Skip to content

Proof of what is unseen

A Major Family Adventure

Mark Ward

We visited grandparents and great grandparents and a rarely-seen uncle in Ohio over Christmas and New Years. Our Saturday-afternoon flight from Cleveland to Denver (departure scheduled for 4:37 pm) was delayed for four hours by a mechanical fault. We had to deplane with all our stuff (and with three children after a two-week trip in Ohio that included Christmas presents, that’s a lot of stuff), only to get back on the plane with all that same stuff and sit in exactly the same seats. We therefore missed our connection in Denver, and United put us up in a nice hotel. We got there very late, but we got there. The next flight out to Everett, WA, was the next morning (Sunday), but it was booked solid. We were put on an evening flight (Sunday).

So we spent the day Sunday in Denver. I wanted to go to church, and I looked up options—I always like to see what other churches are like whenever I happen to be traveling on a Sunday. But the family was too exhausted. We had a nice, restful morning at the Gaylord Resort, a beautiful place with a view of the Rockies, and we rented a car for the afternoon to go do a wildlife drive and see downtown Denver.

The Gaylord Rockies Resort

Then we went back to the airport for dinner (we had meal vouchers) and our flight.

We got on the flight, relieved to finally be on our way home to Washington. We took off at 7:19 pm as planned. I set the kids up with rated G movies on their respective screens—a major thing they look forward to on long trips. And I began to write on my iPad: I had planned to use the flight to finish up a lesson of my Bible textbook project for BJU Press. I love writing on planes (I’m doing it now)!

But twenty minutes into our trip, the pilot announced that there was a problem with one of the wing flaps, and we were not allowed to climb to 30,000 feet and could not go on to Everett. “Safety first,” he said. We would have to go back to Denver. He said it would take 15–20 minutes. Soon he came back on to tell us that we were too heavy to land, because we were still carrying enough fuel to take us a third of the way across the country, so we were going to have to circle Denver for 30 minutes. My wife gets motion sickness during turbulence, so this was the worst news of the night for me. Circling Denver at low altitude is bumpy. I felt terrible for her. It was bad. I got her an airsickness bag; it’s all I could do.

Then the captain came on the intercom again and told us that we were going to need to spend another 15–20 minutes circling because the fuel hadn’t been expended as quickly as he thought. Worse news.

Then he came on again and said that because of the flap issue, we were going to have to make an emergency landing. The flight attendant took us through all the instructions for such a landing, including asking fire and police personnel to move toward the exits to help people in the event of a crash. My wife and kids were pretty scared; one started to cry. Two wanted to hold my hand. Adrenaline kicked into my wife, however, and that made her motion sickness go away! I wrote a text message to send to the proprietor of exegesisandtheology.com to let him know how to get into my computer and get my latest Bible textbook lesson in case we crashed; I hit send once we got low enough to access cell towers, but before we landed/crashed/who knew?

We were told to take off our glasses and wait for instructions to take the brace position. This is the first time this has ever happened to me in hundreds of flights. I hope it will be the last. I did have a tinge of fear on a flight for the first time ever. My wife, touchingly, told me that though she was afraid, she didn’t for one second experience fear over her eternal destiny. There was a time in her life, a terrible time, in which that would have been precisely her fear. (My littlest child was oblivious; thank you, iPads.)

We came into the Denver runway very hot, noticeably faster—and smoother—than any other landing I’ve ever experienced (I confirmed this with the captain later). It was faster and smoother because the left flap was not able to go up. Turns out we had to come back to Denver because they had 18,000 feet of runway—and we needed it all because we needed space to slow down after coming in so fast. Everett has only a third of that length. When we finally touched down (it seemed to me we hovered over the runway for a while), people cheered.

The airline put us up in the same hotel, fifteen minutes from the airport. They took good care of us, but it was exhausting. And I had to stay up late to finish my lesson; I hadn’t been able to work on it because of the turbulence and circling (circling while looking at screens gives me motion sickness). After what my Fitbit said was 5 hours and 44 minutes of sleep, we were up again Monday morning and off to the Denver airport for breakfast and our flight.

