Thursday, November 30, 2006

The case of William Tyndale: How "possible" was it for someone to make an authorized translation of the Bible in the early 1500s?

In my immediately preceding post, I noted that my correspondent said it was possible to have an authorized vernacular Bible back in William Tyndale's day. And I said I question that: Was it possible? And, supposing it had been possible, just exactly how possible?

I ask that second question because it is possible--and I want to pursue this--that the possibility of acquiring a vernacular translation was in the same league as the possibility that I will be hit by an asteroid tomorrow morning. The event really and truly is possible. But its likelihood is exceedingly small.

With that question in mind, I want to note that my correspondent referred me to two articles. One of them was Matthew A. C. Newsome's "Tyndale's Heresy"--what, I discovered, is a modernized, substantially condensed reworking of Chapter 13 in Henry Graham's Where We Got the Bible.

Newsome writes,

Tyndale was an English priest . . . who desperately desired to make his own English translation of the Bible. The Church denied him for several reasons.

First, it saw no real need for a new English translation of the Scriptures at this time. In fact, booksellers were having a hard time selling the print editions of the Bible that they already had. Sumptuary laws had to be enacted to force people into buying them.
I would like to note, first, that, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia article about "Versions of the Bible: English Versions,"

No part of the English Bible was printed before 1525, no complete Bible before 1535, and none in England before 1538. . . . William Tyndale was the first to avail himself of the new opportunities furnished by the press and the new learning.

So Newsome's claim against Tyndale, that "booksellers were having a hard time selling the print editions of the Bible that they already had," bears no weight. As the Catholic Encyclopedia itself acknowledges, there were no print editions of the English Bible before Tyndale. Tyndale was the first to avail himself of the press to publish the English Bible.

But then more to the point of making authorized translations.

My correspondent writes,

. . . The Church was making authorized vernacular translations. We already had English Scriptures. The RCC's German Bible came out on the printing press before Luther's.

Understood and accepted: there were authorized vernacular translations. Indeed, as Graham amply demonstrates, there were quite a number of authorized English translations of the Bible available throughout England. They weren't relatively low-cost editions. They weren't easily transported, nor ready to hand as virtually all printed versions of the Bible are today. They were the truly ponderous tomes as would be chained to a lectern in a cathedral. After all, they were all manuscript versions. And, I daresay, due to the recent and still ongoing rapid transition of the English language, most of them, I expect, were at least quaint.

But they were, most definitely, available. Indeed, again, as Graham notes, contemporary (or near contemporary) Protestant commentators on the situation in England at that time happily acknowledge the fact that there were many manuscript copies of English Bibles available in England at the time. Even the King James/Authorized Version translators acknowledged as much in their Preface to the 1611 KJV.


I think the history of English translations from Tyndale's era to the early 1600s is instructive.

The following is from the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Versions of the Bible: English Versions" (all emboldened text has been emboldened by me):

In 1524 [Tyndale], . . . [a]ssisted by William Roye, . . . translated the New Testament, and began to have it printed in Cologne in 1525. Driven from Cologne, he went to Worms where he printed 3000 copies, and sent them to England in the early summer of 1526. The fourth edition was printed at Antwerp (1534). In 1530 Tyndale's Pentateuch was printed, in 1531 his book of Jonas. Between the date of Tyndale's execution, 6 Oct., 1536, and the year 1550 numerous editions of the New Testament were reprinted, twenty-one of which Francis Fry (Biographical Descriptions of the Editions of the New Testament, 1878) enumerates and describes (see Westcott, Hist. of the English Bible, London, 1905). . . .

After 1528 we find [Miles Coverdale] on the Continent in Tyndale's society. . . . He prepared a complete English Bible, the printing of which was finished 4 Oct., 1535. . . .

The London booksellers now became alive to the ready sale of the Bible in English; Grafton and Whitchurch were the first to avail themselves of this business opportunity, bringing out in 1537 the so-called Matthew's Bible. . . .

In 1539 the Matthew's Bible was followed by Taverner's edition of the Bible. . . .

About 1536 Cromwell had placed Coverdale at the head of the enterprise for bringing out an approved version of the English Bible. The new version was based on the Matthew's Bible. . . . The work was ready for the press in 1538. . . . In April of the following year the edition was finished, and owing to its size the version was called the Great Bible. Before 1541 six other editions issued from the press.

During the reign of Mary a number of English reformers withdrew to Geneva, the town of Calvin and Beza, and here they issued in 1557 a New Testament with an introduction by Calvin. . . . [This] work was soon superseded by an issue of the whole Bible, which appeared in 1560, the so-called Geneva Bible. . . . The handy form and other attractive features of the work rendered it so popular that between 1560 and 1644 at least 140 editions were

After the accession of Elizabeth an attempt was made to improve the authorized Great Bible and thus to counteract the growing popularity of the Calvinistic Geneva Bible. . . . The resultant version was ready for publication on 5 October, 1568, and became generally known as the Bishops' Bible. Several editions were afterwards published, and the Great Bible ceased to be reprinted in 1569. . . .

Now, please notice: eight full unauthorized versions of the Bible were produced--and almost every one in numerous editions--and the Church, apparently, had yet to "[see a] real need for a new English translation of the Scriptures."

Who was right? The men who were making the unauthorized editions . . . or the Church?

Personally, as a businessman, I think the Church made a mistake! It "saw no real need" until the "proof of concept" was unmistakable. . . .

In October, 1578, Gregory Martin [and a number of co-workers] . . . began the work of preparing an English translation of the Bible for Catholic readers. . . . [T]he New Testament was published at Reims in 1582. . . . The Old Testament was published at Douai (1609-10). . . .

Doing a little math, we realize the Church was 54 years--far more than a single average lifetime--behind Tyndale in deciding it "needed" an English print translation. It was 74 years behind Coverdale in issuing the first authorized complete Bible!


Lots of questions yet to answer (see the end of my previous post). . . . But I needed to begin somewhere. So I started here.

. . . To be continued.

Bible translation: a real need?

I continue to study the issues raised by my correspondent who questioned the validity of Dave & Neta Jackson's Hero Tales account of William Tyndale. The more I have dug into the subject, the more disturbed I have become . . . by (what seems to me to be) the massive misdirection under which it appears so many of us--Protestants and Catholics--seem to labor.

And so, while seeking to dig down to the truth, I am afraid I must first dispense with the misdirections.

I shared the content of my original post with my correspondent. Among other things (which I must yet deal with), she replied,

[Quoting John:]

"At that time [i.e., when Tyndale was alive], it was illegal to translate the Scriptures into English without official approval," the Jacksons write. And that is correct. It had been illegal since 1408 when, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says (last sentence in section C.(2)), the Synod of Oxford "forbade the publication and reading of unauthorized vernacular versions of the Scriptures, restricting the permission to read the Bible in the vernacular to versions approved by the ordinary of the place, or . . . by the provincial council."

I know this and knew it and don't dispute it. I'm unsure why this is a problem. The emphasis is on "unauthorized" vernacular versions. These councils have charge over their flocks' souls. They were to be obeyed. To our modern ears, we think "Well why shouldn't you have the right to read any version you want?" but I think that is imposing a modern day construct of rights on the time. The Church is the guardian of the Scriptures and is the foundation and pillar of the Truth and, just as today we do not want a gender inclusive Bible, they did not want a Bible which would lead their flock astray needlessly. Since it was possible to have an authorized vernacular Bible, then why did Tyndale need to be lauded for his disobedience?

Let me break there.

I think her comment about "laud[ing Tyndale] for his disobedience" is pertinent. And that is why I wrote what I did about heroes and rebels. As I got thinking about it, it struck me--and struck me, honestly, as rather odd--that so many of the heroes our company (Sonlight) puts in front of children are rebels against the status quo. They (the heroes) are disobedient and/or law-breakers. And so I took--and take--my correspondent's implicit criticism to heart. It certainly causes me pause as I consider the books we have chosen.

And I need to return to this subject of rebellion (legitimate or illegitimate? when?).

But first I want to note the assumption with which my correspondent precedes her final question: "Since it was possible to have an authorized vernacular Bible, then why . . .?"

My question: Was it possible to have an authorized vernacular Bible? And, if so, how possible?

Further questions (related to the "misdirection" I referenced above):
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a vernacular translation of the Bible?
  • When one disagrees with a "constituted authority," what are legitimate--and what are illegitimate--means of lodging one's protest against that authority's claims?
  • At what point is one (minimally) justified in not merely speaking out against, but actually assaulting an authority?

Let me make clear that, at this moment I have no definitive answers to all of these--and corrollary--questions. I have some answers to some questions. . . . But I have the sense that I am on the outer edges of a very fuzzy ball of yarn, a ball I want to begin unrolling, yet whose "beginning thread" I can't identify.

