I attended there were many lay speakers. Dozens of them, in fact. The chances of any lay speaker actually getting to speak were essentially nil, however. Why? The people expected the pastor to be in the pulpit.

And therein lies a solution. The one way to learn how to serve people, how to minister to their needs, how to be a minister, in fact, is to—wait for it—be a minister. Oddly enough, that’s precisely what we are all called to be.

So if someone gets out of seminary and doesn’t know how to pray with people, perhaps seminary is not to blame. The question I’d want to ask is this: Why didn’t the church have this person doing ministry? All members may be called to ministry, but if they are entering a process that will lead to ordination, they are feeling a call to a special place in ministry. What excuse is there for not having them involved in all aspects of ministry? Let them learn how to preach and teach under the supervision of their pastor and members of the church who have the appropriate skills. Let them listen to people, pray with them, and yes, sit on committees and see the business of the church hashed out.

Yes, seminaries need to provide training in practical subjects. But much more importantly, the church needs to practice ministry. Nobody should be completely ignorant on how to listen with empathy and lead someone else before God in prayer.

On Prettying-Up the Bible (In Reply to @drbobcwcc and @RevKindle)

Does the Bible need some improvements, if not in content, at least in presentation? That’s one way to put the question addressed by Rev. Steve Kindle in a guest post on Dr. Bob Cornwall’s blog. I want to make some fairly picky comments on this post. As I do so, I want you to be aware that I generally applaud the goals of this post, even while disagreeing in detail.

My previous experience with prettying-up the Bible involves the violent passages. I previously reviewed Jack Blanco’s book (I have trouble calling it a translation), the Clear Word Bible. Some of his renderings are much more comfortable reading than the original, but I haven’t been able to conceive of a paradigm that would allow me to think of them as accurate. I often think, however, that some of the violent passages of scripture are saved from revision largely because so few people read them. Numbers 31 has the advantage of being in a portion of scripture rarely consulted by Christians. When they do consult it, they are often shocked and wish it would go away.

Besides honesty (or accuracy), there is a problem with smoothing out the past. It conceals the nature of scripture, of the experience with God that comes from different people at different times. Seeing trajectories of change in scripture will change our approach to how we get from the words in the book to ethical action in our world.

Rev. Kindle is primarily addressing gender language. This is a fairly controversial topic in modern Bible translation. Translations have been excluded from certain Christian book stores because of the way the represent gender. As is often the case, however, the issue was much more how one was perceived to represent gender. The same store carried other Bible translations that used gender neutral renderings. These other versions were simply less well-known. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is very involved in these issues from a conservative point of view, and are opposed by the Christians for Biblical Equality. In perusing these sites, one can see that there is a great deal of weight put on these issues in church doctrine and politics.

What is unusual in Rev. Kindle’s presentation is that it comes from a progressive Christian who supports equality. He supports gender neutral language in many endeavors, excluding one:

I am all for the use of gender neutral terms for God in all church settings including sermons, liturgies, and conversations. But when it comes to inclusive language in Bible translations, I must object.

There is a valid distinction between those fields of endeavor. There is a great deal of difference between determining the way I will discuss God and the way I will translate. Do I refer to god solely with masculine pronouns? Do I avoid the use of pronouns at all? Those questions involve different issues when I am translating the apostle Paul, for example, as opposed to expressing my own theology. I am not a pastor, a liturgist, or a theologian. My studies were in biblical languages, and I’m a publisher. I’m interested in the words.

And that’s where we tend to get into trouble.

Whats in a Version?Most people, in my experience, view Bible translation as a singular effort, one with a definite, definable goal. I encounter this attitude almost every time I speak or teach or any other time someone manages to connect my face with my book, What’s in a Version?. The question I’m most often asked is: What is the best Bible version? Sometimes there’s a variant: What’s the most accurate Bible version?

But those questions reflect the problem. On the cover of my book I have a one-line answer: The best Bible version is the one you read!

Surely that’s a horrible answer! There have to be bad Bible translations, and I could be reading one of them! And yes, it’s not a complete answer, yet it does make a point. The task of Bible translation is not singular. There is no one “most accurate” Bible translation. There is no single “most readable” translation. In order to answer that common question I have to know who the questioner is. What is the best Bible version for you? I also need to know the activity in view. What is the best Bible version for you to use for devotional reading? What is the best Bible version to use in your study group? What is the best Bible version to use from the pulpit?