Today, Monday, Laura and I are on our third day of wearing the same clothes, because our checked bag was impossible to retrieve without a two- to four-hour wait, and each time we even had the chance to do so it was late at night and we had three small children with us who needed to get to bed—let alone a Mommy who needed to get to bed.

We had kids’ clothes with us in our carry-ons, and we luckily had used clean underwear and socks to pack Christmas toys safely into suitcases! I also take my toiletries with me in my carry-on just in case things like this happen. Otherwise we’d be smelling and feeling even worse!

We got on the plane this morning (Monday), and we are just about to land in Everett. My wife and kids missed their weekly homeschool gathering, I’m about to pay for two more days of too-expensive parking (that I hope to have reimbursed), and I missed a day of work.

But… we just touched down, and we’re grateful to God for a safe end to a pretty major family adventure.

Join the Conversation

How to Read More Books in 2020

Mark Ward

I was asked by a friend to write this. Thirty minutes later, here it was:

  1. Watch less TV. Don’t let it be your default evening activity. Love higher and better things.
  2. Don’t let social media be your default activity either. I periodically delete my Facebook app, and on my iPad I have it set to turn off after thirty minutes of daily use (which is still probably too much).
  3. Think of your mind as a colander with a tight mesh; your goal is to keep filling it full of broth. Yeah, most of it leaks out, because it’s a colander. But as long as you keep filling it, it will be full. And some good bits of the broth will stick to the edges and become encrusted on the mesh—and then make more good bits stick to them as time passes. (This metaphor is kind of gross, but it works for me.)
  4. Count audiobooks as books—as long as the kinds of books you’re reading through audio are the kinds of books that you can really receive in in that medium. Some books are too hard for audio. I tried listening to Religious Affections years ago, and I just couldn’t keep up. But just about any fiction book on double speed (or even triple, depending on the reader) is something I can receive. I can enjoy the story, chuckle at the jokes, and feel fully a part of the experience the author intends for me through audio. I find I can also listen to Scripture really well on audio. It’s my favorite way to read the Bible, because in my line of work I get to do Bible study on a near daily basis—so my Bible reading is largely for exposure, just going through Scripture about once every two years.
  5. Go nuts on Bluetooth devices. I have one for every conceivable situation: commuting, showering, mowing, dishwashing, quietly listening in just one ear while my spouse sleeps—and a cheap but nice set of noise-cancelling headphones I just bought and will use for air travel and maybe coffee shops.
  6. Milk Hoopla and/or Libby (or Overdrive) or whatever your local library system offers for all they’re worth. I can’t keep up with Hoopla and Libby both; I usually just do Libby. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many excellent books, even theology books, are available for free for digital download in audio or Kindle formats at my local library. Just got this well-reviewed Christian book moments ago. I found out that I am basically just south of the northern border of a Seattle-affiliated library system, and I think that’s how I get so much good stuff. I’ve enjoyed getting more into history and biography, both of which are great for audio.
  7. Get a Kindle and an iPad and build reading one or both of them into your daily routine. My most important books, the ones I want to get the most out of, I usually reserve for Kindle or Logos. My wife gets a back rub every night. With my other hand, I hold a Kindle, sans cover. I have a little pop-socket I got at the Shepherd’s Conference. My wife knows there will be little breaks in the back rub for when I need to highlight something I read. (I then collect all my highlights and put them in a file in Ulysses for later use—and I do use them; did so extensively today for a writing project).
  8. Read by whim. That’s what Alan Jacobs says, and I agree. I read what I want to read. I don’t read very much out of duty (though I do ask the Lord to shape my whims to my duties). I see a book get recommended by someone who ought to know, I grab it while my interest is still running hot, and I start into it immediately (thank you, Logos/Kindle!). I just did precisely this with William Ross’ top recommendation for 2019, The Story of Hebrew. It’s great so far! I also do have favorite writers, and I find I need them as tonics for what ails me. I recently read two Stanley Fish books, because I just need the mental clarity he provides. A Fish book feels like an intellectual bath with a good scrubbing. I read C.S. Lewis when I want an incisive Christian version of the same thing. I read Marilynne Robinson when I want to be put through my mental paces. I read Tim Keller when I want my faith strengthened against secular assault (that’s actually why I read Fish, too). I read John McWhorter when I want to nerd out on the coolest creation of God, language. I read John Frame when I want my mind organized by simple but deep biblical categories. (I don’t just read books; Don Carson’s essays are fantastic. So are my good friend Andy Naselli’s and, for very different reasons, David Foster Wallace’s. Ross Douthat’s opinion pieces are always helpful.) Develop your own favorites, of course. But feel free to put books down. Read what you want to read, and again: ask God to shape your wants rightly over time.
  9. Read out loud to your kids every night, and as long as the books are Narnia-length or longer, count them toward your Goodreads totals. This year we really enjoyed my old Faithlife editor’s cousin’s Green Ember series. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.
  10. Join Goodreads and write at least a short review of every serious book you read—and as many unserious ones as you can handle. Writing something about the book is a contribution to other readers, and it helps you figure out what you got out of something—and to hold on to your gains (like a crusty colander!). Be inspired by your friends’ reading, and read some books they liked. Also, set an annual reading goal on Goodreads. Mine, for many years, has been a book a week. Fifty-two books a year.