So I intend to pick at it until, God willing, the thread comes loose and the ball can begin to unroll.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Heroes and rebels

M, a Catholic friend, wrote concerning my A history of Bible translation post:

The authors of Hero Tales are (perhaps unconsciouly) biased against Catholics. This bias shows in their writings. [You know] this, which is why [your Sonlight Curriculum] notes for Hero Tales indicate some of the inaccuracies. (Thank you for this.)

If the book were part of a higher Core, I could understand its inclusion, because Sonlight wants to teach people how to detect this sort of thing for themselves. However, Core K, by its very name, indicates 5 year-olds as its main audience. I don't think 5 year-olds can weigh boring notes (which the parents may or may not read, and if they do read it themselves, may or may not pass on to their kids) vs. an exciting, dramatic story.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claims "Until the age of about 8, children do not understand advertising's persuasive intent" and cites Kunkel, D (2001). Children and television advertising. In: D. G. Singler & J. L. Singer (Eds.) The handbook of children and media (pp. 375-393). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage which I don't have time to track down and read myself right now.

But if kindergarten age children can't understand persuasive intent in advertising, they probably can't understand bias in writing either. Our brains continue to mature and develop until the 20s, and with the physical changes come more ability to reason abstractly. Your own testimonials show that children are remembering inaccurate [historically, not necessarily textually] and anti-Catholic summaries of the stories in the book.

Its anti-Catholic bias and its inaccuracy make Hero Tales an inappropriate book for this age group and it should be replaced.

I replied:

Whoa, M___! You just made the most powerful "argument" I have heard yet against inclusion of Hero Tales in the K curriculum: "I don't think 5 year-olds can weigh boring notes (which the parents may or may not read, and if they do read it themselves, may or may not pass on to their kids) vs. an exciting, dramatic story" and, "Your own testimonials show that children are remembering inaccurate [historically, not necessarily textually] and anti-Catholic summaries of the stories in the book."

When M referred to "[y]our own testimonials," she was referencing the comments of a young man quoted in our company's ezine, A Beam of Sonlight. The editor the the Beam chose a few weeks ago to include the following letter from a mom. Indeed, this is the letter, I believe, that inspired my original correspondent to object to Hero Tales' retelling of the Tyndale story:

[My son] Samuel said, "Somebody said that war is always bad.”

I told him that, "yes, war is always bad, but sometimes it is necessary. We can't let bad people get away with doing bad things; the good people need to stand up for what is right, even when it's hard."

Samuel said, "Ya, just like that guy in Germany who knew that the church was doing things that weren't right and he stood up for what the Bible says even though they could have killed him for it. And that other guy in England who said that everyone should have a Bible that they could read and he had to escape to Germany so he could put the Bible in English!"

Despite what I have written so far, I see where M and my original correspondent are coming from. Samuel's comments are not quite accurate historically. Or, should I say, they don't indicate any nuanced sense of the arguments and battles that surrounded what the "guy in Germany" and the "other guy in England" were trying to do.

As I wrote to M:

I see the problems. I'm not sure how far I'm going to get in overcoming them.

I can just hear Sarita now: "So what book(s) am I supposed to use instead of Hero Tales?!? . . . We want our kids to hold godly men and women before them as heroes they can emulate."


What I am seeing not only here, but in other cases as well, is how rampant are the attitudes or
behaviors of (I think the best word to use is) rebellion among those who are commonly viewed as heroes. You can't become a hero unless you step out from the crowd, do something significantly against your culture or against societal norms. And whenever you do that . . . well . . . you immediately mark yourself as "enemy" (and note that I said you mark yourself as "enemy"!) and you engender animosity among the leaders among the party/ies most motivated to oppose you.

[I make this latter comment as I do because while, obviously, the "hero" has (by my definition) placed him- or herself in opposition to the culture or to societal norms, and, therefore, the press of the culture or society as a whole will be against the hero, that doesn't mean the majority of people will actively and strenuously oppose him or her. In fact, most people will gladly stay out of the line of fire from both sides. Kind of like Martin Luther King and the marches for racial justice. There were hotheads on both sides. But most people just wanted to "go along to get

I wrote to M:

You have convinced me, M___, that, if at all possible, we need to replace the book. What I am sorely missing right now is a decent book with which to replace it--or, as you put it so well: an age-appropriate, well-written book filled with "exciting, dramatic stor[ies]" of heroes against which no one will object. I'm afraid that is a very tall order!

Any suggestions?

I will be glad for any suggestions from my readers here on my blog as well. . . .

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A swamp or a river?

I was talking with a friend this morning. She said a counselor or hers had suggested her life was like a swamp: it lacked boundaries and direction. The counselor suggested she needed to look for the appropriate channel walls, the barriers, the limitations in which the energy of her life could--and should--flow.

We ought to see rivers of living water flowing from our lives (John 7:38). We ought not to have stagnant pools of water surrounding us because we lack . . . purpose . . . or direction.

Motivating power

As I've been thinking about purpose, vision, mission, and so forth, I've had reason to think about the other word that, at least in the last few years, has been closely associated with the word purpose. That additional word? Driven . . . as in . . . the Purpose-Driven Church and the Purpose-Driven Life.

I don't want to discuss Rick Warren's books (from whose titles the italicized words, above, are drawn). I wanted merely
  1. To note that I have heard criticisms of the word driven . . . all by itself . . . with or without reference to Warren's books. [For a beginning primer in why Warren's books may deserve a more critical reception than they seem generally to have gotten, I am happy to direct you to Berit Kjos' "Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven?" page.] And,
  2. To point out that whether we are driven (and potentially destroyed by being run over) or whether we are drawn (and potentially destroyed by being dragged), I am fascinated with the idea that a true vision, mission, purpose from God can provide a powerful motivational force--a kind of "engine," if you will--to help us stay on track.
Now. Having said all that, I think Kjos' (biblically-based) terminology--Spirit-led--provides a significant caution. God can lead us in different directions at different times in our lives. And we must remain open to His leading. If our gaze becomes too fixed on a particular vision, mission or "purpose," we could very easily wind up at the wrong destination. We need to maintain our focus on God above and beyond any focus we place on personal purpose, mission, vision, etc.

A tough task!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Bible translation #4: Protecting the masses (??)

I all but concluded my last post with a lengthy quote from Henry G. Graham's Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church.

I stopped quoting where I did not only because Graham was virtually finished with the primary topic at hand, but because the next words--a continued quotation on Graham's part of Karl Pearson's article from the August 1885 edition of Academy--brought up a related (but very separate) subject.

According to Graham, Pearson continued: "Indeed, we are inclined to think [the Catholic Church] made a mistake in allowing the masses such ready access to the Bible. It ought to have recognized the Bible once for all as a work absolutely unintelligible without a long course of historical study, and, so far as it was supposed to be inspired, very dangerous in the hands of the ignorant."

"We do not know what Mr. Pearson’s religious standpoint may have been," Graham continues, "but he goes too far in blaming the Church for throwing the Bible open to the people in the 15th century, or indeed in any previous age.
No evil results whatsoever followed the reading of that precious volume in any century preceding the 16th, because the people had the Catholic Church to lead them and guide them and teach them the meaning of it. It was only when the principle of ‘Private Judgment’ was proclaimed that the Book became ‘dangerous’ and ‘unintelligible’, as it is still to the multitudes who will not receive the true interpretation of it at the hands of the Catholic Church, and who are about as competent to understand and explain it by themselves as they are to explain or prophesy the movements of the heavenly bodies.
Having created a course on the history of the church (or, as I call it, "God's Kingdom") from Christ to the present, and having attempted to permit qualified spokespeople for the various factions to speak for themselves (rather than permitting opponents or non-members to speak for them!), I believe I am somewhat sensitive to the points that Mr. Graham is here attempting to make.

For example, I am sympathetic to the criticism of the Protestant movement as a Protestant Revolution rather than Protestant Reformation. As many have argued, and I am inclined to agree, the Protestant movement created a thoroughgoing social revolution, but (sad to say, from my perspective at this time!) it failed to create a true reformation of the Western church as a whole.

[Off topic a bit, but I should include this note: If you're interested in pursuing the theme of social revolutions, I heartily recommend Harold J. Berman's Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. It outlines the several social/legal revolutions that shaped Western civilization through the mid-20th Century . . . beginning with what Berman calls the "Papal Revolution" of Pope Gregory VII, what is otherwise often known as the Gregorian Reform.]
So. I see the validity of the charge that the Protestant "Reformation" was, in fact, a thoroughgoing--and largely successful--attempt at social revolution. And it dislocated a lot of people. And dislocated them dramatically.

