Galatians frustrations

In leading a small group through a Galatians study, I am encountering frustrations.  I can categorize these as relating either to (1) my own inadequacies or (2) Paul’s expressions that are difficult to translate.  Comparatively, I had little frustration with 1:1-2:14.  The problems come with the substance introduced in 2:15 and beyond.

Two text scholars I consulted differed over whether to consider 2:15-21 a rhetorical propositio or a partitio.  It’s not that the label matters, but if I can determine this passage’s function and purpose within the whole letter, I will interpret better.  At this point in my study, I think the passage is less transitional and more stage-setting.  Both the propositio and the partitio traditionally involve backward-looking aspects, and those may be present in 2:15-21, but I find this section heavily weighted toward what is to come in the following discourse.  Whatever Paul is saying here will be elucidated in chapters 3 and 4, or at least I hope so.

 

The main issue for the last couple of weeks has been interpreting an expression with a notoriously problematic Greek construction:¹  The meaning of this phrase, consisting of the last few words of both 3:2 and 3:5, is something like “by faith’s hearing” or “by the proclamation of faith(fulness).”  The deeper one goes in trying to interpret Galatians on the whole, the large this phrase looms.

The noted Greek grammarian C.F.D. Moule once suggested that ex akoes pisteos equals hearing and believing, i.e., a sort of hearing that leads to belief.  Arguably, that interpretation places more emphasis on the faith/believing, and I think there is some grammatical precedent for that “take.”  Major translations may generally be placed in one of the following categories with respect to how they handle this phrase:

  • Emphasis on hearing (e.g., “the hearing of faith” or “hearing with faith” in the RSV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, KJV, ASV, and others)
  • Emphasis on believing (e.g., “believing what you heard,” as in NIV, NET, NRSV, CSB, ISV, CEB, and others)

Other, more obscure translations may be better than some of those mentioned above.  Was Paul connecting the Spirit of God to the Galatians’ hearing (or heard material) that leads to belief, or to their believing that comes from hearing, or to some other variation?  In an attempt to understand this matter, I have jumped through a few hoops and ended up on my face.  Additional research might involve careful consideration—in all levels of Galatians context—viz. the words for believing/faith and for hearing the message.  Comparisons with similarly themed passages in Romans might eventually be in order, too.

An additional, embedded difficulty in translation involves whether to translate pistis (found 22 times in Galatians, with a 77% concentration in this section) as “faith” or “faithfulness.”  At stake are entire denominations’ theologies (which I care little about)—and a better connection with faith, Christ’s death and related acts, and Paul’s thoughts on salvation and justification (all of which I do care about) At this point, the only thing I’m comfortable in saying in this arena is that Paul affirms both Christ’s faithfulness and the importance of a human faith response.  The human element is clearly a factor in Galatians 2:15-17.  Two overlapping centric textual structures are possible here, with each centering on human faith/belief (with a different preposition) “in” Jesus Christ.  Try both of these on for size:

Structure 1 (encompassing 2:15 through 2:17a)

A  We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

B  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law

C  but through faith in Jesus Christ

C’  even we have believed in Christ Jesus

B’  so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since (that) by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  But if, while  seeking to be justified in Christ,

A’  we ourselves have also been found sinners, . . .

Above, the A and A’ phrases are verbally related, as are B and B’.  The C and C’ texts form a central emphasis; an added spotlight shines on the mirroring of “Jesus Christ to “Christ Jesus” in the succeeding phrase.

Structure 2 (more compact—2:16 alone—original word order shown below)

Knowing that a man is not justified

by/out of works of [L]aw

but through faith(fulness) in/of Jesus Christ

and we in Christ Jesus have  believed

that we should be justified out of faith[fulness] in/of Christ

and not by/out of works of [L]aw

since no flesh will be justified by works of [L]aw

For my exegetical money, the second structure is more convincing, and it’s even more so in the Greek.  See color codes below.

There are a few inconsistencies above, such as the aqua-colored repetitions and the asymmetry of the “that” clauses.  The negative (not) particles’ correspondence is also intriguing but not necessarily material here.  The centered emphasis on faith(fulness) is key.  If in the C and C’ phrases one takes pistis to refer to the faithfulness of Christ (as opposed to faith in Christ)—and I lean that direction myself—we still have a structure in which those phrases flank the clause “we have believed in Christ Jesus,” which refers to human faith.

