My take on The Voice

January 6, 2009

the-voiceI admit to my skepticism.  Knowing something about the people who were behind this book (specifically Seay and McLaren), I suspected an almost heretical re-write of the New Testament, that would be fully reflective of their emergent and post-modern sensitivities. 

At least some of it’s sponsors, proponents and spokespersons are not folks for whom I would use the term “orthodox” when describing their Christian theology.  Consequently, their plans to produce a “modern” translation of the New Testament sounded like a disaster in the making.  My hunch was that they would produce a paraphrase of the New Testament with a clear editorial leaning toward their predisposition for relativism and what I would describe as squishy doctrine, particularly in the areas of man’s sinfulness, the exclusivity of Christ, and His substitutionary atonement, the virgin birth and a variety of other matters that tend to characterize the “conversations” that go on in their stream of contemporary Christianity.

While I have not read The Voice cover to cover, I have read a substantial amount of it, and certainly enough, to say that I am surprised, in fact I am pleasantly surprised at what I found.  Now let me quickly add that there are some peculiar things about The Voice, one in particular that I am bothered by.  But on the balance, it really is not what I had anticipated.

The Voice reads like something of a hybrid between The Message, and The New Living Translation of the Bible.  It is clear from reading that it is not fully a paraphrase like Eugene Peterson’s re-write of scripture.  For one thing, it at least uses the modern convention of a chapter and verse structure and the verses are not long strung out commentary like The Message.  But The Voice falls short, doubtlessly on purpose, of the more formal and traditional presentation of the dynamic equivalence of the NLT.

Since I had my suspicions going in, that The Voice would be filled with content that could not be traced to any ancient manuscript, I give high marks to the publishers and editors of The Voice for their integrity with respect to how they have inserted their views into the text.  Whenever there is content NOT traceable to the original language, even within the framework of a dynamic translation, the editors have italicized the print.  This editorial decision does not really distract from the reading of the text after you get used to it, but clearly discloses what is purely editorial content, from what is a translation of the Greek.  It did take a little while to get used to it, as there are occasions when italicized print in other writing is intended to communicate emphasis, which is not the case in The Voice.

In a similar vein, the commentary in The Voice is not at the bottom of the page, like a footnote, it is positioned in the text itself.  However, these comments are marked off in an outlined box, clearly distinguishing them from the translated scriptural content.

And while The Voice is presumably intended to be a more “user friendly” Bible for the postmodern generation, it does not exclude important theological terms, such as grace, reconciliation, redemption, and justification, as I might have expected, although these more formal terms are occasionally replaced with other words that have a lower theological resonance.

Probably the most unusual thing I noticed when reading The Voice, is the absence of the word “Christ.”  Using both an ESV Study Bible concordance and a complete NIV concordance, I looked through all 27 books of the New Testament, and could find only ONE occasion when The Voice uses the word “Christ.”  That verse was John 1: 41 when Andrew reported to Peter that they had “found the Messiah. (which means Christ).”  Even in the three synoptic Gospels, where Peter confesses the Christ, in Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9, The Voice uses expressions such as “Liberating King” or “Liberator” as a substitute for “Christ.”  And throughout Paul’s letters to the churches and his young proteges, with his frequent use of the word “Christ”, Liberating King is the word choice in The Voice.

I have to wonder what is going on with this.  I will conceded that “Liberating King” is not wholly inaccurate, but also a little unusual.  Are the writers, editors and publishers simply trying to be trendy, or edgy in their references to Christ as an appeal to their target audience?  Or is this supposed to somehow be provocative?  Is the word “Christ” so confusing to the target audience for this Bible that the editors have intentionally exchanged the word for something that is less so?  Or is the word “Christ” considered to be so offensive to the postmodern intellect that it might repel people from the reading of scripture?  

I have to admit that the obvious effort to avoid the word “Christ” was noticeable and became somewhat unsettling, leaving me to suspect the motives of producers of The Voice.  I cannot help but speculate on the possibility that by adopting Liberator or Liberating King as euphemisms for Christ, they are trying to re-frame His office as exclusively king and savior, all the while minimizing His future role as judge.

Not as bad as I had anticipated, but falling short of a Bible I could recommend, The Voice will likely be embraced by far too many because of its easy reading style, and to some degree its trendy jargon that will likely appeal to the postmodern mind.


Q & A about “Emergent”

February 27, 2008

Not a new video.  And it may have made the rounds several times.  Nevertheless,  it presents a great albeit brief defining perspective on the terms “post-modernism” and especially the theological movement often referred to as “Emergent.”  The panel includes, left to right, Ravi Zacharias, Al Mohler, and R.C. Sproul.

Post-modernism is a societal, cultural and intellectual trend that has been forming and manifesting itself for decades, and not a new discovery, although its name may have been more recently assigned.  In retrospect, it might well have been fully predictable even from centuries ago based on mankind’s inherited sin nature and our fundamental rejection of authority, especially as relates to absolute truth.

The dangerous thing about the Emergent Church Movement, is that, unlike orthodox Christianity, it seems to encourage rebellion from truth which ultimately leads to death.  All for the sake of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness.  For all the generosity and permissiveness of their doctrine, the Emergents are merely applying a salve of ignorance to an ultimately fatal condition.  But it is a fatal condition that is otherwise treatable and curable by the application of that which may be uncomfortable, but life-giving…The Truth!

Nooma – without the nuance

February 13, 2008

Those who know me are familiar with my skepticism and in some cases outright criticism of certain aspects of the Emergent Church Movement.  (NOTE: I said Emergent, not simply emerging as that is something related, but decidedly different)  Additionally, readers of this site may have seen my comments regarding Emergent Village leaders Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.  And in my role as “pastor” to the college-aged staff at the youth camp that I serve on the board of, I have taught about the diminished view of scripture and the dismissal of orthodox doctrine that seems to characterize much of the teaching that is present in the Emergent churches.  And until they provide evidence to the contrary, I will remain skeptical of their authenticity and caution against anything other than a critical engagement with their fellowships.

