Honest Translation

Dave Brunn is my new favorite guy. He’s a missionary of over two decades and an author, focusing specifically in bible translation. Below, you’ll find a video of about a half-hour that explains a number of things, including: 

1) Why translation is so tricky,

2) why we can’t exactly trust a translation based on its stated intentions,

3) why the method of a translation can’t be and isn’t consistently “fixed,” 

4) and why bias instead of altruism keeps us from doing the job correctly.

Many of these things are facets of Christian life and academics that I’ve discussed before, so if you’re looking for some context, you can always read (1) this, (2) this, (3) this, (4) this, or even (5) this!

As with anyone making an argument, for the most part, there are a few places where Brunn commits some reasoning errors. For example, he claims that because about 94% of the world’s languages aren’t Indo-European like Koine Greek (the original language of the New Testament), seeking a word-for-word translation in English seems dubious. In addition to that, his treatment of Matthew 6:13 as an example belies some bias that, if ignored, would yield at least a more objectively trustworthy translation. This bias does come through more towards the last five minutes or so of the video. That said, most of what he does says is true enough to cause both laughter and serious reconsideration of our own biases concerning what the text “ought to say,” rather than what it actually says. So in the meantime, please enjoy, and feel free to email me with any of your comments or questions:  


Solemn Assurance: Confident Communication

“…if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” – Ezekiel 33:9 (NRSV)

Ever felt like you were just not getting through to someone? Ever felt like it was your fault?

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for me, and it’s not unfamiliar for several people I know. Try as hard as someone might, by logic, by emotion or by credibility, to persuade another or correct some activity for honest and healthy reasons, sometimes the other person is simply unable or unwilling to listen. In all likelihood, there could be several reasons for unresponsiveness—fear, guilt, tiredness, mistaken expectations, greed, self-assurance, confusion and (yes) our own mistaken self-interest. But whether or not we are mistaken, one thing is certain: whether or not someone chooses to agree, someone who chooses not to listen bears responsibility for that choice.

Once again: if someone clearly chooses not to listen, that is their choice not your fault.

“OK, but how do I make sure they are the one making that choice?”

A good question, with a few precautions:

First, we have to be sure that what we’re saying is correct. This is serious. If there are any possible counters, reasons, or excuses (yes, I said “excuses”) against what we perceive, we are not communicating correctly. This means making sure that what we say and the context for our thoughts are well considered before speaking.

Second, we need to be sure that the approach leaves no room for being mistaken. This may sometimes mean asking more questions than making statements. For example, when someone who only wishes to prove he only has to listen to himself comes and asks Jesus a question, Jesus responds by the same method: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Lk 10:26, ESV)

This question-asking does a number of things: it allows the potential listener to realize how it sounds to be asked a question about the same content; it puts the person on equal ground, instead of allowing them to remain self-elevated; it gives such a person no excuse for being wrong in response. In other words, putting it back on the person evidences personal responsibility for any further choices.

But sometimes, question-asking simply isn’t a productive or worthwhile response. Often, we’ll have to simply state what the facts are and leave them in front of the other person. However, this alternative approach is also delicate; stating facts is exactly that – it is not stating facts with our own emotions attached, whether those be our own fears, insecurities or goals.

This isn’t an argument for stoicism as much as it it’s a case for surety. We cannot expect someone who has the potential to ignore us not to take the opportunity to use emotions against us. Think this through. How often do you argue with another person simply based on the emotional charge to the words being said? Now: eventually, how does that argument end? Isn’t it true that eventually one person gives up and communicates something akin to a firm assurance? Why not skip over all the unnecessary, unproductive interplay and be sure that when we communicate, we are already assured of its veracity?

And don’t think it inconspicuous if we’re not sure. If we’re not sure, the argument will drag on. The emotions will ramp up. The lack of reason to any further questions or claims will be obvious well after the discussion. And then what have we accomplished, other than stacking the deck against our ability to speak up in the first place? It’s far better not to say anything than to end up in a situation like that.