Permutations and translations aside, the verbal relationships abound.  Whether intentional or subconscious or both, it seems obvious that Paul was stressing some things here!  At some point, I will have to leave my frustrations with 2:15-3:6 and move on, apprehensively, into all the argument-proving substance of chapters 3 and 4.


¹ The phrase is constructed with a preposition and two successive nouns in the genitive case (ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως | ex akoes pisteos).  The genitive case is the most potentially varied of the Greek cases.

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A Bible reader’s observations

Or, The Voice is Like the 1984 NIV on Steroids

Despite the NIV’s generally smooth flow and its broad acceptance, at some point I began to learn that it was not always consistent or trustworthy.  (No translation is.)  

I have on several occasions noticed that points made by well-meaning people during Bible classes were tied to particular NIV wordings.  In other words, if another version had been used, the argument would crumble.  Sometimes the points seemed reasonable, but the “Bible” wordings on which they were based turned out to be phantoms.  This is the case with Philemon verse 6.  First, I should acknowledge that the newest edition of the NIV (2011) has recognized the problem and revised the wording, resulting in a fine translation:

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.

But here is the older (1984) NIV:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

The two are really different!  Let me flesh out one component.

It’s not that that the 1984 NIV contains bad ideas.  Regardless of the arguably odd cause and effect (a full understanding that results from evangelistic “witnessing”), the main ideas seem good.  The problem may first be spotlighted by considering English Christianese:  sometime in the latter part of the 20th century, the phrase “sharing your faith,” referring specifically to evangelistic speech, took on a life of its own, being used in countless sermons, teen devotionals, and Bible classes.  That type of activity, however, is not a subject of this letter to PhilemonMoreover, thorough study of the letter reveals a relational emphasis suggested by the Greek koinonia idea(s)—and this partnership is to be distinguished from “faith-sharing” speech.  Admittedly, seeing the depth of this verbal emphasis requires more sustained study, but on the negative side, it may readily be seen by an attentive reader that “evangelism” per se not is in view here.  Considering what Paul was communicating to Philemon, it appears clear that “partnership with us in the faith may be effective …” is a better English translation for our day than “be active in sharing your faith.”

Translation might be thought of as an arrow with heads on both ends.  The left arrowhead points to the original, but there is another arrowhead on the other end, pointing to the target language.  In translation, there should be valid motion from one language to another.  The antecedent points to the receptor language, and the translation must also in a sense point back to the original.  Said another way:  a translator might understand the Greek very well, but if that understanding doesn’t come through in English, the translation is lacking.

You know what?  I’ve now found a version that’s worse than the older NIV.  Much worse.  It’s like the NIV on steroids.  I had high hopes for The Voice, based on its solid, well-considered prefatory material and its broad-based committee, including not only biblical scholarship but also poets, musicians, and writers with expertise in English communication.  In the case of Philemon 6, though, this relatively new version is, sadly, marooned on a sand bar, having missed the boat:

Thank You, Father, for Philemon.  I pray that as he goes and tells his story of faith, he would tell everyone so that they will know for certain all the good that comes to those who put their trust in the Anointed One.

No.  Just no.  That is not what the text is about there.  Several ideas intrude into this verbiage—most notably the emphasis on “telling the story”—with the result that it is more of an obfuscation than a commuicative paraphrase.  It’s as though no one bothered to study Philemon.  “Well, you know, it’s so short.  Let’s just crank that page out in an hour.”  But what a shame.  Philemon is a gem among the NT letters, and it deserves deep attention, too.  (Here is a post about this verse from 8 years ago.  It fairly briefly explains the issue.)

A couple more bits on The Voice . . . while I’m immediately partial to its “theater script” format for dialogue sections, another formatting aspect—rampant italics—leaves it wanting.  All translations explain things to one degree or another, and The Voice didn’t really need to be over-zealously ethical in this respect.  It’s overkill to delineate every explanatory word or phrase.  Further, when italics are so frequently interspersed, the experience of reading is halting and unsatisfying.