The reason is that one cannot transfer the entire meaning of a a source text into any target language. You are going to lose something. The question is what?

Let me take a short digression here. When I discuss loss of meaning I do not mean solely between the text of the source language and the tip of the pen (or the little pixels on the computer screen) of the translator. I mean loss of meaning between what a well-qualified reader of the source language could get from the source text itself, and what a reader of the target language can get from the text in the target language. There is no great value in a text which is accurate in an abstract sense, but is not understood accurately by actual readers. It follows from this that a translation must consider who is to read the text in order to determine how to express thoughts from the source accurately.

Further, understanding comes in different forms. Do I emotionally “get” the story told? Do I comprehend the facts that are narrated? Am I swept away by the literary beauty of the passage? Can I place myself in the shoes of those whose story is told, or who might have first heard the story? All of these things are desirable to various extents at various times, but successfully conveying them is not easy. In fact, it’s impossible to do everything at once. I cannot, for example, convey the rhetorical impact of the Greek of To The Hebrews while also making every point of theology clear to an American audience.

I know readers will object that it is up to teachers and preachers to get the theology right, and they may be correct, but that is a choice in what will be translated. I could then say, “Translation X conveys the theology of Hebrews with great clarity, while translation Y gives one a feel for the literary tour-de-force executed by the author.” The author, however, was intending to convey his (or her, I must concede) theological points in a powerful and compelling exhortation. Where do I compromise?

This is why some have commented on the irenic tone of my book. It’s not that I’m such a peaceable personality, or that I am a great peacemaker, though I would love to be. The reason is that I believe that there are many possible goals for Bible translation and that there are many audiences for which one might translate. Thus there are many possible ways in which one can (and should) translate, so I have less of a tendency to condemn any particular rendering. I do not mean that all translations are equal. I do not mean that there are no wrong translations. I simply mean that there are multiple right translations within various parameters.

I am disturbed when I hear preachers and teachers refer to translations that are supported by significant numbers of scholars as “mistaken” or just as “errors in translation.” This presents the task of translation as too simple. There are many legitimate disagreements which should be referenced as such. Reserve the word “error” for a translation that cannot be justified.

But to get back to the gender issue, Bob, in his introduction brings it up,

Thus, the New Revised Standard Version and the Common English Bible will, where the translators deem appropriate, translate a word like adelphoi, the Greek word for brother as “brothers and sisters.”

and Rev. Kindle uses similar phraseology (9th paragraph from the end):

“Member” here is literally, “brother.”

I have been accused of not giving users of the word “literal” the sort of latitude I give with any other word, i.e. recognizing that words have different meanings. The problem with “literal,” especially in circumstances such as these, is that it is extremely susceptible to equivocation. As its use has developed in the language, it is often heard as “accurate” or “faithful” when those who use it intend something more like “simple,” “direct,” or “most common meaning.”

In this case I would disagree with the usage in either case. The Greek word adelphos or its plural adelphoi may have as its referent either a male person (or group of males, as appropriate), or a person of undefined gender, or a group of both men and women. It is probably significant that the masculine form was used in both cases, though it is very easy to take grammatical gender too far in translating a language in which grammatical and natural gender do not match.

Similarly, until recently (change is still in progress) we used “he” to refer to a generic person in English, and “men” and “brethren” to refer to groups of mixed gender. In groups I have been able to survey informally, there seems to be a break right around 40 years of age (adjusted for the passage of time) as to how this usage is understood. Older people will understand “brethren” as including both genders when a group is addressed, while younger ones do not. A pastor illustrated this to me very clearly when he objected to the NRSV because of its gender neutral language. He couldn’t see how “brothers and sisters” was an accurate translation of adelphoi, so he would stick to the more accurate (in his view) RSV. The next Sunday he was reading scripture and he came to a passage in Paul where the apostle was clearly addressing an entire congregation. He stopped, looked up, and said, “And that includes you sisters too!” Clearly he knew some in his congregation would not hear the passage as inclusively as it was intended.

This would apply differently in different passages. For example:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism (James 2:1, NIV, from #BibleGateway).

The words “brothers and sisters” here translated the Greek adelphoi. I think it unlikely that James intended men in the congregation to eschew favoritism, while the women were allowed to practice it. He addresses the whole congregation. Yet if I read the usage of the English language correctly, a congregation with people largely below the age of forty would hear the passage as excluding women if we used the “literal” translation “brothers.”

On the other hand, we have James 3:1:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1, NIV, from #BibleGateway).