And as long as we look at the discomfort and upset and, sadly, the destruction and murder and despicable failure to protect the innocent that resulted from the Protestant movement, then we can speak of the movement's "evil results," as Graham refers to them.
[NOTE, however: We can refer to the movement's evil results in the same way we refer to the "evil results" that have occurred as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the destruction of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. There have been evil results, no doubt. The question is: Were the evil results of these shifts in power, these social (and, in the case of the Protestant Revolution, spiritual) dislocations . . . --Did these dislocations issue in greater evils than were present before? Or did they--or do we have reason to expect that they will yet--issue forth in reduced evil, long term?]
I am sensitive, too, to the complaint about the multitudes "who are about as competent to understand and explain it by themselves as they are to explain or prophesy the movements of the heavenly bodies." --Graham is spot-on in his criticism! We have far too many people who claim to be expert about things concerning which they know almost nothing.

(I am reminded of a story my brother, who used to work in a Christian bookstore, told me. A pastor encouraged his congregation that they, too, could do miracles like that which King David achieved when he made the Sun to stand still so he could read the Bible. --The pastor's exhortation resulting from a very bad misreading of the King James English in Psalm 119:148 where David says, "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.")

So, too, I am sensitive to the criticism of the Protestant movement having issued forth in multiple tens of thousands of "denominations" around the world. --Clearly, there is something seriously amiss when we must all prove the validity of our unique (mis)readings of Scripture by, each one of us, forming a separate denomination!

Yet, withall, I wonder: is the world worse off today than it would have been had we remained subject to the uncriticizeable official pronouncements and explanations of the Roman Catholic hierarchy? Should we really and truly be subject--as The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Official [Confraternity] Revised Edition, No. 2 (Copyright 1969-1962 [sic] Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.) declares we should be--to a power that, by way of a side note, claims (op. cit., p. 12):

At the end of each lesson, readings will be suggested from the Bible. These are not given to "prove" the teachings of the catechism. We "prove" things from the teaching of the Church. . . . The Bible was given by God to the Church to help in the explanation of its teachings.
I think of what I wrote in my post on Illiteracy = Slavery. If and when a human power ("John! No! The Pope is no human power! He has been established by God to serve as His vicegerent (vice regent, or vicar) on earth! How dare you suggest the Pope is merely a 'human' power!?!" . . . Hmmmm. . . . What can I say in reply? . . . I think I will say the following. . . . )

If and when a power placed over us cannot be judged or evaluated by us; if and when we are told we have no right to use our God-given powers of discernment to evaluate the claims of the power over us: then we are slaves, indeed.

If, as The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Official [Confraternity] Revised Edition, No. 2 claims, we are to take all things from the hand of the Church, and view the Bible only or merely as a potentially helpful explanatory tool for use by the Church as the Church hierarchy sees fit: then we, the servants of the Church, have been effectively cut off from any standard by which to counter potential abuses.
  • If our local priest fails to teach what his superiors (all the way up to the Pope) may have declared as truth: we have no means of discerning his failures. After all, he speaks "officially" for the Church, doesn't he? . . . And unless and until he is removed from office, how are we, his subordinates, supposed to judge him? We can't. Because "the Church" will teach us whatever it will and there is no external court of appeal.

  • If our local priest's superiors (all the way up to the Pope) have failed to declare the truth: we have no means of discerning their failures.
We are left completely at their mercy, without recourse to discern or object to their perfidy or deception.

I do not need to touch on the most serious matters of knowing the truth concerning eternal rewards and punishments, the means by which we humans may have reason to expect God's blessing and grace or punishment and curse. I need merely note that--as too many cases have shown--the priesthood can (and does!) readily "circle its wagons" to "protect its own." --Consider the numerous cases having come to light in the last 10 years or so of immoral priests having been permitted to continue their depredations upon young children because no one within the Church hierarchy was willing to take on "the system."

Without recourse to a higher authority, the Church is left free to declare as "Truth" whatever it wants. . . . --Why, not even the Israelites were left without a means to judge those who came among them and claimed to be prophets of God. No. God gave them very specific instructions concerning how to discern false prophets. And it had nothing to do with their association with a certain institution (like having been granted authority as an officer of the government of Israel, or, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, having received recognized credentials from someone higher in the institutional structure). No. It had to do with their fidelity to YHWH and the discernible truth of their messages (Deuteronomy 13; 18:20-22; etc.).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bible translation #3: John Wycliffe

For some reason, I feel myself a bit "on a roll," here.

As I was working on my last post, I went to the Wycliffe Bible Translators' website, hoping to find out how many millions of people would, today, be living without a version of Scripture in their heart language--their "vernacular"--were it not for the work of that organization. I found only a reference to the number of translations they have completed so far (611), but no indication of the numbers of millions of human beings--the size of the potential "listening audience," as it were--who might be impacted by these translations.

While there, I noticed the statement that the Wycliffe Bible Translators organization got its name from "the pre-Reformation hero, John Wycliffe, who first translated the Bible into English" [emphasis added! --JAH].

And that, of course, is a direct statement in opposition to to what the correspondent who got me onto this subject wrote.

So what is the truth? Was John Wycliffe "first"? If so, in what sense was he first? First at what? And why is he remembered whereas others, apparently, are not?

I think, first, I want to note that there is no question concerning the existence of vernacular ("common language") versions of Scripture before John Wycliffe came along. There were English translations of the Scriptures before John Wycliffe came along. You can find plenty of evidence for that viewpoint on the Wikipedia (see "English translations of the Bible"and "Bible translations"), let alone the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia (online article on "Versions of the Bible" and, more particularly, the "English versions" subsection of that article).

But Henry Graham, once more, comes through with remarkable testimony:
Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, . . . says: ‘The whole Bible long before Wycliff’s day was by virtuous and well-learned men translated into the English tongue, and by good and godly people with devotion and soberness well and reverently read’ (Dialogues III). Again, ‘The clergy keep no Bibles from the laity but such translations as be either not yet approved for good, or such as be already reproved for naught (i.e., bad, naughty) as Wycliff’s was. For, as for old ones that were before Wycliff’s days, they remain lawful and be in some folks’ hand. I myself have seen, and can show you, Bibles, fair and old which have been known and seen by the Bishop of the Diocese, and left in laymen’s hands and women’s too, such as he knew for good and Catholic folk, that used them with soberness and devotion.’

"But," Graham continues, "you will say, that is the witness of a Roman Catholic. Well, I shall advance Protestant testimony also.

The translators of the Authorized Version [i.e., "King James Version"--JAH], in their ‘Preface’, referring to previous translations of the Scriptures into the language of the people, make the following important statements. After speaking of the Greek and Latin Versions, they proceed: ‘The godly-learned were not content to have the Scriptures in the language which they themselves understood, Greek and Latin... but also for the behoof and edifying of the unlearned which hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and had souls to be saved as well as they, they provided translations into the Vulgar for their countrymen, insomuch that most nations under Heaven did shortly after their conversion hear Christ speaking unto them in their Mother tongue, not by the voice of their minister only but also by the written word translated.’

As all these nations were certainly converted by the Roman Catholic Church, for there was then no other to send missionaries to convert anybody, this is really a valuable admission. The Translators of 1611 [again, i.e., the translators of the "King James" Version--JAH], then, after enumerating many converted nations that had the Vernacular Scriptures, come to the case of England, and include it among the others. ‘Much about that time,’ they say (1360), ‘even in our King Richard the Second’s days, John Trevisa translated them into English, and many English Bibles in written hand are yet to be seen that divers translated, as it is very probable, in that age. ... So that, to have the Scriptures in the mother tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up, either by the Lord Cromwell in England [or others] ... but hath been thought upon, and put in practice of old, even from the first times of the conversion of any nation.’

This testimony, from the Preface, (too little known) of their own Authorized Bible, ought surely to carry some weight with well disposed Protestants.

Moreover, the ‘Reformed’ Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, says, in his preface to the Bible of 1540: ‘The Holy Bible was translated and read in the Saxon tongue, which at that time was our mother tongue, whereof there remaineth yet divers copies found in old Abbeys, of such antique manner of writing and speaking that few men now being able to read and understand them. And when this language waxed old and out of common use, because folks should not lack the fruit of reading, it was again translated into the newer language, whereof yet also many copies remain and be daily found.’

Again, Foxe, a man that Protestants trust [Graham is referring to John Foxe who wrote the book now popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs--a book, in its original, that highlighted, most especially, all the Protestant "worthies" of the Reformational era who died at the hands of Catholics--JAH], says: ‘If histories be well examined, we shall find, both before the Conquest and after, as well before John Wycliffe was born as since, the whole body of Scripture by sundry men translated into our country tongue.’