Xposted from Kingdom blog

Image result for writingOne of the great things about blogging (and other self-directed forms of writing) is that the writer gets to write when the inspiration comes.  There are no deadlines per se, and no financially based pressure, so one writes as he wills.  This kind of subjectivity can degenerate into self-pleasing or merely entertaining outbursts, and I have been guilty of that from time to time.  Most of the time, I try to allow various nudges, external stimuli, and compelling pursuits to guide what I write about.  With almost anything I write, I intend (1) to be genuine, dealing with what seems important; (2) to be responsive to nudges that might be God speaking to my spirit; and (3) to attempt to speak a helpful word to others.

My other blog, Subjects of the Kingdom, has been in existence for year and a half, and it has not been very active in terms of feedback.  That saddens me on a personal level, because it shows a lack of interest in my book.  (If 50 or 100 people suddenly signed up for feeds from that blog, I might stop cross-posting as much on this blog.)

Far more important than a readership’s response, though, is a possible broader lack of interest in the topics presented.  On the one hand, one analysis would suggest that I just stop writing about the Kingdom of God, because people either seem to be apathetic about it, or they already think they have it figured out.  On the other hand, I am perpetually impelled by the Kingdom.  Conceptually, God’s Reign touches everything.  Lately, there have been at least as many stimuli to process and write about Kingdom topics as to write on topics for this blog.  So, for whatever it’s worth, another book is in the early stages.  The working title is Two Kingdoms—Essays, Examinations, and Notes.  It will be well into 2018 before a draft is complete, but I hope to have the book out next summer.

For now, here are links to two recent posts from the Subjects of the Kingdom blog.  (Some of this material may make its way into the new book, so reading it now is like a sneak peek.)

Subtextual “empire” in Paul?

– a brief review of a scholarly inquiry into “hidden subtext” about the Roman Empire in Pauline literature

Unseen yet apparent: insights into the Lord’s model prayer

– a more devotionally oriented piece on the “unseen” element in the context and text of the “Lord’s Prayer”

A concertgoer’s tales

Feeling generally supportive of live music and resolved to keep my musical imagination stimulated, I’ve made it a point recently to attend some high-quality performances.  Below is a travelogue through four recent concert events.

Trombone Music in the 17th Century
Timothy Howe, JoDee Davis, Michael Davidson, Jason Hausback and guests

This multi-trombone-professor recital, held in a Methodist sanctuary near UMKC, featured faculty members from four universities.  I’m very glad my entire family could hear this music.

The program featured a variety of 17C music with 1-4 trombones.  In keeping with the performance practice of the period, the organ was used frequently.  I don’t typically prefer organ sonorities, but I must say that the organ, played ably by Beth Elswick, was well-balanced and not over-heard in a concert of this nature.  I could have done without most of the vocal work; some of it wasn’t even clearly audible, and one of the two voices was flaccid and sub-par.  Particularly enjoyable repertoire included a quartet sonata by Daniel Speer, Gabrieli’s Canzona per Sonare No. 4, and Scheidt’s Drei Symphonien (for three trombones).

The performers who coordinated the event talked a bit too much.  I’m pretty sure he teaches music history at his university, in addition to trombone.  He was not an interesting speaker and simply gave too many boring details.

The overall performance level was not quite A+ but was a solid A.  Hearing three or four trombones playing well together is always a treat.  [Aside:  for me, the trombone choir is now officially tied for first, with the clarinet choir, among homogeneous wind groups.  In last place is the ear-splitting trumpet choir.  Rising in order above massed trumpet ensembles are the flute, tuba/euphonium, saxophone, and horn choirs.  The percussion ensemble is in a different league.  Often very interesting, they tend to be far less homogeneous these days, and they can positively pummel the senses.]

Ensemble Series:  Conservatory Wind Ensemble
UMKC Conservatory Wind Ensemble, Joseph Parisi, Conductor, with Allan Dean, trumpet and Grace Wallace, soprano

The Conservatory Wind Ensemble is the second UMKC wind band.¹  CWE conductor Joe Parisi is a very fine musical leader, manifesting both musical passion and strong technique.  I suspect, based on particular gestures observed and overall control, that he is also a capable conducting pedagogue.

