Top Five Responses to Authorized from KJV-Only Brothers

Mark Ward

Does My Argument in Authorized Apply to Old Hymns?

Mark Ward

A pastor friend in urban Chicago asked a great question:

How does the case you make in your book regarding [unintelligible language in] the KJV apply to our hymnody? I’m editing our Sunday slide presentation and am finding that the “thees” and “thous,” while beautiful and transcendent, may not be clear to an outsider attending our fellowship. In some cases, the old English is updatable without ruining the message or meter. But, in other cases a small tweak would ruin a rhyme.

I replied that that question is a really good one, one other friend has already posed. And here’s what I’ve come to so far:

First, nobody is 17th-Century-Hymnody-Only or has made a doctrine out of using archaic hymns exclusively, so the pressure to push back against unintelligible language in hymns is not as great as the need to push back against unintelligible language in Bibles.

Second, the Bible is also more important than hymns, so that’s the battle I’m picking first.

But, third, to be consistent with my argument in Authorized, I have to say that we should not use unintelligible language when intelligible language is available. What a lot of KJVOs think I’m saying (or want me to be saying so they can burn up my straw man) is that we should remove all difficulty, including literary beauty and metaphor, from our worship. They say I’m calling for an emoji Bible. I’m not; and nor do I want an emoji hymnal. “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light” is a beautiful metaphor, and totally gettable. It should stay. Maybe “Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed / Bruise in us the serpent’s head” is a bit harder. But it’s straight Bible, with a small interpretive twist (“Bruise in us the serpent’s head”)—and I don’t want to get rid of such things. I’m actually fine with challenging metaphors, particularly if they’re drawn from the Bible—or comparable to the Bible’s metaphors in their obscurity quotient. Parts of the Bible are hard to understand; Peter said so (2 Pet 3:16). A good shepherd knows when to lead his sheep to those pastures, and how to lead them there. The same goes for our tradition of (non-inspired) hymnody.

I think “thee” and “thou” and “thy” really are not very difficult or unintelligible to modern English speakers with any education whatsoever. They are part of a recognizably high or sacral register in modern English. They show up on TV, even. But I want to be sensitive to my audience. I want to be on the lookout, because of 1 Corinthians 14’s edification-requires-intelligibility principle, for traditional wording I just have to know my congregation won’t get. “Naught be all else to me save that thou art” probably qualifies, I’m afraid. I tried to explain it recently to my congregation (I’m manic about this when I lead singing), but I’m not 100% sure of my own interpretation—even after watching the great Randy Leedy in class try to parse it one time. If he can’t get it, no one can. It probably needs to be revised—or what are we? Hidebound traditionalists who care more about aesthetic forms than about understanding and the edification that comes from it. And considering how poor our low-church aesthetic forms are compared to those of High Anglicanism or Rome itself, that’s pretty sad.

I love certain old hymns like “And Can It Be?” for their text and their tunes. The latter have been updated often in recent years; perhaps it is time for a concerted effort to update the former—just enough to retrieve intelligibility while preserving the doctrine and the metaphors.

Sort of fourth: to clarify one point I’ve been making… For almost six years I “pastored” an outreach congregation full of functionally illiterate people. I loved it. But we sang simple songs that I don’t sing in my current middle-class congregation. My current church can surpass the simple, for their spiritual and even aesthetic benefit. I’m not trying to dumb everything down; I’m trying to make understanding possible for my audience rather than impossible. That’s part of my calling when I shepherd the flock.

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“Grandfathered In,” Racism, and a Copy-Editor’s True Calling

Mark Ward

It seems that the phrase “grandfathered in”—as in, “Smokers who were already working at the company were grandfathered into the new health plan, but new hires won’t be able to get on if they smoke”—has its origins in overtly unjust, racist practices. This was sent to me by an editor from a website for copy-editors. And those unjust and racist practices, by the way, were truly terrible. Hateful.