‘But as of the earlier period, so of this, there are none but fragmentary remains, the "many copies" which remained when Cranmer wrote in 1540 having doubtless disappeared in the vast and ruthless destruction of libraries which took place within a few years after that date.’ --These last words are from the pen of Rev. J. H. Blunt, a Protestant author, in his History of the English Bible; and another Anglican dignitary, Dean Hook, tells us that ‘long before Wycliff’s time there had been translator’s of the Holy Writ.’

One more authority on the Protestant side, and I have done: it is Mr. Karl Pearson (Academy, August, 1885), who says: ‘The Catholic Church has quite enough to answer for, but in the 15th century it certainly did not hold back the Bible from the folk: and it gave them in the vernacular (i.e. their own tongue) a long series of devotional works which for language and religious sentiment have never been surpassed.’

So why did anyone begin to suggest that John Wycliffe was "first"? Perhaps he was first in producing an unauthorized English translation?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who owns the Bible? (More on Tyndale and Bible translation)

As I continued to study the sources my correspondent sent me in criticism of William Tyndale and/or the Jackson's retelling of the story of William Tyndale, I realized there is a fundamental difference of viewpoint concerning the Bible and how one should consider the Bible's publication between Protestants and at least some--some officially/magisterially approved--Roman Catholics.

I was first shocked into the realization by a subordinate, parenthetical clause in Chapter 12 of Henry Graham's Where We Got the Bible. Graham refers to the Bible as the Catholic Church's "own book"--as if it were, in essence, "Copyright AD___ by the Roman Catholic Church."

"The Catholic Church certainly could never allow a version of Holy Scripture, (which is her own book) like that of Wycliff to go forth unchallenged, as if it were correct and authoritative, and bore her sanction and approval," Graham writes. [Note: the odd punctuation, including comma immediately preceding the parenthetical remark, is in the original. I have added the bold italics for emphasis --JAH.]

Graham continues:

Rome claims that the Bible is her book; that she has preserved it and perpetuated it, and that she alone knows what it means; that nobody else has any right to it whatsoever, or any authority to declare what the true meaning of it is. She therefore has declared that the work of translating it from the original languages, and of explaining it, and of printing it and publishing it, belongs strictly to her alone; and that, if she cannot nowadays prevent those outside her fold from tampering with it and misusing it, at least she will take care that none of her own children abuse it or take liberties with it; and hence she forbids any private person to attempt to translate it into the common language without authority from ecclesiastical superiors, and also forbids the faithful to read any editions but such as are approved by the Bishops.

All this the Catholic Church does out of reverence for God’s Holy Word. She desires that the pure, uncorrupted Gospel should be put in her people’s hands as it came from the pen of the Apostles and Evangelists. She dreads lest the faithful should draw down upon themselves a curse by believing for Gospel the additions and changes introduced by foolish and sinful men to support some pet theories of their own; just as a mother would fear lest her children should, along with water or milk, drink down some poison that was mixed up with it.

Stated again (actually, immediately preceding the above two quoted paragraphs):

[W]hile the Church approves of the people reading the Scriptures in their own language, she also claims the right to see that they really have a true version of the Scriptures to read, and not a mutilated or false or imperfect or heretical version. She claims that she alone has the right to make translations from the original languages (Hebrew or Greek) in which the Bible was written; the right to superintend and supervise the work of translating; the right of appointing certain priests or scholars to undertake the work; the right of approving or condemning versions and translations which are submitted to her for her judgment. She declares she will not tolerate that her children should be exposed to the danger of reading copies of Scripture which have changed or falsified something of the original Apostolic writing; which have added something or left out something; which have notes and explanations and prefaces and prologues that convey false doctrine or false morals. Her people must have the correct Bible, or no Bible at all.

I guess, based on that last statement, the Church claims not only to "own" the Bible, but to own certain people as well. They are its servants, subject entirely to its laws and decrees, no matter how the magisterium may decide.

I find this entire "line of argument" . . . at least disturbing. I'm not sure what else to say about it. The entire concept is . . . rather shocking, honestly. The bald-faced brazenness of such a claim!

I guess since the Roman Catholic Church "owns the Bible," Jews, the direct descendants of those who wrote it, have no rights to the Tanakh ("Old Testament"--or, as the three primary consonants of the word Tanakh reference: the Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings))?!?

"[The Church] has preserved [the Bible] and perpetuated it, and . . . she alone knows what it means"?!? --God couldn't possibly speak to anyone else?

"[N]obody else has any right to it whatsoever"?!? --It's not a book given by God to mankind as a whole--like the annunciation: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you . . ." (Luke 2:10-11; NIV) or, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14; NIV)?!?

"[N]obody else has . . . any authority to declare what the true meaning of [the Bible] is. [The Roman Catholic Church] therefore has declared that the work of translating it from the original languages, and of explaining it, and of printing it and publishing it, belongs strictly to her alone." --Wow! I appreciate the concern for people's souls, but is it truly better that we follow the model of a command-and-control, top-down economy than the more open policies of the free market? Better that the millions of people for whom the Bible has been made available due to efforts of "unauthorized" translaters . . . --Better that they should have lived and died without the Bible than that they had an imperfect Bible?

I think, maybe, I've been too influenced by my understanding and experience of the modern marketplace to "buy" this kind of mentality.

Interfaith Thanksgiving . . .

"Muslim group to lead this year's interfaith Thanksgiving service," reads the headline on page 21A in today's Rocky Mountain News. And I wonder how I should respond. Is this a great move forward in interfaith understanding? (I don't think so!) Is it a step backward toward syncretism? (My sense: probably.) But/and/so what is an appropriate evangelical response?

"Traditionally, the interfaith service draws hundreds of people en route to celebrations of what is regarded as the quintessential American holiday," writes the story's author.

The interfaith service was founded in the late 1800s by Temple Emanuel, Montview Presbyterian Church and the Universalist Church. Participating faiths have expanded to include Catholics, Buddhists and various Protestant churches. While Muslim leaders have attended, this is the first time they have directed the event.

The one-hour service will feature three imams reading from the Quran and offering benediction, children from Crescent View Academy singing religious songs and music by Muslim musicians. One of the imams will offer the main sermon, which will talk about Thanksgiving in the Islamic tradition. . . .

Rima Sinclair, a community activist in charge of the MILA [Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism] project, said she hopes this year marks the beginning of wider Thanksgiving participation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"I hope and pray that people will understand that the Muslim community here are not separate from the rest of the community," Sinclair said. "They are part of the faith and part of civil society, and I encourage the Muslim community to turn up."


So the point of this "service" is . . . ???

To show "solidarity" between the different faith groups? (But what do Islam, Christianity and Buddhism have to do with one another?)

To show goodwill between members of the different groups? (Great goal, but why in this manner?)

To declare that all gods--whatever god (or non-god) you believe in--are the same? (I sure hope not!)

For some reason, I am reminded of the prophet Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:18-40). Interestingly, he attended their worship service (if that's what you want to call it). But afterwards, he initiated a great slaughter.

I don't think YHWH is calling His people today to slaughter those who follow other gods. But, somehow, I don't think He calls us, suddenly, to laud their faith systems and/or participate in their worship, either! . . .

A history of Bible translation

A few weeks ago, a woman wrote to complain about the content of one of the stories told in a book our company carries.

"Hero Tales in Core K starts our students out with a prejudice against the Catholic Church without all the facts needed to make a determination, in my opinion," she wrote.

That [our children] should be learning half the story in Sonlight is not expected, but that is precisely what Hero Tales divulges--half the story.

I recommend Tyndale's Heresy to you.

At a minimum, students should be told that Tyndale did not produce the first Bible in English. Exploring the heretical aspects of his version would also be prudent, I think.

It is a fact usually ignored by Protestant historians that many English versions of the Scriptures existed before Wycliff, and these were authorized and perfectly legal (see Where We Got the Bible by Henry Graham, chapter 11, "Vernacular Scriptures Before Wycliff"). Also legal would be any future authorized translations. And certainly reading these translations was not only legal but also encouraged. All this law did was to prevent any private individual from publishing his own translation of Scripture without the approval of the Church.

I have to confess, it is not always easy to maintain openness to "new information." How can I afford the time?

But, as I replied to my correspondent, "Really great article recommendations and points. (I found Graham's book on the web and, so far, have read both Chapter 11 and Chapter 1.) . . . I am going to have to think how to "talk" about these things. . . ."

Well, I think it is time for me to begin to "talk." And, I'm afraid, I probably need to modify my comment about the article recommendations being "really great."

In one sense I really do believe them to be great: they were greatly informative. But they may, actually, have been more informative than my correspondent intended. So they are "really great" in an alternative sense as well that she may not appreciate as much as my original communication with her may have implied.