This was my first time hearing a UMKC wind concert on their campus.  This ensemble performed at an appropriately high level, even considering its conservatory stature.  I missed the first piece, a new work by Nancy Galbraith, due to a parking issue (likely to be a problem any time one goes to UMKC).  Some of the repertoire I did hear was somewhat disappointing:

  • I’m not a Ron Nelson fan, and I’m certainly not a fan of the soprano voice, whether with an ensemble or not, so I just politely endured my first live hearing of Aspen Jubilee (1988).
  • Although I am fond of a lot of Frank Ticheli’s music, on hearing Angels in the Architecture (2009) live for the second time in 3.5 years, plus hearing a recording a time or two, I can say that I simply don’t like the piece very much.  Only part of that is because it employs a soprano voice.  The particular soprano was a UMKC student and had a large, heavy voice.  I found the voice overbearing and uneven.

On the other hand, trumpet soloist Allan Dean played beautifully and effortlessly, and I enjoyed every style and piece he performed—from a Hunsberger arrangement of the Negro spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child to a Herbert Clarke showcase piece to a 17th-century tune with improvisations.

A serendipity:  I was able to see a former student from Texas A&M-Kingsville perform as part of this ensemble.  Flor is now in her second year of graduate studies and is doing well.

Rachmaninoff and Capriccio Espagnol
Kansas City Symphony

My son and I had attended a Classics Uncorked concert last spring, sitting in the “choir seats” of the impressive Helzberg Hall, enjoying a perfect view of the conductor.  The music was fine, but it was too short a program, and too much time was taken with educative talkety-talk from the associate conductor.  I realize some people need and want such things, but had I been made aware that it was an educational program, I probably would have chosen another.

At any rate, I had resolved to attend a future program by myself and chose this first-of-season program that featured Rachmaninoff’s inimitable third piano concerto, the ever-popular Capriccio Espagnole, and a relatively recent work by celebrated living composer Christopher Rouse.  Not a single musical moment disappointed!  Pianist Natasha Paremski was highly artistic, as anticipated, and the balance with the orchestra was very good.  (I was glad her extremely high skirt slit was on the orchestra side, not the audience side.  No one needed to be distracted visually from the sonic glory of the Rachmaninoff music!)  Rouse’s piece, a poignant tribute to his wife, was both ear-stretching and moving.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Rimsky-Korsakov rendition.

Also noteworthy was the extraordinary conducting of music director Michael Stern.  He appeared both gesturally provocative and musically on point:  he knew the music well.  The only reason he might not enjoy a long tenure with the KC Symphony would be that some other, higher-profile orchestra would snatch him up.  The present program involved a moderate amount of artful, hospitable communication from the podium, courtesy of Stern.

The ushers in my section twice made very poor decisions to allow latecomers in through a squeaky door during very quiet musical moments.  One of them came to apologize to me later (since I had held my hand up to ask them to stop making noise).  I accepted her effusive apology, but some of the music and an aspect of my experience had been compromised.

Pranks and Passions
Chamber ensembles formed from the Kansas City Symphony

A delight in every respect, this program was my favorite of the four.  These works were performed by a string trio, a mixed quintet, and a string quartet.  I love such lighter, more transparent textures.

The first piece, Evan Chambers’s six-minute Love Dogs for string trio, was jaunty and sparkly, showcasing strong rhythmic construction and folk elements from Albania and the U.S.  The performers were evenly matched and obviously enjoyed the music.  The Smetana Quartet No. 1 (“From My Life”) was evocative and was performed splendidly.

An unusually formed quintet of mixed strings and winds (violin, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and double bass) gave a spirited performance of a perennial full-orchestra favorite, Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.  I know that piece fairly well, and I’ll attest that the reduction was very effective, covering all the essential parts and expressing the dramatic character of the work.