I’m a middle-class dad with a job and a lawn. I really don’t get time on the couch. Ever. Well, unless I manage to contract man-flu. I can hardly ever read paper books. If I try, I get antsy anyway. I feel like I’m wasting precious effort, because my highlights aren’t automatically being saved. It will be hard for me to recover later the value in what I’m reading.

I have friends who have far higher goals than fifty-two books a year. I Also have friends who read more good stuff in their fifty-two than I do; I include comparatively lighter stuff like fiction in my annual total. But I still make it through a fair number of rich books each year.

And if I have a secret to doing something I still don’t feel like I’m much good at compared to others I respect, it’s love. Years ago I was given a vision of what it meant to be a reader by my pastor, who cited the experience of his own mentor. That older man wasn’t much of a natural reader, apparently, but out of love for his sheep, he determined to become a reader. My pastor (the older man’s “mentee”) was and is a natural-born reader, but I am not. I have been trying for about twenty years to be motivated by love to become one. By God’s grace I think I’ve made some progress.

Not love for being the one in the know. Not love for “having read.” But love for the truth, goodness, and beauty that, in my experience, are available only in books. “With all thy getting” (whatever that means), “get wisdom.” Seek for wisdom and understanding as you would for hidden treasure. Recognize that the people who give you the most when they write or speak are all readers. That’s the reason they have something to give you.

If you want to give to others, whether your own sheep or even just your neighbors in the civic space, you’ve got to read. If you don’t read, you answer nearly every significant matter before you hear it (Prov 18:13). If you don’t read, you are more likely to be susceptible to the winds and waves of doctrine out there. If you do read out of love for God and neighbor, you’ll be a better servant to both.

Take and read.

Join the Conversation

KJV-Only People Are Asking the Same Questions I Am about the Readability of the KJV

Mark Ward

The UK’s Trinitarian Bible Society is one of the most serious and sober KJV-Only organizations active today. They are involved in Bible translation projects around the world. It is their printing of Scrivener’s Greek New Testament that is used in all KJV-Only educational institutions that teach Greek. The TBS is also probably the most academically responsible institution promoting KJV-Onlyism. Compared to a not insignificant number of (especially) American defenders of the KJV, their rhetoric is toned down by a sincere piety and, I think, a British sense of decorum and reserve. My interactions with them have shown them to be unfailingly polite and gracious.

Recently, TBS published an article that was actually written shortly before the release of my book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. In it they answer “Five Questions about the Authorised (King James) Version.”