But I’m left wondering why a copy-editor thought a bunch of other copy-editors should know all this. It suggests to me that this copy-editor has forgotten what his job is: gauging the reaction of the intended audience of a piece to every piece of meaning in that piece. Effectively zero English speakers today are aware of the allegedly racist origins of the common phrase “grandfathered in.” Effectively zero readers will react negatively to it—until now, now that they’ve read this article.

This copy-editor has just torpedoed, to a tiny degree, the work of the authors he’s called to serve. Now a few readers out there may possibly tsk-tsk a writer for using a common English phrase that he or she has little reason to know has origins in racism.

Almost all of us are almost totally ignorant of the history of almost all of our words. And that’s okay. The words eleven and twelve derive from the base-6 numbering system—should we stop using them for modern base-10 math?

Search the prose of black writers and I’ll be willing to bet that they use the phrase just as much as writers of other ethnicities. It’s like snafu: it just doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

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A Book Review, Or, What Bothers Me About Self-Help Books

Mark Ward

By page 3 of most self-help books, I start hearing a cheery person intoning in the background, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough. By page 10: And, doggone it, people like me! Without denying that I should Win Friends and Influence People, go from Good to Great, and work harder at Getting Things Done—indeed, without denying that there is a lot of practical wisdom in these books that I ought to heed—I get a little frustrated with their vapidity quotient. Could anything be more clichéd than “Synergize” or “Put first things first”? But there’s something deeper that nags at me when I read these mega-bestelling works. In my experience (and I confess I haven’t even read all the ones I’ve just named), they studiously avoid the deeper issues that Drive us: our loves, our beliefs in ultimate realities.

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was refreshingly, though not entirely, different. It professes religious neutrality, but it also makes explicitly religious claims drawn from the author’s Mormon faith. Where other books might say, as Covey did, “Success in any endeavor is always derived from acting in harmony with the principles to which the success is tied,” Covey takes a further theological step. He posits an ordered cosmos and an Orderer who actively ties successes to principles. He himself says explicitly that the natural laws structuring his book “have their source in God.” He doesn’t dwell much on this theme, but he does repeat it often enough that I felt he really believed it. (I came away liking the guy, frankly.) Covey even urges readers to make all their decisions in light of the end of life, not something I’ve read in other self-help and productivity books.

But his overall religious neutrality gets Covey in a little trouble here, because I want to ask: what about making decisions in light of what will happen a millisecond after the end of life? I’m not asking this book to be a theology book; I’m suggesting that staying neutral about ultimate realities means you have to leave out key ingredients of a successful life—including the very definition of ultimate success. Maintaining neutrality among competing “visions of the good” means refusing to give real meaning to this life Covey is trying to help me structure according to natural law. Do I get to live in the light of the Lamb on a restored earth for all eternity, do I enjoy the ministrations of 72 virgins, do I reincarnate as a wealthy man, do I achieve nirvana, do I win if I get the most toys, do I get to go populate a planet? And what if I believe there is no God, no lawgiver to give us any natural laws? Each worldview rather colors my view of a life well lived on this earth, and how I achieve it, I’d say. Covey thinks you can map his principles onto any religion and have the same success, but if fearing God and keeping his commandments are the whole duty of man, if loving God and loving neighbor are the whole law, then Covey just can’t be right.

Similarly, though Covey’s stories about working lovingly through conflict with his wife and children were really touching and exemplary, there didn’t seem to me to be a category in his thinking for “sin.” Surely a book about success can’t truly work if it doesn’t tell us how to deal with that ultimate but daily failure we all experience (whether we know it or suppress it). Perhaps many people in modern Western societies don’t experience guilt, but some are crushed by it. What do they do? Also, I think the Bible’s themes are a good bit more nuanced than “observe these principles and you’ll have a good life.” That’s part of the truth—it’s the part Proverbs hits, I’d say. But right after Proverbs in God’s wisdom come the exceptions of Ecclesiastes: sometimes you follow the principles in this fallen world and, in the good providence of God under the sun, bad stuff still happens.