Recalling wistfully that the architecture of the performance space (Helzberg Hall) was cello-inspired, I wished for a little more cello sound in both the string trio and string quartet, but you can’t have everything.  It was really quite the effervescent program.  Speaking in terms of programming and concert production, I did have two critical thoughts:

  1. I wished the longest piece had been first or second, not last.  (It’s rarely a good idea to have the longest piece at the end, when audience attention is likely not at its best.)
  2. The physical placement of the horn in the mixed quintet was not optimal.  The bell was directed toward a wood panel (on stage left), with some odd acoustic results, including the obscuring of the chromatic resolution (minor 3rd to major 3rd) in the famed opening “Till” horn call.  That problem could have been solved if this ensemble swapped sides with the string trio (on stage right).

The program length (about 70 minutes) was perfect for the audience of mixed education levels.  I plan to attend more “Happy Hour” programs just like it.  Thanks to Lead Bank for sponsoring this terrific early-evening music.

~ ~ ~

This fall, I will be a performer in at least five concerts myself.  A couple of these ensembles rise to a strong amateur level, but none of them will be in the same league as the four concerts captioned above.  I do intend for my own performance level to be as high as I can make it, contributing to a good performance experience for all concerned.


¹ Typically, where both a Wind Ensemble and a Wind Symphony exist, the former would be expected to be the higher-level group.  At UMKC, the premier UMKC wind band is the Wind Symphony, led by Steve Davis, Director of Bands and Wind Ensembles.

Again with the reforming

A man named Kevin Vanhoozer is apparently leading an effort to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses with a new “confession of faith.”  Click here to read about the “Reforming Catholic Confession”—a document that is by definition not Roman but that uses “catholic” in its purer sense.

Now, for three decades I’ve believed (and periodically asserted) that reforming and restoring should be conceived of as ongoing, perpetual processes.  Never should one think he has arrived at a state of having been restored.  Nor do I think it becoming or wise for a group, no matter how broad and inclusive it thinks it is, to call itself “Reformed.”  Even if one were to include all the denominations that call Reformed theology their doctrinal home, you would still only have a slice of the Christian pie.  There are many others, and a great many of us have hearts and brains, too.  (One of the great offenses of the Christian church world is that so many people seem to think Reformed-type academics have dibs on scholarship.)

Vanhoozer’s name sounds Dutch to me, which leads me to presume he is from a Christian Reformed or Dutch Reformed tradition.  Whether I’m correct on the identification or not, I find the efforts of this group at once admirable and ill-conceived.  Admirable, because even a quick scan reveals that the “Reforming Catholic Confession” goes to some effort to be ecumenical, playing nice in the larger sandox.  It’s even ostensibly scripture-oriented.  But it is also ill-advised:  at its essence, this confession is but one more tarpaulin covering scripture’s spiritual ground. 

Part of me celebrates the idea of the Reformation—a complex of ideas and events, certainly not all attributable to Martin Luther.  On principle, I tend to use process-oriented gerunds such as “reforming” or “restoring” instead of “reformed” or “Reformation,” but even the Protestant Reformation deserves some attention as an event.  The confessions, not so much.  I suspect that, in time (maybe just a couple of years!), history will find this particular “confession” to be little more than another historical curiosity, superimposed on scripture.

An attempt at an analogy

Domingo is to Denver
as
High Church is to Low Church

The song was “Perhaps Love,” and it was sweet and innocent.  The singers were none other than operatic tenor Placido Domingo and country-folk star John Denver.  Domingo was always my favorite among the “Three Tenors,” and Denver was a favorite of my good friend Helen when she was a teenager.  I learned a few of the latter’s songs, such as “Annie’s Song” and “Country Roads.”

These days, I wouldn’t necessarily choose Domingo over Denver, although my training and background might suggest such a preference.  In fact, I’m now more attracted to Denver’s stylings (although not to his voice or his self-oriented atheism).  The point is that there’s quite a contrast between the two in terms of vocal production.  Not all listeners would initially find the contrast as great as I do, but even if the focus is only on vowel sounds, it’s pretty easy to hear if it’s pointed out.  It’s not unlike the difference between formal British and twangy southern U.S. accents.

The difference between Domingo and Denver strikes me as analogous to the contrast between a high-church organ prelude or choral anthem (on the one hand) and a folksy “y’all c’mon & praise the Lord, now” that might be heard in a really southern Southern Baptist or Pentecostal group (on the other).  Listening to the first 60 or 70 seconds of this recording of “Perhaps Love” will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  The contrast is first heard at about 0:41 (as compared with 0:16).