And it seems the logic behind my book has been gaining momentum since before it came out: I’m riding a wave along with some unexpected fellow surfers. The questions TBS answers from their own constituency focus largely on the readability of the KJV—and the possibility of a KJV revision. In some cases these are precisely the same questions I raised and pressed in my book. Here’s what I observe after reading the piece: KJV-Only people are asking the same questions about KJV readability that I am. And if, as I have argued, the best measure of readability is readers, this TBS article’s mere existence is a powerful argument against its viewpoint. The people most sympathetic to their mission, their subscribers and supporters, are raising questions about KJV readability.

We’ll take a look at some of the questions KJV-Only people are asking. Then I’ll evaluate TBS’ answers.

1. Why update other translations and not the KJV?

The Society is engaged in revising Bibles in several languages such as the French, Chinese and Bulgarian but does not seem to see a need to revise the Authorised (King James) Version. How can she claim that the Authorised Version needs no revision while other versions dating from roughly the same time period do need revision or retranslation?

TBS answers with two major arguments:

First they say that these other languages have changed far more than English has, in part due to the influence of language academies—which English does not have (this feels backwards to me: language academies are inherently conservative; but it’s a minor point). TBS, however, establishes a principle: languages do change sufficiently that traditional Bible translations may need to be updated. I cannot speak intelligently about the level of change in Bulgarian and French as compared to English (I wonder who can), so TBS may be right here. I can speak and read Spanish fairly well, and I’m skeptical that they are right when it comes to Spanish—which has a language academy. I’ve read some pretty old Spanish, and the distance between it and current Spanish seems roughly (?) similar (?) to that between Elizabethan and contemporary English. But I’m not willing to chase down an official answer to that question right now, I admit! Again, TBS may be on to something.

I think they’re also onto something in they’re second argument, though I ultimately disagree with where they take it:

There is no consensus among the English-speaking churches today as there was in the days of King James I of England when everyone engaged in preparing the AV—even with the involvement of both Puritans and High Churchmen—operated within the Anglican Church and under the authority of the king. Today, English Christianity is massively fractured and fragmented, and it would be an almost impossible task to gather together a strong team of sufficiently-qualified men who would hold the widespread respect and support of English Christendom.

I think they’re right on an important point, not so right on a less important one, and simply and clearly wrong on the key but implicit point.

  • TBS is right that there’s no way English-speaking Christianity could come together to produce a universally accepted Bible translation. This will never happen again under any future I could possibly imagine.
  • TBS is not so right that it used to be so united: it was only an accident of history (and, yes, surely, a plan of providence) that English was spoken at the time mainly in one locale, and that that locale had a powerful monarchy ruling the church. Even the crown couldn’t keep other English Bibles from coming into existence: it did not sponsor the Geneva Bible. But it had the power necessary to make the KJV the One Ring to Rule Them All, even when Puritans and other Anglicans were not united. Such power no longer exists. Multiple nations speak English, from the U.S. to the U.K. to Kenya to Singapore to Australia. If we have to wait for a day when English-speaking Christians will be able to unify behind a new Bible translation, we will be using the KJV until it is as unintelligible as Beowulf—and, if the history of the Vulgate is any indication, people may be using it long after that. I’ve been asking and asking my brothers in TBS’ world, “At what point will our English have diverged far enough from Elizabethan English to justify a revision or replacement of the KJV?” I haven’t gotten a clear answer.
  • This is key for me: I believe that TBS is wrong to think that a revision is worth producing only if it can achieve wide acceptance as a “successor to the AV.” They complain that if they created a revision of the KJV, even along very conservative lines (they mention retaining thee and thou), that this would result only in “fragmentation among our support base as a disaffected and disappointed majority would either move to other versions or cling to the old standard edition of the AV.” They observe, rightly I think, that “a new revision of the AV by the Society would thus damage our work.” And yet I say: a revision of the KJV would still be a good thing. TBS is trusted by a lot of people in the KJV-Only movement. That movement as a whole will never, ever be satisfied with a replacement of the KJV. They have to know that there are people who “cling to the old standard” in a way that even TBS finds extreme. But a not-insignificant number of people in the TBS constituency might still benefit from a revision sponsored by a TR-only organization they all respect. I would encourage the society not to let the perfect (100% adoption of a KJV revision) be the enemy of the good (50% adoption of a KJV revision?). In fact, I am prepared to help. I have laid out principles for a KJV revision that will do the least to change the text and the most to make it as accessible as possible to modern readers. With the help of TBS, we might be able to build significant support for such a project. TBS says, “In principle the Society is not opposed to there being a revision of the AV.” And I say: biblical principle, specifically 1 Corinthians 14’s teaching that edification requires intelligibility ought to guide us here, not likely success with one’s constituency.

