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 instructions 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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Review: It’s Dangerous to Believe, by Mary Eberstadt

Mark Ward

It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its EnemiesIt’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies by Mary Eberstadt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a diligent concatenation of stories of anti-Christian liberal prejudice in the modern West. Not one was new to me. Every one was alarming, but not (to my mind) told in an alarmist way.

But the overall feel I get from the book is, if not alarmist, simply whiny. I have to say immediately that Eberstadt is very sharp, a writer from whom I’ve benefited before. But as a Catholic, she’s simply not thinking biblically, in my opinion. She’s thinking as an heir not of biblical religion but of Christendom and of Caesaropapism.

If she thought biblically, she’d remember Matthew 5:12.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

She’d remember Matthew 5:38–42.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

She’d remember Romans 12:17–21.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And she’d remember a major theme of one of the two bestsellers by the first pope (this is a list I borrow from John Piper).

This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19)

If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9)

If you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)

It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (3:17)

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (4:13)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (4:14)

If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:16)

Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Eberstadt makes a lot of telling points, but little to none of the spirit of 1 Peter is evident in the book. And yet it is Peter’s message that Christians facing soft persecution most need: an apostolic message, a dominical one.

There were, however, two major telling points in the book for me, one of which was a theme, the other a comment.

The theme was her comparison of 1) the current mania to hound Christians out of university clubs and Mozilla CEO jobs and adoption agency work with 2) manias of the past such as the Salem witch trials and the embarrassingly recent daycare child abuse scare. The parallels she drew really were illuminating: everybody freaks out and pins their own guilt on a dehumanized other. Then after the mania passes they can’t believe what they did. Yeah, I can see that.

And yet Eberstadt’s parallels imply that the mania could end some day soon and we’d all go back to the status quo ante under the benign tenets of classical liberalism. And I don’t think that’s true. I would be glad to live at peace with all men if I could, but I think classical liberalism gave us our progressivism precisely by enshrining individual freedom as its first principle. No, Eberstadt was closer to the mark when she repeatedly showed secularism to be itself a religion. The conflict between it and Christianity runs too deep for us all to turn back the clock.

Briefly, the comment I appreciated was this, and I think I can use this: to disagree with something morally is not to be a “-phobic.” It isn’t homophobia to call homosexuality immoral. We’re not called “abortiphobics” or “bestialityphobics” or—or not yet, anyway—“polygamyphobics.”

I also liked her Damon Linker quote:

Baby Boomers or Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers (like myself)—will find [Tinder’s] vision of dating as a series of technologically facilitated one-off hook-ups with near-strangers to be pretty appalling. I know I do. There’s just one problem: In order for this reaction to amount to more than an old fogey’s sub-rational expression of disgust at the behavior of the young, it has to make reference to precisely the kind of elaborate account of morality—including binding standards of human flourishing and degradation—that liberals have worked to jettison, in the name of sexual liberation, for the past half-century.

And I liked her comment that the Martin Luther King Jr of opposition to the sexual revolution may be alive today. Eberstadt genuinely has wisdom to offer. And at least that much hope.

But I see more hope in Jesus’ and Peter’s words, even if they’re harder to hear, even if it’s more gratifying to feel aggrieved, to feel robbed. They took our country. But that’s where we need Peter again. He calls Christians “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11). America isn’t our country. Not yet. And if our hearts are set on getting it, or getting it back, we’re setting our sights too low. The meek will inherit the earth. People who look for a better city—one “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10)—work and pray for the welfare of the ones they have but never forget the one they’re going to get, on a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

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Arguing Textual Criticism on Facebook. What Have I Become?

Mark Ward

I won’t argue textual criticism with those who insist on the exclusive use of the King James Version. But that doesn’t mean I won’t argue textual criticism. Here’s the tack I’m taking nowadays, something I’ve been working on for a while. It coincides with a paper I’m writing up for next year’s Bible Faculty Summit on differences between TR editions. I recently ran into a stranger on Facebook who quoted all the standard passages that are supposed to teach perfect preservation (“Thou wilt keep them”; “[not] one jot or one tittle”; “my words shall not pass away”). He also—and this is somewhat new to me—quoted WCF 1.8 (“by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages”). He also charged a conservative evangelical textual critical scholar with making “an attack on the very word of God.” This is what I wrote…

When a mainstream evangelical textual scholar denies perfect preservation, the defenders of the TR will generally claim that he is denying preservation tout court. He is not: he believes the text of the Old and New Testaments has been carefully and faithfully—but not perfectly—preserved. Or, perhaps, he believes that God’s word has been fully preserved in the totality of available manuscripts, but that we don’t have a God-given method for determining which reading is correct in each and every case.