Ya gotta give credit both to Domingo (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would have laughed at) and to Denver (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would otherwise never have heard of).  The “crossover” can potentially bring new listeners to each “side,” expanding horizons.

I wonder if any churches think like this.  Seriously think.  Can Lutherans and Presbyterians gain from nondenominational teachings, low-end crossover stylings, and Getty music?  Can Baptists and Nazarenes and Church of Christ people be built up by intentional formality, serious scholarship, and Charles Wesley hymns?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.


For more on style in church music:

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/style/

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/style-vs-content/

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/keepin-it-real-4-covering-style-and-content/

 

Xposted: Maybe it’s just our luck

I just posted this on my Christian Assembly and Worship blog:

https://christianassemblyandworshipblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/maybe-its-just-our-luck/

The lack of much activity on that blog says a little, perhaps, about people’s interest—but it says much more lot about my own waning energy for the assembly as most Christians think of it.  Nevertheless, I hope some will read this perspective about congregational singing.

By way of reminder to longtime readers, or advertising to new readers, my book on the assembly is available here.  That book was revised and reprinted about two months ago.

Marketing the Bible:  affiliative groups and special-purpose editions

I think it had been more than 15 years since I perused a CBD (Christian book Distributors) catalog, and the number of pages devoted to Bibles has probably doubled since that time.  Among the new offerings are study Bibles published with notes by famous folks.  In addition to the emphases of such recognized, popular teachers as John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, and David Jeremiah, there are study Bibles focused on Jewish history, cultural groups, and reader age group, e.g., children, tweens, and teens.  I didn’t notice an age-group Bible for senior citizens, but that is surely on the way if not already available.

A new, supposedly chronological¹ Bible “weaves Old and New Testaments together into one continuous story,” so The Story Bible is no longer the only one that purports to be an epic, across-the-board telling.

There is a Jesus Bible.  Hmm … in a bedrock sense, every Bible that includes NT documents is a Jesus Bible, but I would hasten to suggest that it is not sound practice to read Old Testament texts with only New Testament eyes.  If there were a pervasive-theme Bible that I might buy, it would be a kingdom Bible or a discipleship Bible.  I saw nothing of the former and only a couple of the latter in the CBD catalog.

I was especially struck by the proliferation of Bibles for affiliative groups and/or designed for special purposes.  I can certainly understand economy, pew, and evangelism- or outreach-purposed Bibles.  Special-edition gift Bibles, sure.  But I’m not so sure about the Guys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Everyman’s, and She Reads Truth editions.  Maybe these have pages filled with essays and stories about guys, girls, men, and women, and stories are fine.  Some trouble could come when attempting to interpret ancient texts in terms of contemporary women’s issues, for example.

There are recovery and “new hope” Bibles that I imagine include devotional meditations and pull-outs for recovery and addiction groups.  There are multiple editions for artists and creative people, with extra space for calligraphy and artistic doodling and journaling.  There is even a children’s Hands-On NLT with things-to-do projects—and an NKJV Airship Bible that blasts off to “discover the wonders of God’s world.”  I don’t know for sure, but perhaps these are designed with Sunday School teachers or home school groups in mind.  Some editions are particularly suspect, such as (1) the Children’s Fire Bible (in ESV and NKJV versions) for teaching children about “the work and person of the Holy Spirit in their life” [sic] and (2) The Passion translation, which seems to select certain documents and passages that the editor-compilers found related to human passion and “God’s fiery love speaking” to my heart.

The Gaither Homecoming Bible will surely have quite a few takers in its niche market.  There is an NIV Hope for the Highway Bible that apparently presupposes (1) that only motorcyclists do highways, and (2) that motorcyclists only do highways, neither of which is true in my own life.  I think the most provocative (take that however you wish) new Bible offerings are the “heroes,” first-responder, and multiple military Bibles—in some cases delineating each of the four major branches of U.S. military service.  Maybe the Navy edition has blue-green highlights over all the passages that deal with water or boats.  Does the Air Force edition have cloudburst markings in the margins alongside the sky and heaven passages, with an inspirational eschatological piece about going off into the “wild, blue yonder”?  Surely fighting men are not encouraged, through margin notes beside Old Testament battle stories, to bomb the bad guys.  I can only hope the “Marine’s Hymn” is nowhere included in a military Bible.  (See here for a diatribe on that song [which is in no real sense a hymn].)