Now here we have a historical decision to make. My belief is that there were many more women teaching in the early church than we have imagined. This is not the place to argue the point. If, on the other hand, one believes that only men were permitted to teach, this would lose historical information as translated by the NIV, as “fellow believers” is here also a translation of the Greek adelphoi. (Another interesting question is whether “fellow believers” or “brothers and sisters” is the more literal rendering of adelphoi. But I will avoid diving into the morass of meanings for the word “literal” that would evoke.)

This is different, however, from the kind of effort made by The Inclusive Bible, which changes many cases in which the original intent of the passage, by which I mean in this case the original referent, is not inclusive. The passage Rev. Kindle quotes from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, for example, if it is original to the epistle (I believe, with Gordon Fee, that it is not), certainly is not intended as inclusive. That case is very different from either of the cases I referenced in the book of James.

These cases should be handled differently, according to the nature of the audience and the usage in the target language. Right now we are somewhat in transition on inclusive language in English, and that will complicate the work of the translator, and even the liturgist. Something that is heard one way by part of the congregation may be heard in the opposite way by another.

In addition, we need to recognize multiple goals in the use of our ancient texts. We do not translate just to convey data. We also translate for liturgy, for devotion, for prayer, for meditation, and for other goals. The particular way we handle the material at hand must take this different uses into consideration. There are certainly illegitimate translations (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 above from The Inclusive Bible, and many Old Testament passages from The Clear Word, for example) but there are also multiple legitimate goals and multiple audiences to which the translator will hope to convey something of the source text.

Ice and Snow in Florida

I’ve experienced much worse (or better, if you like snow!) elsewhere, but this is a first in terms of winter storms here in Florida.

I’m working inside until at least this afternoon when people should be done sliding around. It’s nice to have most of my work right in the house and the rest in an office about 100 feet away.

Here are some pictures:

IMG_20140129_074020 IMG_20140129_074014 IMG_20140129_074010 IMG_20140129_073934 IMG_20140129_073921

Link: What Makes Someone a Bible Scholar

Rev. Jeremiah Gibbs provides an interesting answer. I tend to be more restrictive in my use of the term “scholar.” I use it to describe those who do research and writing that is read and used by other scholars. On that basis, I regard myself not as a scholar, though I would attempt to do all the things Rev. Gibbs indicates, but rather as a consumer of scholarship.

In addition, it strikes me that those points are a rather good list of how one should interact with information generally. The comparison to what has gone before helps prevent one from making errors already discovered, though I should note that an excessive concentration on what has gone before can prevent one from correcting errors that have become engrained in the past. Being available for criticism in many ways describes a good, open life and testimony. And the search for evidence? That seems pretty useful as well.

So do these points distinguish the Bible scholar? They should certainly characterize a scholar. But distinguish him or her?

#BibleGateway Blog on the Historical Adam

They publish some videos and summaries of views from the authors of the book Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).

The videos and summaries are interesting, as I suspect the book would be, though I haven’t read it. I suggest checking the videos. There is more variety in the views on this topic than you might have suspected!

I can’t help mentioning that we have a few related books offered by Energion Publications (click for list).



sleetJust stepped outside to encounter actual sleet. Yay Pensacola!

You’ll probably need to click on the picture and see it full size. That’s how far one must go to see these things here in the sunny southland.

This Canadian born lad was very excited to see such a thing way down here!

A Rant about Study Bibles

Study Bibles Galore!

Despite my dislike, all these Bibles were within arm’s reach of my desk

I dislike study Bibles. I almost said I hate them, but since I do tolerate some of them, that would be overstating the case.

My problem with them is that they tend to blur the distinction between the text that we’re studying and the commentary made about it.

I have managed to keep my annoyance under control by dividing these Bibles into two classes. The first class is those that present historical and technical data as an aid to the reader. This information is much like what would be found in a Bible handbook, but it is conveniently presented within the same covers as the Bible text. I still would prefer a separate Bible handbook, but I understand the value.

There are still differences in the material presented. What editors choose as the most relevant material to be included in limited space is going to be determined to some extent by their philosophy and view of scripture. Someone who studies the Bible from a secular viewpoint, as history, will be largely interested in the historical context; someone who reads the Bible as the church’s literature will be more interested in theological connections. Both of these items may be valuable to the reader.

Because of the limitations of space, it’s usually not possible to cover a text from all angles, or to provide a wide variety of information that relates to interpretation. So if a Bible student becomes tied too closely to a particular study Bible, which can happen quite easily if it’s the Bible that person carries to church, their perspectives will be limited.