I have also written about Rob Bell.  Bell is a pastor in Michigan, who claims no specific affiliation with Emergent Village.  But theologically, his “non-member” status is a distinction without a difference.  He preaches much the same message, which I will call a “partial Gospel.”  Bell has become well known outside the Emergent circles through his Nooma video series.  I have also written a less than complimentary article about one particular Nooma video titled Bullhorn.

Greg Gilbert, who is director of research for Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, has written three articles on the subject of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos.  Gilbert’s articles are thoughtful assessments of Nooma and well worth the time spent reading, particularly if you have any contact with the audience to whom these videos are aimed.  Use the links below to Greg’s articles.  Be informed!

The Scoop’a on Nooma

Part 1          Part 2          Part 3


Emergent church…how about “emergent” theater?

January 12, 2008

I routinely avoid watching the early morning “news” shows on the big three networks, but the last channel watched last night was the local ABC affiliate for the weather, so when I turned the TV on this morning, Good Morning America Weekend is what appeared.

That said, an interesting segment on Fuerzabruta was just beginning and I couldn’t help but see similarities between this reported “transformation in stage productions” and the transformation in the faith and practice of Christianity.  Those transformations are most evident in the Emergent church.  As I watched, I could imagine substituting the words scripture and doctrine for Shakespeare and musicals; and church for people who don’t like church” for theater for people who don’t like theater.”  The possible word substitutions go on and on throughout the report.

I will grant you that Fuerzabruta is first of all entertainment.  And because of its uniqueness and interactivity, I am guessing that it is “something else.”  And it probably delivers exactly what it is supposed to…ENTERTAINMENT pure and simple!  But I think it also represents the cultural shifts that are being moved along under the influence of generations X and Y. 

In the event I just lost anyone by that last comment, not ALL of those culture shifts are bad.  Technology driven culture change (of which X’ers and Y’s were early adopters), in many ways is helpful, keeping us more connected and informed.  And while there may well be nothing wrong with this new form of performing art represented by Fuerzabruta,  the same cannot be said for the reshaping of historic Christian doctrine that is present in many Emergent churches.

Use this link to ABC to watch this morning’s report on the “latest thing” in stage production.  (My apologies…the video is so new that I could not find it on YouTube, and ABC forces you to endure a 15 second commercial prior to the segment.)

Warning – video contains Emergent “conversation”

January 10, 2008

Earlier this week, I used this video as a point of reference to teach a group of college-aged students about the dangers of Emergent.  While the length and breadth of our discussion went way beyond this video, it certainly was instructive as an introduction to revealing the squishiness of their theology.

At the conclusion of the video we went back and analyzed most all of the comments made by Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.  However, there was one comment in particular made by Pagitt that really sums up not only the video, but the Emergent “conversation” itself.

At the 7:08 mark in the video, Pagitt says:

“It’s more important for us to feel like we’re representing a beautiful expression of our life with God than it is to be right about everything.”

I can’t think of a more important obligation for the leadership of a “church” than to get it right when it comes to matters of doctrine and faith.  Because if that “church” is failed by its leadership in this regard, I submit it will be impossible for its members to be a “beautiful expression of their life with God.”

According to Time: A Marvelous Tinkerer

December 10, 2007

Time Magazine, in its December 6, 2007 edition, has an article on Rob Bell.  Credit to Justin Taylor from Between Two Worlds blog for finding the article.  The Time profile is largely a puff piece that is very flattering to Bell and his ministries at Mars Hill Church in Michigan and his Nooma video series.  The entire content of the article can be read at Time’s website.

There are a couple of items in the article that bear mentioning.

First, the writer notes that Rob Bell “thinks that only those who have gay friends are positioned to judge homosexuality.”  Interesting.  Using that line of reasoning, no one is in a position to judge murder, short of having a friendship with a murderer.  And since homosexuality is ostensibly a sexual sin, by Bell’s reasoning, no one is in a position to judge adultery or other sexual immorality, short of having a friend who is engaged in those behaviors.  (Sadly, with respect to adultery and immorality, we may all have such a friend or acquaintance.) 

Bell’s point of view is troubling.  But let’s assume just for a moment that he is right.  What are we to do?  Well a good default position might be to simply see if God has anything to say in Scripture about homosexuality, murder, adultery and any number of other types of conduct and behavior that God might find to be out of bounds.  If we look, we will find specific teaching on each of these matters.  And it would take considerable effort to conclude those types of behavior are acceptable to God.  So, in what was probably an unintended way, Bell was right.  People don’t NEED to judge homosexuality, or murder, or adultry…God already has.

Rob Bell’s arm’s length approach to dealing with what God obviously calls sin may be a cordial way of dealing with his congregation.  But his lack of confrontation on such serious matters may also be subjecting his membership to an unfortunate eternity.  As much as Bell and others of similar theological bent like to avoid the discussion of a future judgment, there will be such a day.

I must say that there was a refreshingly honest perspective offered of Bell near the end of the article.  He has just completed his second national bus tour.  He concedes that “the exertions aimed at large crowds and good book sales” can be at odds with his teaching ministry.  At least he honestly admits to a striving for audiences and sales.   

In that same conversation, he then uses the unfortunate messianic metaphor of the Eucharist to describe his teaching, whereby he “breaks himself open and pours himself out.”  While I really do understand what he is intending to say, it seems that the sacredness of the image really ought to be reserved for the Savior, and not be used by a man who doesn’t have the courage to agree with God and declare that which is SIN, to be SIN.