Marketing interests are alive and well within the Bible publishing world.  While there could be genuine a pastoral concern for affiliative groups, leading to a sense of ministry to their needs, the possibility that scripture could be appropriated, based on market- and profit-driven thinking, into specialized messages for specialized groups scares me more than it sparks me.

As for me and my house, we have divested ourselves of a few print editions in the last couple of years.  We no longer have an NLT or a Good News Bible, for instance.  We do retain about 25 Bibles, including most of the established, recognized English versions.  Most of them stay on this shelf and are referenced periodically, but each of us keeps two or three Bibles close by in other spots.  We own two or three copies of (at least portions of) the RSV, the NRSV, the NIV, the NASB, and the Phillips paraphrase.  I feel no need for affiliation Bibles for brass players or motorcycle owners or audiophiles or bibliophiles.  (Oh, okay, I might be interested in a Bible for budding linguists or introverts or poets-at-heart, but these would be little more than curiosities.)  Our only recent purchases have been the CEB (Common English Bible) and a relatively new paraphrase, The Voice.  I look forward to using these new ones now and then.  Maybe they will turn out to have served a “special purpose” in my life.


¹ A 1999 publication, The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order (NIV) by F. LaGard  Smith, did not so integrate the OT and the NT.

Impressing pastors, parishioners, and accountants

The card shown below (front and back) appears in the pew of a large institutional church near us.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to the appearance of these cards in the pews, I imagine there was an extended conversation in the regular Tuesday morning church staff meeting.  Let’s listen in on the meeting. . . .

Pastor Being:  So I assume most of you have noticed that our offering is dropping off.

Staff of 19 (not including the custodial staff of 5) [in unison, sighing ] Yes, we know.  What can we do? 

Advisory Accountant:  So glad you asked.  Here is a graph of the weekly and monthly figures leading up to Reformation Sunday.  We are off 20%, especially after that sermon series on Ecclesiastes.  Ahem, sorry, Pastor Being.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, A.A.  Now let’s get down to business.  We at RLSC¹ need to find a way to ensure that everyone feels the tug to give.  I mean, it’s good for people to be involved, and to hear sermons and all that, but we can’t do any of this unless we put forward a new pitch for pesos, if you know what I mean.  A decisive dash for dollars.  A bigger buttload of bucks.  (Smiling winsomely) . . . hey, this Christmas, if there’s no cash-y, there’s no creche-y!

Staff of 19:  [collectively, aggrandizingly]  Hahahahaha! 

Advisory Accountant:  Projecting out current trends, it is a distinct possibility that we’ll have to cut 25-35% on holiday expenditures.  The issue, if you ask me, is accountability.  Everyone’s concerned about privacy and identity theft, so donation practices are more private then ever.  I mean, how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing if all the giving is done on an app in the privacy of one’s home?  That doesn’t make a good impression on visitors . . . and what are the pastors supposed to think when the plate is passed through the pews and only 40-50% of the parishioners are dropping in cash and checks?  We need more accountability!

Pastor Being:  Based on A.A.’s recommendation, I support the notion of accountability.  Something doesn’t smell right about the left hand and right hand thing there . . . I’m not sure why . . . but I agree that the impression left when fewer hands touch the collection plates is a downer.

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Growth class last semester that if funds are being contributed by less than 75% of the membership, there is less than a 25% chance of growth during the next two quarters.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, P.I.  We definitely need a steady growth rate if we’re going to break ground next year on the new office annex, and if we don’t increase the rate, we can kiss the organ loft and pastor bonuses goodbye.  

Staff of 19:  [Collective sigh and downcast countenances]

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Methods class last fall that organs and choirs . . .

Pastor Being:  [interrupting]  For the moment, we can’t expect to have much esprit de corps unless we all have a shared sense of everyone else’s giving.  You know, like the workplace that displays a United Way contributions thermometer, coloring in the increasing level as it moves toward the goal. . . . 