So I’m uncomfortable with these Bibles, but I understand their purpose, and believe that if used appropriately they can be valuable.

But there’s a second class of study Bible. I encountered a number of them over the last couple of days as I looked for a Bible to giveaway at 2014 Reimagine Santa Rosa County. (We ended up using the NLT Study Bible, which I think is one of the better study Bibles, though its notes reflect somewhat more conservative views than mine.) But on the way to buying that Bible, I had to wade through dozens of editions of Bibles with notes by one person. The So-and-So Study Bible. It just doesn’t work for me.

I believe that teachers and scholars are important. I don’t have a problem with commentaries. I don’t mind study guides (I even publish a few.) I would like to see people have the goal of getting to the point where they study the Bible text directly. Use commentaries for backup. Compare notes with others. But get to the text.

In my experience there’s a very real tendency to confuse the interpretations in the notes of such Bibles with the text itself. I recall one man who showed up for a series I was teaching on Revelation with a Jack Van Impe Prophecy Bible. I didn’t mind being challenged by Jack Van Impe’s views. Actually, I don’t find them very challenging. But for this man, what that Bible said a text meant was precisely what the text meant. You couldn’t get him to discuss the text itself. He would only quote the notes.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. One lady called me aside in the church hallway with a question. She had read a text and then read the notes, and she couldn’t see how the writer of the note got that interpretation from the text. She assumed she must be wrong, since the note writers were so much more educated about the Bible than she was, but could I please explain. Actually, I thought the note was wrong. I explained to her how the writers might have gotten their interpretation and then explained why I disagreed, and suggested she spend more time with the text and less with the notes.

While I’m uncomfortable with study Bibles generally, I really can’t see the purpose in the study Bible written by an individual. I think it points away from the text and toward a single expert’s opinion. I think that’s bad.

Well, maybe I nuanced my rant a bit …


Another What is a Liberal Christian

Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal CharismaticDavid F. Watson of United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH), has written a post title What is a Liberal Christian? (HT: Methoblog).

I’m not going to dissect his post, because much of what I would have said, he summarized already here:

Part of the reason for the difficulty is that “liberal” has at least two meanings that are really quite different from one another.

Having said that, however, I would also point out that many liberals of my acquaintance don’t fit into the box he describes. Yes, I know he admitted the difficulty. He may even have understated it. But concepts of liberal stray even further from the box than …. well, than whatever we may try to say.

I’m editing a book titled just Process Theology for my Topical Line Drives series. I challenged Bruce Epperly to describe process theology in 12,000 words or less. I’m hoping to release the result in a couple of weeks. The result might surprise you.

Then there is my own statement, On Being a Liberal Charismatic Believer. not to mention my book, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic. There are those who have told me I don’t deserve the label “liberal.” Some meant that as a compliment, as in “you’re not really a liberal, bless your heart.” Others meant it negatively, as in “you’re not really a liberal, you imposter!” And then I mess it up by using “passionate” and “moderate” as well. Each of those four labels I use in this site’s description say something about my approach to Christianity. Or so I believe!

Slippery things, labels, but necessary!

Better Have Something to Share

The following quote struck me in Bruce Epperly’s Adventurous Lectionary for the week:

When we say, at our congregations, “come and see” to seekers, we better have something to share that will change lives, our own and others.  Jesus’ words call us to examine our ministries.  People are looking for meaning; they are looking for a sense of vocation and something to which to their lives.  Do we offer them the bread of life or business as usual?  What unique transformative gift do we have to offer?

That and this too:

Isaiah does not give us a pattern of vocational success.  Indeed, we must not abandon the statement that it is more important that we be faithful than successful.(emphasis mine)

PS: I currently have the privilege of working on layout for Bruce’s next book, Holistic Spirituality: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James, and editing the one after that, which is on Process Theology, introducing it in about 40 pages!


Quote: Theology Moving from the Classroom

This is another quote from my editing work:

James is a theologian, but his theology moves from the classroom and the study to the street corner and the soup kitchen.  James is a “practical theologian,” whose beliefs motivate his actions and whose actions transform his beliefs.  Theological reflection and worship find their fulfillment in faithful action. — Bruce Epperly, Holistic Spirituality: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James (forthcoming)

I’ll probably be posting more of these than I have in the past, as I really enjoy the work of editing and often find nuggets to share!