The point is this: if we aren’t sure that what we say is true, it is a waste of time to say it at-best and destructive to ourselves and others at-worst. So if we want to be effective communicators in tough situations, we ought to make sure we can both state a fact calmly and leave it alone after uttering it, because we’re sure we have the right perspective and that perspective has nothing to do with us.

And yes, this might be an instance where “the pot is calling the kettle black.” I get it. But in that case, I need to hear it, don’t I?


Relational Depth

The ditch between complementarian and egalitarian theologies runs deep enough to cause debate at pretty much any level. But only if someone’s in the mood for a debate.

When I came across a recent article in Relevant Magazine about dating, I was at first glance more interested in exposing a logistical flaw in presupposing that asking someone out meant “initiating.” Clearly if someone is asking another person out, that second person has initiated something, if nothing more than a friendly interest or curiosity in some time together. After all, folks: Jesus knocks…he doesn’t open the door and invite himself in. But divulging into that kind of question might best be left for another day, because while I was yet pointing out that logical mishap, it suddenly dawned on me that I had fallen prey to a ridiculously clandestine temptation in modern Christianity: a proclivity towards debating things that shouldn’t be major issues. In reality, any “major issue” is far more serious than an initial desire lets us see. 

What I mean more precisely is this: why aren’t we, as Christians, more concerned with decisions that are clearly ethical, rather than who’s more (counter-)culturally agreeable?

In the case of the above article’s topic, why are we more concerned about who should take what particular action in a relationship, instead of how to discern the potential efficacy and worth of that relationship? Even at a foundational level, what is the point of being in a relationship, from a Christian point of view, if that relationship isn’t propelling more godly behavior or activity? “How is your relationship fostering God’s Grace Kingdom?” is a more worthy question of debate than, “Who started it?” The first question is likely to challenge, empower, and preserve us, with answers not exactly easily discerned. The second question is more likely to evoke a response of “tee-hee” within the first three seconds of asking it than a response of any kind of legitimate spiritual merit. And frankly, no matter how we answer the second question, if we don’t ask the first question, the second one becomes meaningless at-best and self-destructive, at-worst.

At the moment, I have to wonder if the crux of our lack of depth and challenge has more to do with our ability to only discuss what we can handle. More directly, many of us seem more at ease with what we can control—how we can seem more in line with our peers, how we can ensure what we want—rather than how we ought to live. Perhaps we fear judgment in order to increase our likelihood of acceptance (“As long as I follow such-and-such more culturally acceptable practice, I won’t be a failure”). But if we do, wouldn’t that belie our greater fear of judgment for failing to behave ethically, since that is clearly more important to God and thus would be addressed more regularly if we were concerned? And yet Jesus continually encourages us, either way, not to be afraid, not to fear judgment, and at the same time to do things that are clearly ethical practices, behaviors centered on bettering our interpersonal relationships. Talk about a turning of the tables!

Perhaps we are afraid of judgment, in other words, because we shy away from that which could cure our fear of judgment: our own relationship with God.




A while back, I posted in response to a rather brazen, irrational, and unjust characterization of “all Muslims” by a supposed leader within our own Christian faith.* The main thrusts behind such a post included a deep conviction that a lack of understanding of others’ belief systems tends to create more hatred than Christian character. As such, I made the argument against Mr. Cass’ position based on the reality that not all Muslims either see Christianity as a threat or view ISIS as anything other than complete heresy.

Some have wondered what my evidence for that reality is, and since this is technically a “Q&A Friday,” I’d like to answer that. One piece of evidence is the fact that Muslim scholars and religious leaders have completely and publicly annihilated the logic and validity of terrorists who claim to be Islamic. Another piece of evidence is Muslim people who AREN’T leaders doing the exact same thing with Twitter hashtag sarcasm.

But wait! There’s more!

Here’s a new piece of that evidence, a video in which Muslims deliberately, publicly and confidently denounce ISIS for claiming to be “Islamic” in any form at all; I urge you to watch it, for the sake of our faith and for the sake of human beings in general: 

I’m not sure what other conclusions to draw from these kinds of demonstrations, except to agree that we ought to “judge not.”  


*To wit, this supposed leader has yet to publicly recant anything regarding such a position.