Staff of 19:  [collectively]  Hahaha! 

P.B. [continuing] I’ve been wondering about those internet-savvy hipsters, working in tech companies and carrying the latest devices.  How do we know if they’re contributing regularly?  

Lead Tech Pastor:  Some of them might have encryption devices, or they might know how to disable our spyware so we can’t track their use of our new donation app.  For the run-of-the-mill donor, we are working on flash projection, using the robotics we use with the cams for the worship team.  When the team is taking a break, we can live-stream the contribution amounts in real-time, moving the screen down the row on the robotic arms in sync with the collection plate.  Later on, we can add the number of new donation app users as a sort of soft incentive.

Pastoral Accountant:  Studies have shown that people feel more obligated to give if everyone around them is giving.

GenX Involvement Pastor:  Seriously?  We’re going to make people feel uncomfortable?  I guess so, if we have to.

Creativity Pastor:  I was talking to the Pastoral Accountant after I saw the contribution figures last Sunday—thank goodness for our lay accountancy team that counts the money during worship.  Anyway, the P.A. and I both think we need to develop a card or some object that everyone who contributes online can drop into the collection plate on Sundays.  It would be symbolic, but it would increase the pressure on others to donate, too.

Pastoral Accountant:  Absolutely.  I think it should be a card that says “I give electronically.”  A card is heavy, so the sound of them being dropped into the plates will add sonic stimuli.  An additional benefit of a card would be that it gives the lay accountancy team something more to count, and that makes them feel more involved, and then they’ll probably give more money, too.  

Pastor Being:  What biblical passages can you think of that support such a card?

Biblically Learned, Subservient Pastor:  Hmm.  None, really.  Not even a principle that I know of.  Come to think of it, not even 1 Corinthians 16 . . . 

Pastor B:  [interrupting] Well, we can keep researching that.  Surely there’s something. . . .

Devoted Sheep among the Staff:  There is another way, you know.  Has anyone read about Francis Chan’s new movement? Check this out.  According to this report, “Chan leads a house church movement in San Francisco called We Are Church.  There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free.  Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.”

Pastor Being:  [Never having considered a simpler, less costly way]  That seems sort of pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it?

Assistant Pastoral Advisory Accountant:  You can’t be serious, little follower-sheep!!  What would that kind of model do to our cash flow and our end-of-decade projections?  We would experience more decline in our contribution income, and we would default on our installment notes.  Two or three banks would accelerate the balances on our loans.  We’d probably have to tap into our investment funds—or worse, go into hock with HQ.  The tax returns would be a nightmare!  Who would want to consult for us next quarter or serve as our independent auditors if we’re right around the corner from filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy??!

Pastor Being:  [continuing and calming the others]  Okay, okay. . . .  We all know we have this wonderful facility, and we’re not going to lose it just yet.  You know what?  Look around you.  There are some really well-to-do people in our immediate vicinity.  I see no reason the Lord wouldn’t want us to reach out to them just as much as to the lower classes. 

To inspire and to impress—our twofold mission.  We as a pastoral staff do the inspiring, and that impresses our parishioners to the point that they in turn are inspired to impress all those around them by giving more.  Everyone is inspired by all the giving, and more giving is the result of that, and that surely impresses our visitors and God, too.

All:  Amen.

P.B.:  All right, it’s settled then.  Let’s develop these contribution cards and roll them out in first month of the fourth quarter.  Then we can engage independent teams of auditors and church growth consultants to study the effects on cash flow and institutional involvement. . . .


For the complete blog referred to by “Devoted Sheep among the Staff” above, click here.

For a prior blog specifically about e-giving, click here.  Near the bottom are two additional links to posts about 1Cor 16:1-2, often cited in support of Christian contributions to churches.

Annnnd . . . I had last written about contributions and tithing in institutional churches here.  That piece was a protracted tearing-apart of a very poorly done brochure.  At the end, I expressed that I hoped I had the restraint, when coming on this topic again, merely to refer to that post.  Unfortunately, the sighting of the cards above brought the topic back, and I was compelled to speak against it.


¹ RLSC:  Reformed Large Swanky Church