Covey’s title promises to make you an “effective” person, but the book mostly maintains the strategy of secularism to avoid conflict by focusing on utilitarian means without deciding among metaphysical/theological/religious ends. Wikipedia quotes someone who says that The Seven Habits is a “secular distillation of Mormon values.” But given some people’s value systems, I don’t want them to be effective. (Godwin’s law alert.) My father wrote his dissertation at Clemson on the “technical communication” used by the Nazis to make the Holocaust more “effective” and efficient, thereby to distance themselves from the ends they were actually pursuing. One must align his ends to natural law, not just his means, if he wishes truly to succeed.

I’ll happily plunder this very wise Egyptian for his well-honed observations of natural law in the workaday world, but I’ll keep my explicitly Christian teloi, and I’ll let my religion remap my understanding of the appropriate means to reach them. I won’t expect to be truly effective in doing anything ultimately worthwhile—on the only scale of worth that (ultimately) counts—unless love for God and neighbor is driving me (Rom 8:8).

I do, however, have sincere praise for this book and the natural law wisdom it contains. Covey has, no doubt, discovered truths in God’s ordered world that I needed.

  1. Covey made me want to think more carefully and explicitly about my gifts and goals, to the point of aligning my commitments to those gifts and goals. This advice came at the right time for me, as opportunities have recently begun to exceed capacities in a new way. I do have end goals: the glory of God, the growth of Christ’s church in the light of the Bible (as it happens). His prudent advice will help me reach those goals.
  2. Covey encouraged me to encourage others to acknowledge their agency, something I can readily align with my biblical faith.
  3. Covey’s parenting stories made me want to be a more loving and understanding father, one who focuses on fixing my own attitude before fixing those of my children. I was surprised at this regular emphasis in a “business” book, and I thought it was very healthy. It acknowledged implicitly that business and personal success are tied together in the cosmos we were given.
  4. Covey blew a little dust off my pluck. I am an American, and our optimistic, can-do spirit is a cultural legacy I don’t want to squander, a common grace God has given to my nation. I don’t want my Gen-X/Millennial sardonic eye to undermine my capacity to do something good in this world, for the glory of God and the good of my neighbor.
  5. Covey handed me a really wonderful Cecil B. DeMille quote about the law: “We cannot break the law; we can only break ourselves against the law.”
  6. I think I could “think win/win” more often than I do; I could be more optimistic about the possibility that, within a given conflict, everybody can come out ahead—precisely because of that natural law, and of God’s grace.
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A Funny False Friend

Mark Ward

The ESV (2000s) of 1 Thessalonians 5:22:

Abstain from every form of evil.

Wycliffe’s translation (1380s) of the same verse:

Absteyne you fro al yuel spice.

Why did Wycliffe take a very general command—the most general command possible—and focus it on a very specific sin that, I would say, is no longer a temptation? I personally, at least, have never been drawn toward yule spice, which I presume is some kind of mixed drink consumed at Christmas.

Actually, we’re dealing with “false friends” created by spelling and word order changes in English. Yuel is an older spelling of “evil,” and spice an early spelling of “species,” or we might say, “types.” He’s saying, “Abstain from all species of evil.”

Language changes in funny ways, and normal people cannot be expected to keep track of them in order to read the Bible. I’m glad we have no Wycliffe-Onlyism out there.

HT: an Ambassador Bible College grad who has left KJV-Onlyism—with a nice attitude.

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Papple

Mark Ward

True story I just have to share somewhere: I recently asked a precious and generous and godly and intelligent family friend if she had “Apple Pay,” the iPhone-based payment system, so I could quickly remunerate her for something she’d just given my wife. She just stared at me. She thought I was using Pig Latin—applepay—and she didn’t know what “Papple” was, or why she would be expected to have it. This error that only a clever person could make has brought me no end of delight.

(It turns out that papple *is* a thing, but only barely.)

(Language is so fun and cool!)

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