But this is what defenders of the TR believe, too. You disagree only in degree, not kind, with the mainstream view.

There are about two dozen printed “TR” editions with varying levels of difference among them. Which one preserves the perfect text? Purchasers of which of these editions had the every jot and tittle promise fulfilled for them? It can be only one—if indeed you believe in perfect preservation. But you don’t, or at least I don’t think you do! The texts the Westminster divines were speaking of when they used that phrase “kept pure in all ages” were themselves not all identical, and they knew this. Owen knew it. In his piece on textual issues that Reformed Received Text proponents like to quote, he was complaining not about the existence of differences but about the number being reported in full. “That there are in some copies of the New Testament, and those some of them of some good antiquity, diverse readings, in things or words of less importance, is acknowledged.” (16:363)

If you can back off of perfect preservation and see excellent preservation as sufficient, then you can have and even prefer all your TRs and give a little grace to someone who, quite clearly, is not making “an attack on the very word of God.” That language is overblown in the extreme.

But if you’re going to insist on absolute perfection, you’re not going to find a Bible verse or a sufficiently clear act of providence to give you what you demand—or tell you where to find it. The TRs themselves are divided in places. Scrivener, who put together his 1894 TR based on the textual-critical decisions of the KJV translators, counted ~30 places where they differed from both of the GNTs they had (Stephanus and Beza), ~100 places where they agreed with Beza against Stephanus, and ~20 where they agree with Stephanus against Beza. Their textual-critical decisions do not match any one printed TR or any known manuscripts. The KJV translators performed textual criticism. In God’s providence, the English-speaking world has been reading the results of an eclectic text for over four centuries. Sure, the differences between TR editions aren’t as great as those between 1) the TRs and 2) the major critical texts. But the difference is in degree, not kind. Please tone down the rhetoric. And let us know which TR has every jot and tittle, no more and no less.

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How Do We Treat Machines?

Mark Ward

When Alexa is talking to me, I feel no compunction interrupting and basically telling her to shut up.

Me: Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?

Alexa: Look for partly cloudy weather, with a high of 63º and a…

Me: Alexa, stop.

And Alexa stops. It doesn’t record in its memory banks, User 3 interrupted me rather abruptly on Tuesday, October 6, at 9:14 p.m. Respond next time in a mildly surly manner, then escalate to outright rudeness if User 3’s behavior continues.

I don’t feel guilty interrupting Alexa, and it doesn’t take offense. Because I’m a person and it’s a machine.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a whole novel about what would happen if people really believed that others were machines. It’s even worse than what I do to Alexa. It involves physical violence.

I think people’s assumptions about the way the world really is do affect their treatment of one another. So I’m not surprised—though admittedly correlation does not equal causation—that in a world of growing naturalistic materialism, babies and old folks have become disposable.

And yet… there’s one way in which no one seems to treat anyone else as a machine. And you can see it on social media in what people don’t say. My most ardent atheistic friends never say to me, patronizingly, “It’s a pity you were assigned by the immutable laws of cause and effect to be in the out-group during this evolutionary phase. The genes for religious observance and opposition to homosexuality aren’t fun to have, but somebody has to be in the lower-status group or there won’t be a top to which the fittest may rise.” No, they treat my faith in Scripture and my insistence that it teaches exclusive heterosexual monogamy as moral faults of mine. I’m not ignorant to them; I’m a bigot. I’m not the product of a particular social environment in a particular culture at a particular elevation above sea level; I’m just a stupid hater jerk.

People who insist that they believe that there is no God and everything is the product of immutable natural laws nonetheless show their suppression of their innate knowledge of the source of those laws (Rom 1:19–20) when they don’t treat me like a machine. They also can’t bring themselves to treat themselves as machines, or not consistently. They take credit for their successes as if they and not evolutionary forces and immutable laws were responsible. They even take blame (sometimes, though rarely in public on social media—as if Christians were any better at that!) for their faults as if they and not group adaptation and nature’s assigned cranial capacity were responsible. There’s hope in that latter humility.

