Find the False Friends!

Mark Ward

I’m editing some Puritan prayers for a new Lexham Press project, and I’m really enjoying the edification provided by these wonderfully eloquent, godly Christians of yore. But I am most certainly keeping my thinking cap on as I read (that’s my job), because the project includes a slight modernization—which basically means a translation from one form of English to another, an overlapping one. The key concept of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, “false friends,” has come in handy multiple times.

A “false friend,” as I define the term, needs to meet two of three criteria: it’s a word (or piece of syntax or punctuation, etc.) that is 1) still used today but 2) could or did mean something different in 1611, and 3) that has “changed in such a way that modern readers are unlikely to notice” (119). That last point is a little fuzzy, because modern readers differ. Some are more perceptive than others. Some are more experienced with the words and patterns of Elizabethan English than others. I don’t know how many people, or what people, a given “false friend” has to trip up before it counts as a full false friend. It’s a judgment call every time. I still want to call a word a false friend if I notice it but don’t know what the author meant by it; if I only know our modern use of the word and not his Early Modern use of the word.

I wonder, can you spot the false friends in the following prayer from Puritan luminary Joseph Alleine? I’ll update later with the answer(s).

O my Lord, bring me where you feed, let me live in your face, let me feel your smiles upon my heart, let me love you, tell me you love me. Remember, accept, pity, and take care of me, and then choose my condition, my dwelling, and entertainment for me.

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Review: Educated, by Tara Westover

Mark Ward

My heart goes out to Tara Westover. I rooted for her and felt defensive for her during 100% of the story. Other people’s epistemological sins harmed her. Precisely because of her love for her parents, those sins maintained a hold on her far, far into a life that, on the outside, looked “normal.” Obviously, hare-brained conspiracy theories are not harmless fun; they can radically stunt human lives and break vital relationships. And yet this refugee from turmoil managed to write a truly beautiful and insightful book that is, in addition, a page-turning story. (I heard her say in an interview that she listened to the New Yorker Fiction podcast to learn how to write. I signed up myself, hoping for the same boost to my literary abilities.) Well, well done, Tara.

But I’d like to point something out to my fellow Goodreaders [for whom I first wrote this review] that I fear will get lost in our collective rush to see Tara’s story as a confirmation of mainstream Western values: Tara’s story is a conversion story, not a de-conversion story. She didn’t merely de-convert from a hare-brained worldview; she actively converted to a different worldview. That latter worldview is not described in her book in any detail. But it means, among other things, that her story isn’t over. Which view of the world will she live out? If she adopted (as one would naturally expect?) the worldview of the people who educated her at Cambridge and Harvard, I would point out that this view is not a natural default, a neutral and objective place to be, a direct view of the world. It, too, is based on assumptions and beliefs that not everyone shares. It views the world through lenses worn by a minority of humanity, especially historically. It, too, contains suppressions of the truth.

Because Tara did not directly describe her current worldview, I cannot and will not critique it. Again, my primary feeling for her is appreciation and defensiveness. But I would encourage readers to reflect on their own views. Friends, do not to make Tara’s life-thus-far a feel-good story for mainstream Westerners. It’s unsettling to realize that, given an alternate environment, you might be capable of believing as the Westovers do (indeed, their view of essential oils is at least half-accepted by a disturbingly large number of college-educated American women). But I’d encourage you, reader, not to assume that because they are wrong you are right. Put yourself in the shoes of people—like myself—who regard the predominant Western view, the secular and materialist view, as itself hare-brained. The ideas that something could come from nothing, that life could come from non-life, that mind could arise out of non-mind—I regard these as ludicrous in the extreme. The idea that religion can and should be moved to the margins of society I regard as impossible and therefore, in a very real way, self-delusional. Some non-empirical “vision of the good” is going to rule every culture. And it is not clear to me that the West has escaped delusions within its own vision.

I regard the prevailing worldview among Western educated people as having similar overall effects on Western society to the ones that survivalist, conspiracy-theory delusions allegedly (though I do believe Tara, I feel I have to use that word to maintain a modicum of fairness!) had on the Westover family. Yes, I think it’s quite literally crazy to believe that the Illuminati are secretly running the world, that the Holocaust was bankrolled by greedy Jews, that the medical establishment is wicked and ineffective, and that consulting or balancing (or whatever it is) one’s chakras is God’s means of bringing health. I found it revealing that Tara’s mom had previously ascribed such beliefs to the desperation of the ill—and that certain injuries did land Westovers in the hospital despite their disbelief. And I’m not persuaded of the truth of Mr. Westover’s worldview by the fact that he was willing to suffer for it. In fact, it is his willingness to let his own children suffer for it—keeping them out of school, making them work physically dangerous jobs in which they were indeed seriously injured—that confirms what he ought to have known: he was living inside a set of delusions.