(TBS goes on to say that, even if there proved to be a need for a new English translation, there aren’t any English-speaking scholars godly and educated enough to produce it. I hear this objection often enough that it deserves its own post at a later date. So many rabbits, so many trails—thankfully the internet is infinite. I shall write another post!)

2. If it’s okay to put modern words in the margins, why not in the text?

The margins in the Westminster Reference Bible include contemporary terms for archaic words (leasing, kine, prevent) as well as definitions for theological terms such as propitiation. Would a light revision that replaces the archaic terms with contemporary terms not be in order?

Indeed, this seems like am eminently reasonable question. Can we update leasing, kine, prevent, besom, chambering, bewray, beeves, bolled, and countless other words that have dropped out of English, or have changed in meaning? I call these “dead words” and “false friends.”

But TBS finds “several fundamental problems with this suggestion.” I’ll interact with them one by one (save the last, which is a restatement of the previous point about splintering their support base).

How do you know what counts as “archaic”?

1. Determining exactly which words and terms are archaic and which are not [is difficult].

Yes, some judgment is involved. Editors will differ. But once again we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a common problem in the KJV-Only movement, because they tend to treat the KJV precisely as perfect.

But there are objective means available for doing revision work on archaic words, and I am chagrinned to have to say that I have never seen any defenders of the KJV who have shown awareness of these means, or the linguistic concepts underlying them. And yet anyone with an internet connection can check a linguistic corpus like the freely available NOW corpus to see how English words get used today around the world. You can also use the Oxford English Dictionary—a tool I use online many times each week—to check to see what a given KJV word meant in 1611. I have worked very, very hard to hone my abilities in this area. I offer them to TBS for their use. I will help them identify all the archaic words (and constructions and punctuation conventions—words are one of many features of language that change over time).

Updates would be clumsy compared to the KJV.

2. There are not always precise equivalents in contemporary English for archaic words. A text which requires several contemporary words to replace an older term would be clumsy and awkward, detracting from the succinct beauty of the AV.

Succinct beauty is a genuine value, one I’d like to retain if at all possible, but when the two values conflict, isn’t understanding even more important? Is God incapable of speaking contemporary English?

And TBS seems to presume that in the revision process, no gains in brevity or beauty might be achieved. Only if the KJV is perfect can we expect that it could never be improved upon. And the KJV translators specifically and emphatically denied this in their preface: only inspiration brings perfection, they said.

What do you do about spelling?

3. If a revision is undertaken on the terms suggested there would be an immediate outcry: why not change the older spellings as well, such as ‘shew’ to ‘show’ and ‘musick’ to ‘music’? However, even the change of spellings is not straightforward. What of the difference between British and American spellings: which should have precedence?

I actually think that British spellings should take precedence, because the KJV is well known as a British document (the name is a bit of a tipoff). And yet I think that key archaic spellings such as spake should remain as they are, because they form an unmistakable part of the character of the KJV as a text for public reading, and they aren’t hard to learn. Indeed, my hypothesis would be that shew and spake are intuitively understandable from context by most contemporary readers. There are objective means for assessing this.

TBS raises some important difficulties and questions, but they’re not insurmountable or unanswerable. Let’s get the scholars together and assess!