People cannot live consistently with their materialistic views, and I’m glad. I think I’d rather be hated (Matt 5:10–12) than patronized.

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Can People Learn to Read the English of the KJV?

Mark Ward

One Sunday a few years ago I asked the teens I was teaching in Sunday School to read some verses out loud, and one of them read from the KJV. This is what he said—and I quickly took note of his pronunciation errors and saved them, because I thought they raised a good question.

He hath shooed thee O man what is good; and what doeth the Lord thee God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Here’s the question: did he understand what he read?

  • He read shewed as shooed: was this a mispronunciation or a misunderstanding? Was he thinking that shew is a different word than show? I don’t know.
  • He read doth as doeth: was this a mispronunciation or a misunderstanding? Considering that doeth is such a common KJV verb, I have to think it was the latter. What possible sense of this sentence could he have made if he stuck a regular verb in there in place of a helping verb?
  • He read thy as thee: was this is a mispronunciation or a misunderstanding? Again I’m not sure. I just noticed that he stumbled, at least verbally, over one of the words that everyone is supposed to find easy.

This boy was the definition of average in our youth group—in our homeschooled, raised-as-a-Christian, overachieving youth group. He was neither brilliant nor a dolt. Average. I believe he had been raised using the King James Version in church and for personal use. His errors, too, were average, common. I’ve heard them a thousand times.

Helping people read

Now, defenders of the exclusive use of the KJV commonly insist that we can teach people how to read it. Their battle cry is, “Raise people up to the KJV rather than dumbing the Bible down to them!”

One KJV-Onlyish pastor (if you’ve followed my too-many posts on this topic, this is the one critical reader who has been the most gracious with me—super nice guy) wrote to me,

If we use the King James for preaching, teaching, discipleship, training and evangelism, we must take care to plainly teach and explain the truths of the Bible. Should you choose to give the KJV to a child or a new believer, great priority and care should be given to their discipleship and biblical education. We MUST take into account all of the things discussed in your book, especially the blind areas that we have, which I believe you brought to light in my own life incredibly well.

Again, what a gracious guy!

And yet I wonder, how exactly does even this clearly sincere and motivated pastor plan to ensure that his people can read the English of the KJV well?

  1. Do any KJV-Only churches offer reading programs in Elizabethan English?
  2. The small teen Sunday School I was teaching back then is about the most ideal circumstance in which to notice and correct someone’s reading errors. But I didn’t do it, because I didn’t want to embarrass the boy—and I wasn’t perfectly certain he misunderstood. Are there other Bible teachers out there who are experts at gently correcting other people’s reading in front of their peers? Can you tell me how to do it without embarrassing them?
  3. This boy was reading out loud, so I knew where he stumbled. But I’ve always wondered: how are preachers (who, in the KJV-Only view, are supposed to be teaching their people to read the KJV English) supposed to help people with their Bible reading at home? When I was a kid, I remember thinking, Surely I’ve read the Bible cover to cover: my pastor must have covered the entire thing by now. Then I went to college and read the thing—and discovered how wrong I was. The truth is that my pastor hadn’t even come even close. I’d guess we covered maybe 3% max over the four years I sat under his ministry. How was he supposed to know if I was misunderstanding something at home in the middle of Isaiah 55 or Titus 3 or Ezekiel 16 or Proverbs 7?

Exactly how is a pastor, with all his other duties, supposed to 1) notice when people are misunderstanding KJV English and then 2) teach them to read it? I’ve never seen it done, and I don’t think it can be done. Most adults will understand most of the KJV (hear me here: I’m trying not to overstate my case). A few adults will understand very little of it. A few will understand more than most.

Bringing the average group of adults into the above-average one is not easy or straightforward. And I think bringing the below-average group to average is well-nigh impossible. (I ministered to functionally illiterate people for many years—I know this.) The story I opened with suggests that it’s hard to even know for sure when help is needed—and hard to make it happen, even in the best of circumstances.

The Bible will always contain difficult portions (2 Pet 3:16). I want them to remain as difficult as God made them. These are necessary difficulties. But if you use a contemporary English translation, all of the unnecessary readability difficulties—the ones created by the meandering and yet inevitable process of language change over the last 400-plus years—will instantly go away.

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