But is that so far from what Western materialism is doing to its youth? Direct cause and effect on such a large scale is impossible to prove; people will resort to their worldviews, their presuppositions, to explain even cause and effect. But from where I stand, inside (by God’s grace, but still with many human limitations) a biblical worldview, it looks like sexual promiscuity, the erosion of a coherent moral framework more generally and its replacement with self-actualization, and the combination of over-confidence in the deliverances of science and the under-confidence in the possibility of binding *moral* truth—all these things, fruits of a materialist worldview, are hurting our culture profoundly. Ironically enough, the next audiobook in my Libby app playlist is Our Kids, by Robert Putnam. I expect to see once again that the West’s values are not serving our kids much better than the Westovers’ values served theirs.

Tara had to fight hard—and I admire her so much for this—to reconcile her love for her family with her growing awareness that they lived on their own epistemological spirit-planet. This was most evident in their refusal (allegedly) to protect her from a physically abusive and emotionally manipulative brother. But it was evident in many other ways: I’m glad she escaped. I’m sad that reconciling her familial love with her education had to mean distancing herself from parents who (allegedly) chose extremist beliefs—and a very troubled son—over their gifted daughter. But I think she did right. I think, ultimately, that people who demand that you believe overt untruths (the biggest one being, “My sins against you are all in the past”) in order to have a relationship with you are best served, best loved, by refusal. “Honor your father and mother” does not mean, “Join them in their delusions.”

But you’re going to have to join somebody; there are no truly independent thinkers. How can we avoid group delusions? The Bible says—and if you bristle at that phrase, you especially need to read on—that the creation itself testifies clearly to the “eternal power and divine nature” of God. Acknowledging this truth is the only way to truly escape the rough and tumble, the push and pull of merely human perspectives. All humans are on the same plane. If some are “taller” than others, and see farther (I think Tara is such a one), still none of us enjoys a God’s-eye view. None of us is truly above the fray. We need divine grace to reach down and tell us what he sees from his perspective. This is the only way to avoid the delusions we all stumble into—too often willingly—on this sin-cursed earth.

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An Authorized Milestone

Mark Ward

I’ve just achieved a milestone with Amazon reviews of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. I now have every important kind of review there is. I have five-star reviews, I have one-star reviews, and I have just gotten the coveted “my book showed up as promised” review. It usually takes a while before that happens. I, like my book at that man’s house, have arrived.

I have reached a couple less important milestones, too: I have literally been cursed with an imprecation (see below); I have been docked stars for not being Mormon; and I have relieved readers when they discover that Authorized is short.

If you still haven’t read Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, may I remind you—it is short?

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Prescriptivist Descriptivism

Mark Ward

This is exactly where I’m at:

Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have two roles at my workplace: I am an editor and a language columnist. These two jobs more or less require me to be both a prescriptivist and a descriptivist. When people file me copy that has mistakes of grammar or mechanics, I fix them (as well as applying TheEconomist’s house style). But when it comes time to write my column, I study the weird mess of real language; rather than being a scold about this or that mistake, I try to teach myself (and so the reader) something new. Is this a split personality, or can the two be reconciled into a coherent philosophy? I believe they can.

And I think he demonstrates that they do. Though he doesn’t say it, I’d point to the third rail of class as lurking in the background of this discussion. On the one hand, the reason there are standards, a right and a wrong way to say/write things, is that the people with power in any given society have a certain way of speaking/writing, and they all notice deviations. On the other hand, the elites’ way of speaking/writing is not necessarily intrinsically superior. It didn’t come down from heaven. And it changes over time, just like everyone else’s way of speaking/writing.

People worry that this kind of change will mean language will fall apart. But the writer makes this trenchant observation:

Prescriptivists cannot point to a single language that became unusable or inexpressive as a result of people’s failure to uphold traditional vocabulary and grammar. Every language existing today is fantastically expressive. It would be a miracle, except that it is utterly commonplace, a fact shared not only by all languages but by all the humans who use them.