Please Stop Telling Us Why We’re Leaving the Church



Originally posted on Swinging From Grapevines:

OK, we get it. Millennials are leaving the church in droves! Sound the alarms! Circle the wagons!

Not much makes me angrier than seeing those articles that make the rounds on Facebook every few months. You know the ones: a pastor claims to know why Millennials are really walking away from church. This particular article has proven especially resilient; it pops up in my Newsfeed every few months, to much acclaim. This one, the one that really pushed my buttons and prompted me to finally start the blog we’ve been talking about for a month now, calls these articles to task, purporting to know “how the church really lost the millennials.” (Cliff notes: it says the exact same thing as all the other articles.) This one innovatively shifts the focus to Sunday School rather than youth group, but the conclusion is the same.

View original 1,923 more words

How Far Is Too Far?

Don’t worry, I’m not getting immoral. I’m just getting political.

Why I’m getting political would be a good question to ask…of myself. Most of the time when I do, I’m not entirely sure I want to be, and yet I’ve no idea how not to be.

That last point is one of the reasons I’m writing about “it.” “It” being that rather large caveat in United States social policy established by the First Amendment: namely, freedom of religion, or…*duh-duh-DUHHHHHHHHHHH*…“The Separation of Church and State.”

Now, before you go off the deep end, hear me openly claim that I am not, nor have I ever been, for the establishment of any particular religion as the sole religion enforceable, protected and practiced under American law. For one thing, that position would be clearly anti-Constitution; for another, in my view, that position would be clearly anti-Christian.

Say what?

Truth. Establishing any single religion as indistinguishable from the state is dangerous. It’s dangerous for those who don’t belong to that single religion, and it’s dangerous for those who DO belong to that single religion.

“Why is that, Mike?” Glad you asked.

All someone who professes Christ has to do, in order to measure their agreement with the establishment of a single religion, is imagine two scenarios:

  • The established, single religion is such an amalgamation of all religions that someone practicing any other religion before the establishment doesn’t even recognize their own religion anymore.
  • Alternatively, and perhaps worse, the established religion is not Christian.


Cut and dry, right? Not entirely.

In a new poll, even researchers are shocked to find out how many American citizens want religion to be a part of politics and government. The shocker happens to be how drastic the increase in demand has become; over just the last two years alone, the amount of people in favor of religion-backed political action has gone from a one-third minority to a hairline majority. That’s a rather large gap to make up so quickly.

While I won’t even attempt to speculate as to why this increase has occurred, I find myself torn by it. On the one hand, activities like those of ISIS and the recent upsurge of religiously-based anti-Semitism should make us abhor almost at once the very notion of a religiously-driven political structure.

And yet, on the other hand, a logistical question needs response: how in the world can we hold a faith authentically and completely, a faith dear to us interwoven in ideally every aspect of our lives, and yet not somehow think that politics and governance shouldn’t or wouldn’t be affected by that faith? Do we as Christians not hold in our heritage an historical tie to Israel, with its eras of prophets, kings and judges an unequivocal exemplar of faith-based statehood? Why would we expect to inherit such a history through our faith in Christ and yet not imitate that in at least some regard?

And here is where the crux of such a question bops me right in the nose. The key at this point, I believe, is not that religion should be established by the government or that politics should be bifurcated from the faith community, but rather that an honorable and authentic faith is the very catalyst for ensuring a safe and sustainable common good. In other words, it is not an either/or question, but (surprise, surprise) a practice of complete compatibility. Following Christ transforms our attitudes and desires such that, considering our neighbors as ourselves, instead of forcing our own beliefs on all others, we end up guaranteeing freedom of conscience, religion and expression; instead of threatening others by our dogma, we ensure their safety and well-being by our unbiased treatment of everyone as equals; instead of legislating our personal morality and expecting everyone to be at the same place as us in faith, we legislate protection for failure and growth as full human beings.

So when asked whether or not I desire religion to engage politics more, I would say thus:

Yes, but only if it is true religion, defined as caring for everyone according to their physical needs, not coercing any kind of behavior or conviction. And it seems the writer of the epistle of James agrees.


Faith itself coming to faith.


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