But before I get into that level of detail, let me note that I think all of us--Protestant, Catholic, whoever--should be very careful to understand and teach history accurately. And as I have found, too often, a lot of "history" is non-historical: it isn't accurate; it isn't true . . . or, should I say, isn't accurate and true enough (for my tastes, anyway!).

So let me begin by offering the most positive aspects of my correspondents' critique.

Tyndale did not produce the first Bible in English.

The book she is criticizing, Hero Tales by Dave & Neta Jackson, is a collection of biographies for children. One chapter, titled "William Tyndale," is subtitled, "The Man Who Gave Us the English Bible."

I will admit the subtitle is at least potentially misleading . . . if you read nothing else in the story and you make certain assumptions about the broader meaning of the (sub)title. What I mean by that is this: It is about as wrong to say "Tyndale gave us the English Bible" as it would be to say "Columbus discovered America."

In one sense--or, depending on how far you want to nuance your words, in many senses--Columbus did not discover America. For example,

1) Columbus was by no means first to "discover" America. Clearly, the aboriginal peoples--the so-called "Indians"--had been in the land we now call America for well over a thousand years before Columbus arrived. Anthropologists would say they had been in "America" for thousands of years. Moreover, as research in the last century has made almost incontrovertibly clear:

2) Leif Ericson came to North America about AD1002; Chinese junks visited North America in 1421; and others, too, from distant lands, found their way to North America before Columbus did.

3) No place named "America" existed when Columbus "discovered" the land mass we now call America.

4) Columbus never used the word "America" to refer to the land mass now known by that name.

5) And so forth. . . .

But still, most people I know say Columbus discovered America. And that's certainly what they were taught.


Because it was his explorations and his reports that first truly opened the continents we now know as North and South America to exploration by Europeans and--as a result of the Europeans--the rest of the world. Prior to Columbus, the land masses we now know as North and South America remained largely, if not completely, unknown to those who lived outside. Their prior discoverers never reported their findings or reported them so poorly that "no one" followed up on their reports.

So is it fair to criticize those who say Columbus discovered America? Sure. Mildly. For the reasons stated and by way of proving one's superior grasp of historical realities.

But for all practical purposes, I have no serious difficulties with anyone saying Columbus discovered America.

Well, so it is, I'm afraid, with criticism of the Jacksons' article about Tyndale.

"At that time [i.e., when Tyndale was alive], it was illegal to translate the Scriptures into English without official approval," the Jacksons write. And that is correct. It had been illegal since 1408 when, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says (last sentence in section C.(2)), the Synod of Oxford "forbade the publication and reading of unauthorized vernacular versions of the Scriptures, restricting the permission to read the Bible in the vernacular to versions approved by the ordinary of the place, or . . . by the provincial council."

It was, as the Jacksons note, Tyndale's dream to make it possible for every man, woman and child in England, whether rich or poor, to read the Bible in English.

I need to stop here for the moment. But the story is . . . to be continued. . . .

"I'm not home yet"

When I wrote about wasting one's life, I had a story in mind, but knew I had the details wrong. I finally got the details. After finding at least one version of the story on the web, but realizing I had been told a very different version, I sense it has to be an old preacher's chestnut. But I'll repeat it here anyway, even though I expect you should take it for its illustrative power rather than its historical credibility (of which I expect there is little).

Several years ago a veteran missionary was on her way home to the U.S., retiring after a life of service abroad. Aboard a ship bound for New York, she met an agnostic who said he thought it a waste to give one's life in missionary service. "Do you think anyone on this ship notices you because you 'gave your life' for your cause?" asked the man.

The missionary replied, "I'm not home yet."

The agnostic assumed the missionary was referring to a large crowd that would meet the ship, and he scoffed again when they disembarked and not a solitary person welcomed the old woman.

Once again, the old woman said, "I'm not home yet."

Now, let me note, when I first heard this story, the preacher who told it never mentioned this preliminary interchange. And the final scene was quite different from what I found on the internet.

On the internet I read,
She boarded a train destined for her small Midwestern hometown. Reaching her destination, she could no longer fight back the tears as the train pulled off and she stood alone on the railway platform. She had arrived at her hometown but no one was there to greet her. At this point God spoke to her and said, "You're still not home . . . yet."

In the version I heard, she arrives at her hometown and a crowd is waiting . . . except it is there not for her but for some other dignitary or famous artist. Despite the shock, she does not break down and cry. Instead, as she is greeted by a lone young man who was sent to pick her up, he comments on and apologizes for the contrasting lack of celebration in her behalf. And she, spiritual giant that she is, says, "Oh, don't you worry, honey! I'm not home yet!"

I think my point in posting this, if nothing else, is to remind and ask myself--and to ask you--when do you believe you're really "home"? When should you expect the reward for whatever self-sacrificing services you provide?

I say I believe there is more to life than what is here and now. Do I really believe it?

A letter to my family: About living strategically . . .

Yes, the following is a direct quote. It took me a few days to decide how much of it (if any) I should post online. I'm comfortable . . .

I spent an hour and a half or two hours talking with a banker [last] Friday morning. Dan specializes in helping families work through discussions about subjects like those I have been writing about in my blog.

He urged me (and us) to think and talk through our personal, individual vision and mission statements. We--each of us--need to know what we, individually, are about before we can legitimately and reasonably begin to form broader family mission and vision statements.

Among the questions he suggested we ought to consider:

  • What are my key or highest values? What things are most valuable to me?

(By way of example, for me, let me note that I would list: integrity (think of the title of my book!); honesty (almost the same as integrity!); openness; good communication (notice a pattern?!?); bringing people together through good communication; inquiry; inquisitiveness; learning. . . .)

  • What would it mean for me to be "effective" or "successful" in LIFE?

This, of course, has to do with more--far more--than "money." I think it has to do with what I would want people to remember me for when I die.

I think of the yacht we saw in Boca Raton a couple of weeks ago: the "Golden Rule." Beautiful boat. Cost multi-millions, of course. Has a crew that sit and tend and coddle it. (We saw them polishing it.) Beautiful! . . . And it probably sits docked 48 of 52 weeks a year . . . or more. Totally for show.

But before I got thinking about all those things and realizing the realities behind the boat, my first thought, when I saw its name was, "'Golden Rule'! 'Golden Rule'! That's great! You [owner, whoever you are] believe in the Golden Rule!?!" --Truly. There was great joy in my heart.

I had to think a moment to remember what "The Golden Rule" is all about: "Do unto others as you would . . . "

That's when it hit me: "Now, wait a minute! . . . I'll bet you [owner] don't mean 'Do unto others . . .'! I'll bet you're referring to that 'other' 'Golden Rule': 'Them's that's got the gold sets the rules.' . . . Oh, how funny. [bitter] How foolish and futile. . . ."

So this owner--whoever he or she is (or they are)-- . . . this owner owns this magnificent yacht, the biggest one in the marina. And when s/he dies: will anyone care? Is that--owning the biggest, most magnificent yacht--what s/he wants to be remembered for?

That's not what I want to be remembered for.

But what do I want to be remembered for?

I haven't ever really thought that through!

I want to think that through. And I want you, as my heirs, part of my "legacy," to think that through, too. So you (and I!) can be very purposeful in our lives, successful . . . whatever "successful" means.

Before God, what do we believe success looks like? For us? Individually?

I'd like us to think and talk about it.

Dan suggested that we should each write a paragraph or two (or the equivalent in simple bullet points). Just to get started.

Though it wasn’t Dan who urged me to blog about these things, in essence, my blog, recently, has included stuff--a very concise summary of 14 values, for instance, plus a whole lot of musings on the broader subject--that I think may help me to write my purpose or mission statement.


One other thought that may help us.

I think we (or at least I) always want to create a "final" document. But I don't think we should approach this project with such a thought in mind. If we have written such a document and we happen to die before we revise it, then, obviously, that will prove to have been a "final document." . . . But as long as we keep living, this purpose statement/mission statement doesn't have to be . . . indeed, it almost certainly ought not to be a "final document."

And I say all that partially (I hope) to free you from the feeling that you must make some kind of perfect, final, absolute, never-to-be-varied statement.

I don't think so.

I think Luke once wrote a mission/vision statement. That was back between his junior and senior years in high school. It might be interesting for him to share with the rest of us what he wrote . . . and then to see how he might alter it today.

My main purpose, here--for you as well as (and maybe primarily) for me--is to get us to live more strategically or, perhaps better, as strategically as possible.

Okay. Enough.



Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A wise man and his parents . . .