He concludes wisely:

Spontaneous order doesn’t sit well with people. We are all tempted to think that complex systems need management, a benign but firm hand. But just as market economies turn out better than command economies, languages are too complex, and used by too many people, to submit to command management. Individual decisions can be bad ones, and merit correction, but we can be optimistic that, in the long run, change is inevitable and it will turn out all right. Broadly trusting the distributed intelligence of your fellow humans to keep things in order can be hard to do, but it’s the only way to go. Language is self-regulating. It’s a genius system – with no genius.

Read the whole thing.

Update: A friend pointed out gently that the very last line probably shouldn’t be exactly what I think. And I agree. God is the genius that holds language together. He regulates it. It’s one of the ways he puts boundaries between nations, I personally think (Acts 17:26). But here’s the thing: God has given us no direct access to his ideas about a given language. Our access to meaning still comes through observing what, in fact, people mean when they use given words.

HT: Don Johnson
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Interview Questions for Iain Provan of Regent College

Mark Ward

In your book, The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture, you pointed out that the early church father Irenaeus did not argue based on his episcopal authority but on the basis of what Scripture said. You drew a contrast here with Martin Luther’s theological opponents, who, you said, “displayed a strong preference for appeals to episcopal authority over against argument based on or even involving scripture.” How important is a vernacular Bible to the Lutheran and Protestant tendency you name here, the tendency to appeal directly to Scripture in theological argument?

You quote Calvin as saying that “there is nothing in scripture which is not useful for your instruction.“ Can Scripture be useful for instruction if it’s not translated?

What kind of biblical literacy did Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers expect from laypeople? What did they expect them to get out of personal Bible reading?

I think I see strong parallels between today’s insistent efforts to retain the KJV and yesterday’s insistent efforts to retain the Vulgate. Do you see any parallels between the two?

At the same time, you point out in your book that the Vulgate was made from the original Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture and was made “for the use and benefit of the faithful.” How does a translation made for Christians to read become over time a barrier to Christian understanding of God’s word?

I typically avoid talking about textual criticism when discussing the KJV. I find that it confuses the two wholly separate issues of text and translation. However, do you think the Reformers had a fundamentally different view of textual criticism than do modern evangelicals, or do you think they had merely an earlier one?

Are you aware of movements in other nations parallel to the defense of the KJV? Are there are Elberfelder-Onlyists or Reina-Valera onlyists? Is one-Bible-translation-onlyism a perennial problem?

Would the Reformers be in favor of multiple Bible translations in a given language?

How should Protestant evangelicals, heirs of the Reformation, people who love and value the Bible, distinguish translations from the originals?

Can we have a doctrine of perspicuity, of the clarity of Scripture, without translation into the vernacular? Can we have a doctrine of sufficiency or necessity or authority?

Luther famously held on to certain familiar Catholic practices in an effort to avoid shaking up individual lay Christians with a violent iconoclasm. How happy would Luther be with keeping a vernacular Bible translation that was no longer fully readable by average people? Would he look to revision or to education?

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Where Should I Train for Ministry?

I just posted the following in a Facebook group composed largely by pastors who graduated from KJV-Only institutions. One asked which schools group members would recommend for a youth pastor. I jotted out some thoughts I’ve been wanting to send to the KJV-Only community for a while—not because I want to condemn or confront them but because I truly want to help them.

I care very deeply about Christian education. I gave 26 years of my life to receiving it (the last ten while working part-time—or it would have been 20 years), and I gave nine years of my life to promoting it by writing Bible textbooks for high schoolers. I’m still doing the latter as a freelancer, writing a biblical worldview textbook for sixth graders.

If we can set aside the KJV issue for a moment (I’ll come back to it), I’d like to offer two opinions that are going to be a minority report in this group: Bible faculties with PhDs matter, and liberal arts education matters. I’ve given a lot of thought to these points over the years, because I never want to say that those without PhDs cannot teach accurately, or that Bible colleges shouldn’t exist. I also want to acknowledge that some young men are ruined by their PhDs, and that the last time I visited a Bible college I could feel the zeal in the air among the conservatively dressed young people—and I loved it. God seems to give different strengths to different groups.

But I have listened carefully to a lot of preaching, and my training was focused on listening to that preaching with a gracious but critical ear. And it is my firm opinion that most of the preaching I hear coming out of four-year Bible college graduates could be noticeably improved by just two years in an M.A. program taught by bona fide, conservative, Bible-believing PhDs. It could be even more improved by an MDiv program taught by those same PhDs. Almost no one remains a youth pastor forever. If they remain in ministry, they become senior pastors. They need the best training they can get. And do we really think teens don’t deserve good Bible teaching?