Just browsing in the latest (December 2006) Reader's Digest. I don't normally expect much wisdom to fall from the mouths of Hollywood stars. But the interview with Will Smith is really quite amazing. Here is a man who has acquired "wisdom beyond his years" . . . primarily because, it seems, he had some really wise parents.

Two very brief vignettes. I wish more kids would learn these lessons!

When my father got out of the Air Force, he started his own refrigeration business.

I might have been 12 and my brother 9 when one day he decided he wanted a new front wall at his shop. He tore the old one down--it was probably 16 feet high and 40 feet long. And he told us that this was going to be our gig over the summer.

We were standing there thinking, There will never, ever, be a wall here again.

We went brick by brick for the entire summer and into winter and then back into spring. One day there was a wall there again. I know my dad had been planning this for a long time. He said, "Now, don't you ever tell me there's something you can't do." And he walked into the shop.

The thing I connect to is: I do not have to build a perfect wall today. I just have to lay a perfect brick. Just lay one brick, dude.


And the second story:
My mother just could not stand improper English. If you ran out of the house screaming, "Where y'all gonna be at?" she would say, "Hopefully y'all gonna be behind that preposition."

My grandmother would say, "A yawl is a boat, baby."

From pp. 93 and 94 in the December edition of Reader's Digest. --A very worthwhile interview. And the article includes a note at the end: "Listen to more of the Will Smith interview at" --I haven't been there, so I can't vouch for it. But based on what I read . . . --I may "see you there"!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Integrating one's mission

More on Better World Books . . .

Not sure why I followed this particular path, but . . .

I went to the Better World Books blog. Nothing special. So I checked out their archives: "Hmm. The blog hasn't been around long. . . . I wonder what they say in their first post?" So I clicked on the link to July 2006.

First post, at the top of the page (obviously last post for July):

Books for Africa Shipment

A message from David Murphy, our CEO:

Just wanted to share with you all that we shipped three full truckloads of books from our warehouse to the Books for Africa warehouse between July 12th and July 17th. . . . a total of about 58,460 books! We are building another truckload as I write this and we will have additional book inventory going to BFA post-Rush. . . .

Whoa! I thought: "These guys are really serious about their mission. . . ."

Got down a few more posts. It's an interview with John Wood, founder of one of the non-profits Better World Books supports. By this point, I realize, I'm getting about three levels "deep" in integrated mission. (Better World Books (level 1) is blogging John Wood of Room to Read (level 2) and I, John Holzmann (level 3?), am seeing lessons and takeaways and insights (level 4?) from what Wood is saying. . . .)

  • First insight: Wood maintains an unshakeable, laser-sharp focus on his goal. The interviewer asks skeptical questions. Wood answers, and yet, in a way . . . he doesn't, really. Does he? But he sure gets his message out! [Note to self: Learn from Wood's example!]:

    Q: You’re one of several Microsoft entrepreneurs who seem eager to live out some fantasy of saving the world. As the founder of Room to Read, do you really believe you can personally “educate the world’s children,” as the subtitle of your forthcoming book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World,” proclaims?

    We’re trying to open libraries and schools, mostly for kids K to 5, in the developing world at a pace that emulates Starbucks’. With 850 million illiterate people in the world, we need the nonprofit sector to scale rapidly.

    But can libraries open as quickly as coffee bars?

    In the past six years, we have established 2,500 libraries and 210 schools in Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Our model allows us to build a school with running water and toilets and a library for $12,000 in Nepal. We can do a school in Vietnam for about $15,000.

  • From what I can tell, it is Wood who notes, "When Apple Computer was seeking its first outside CEO, Apple's chairman Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley from Pepsi by asking him, 'Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?'" --Wow! Talk about powerful! --Reminds me of our second daughter who, during her last semester at art school, was working for an advertising firm that does the campaigns for one of the major chocolate companies. "I want to do something significant," she said. "I don't want to spend my life selling chocolate. . . ." --So she is working for an ad agency that specializes in serving non-profits.
  • It appears to be the Better World Books blogger, Fritz (though, possibly, the New York Times Magazine interviewer who wrote the article from which Fritz quoted), who comments: "Twenty years later John Wood, leaving Microsoft for Room to Read, demonstrates changing the world isn't iPods and Outlook Express, but educating the world's children." --Another strong mission-oriented statement.
"Well," I say to myself. "What I have read of and from Better World Books is all well and good. But it is relatively easy to talk. . . . My question is: What are they really all about? Is this a ploy to work off potential purchasers' emotions? . . . Who are these guys (Better World Books), anyway? --I mean, really."

Ahh! A link at the bottom of the page: About Us. I click . . .

I'm shocked. Another integrated mission statement:

Our story began with the dream of three college friends who formed a social venture, a business with the mission to promote literacy. A single book drive at one university has grown into a nationwide effort with thousands of people involved, all looking to improve the quality of life for people through literacy.

We believe that literacy gives people water to drink, imparts knowledge to eliminate disease, and develops self-esteem that enables people to make their mark on the world.

Our story has taken us to places we had never seen. Our dream is to continue to work for those whom we have never met.

There's actually nothing about the people who work there, the people who started Better World Books. (The page does include a photo of the three guys who started the company, and a caption underneath that lists their names.) But the page is about Better World Books itself. [Note to self: Better check your company's "About Us" webpages! . . . Makes sense, doesn't it: "About Us" should be about the company. . . . But . . . ]

I am becoming more and more impressed: there is such integration among all the pages I have seen. Such focus. Talk about brand identity! . . .

But still. I really would like to learn about the founders. So where do I find out about them? Who are they? What are they all about? Is their commitment real? Or (I'm becoming more and more skeptical of my skepticism) are they poseurs?

Ah! Another link: Our History.

Interesting. (I won't reproduce it here. It really is interesting.) But the "history" concludes:
Today, Better World Books continues to be the leader in converting donated books into funding that supports world literacy efforts. In addition to its college and university textbook drives, Better World Books now works with libraries and other book sources with the goal of promoting literacy. The Better World Books team looks forward to the promise of the future and to continued growth and success with the help of its partners.
Sounds all nice and warm and fuzzy. But . . . wait. Really. Truly. Bottom line: How much do they really donate to the causes for which they speak so proudly?

Ah! Another link: BWB By the Numbers.
Since our inception in 2003 to September 2006, we have:
  • Been active in collecting books from over 900 colleges and universities and over 500 libraries in North America
  • Saved more than 5 million pounds of books from landfills
  • Raised more than $1.3M for approximately 70 non-profits focused on literacy and education; specifically:
    • Raised more than $900,000 for Books For Africa
    • Raised more than $150,000 for Room to Read
    • Raised more than $80,000 for the National Center for Family Literacy
    • Raised more than $50,000 locally for the Robinson Community Learning Center
  • Donated more than 450,000 books to Books for Africa and The National Center for Family Literacy
  • Contributed more than $475,000 to college and university service clubs and volunteers who have run book drives for BWB.
I'm satisfied. And I'm left wondering: . . . How should we apply this integrated vision and mission to our company? Can we . . . No. How can we integrate our mission and vision more thoroughly into all our company's communication? How can we state so concisely and precisely and consistently what we're all about?

I sense I have a lot of thinking and praying and writing to do. . . .

A purpose/mission-driven business

I ordered a used book online using one of the large used book search engines that puts you in touch with the smaller book stores who actually fulfill your order. For the book I wanted, Better World Books happened to offer the best price/quality ratio. So I placed my order.

Next thing I knew, I received an email from them that led like this:

Dear John:

Thank you for your recent book purchase from Better World Books!

Better World Books utilizes the value of the book to fund literacy initiatives locally, nationally and around the world. Please know that your purchase will help us in our efforts to promote and support our literacy partners and their initiatives. Your purchase will provide much needed funding that is instrumental to the efforts of those whose passion it is to provide the world's least fortunate with the opportunities that literacy affords.

We have received your order . . .

First thing that impressed me: their vision. --It seems to accord so well with at least a part of mine. (See also items #6 and 12 in Personal Legacy: Vision and Values.)

But the second thing: How inspiring! How energizing to have that vision, value and purpose statement hanging out there, right in front, on everything they do . . . even on their order acknowledgement letter!


So how do we apply that in our company?

I wouldn't have expected this . . .

. . . Though I probably should have. After all, "Nothing new under the sun," right?

More political scandal, and this one right off the bat with brand-new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi! . . . Perhaps the fact that she has been around for years almost necessarily taints her. One would wish not. But that she is being "outed" by a Washington Post writer! --Isn't the Post supposed to be a liberal standard-bearer?

Then again, it's "politics as usual," isn't it? Republicans have been virtually drowned in scandal; now it's the Democrats' turn.

Check out "Incoming Speaker flunks her first test by backing congressman" by Ruth Marcus.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Debt, Purpose, Joy and Giving

Back to my conversation with Jim.

At one point we were talking about a class our church was about to sponsor intended to help members handle their finances more wisely.

Jim said something like, "John, you are in a unique position in the church in your ability to give. Most people don't have funds that they can set aside for giving. They are so far in debt . . . "

"Why are they in debt?" I asked.

There are lots of reasons people fall into debt. Many are beyond their control.

Yet I think one great reason is because they have never thought of their purpose. They can't think beyond themselves: "What's in it for me?" "What will please me?" . . . So every time they see something that they think will give them pleasure [see, for example, my post on the Tesla car], they go out and buy it. Then they get into debt.

I wish people were challenged with the bigger picture of what God is doing around the world! Kind of like the way St. Paul talks about stealing. We normally contrast stealing and not stealing. He actually contrasts stealing and giving--you're either involved in positive contributions to the world around you, or you're involved, it seems, in taking from the world. But you're never neutral. Apparently.
Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28; NASB)
--It is so striking to me: all the subjects I have been writing about recently are so intimately intertwined: purpose, joy, giving, our ability to give . . .

Tithing: Replaced by Grace?

So I was talking with Jim about what he teaches concerning giving. And we got talking about how he has taught in the past, and how he might teach in the future.

He told me how his dad had pretty much required of him, from when he was very little, to tithe.

"I told my dad one day when I was getting $10 a week in allowance"--I forget exactly what Jim said he told his dad, but it was along the lines of--"One dollar out of ten dollars is really hard! Now, if I wait until I get a hundred dollars, then it will be much easier to give ten dollars!"

Except . . . Except, the world doesn't work like that.

Jesus said, "He who is faithful in a very little will be faithful, also, in much" (Luke 16:10). It doesn't seem to work the other way around. Few, if any of us start with great and big things and learn to be faithful there so that we can turn around and apply our good stewardship practices to little things as well.

No. We begin our training when we are children, with very little. And then, by God's grace, we are able to apply the lessons we learned when we were small to the bigger things in life.


I remember talking with my first boss on my first job outside of college. He was a self-professed practicing/devout Christian.

Somehow, it came out that Sarita and I tithed on our income. And not on the net, but on the gross. ("After all, God says he is a great king--the great King. And kings and governments don't take taxes based on what's 'left over.' They take it off the top. They get 'the first-fruits.' . . . " --For more on this particular subject, you may want to look at Malachi 1 where God complains about his people: "'Try offering [your (lousy, pitiful, meager) offerings] to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the LORD Almighty. . . . 'When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the LORD. 'Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations'" (Malachi 1:8, 13-14).)

So I was telling my boss these things.

He expressed amazement.

"Why don't you wait to tithe until you've got a little money?!?" he asked. (He knew how poor we were. After all, he was my boss! ;-) )

He told me he had determined to become a millionaire by the time he was 39. "Then I'll be able to give some really decent money. But until then, I figure God will let me save it up so I can give him more. . . . "

"Right," I thought sarcastically.

It is only through the little acts of faithfulness, with the small things, that one is going to be capable of engaging in the major acts of faithfulness required with the big things.

Faithfulness, I believe, is a habit. And habits are formed when we are young. Or, should I say, now. They're formed now and not later. Or, as it has been said: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.

If you want to become faithful, now is the time. If you want to be prepared for the right response should you ever be called upon to give your life for the sake of a greater good: you will be prepared for that right response by sacrificing the little things today. . . .

Why should giving $10 out of $100 be easier than giving $1 out of $10? Or $100,000 out of a million? If you haven't established--through practice--the habit of mind, it's not going to happen. Period. But when you establish the habit early and with little things, the habit of giving becomes engrained and, I can confess, it does, indeed, become a whole lot easier.

I mentioned a friend who said she believes tithing is "an Old Testament law that was replaced by grace."

I've heard that perspective before. And I find it interesting.

"Replaced by grace"? What does that mean?

In one sense, I would say, I think she is correct. It has been replaced by grace. It was "replaced by grace" in the Old Testament as well: at least once, that I can remember. Exodus 36:3-7:

[The workmen] received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done."

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

But otherwise, what does that mean that the tithe has been replaced by grace? That we ought to feel no compunction to give a minimal 10% of our income for God's work--whether more "spiritually" oriented or of a more "secular" nature?

I look around--Lord! May I not become judgmental!--and I see people--fathers, mothers, heads of households--placing a dollar in the offering plate. Or a five dollar bill. Maybe even a twenty. Wow! They are so "generous"! --Sarcastic again. (Lord, have mercy.)

Would they expect to go to a movie for a dollar? For five dollars? For a family?

Would they expect to get into a basketball game? A football game? For $20?

Oh! I guess church isn't entertaining. And why should we pay for anything that doesn't give us pleasure? After all, isn't life about us, us, us ("me, me, me!")?!?

Or is it?

Or why do we give?

Or why should we give?

"Grace," indeed, that a person would have no idea why s/he should give, why s/he should have any concern about anything besides him- or herself!

We have so much "grace," apparently, that we have no idea what it means to give.

Is it grace, on God's part, to permit us to be miserly? Is that what "replaced by grace" means: "Graced to be miserly"? "Graced to be self-centered"?

I wonder, instead, if the grace we are to experience begins with the minimal discipline, when we are children, when we are being tutored toward maturity (I think of God's people in the Old Testament, Galatians 3:24): I wonder if the grace we are to experience sets the tithe as the minimum we should think of giving . . . because we have been graciously afforded the opportunity and ability to do and give so much more.

Not only the gospel

I've begun meeting with one of the assistant pastors in our church, a young guy about the age of one of my own children. He has been in charge of youth ministry for a few years.

I looked him up to meet on a regular basis for many reasons. Two of them, however, that strongly motivated me: he thinks, deeply; and when he preaches (at least when I have heard him preach), he preaches from the heart and from true-life experience. He doesn't preach "theory out there"; he preaches about things with which he, himself, has struggled.

I like that in a person. I like reality. Don't ask me for prayer for "things out there"--"My aunt who broke her arm." Ask me for prayer for "things where you are"--"I'm struggling with _____." "I feel like quitting." "I don't know if I can continue with _____." Talk to me about things you're passionate about.


Last week I was talking with Jim (that's the assistant pastor's name) about some of the things I've been writing about here. I asked him if he ever teaches kids about giving.


"What do you teach?"

He summarized.

Two things struck me. The word "I" never appeared . . . and it sounded all theory. Y'know: "God has made us to be stewards. He makes it possible for us to have everything we own."

I told Jim about the two things I've mentioned above about why I've been attracted to him: that I so appreciate how he speaks from the heart, from things he, himself, has struggled with.

"Where's the 'I' in there?" I asked (though, I'm sure, not in those particular words!).

Then it came out: Not that Jim has not struggled and/or lived in the reality of giving (or, as he expressed it concerning the discipline to which he has been called: tithing). Rather, that he had conveyed to me, accurately, what he has taught. He hasn't talked about himself. He hasn't shared his struggles. For whatever reason, he has been uncomfortable talking about what it has been like for him to come to terms with giving. . . .

I suggested he should share, even in this area, from the heart.

I am reminded, here, of something the Apostle Paul wrote that deeply impacted me when I first read it. He wrote it to the Thessalonians. And he wrote in the "royal we" voice:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
Not only the gospel of God, but our very lives. Because you had become so dear to us.

The Privilege of Giving

I have found the practice of the tithe to be a great freedom. It is, almost, a sacrament: a reminder, through something I do, of a spiritual truth: that I am not dependent on myself to "make ends meet." I must rely on God. ("You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).)

Similarly with the Sabbath rest: it is a kind of sacrament: a reminder, through something I do (or, in that case, perhaps, something I don't do--work on one day out of seven), that it is not through my labors that I can be sure to "have enough"; rather, it is by God's gracious provision that I can provide for my family. --This has been the confession of God's people through the ages (I Samuel 2:7; I Chronicles 29:12; etc.). This is what Jesus taught:

"[W]hy do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:28-34).

Anyway. I originally titled this post as "How Much Should We Give?" . . . But I keep finding myself "sidetracked" a bit here and there. I seem to find I need to give little personal/philosophical background pieces so you understand where I'm coming from.

I began with the idea of talking about how much we should give. But then I got onto the subject I just talked about. And I wound up, just now, realizing I don't even like the phrase, How much should we give? Far more, I just realized, I think I prefer, How much can we give?. . . . Because I think I am actually coming to the latter way of thinking. It really is not about how much I should give. More and more, I am finding myself thinking about how much I can give . . . how much I get to give . . . how much I have the privilege of giving.