Listen, I’m slow: it took me a long time to really grasp what my teachers were trying to tell me. But I knew that Proverbs told me to seek wisdom and understanding as ardently as people search for gold or silver. Get wisdom, get understanding, God said. I found that for this to occur, my nose needed to be held to the grindstone for a long time by men whose own noses had been held to the same grindstone. When you enter ministry, it’s awkward and difficult for others to critique your sermons. Your wife loves you and doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, your people love you, too—or they don’t, and their criticisms will be full of bile and impossible to listen to. =( Only trained professors can love you and lay into you enough to change your mind and make you grow.

Yes, I have heard academically dry preaching (typically from students, actually, not from PhDs). And I hate it, I truly do. I have read academic articles by evangelicals who seem to forget that they’re talking about the word of the living God! I hate that, too. I prefer a country preacher truly on fire for God over a PhD who is not. But let’s not permit a false dichotomy: the ideal is Lloyd-Jones’ “logic on fire,” consecration of both head and heart. If you don’t submit yourself in school to the sharpening influence of people with highly developed critical abilities, you will never get that chance again. If you give up an opportunity to get the best education you can in a Bible-believing atmosphere, I think you are morally culpable for refusing Proverbs’ commands.

I’ll speak only briefly to the liberal arts: as others have pointed out, I have seen many, many young men get Bible degrees or youth ministry degrees and regret their lack of marketable skills. It may sound romantic to be bivocational, like you’re sacrificing for the kingdom, but it’s very hard on a wife and kids. Wise use of a liberal arts’ school’s many opportunities can give a preacher boy skills that will provide for his family without sapping all his time. Just as importantly, liberal arts courses help someone be well-rounded. At my church I use all kinds of skills I picked up by accident, and my life has been immeasurably enriched (in both senses!) by my time studying graphic design. Responsible Bible interpretation and effective Bible preaching call on all kinds of skills; knowledge of history, literature, linguistics, and other fields is a huge help. It’s more wisdom available for the taking. Genesis 1:26–28 encourage us to make the most of the world God has given us (see my book, Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption). It is short-sighted and (worse) theologically wrong, I believe, for Christian young people to eschew the liberal arts.

So, prospective preacher boy, go to a school where you will be taught by genuine PhDs and where you will have required courses in the liberal arts.

And now let me get to the touchiest part of this post: where can those two things be found?

It’s easy enough to know if a school teaches liberal arts. Look at its website. And, again, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to go to a Bible college with the intent of getting liberal arts training later. But liberal arts training matters.

So let’s talk about PhDs. I’m happy to call myself a “fundamentalist” if I get to do a tiny bit of explaining. But the sad fact about fundamentalist schools is that not every “Dr.” is a “Dr.” Honorary doctorates are handed out like candy in fundamentalism. And though a DMin can be a very useful degree, it is designed for ministry and not for teaching. Look carefully into the qualifications of your future professors. Most of the schools mentioned in this thread—and here I go stepping on toes!—have numerous Bible professors whose experience and faithfulness is highly laudable, but whose degrees are very shaky.

One example: whatever you think of the Protestant Reformation, I’m sure you’re grateful that it rescued the study of the biblical languages. While the Catholics were either never getting around to translating the Bible into vernacular languages, or were translating from the Latin Vulgate (!), the Reformers recovered the biblical languages in order to bring the Bible to the masses. But there are numerous “Drs.” at fundamentalist schools who have not studied these languages beyond the basics, a maximum of two years of Greek and one (if any) of Hebrew. They take very firm positions on which Bible translation is best, but if they were asked to translate a Greek or Hebrew sentence, they could not do it. How do I know this? Because I have called the schools where they got their correspondence doctorates, and I asked what training they provide in Greek and Hebrew. The answer? None. There is also at least one faculty member at one of the schools mentioned in this thread who received his doctorate from an open and overt degree mill that offers “life experience” degrees. (What’s more, when he advertised this degree on the school’s website, he misspelled the name of the “school.”)

Many schools mentioned here are going for TRACS accreditation now, or have already received it. This is a good thing, and it shows that I am not a malcontent who is spinning up conspiracies. =) Multiple KJV-Only schools right now, in particular, are recognizing that they have academic weaknesses. TRACS is helping them shore those up. I want to see those schools succeed in their stated missions. I want them to train up true expository preachers and faithful evangelists. I do not wish to see them fail. But, brothers and sisters, there is a difference in quality between the teaching one gets from people who have spent years in school (and, at the school I attended, in pastoral ministry, too) and those who have not done equivalent work, or those who have taken shortcuts.

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