How many other people in all the world could give as much as I? Not many! I am privileged to have wealth and to live in a wealthy land. I am privileged to be made aware of needs around the world. How many people in all the world are so privileged?

Not many!

So let me make the most of the privileges God has given me.

Tithing and Sabbath as Freedoms?!?

A few weeks ago I was listening to a marketing seminar presented in 1998. The speaker asked his audience how many of them had studied trigonometry or Latin in high school. Almost everyone raised his or her hand. "Since graduating from high school, how many of you have used that knowledge?" No one raised a hand.

"I find that interesting," he said. "Here our educational system focuses on all kinds of subjects that no one will ever use, but it fails to teach subjects that would come in handy every day. Like: How to communicate effectively with your spouse [the speaker is divorced], or . . . "

Now. I'm not about to go down the other path (a rant) where the man was going. He thinks it’s absolutely stupid that educators teach any subjects besides those that have immediate practical application. . . . I can see that all manner of subjects that have no immediate practical application can be extremely helpful to make one’s mind pliable, flexible, able to think beyond the here-and-now, discover new solutions to problems that no one would think of otherwise.

But I was impressed by the man's comments about subjects not covered in the standard curriculum . . . and the subjects often never discussed by parents with their children.

I mentioned the man’s comments to Sarita. She said: "Let's think about this and offer our customers a list of subjects that might be useful to students that aren't normally covered by regular academic programs and, maybe, the best sources we've found that deal with the subjects. . . ."

We came up with a short list of beginning ideas and shared them with friends. Among the subjects, we included reference to tithing/giving and taking a Sabbath rest, two practices I've followed since reading a short book called The Ten Great Freedoms by Ernst Lange back when I was in high school. (The "Ten Great Freedoms" Lange was referring to were, in fact, the end results of what most of us know as the Ten Commandments. Lange characterized the Sabbath, for instance, as "Vacation" . . . and I jumped on that idea with both feet: "I get 52 days a year of vacation! By order of God!" –Quite the freedom, indeed! . . . It takes faith, but it is quite the freedom.)

I forget: Others don't view things in quite this way. So when they saw our list, those two particular practices--of tithing and Sabbath rest--instead of being exciting or inspirational, seemed, apparently, rather negative. Rather than encouraging us to suggest parents ought evn to discuss such matters with their children, some of the people with whom we shared our list picked those items, in particular, as uncomfortable and potentially offensive:

Is the tithe really something Sonlight wants to promote? . . . [P]ersonally, I think this is more a denominational thing--an Old Testament law that I believe was replaced by grace. . . . Taking a Sabbath rest. Is this Biblical? Didn't Jesus work on the Sabbath and say he had fulfilled the law and the prophets? Another denominational thing. . . . This kind of stuff makes me cringe because it is so personal and there is so much room for abuse and misinterpretation.

I'm not sure where further to go with this particular subject in this post.

It came up because of something I want to write about in a moment.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Personal Legacy: An Issue of Timing

Besides values and vision, there is another area of beliefs or expectations that impact one's legacy planning. It's the issue of


When should the funds God has entrusted to us be passed along . . . and to whom?

We have been challenged to consider whether we should "dump" large sums of money on agencies now, or whether we should, rather, "trickle" them out a bit at a time: put them in a foundation, for example, and distribute five to eight percent of the principal each year, with the expectation that the principal will grow at a rate faster than the distributions. . . .

In favor of the former idea, Sarita and I look at the following:
  • We know certain opportunities are available right now . . .
  • A well-managed non-profit agency that requests a certain level of funding should be able to direct our funds to those opportunity uses right now.
  • It is quite possible the opportunities available today will not be available next year or five years from now.
  • Just because you have money in a bank or investment account today does not mean it will be available tomorrow: look at what happened between 1999 and 2002!
  • By giving today, we can reduce the size of our estate. Such a move could produce the following (potentially) positive effects:

    • It would eliminate some of the estate tax that could be due upon our deaths.
    • It would reduce the quantity of money that would go--potentially dangerously--to our children and/or grandchildren.

In favor of the latter idea, some of our financial advisors propose the following:
  • Non-profit agencies are often hopelessly inefficient and inept and cannot deal effectively with large gifts.
  • Most agencies would prefer a steady stream of income than a single large gift.
  • It is almost always better for an agency to have a thousand $100/year donors than to have a single $100,000/year donor. One needs to beware of overwhelming an agency (even as one needs to beware of overwhelming a local church or one's children!) with one's largesse.
  • A relatively modest sum of money well-invested today--in a form of life insurance, for example, or some other investment vehicle--can pay huge dividends to the designated charity later on.

There are additional considerations one must take into account. Just one example (speaking to some of the legacy planning tools I have seen touted): One doesn't want, necessarily, to create an endowment for an organization: as has been seen so many times in the past, an organization's vision and purpose can drift, so that what you intended by your gift today could become non-operable tomorrow. The organization may stop providing the service for which you endowed it! Thus, for example, if you invest in a life insurance policy or a charitable remainder trust, you may want to leave the final recipient undefined . . . just in case the organization you admire today becomes something different tomorrow (and before you die).

But even that point seems to indicate in favor of gifting today rather than "storing funds up"--in a foundation or in a life insurance policy, charitable remainder trust, or other vehicle--for distribution over time and/or in the future.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I want one . . .

I don't normally think about cars. They've never been a passion of mine. Four and a half years ago, as we were approaching our 25th wedding anniversary, Sarita told me she wanted to get me "the car of [my] dreams."

"But I don't dream about cars."

"So I want to get you the car you would dream about if you dreamed of them."

"I like my Toyota Corolla."

"I want to get you something else."

After looking: "Okay. A Toyota Avalon."

"No. I want to get you something better."

"But I don't want to spend the money."


We settled on an "outlandish" Infiniti I35 that cost us about two or three times what a nice Corolla would have cost.

But it is comfortable! And I expect to continue driving it for at least five more years. ("Waste not, want not.")



I don't know how I bumped into the Tesla Roadster, but, Wow! That's a cool car! Electric. 0-60 in about 4 seconds. About 250 miles on a single charging. And look at those lines! A-ooh-gah!

Making tough decisions

I'm inspired by the content of my last post, combined with some of the content of Ron Blue's Splitting Heirs.

Blue says we need to "love [our] children equally and, as such, treat them uniquely."

Now, that's tough! (Tougher for some than for others.)

I was talking with my dad a week or so ago and he said he found the idea of even attempting to differentiate among his six children overwhelming. I mean, he knows we are different. He knows I have absolutely no need for any portion of his estate, whereas others of my five brothers and sisters are not so well off. He knows that some of us are quite capable of taking care of ourselves, whereas others . . . aren't.

But trying to figure these things out--or even talking about them with his children--seems "just" too difficult.

Blue offers a scenario. I'm not going to get the details all right. But the general picture is what matters:

Suppose you have three children, Blue suggests.

  • The oldest, a daughter, is married, professes faith in Christ, lives in the "right" neighborhood, goes to the "right" church, wears--and makes sure her husband and children all wear--the "right" clothes. She and her husband are members of all the "right" clubs and organizations. . . .
  • Number two, a son, is married and has children. Their family, members of a "faith" mission in which financial support is spotty, bumps along just above the poverty line. But they are joyful in their service in the inner city. . . .
  • Number three child is also a son. At this time, he shows no inclination to serve Jesus. In fact, he's been to prison on a drugs charge. He has had several unbelievable business opportunities which, somehow, in every case, he has squandered. At this point in his life, he spends most of his time watching TV and playing video games. . . .
Question: Are you going to treat them all the same in your will? You know: being fair and all. . . .

Blue suggests--and I absolutely agree: no, you ought not to treat them all the equally! Love them all equally? Yes. Treat them all equally? No way!

But this is hard work.

I have determined that, God helping me, I will do that hard work in behalf of my children.

Well. And then there is this matter of a living will.

Our attorney, knowing of our Christian commitment, urged Sarita and me to sign some kind of--I'm not sure if it was a DNR/Do Not Resuscitate order, but--some kind of Living Will document that provided for less strenuous efforts than might otherwise be made. "After all," he said, "you know where you are going, and it is a Better Place."

I believe that. I don't believe This World is All There Is. So I have no strong motivation for clinging to this life beyond reason. Yet there is a purpose to life! There is a reason to keep living. At least, to some degree.

My brother, Pete, who was dead and yet is now alive: Pete says that, while he was dead, he [I'm not sure if he has said he met Jesus; but . . . ] . . . he saw that he has a strong hope for a much better/more beautiful "tomorrow"--after death. Yet he is glad he is alive. And I am glad he is alive. He has a reason for living on this earth today. He has things to do, promises to keep.

So how shall I write my living will?

I have some tough decisions ahead of me!