3. What about other translations of the Masoretic Text/Textus Receptus?

The Society has critiques of several critical translations including the NKJV. However, there are several other recent translations that claim to use today’s English while remaining transparent to the Received Text. Does the Society have concerns about these translations such as the King James 2000 and the 21st Century King James Bible? These claim that they are the ‘same’ as the KJV except for replacing the archaic expressions.

Let’s skip over their comment about the NKJV for a moment; I’d like to express agreement with what they go on to say about other translations based on the same texts used by the KJV translators—translations such as the King James 2000 and the 21st Century King James Bible. I could add more, like the KJV Easy Reader. TBS says that these translations have “not found widespread acceptance,” and this is perfectly true. They say that they “bare [sic] all the hallmarks of individual idiosyncrasies” and are not “usable editions of God’s Word for congregations.” I completely agree. These translations “self-evidently disqualify themselves as being viable alternatives to the AV.” Again, I agree.

Several principles arise out of what TBS says. Bible translations ought to come from committees so they smooth over individual idiosyncrasies, and so that they can promise some level of acceptance among Christians. And only institutions that command large constituencies (like TBS) can hope to make Bible translations that large numbers of people will adopt.

That’s because very few people can, and even fewer people do sit down to do the hard work of evaluating whole Bible translations with any degree of completeness—“sufficient sampling,” one could say. Everyone else does what we all must do with so many things: we trust authorities. Institutions collect trusted authorities, and they therefore become stewards of people’s trust. If we ever get a new King James Version, that’s what will need to happen: respected institutions will have to work together.

But wait: we have all of that, and we’ve had it for almost forty years. We need to talk about the New King James Version.

The New King James Version is not idiosyncratic, it was put together by a solid committee, and it has achieved a wide level of acceptance. It just hasn’t been accepted in “TR-Only” circles, such as that inhabited by the Trinitarian Bible Society. And why?

In part because of a culpable falsehood that TBS repeats in this article, one I’ve heard repeatedly on the lips of my KJV-Only brothers over time. They call the NKJV a “critical translation.” What they mean (as best I can tell) is that it, like the ESV and NASB and NIV and nearly all major modern English Bible translations, the NKJV uses the “critical” text of the New Testament. And that is simply not true. The NKJV translates the same text used by the KJV translators.

As I never tire of repeating, I’m not saying my brothers in Christ at TBS have told a lie. I’m not saying that they have self-consciously said something they know to be false. I am saying that they ought—in the moral, culpable sense of ought—to know better than to say what they did. The NKJV preface clearly states that the NKJV is not a “critical translation.”

Because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.

KJV-Only Christians have commonly objected to those marginal (“popup”) notes, but the KJV translators did basically the same thing. The NKJV is not a critical translation.

Conclusion

I find myself disheartened. I love the King James Version, I truly do. It will never leave my heart, till the day I die. I wrote a whole chapter in my book in which I lament the good things we’ve all lost as the KJV has lost its role as the common standard among English-speaking Christians.

But dear brothers and sisters at TBS, if I may address you directly, your own constituency is telling you, through its questions, that it is concerned about the readability of the 400-plus-year-old Bible translation on which you have staked your existence. Their children don’t understand “and you hath he quickened.” They don’t understand “with all thy getting, get wisdom.” They stumble over countless other minor, and some major, readability difficulties that are not at all the fault of the KJV translators nor the fault of poor English education in our day, but solely the “fault” of the inevitable process of language change.

If, in principle, you’re open to a revision of the AV based on the same original language texts; if, in principle, your real and ultimate concern is to preserve the Greek Textus Receptus and Hebrew Masoretic Text—then the NKJV ought to satisfy you. The fact that it doesn’t, and the fact that forty years after its release you still repeat a common falsehood about it, suggest that you’re not open in principle to a revision of the AV.

I call on you to be truly open, and indeed to help me put together a coalition of KJV lovers with the necessary knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Elizabethan English, and contemporary English to produce a careful, minimalist revision of the KJV. I am such an one. I have friends who are.

1 Corinthians 14 says that edification requires intelligibility. Tyndale’s work for the plow boy was not a one-and-done. The KJV translators did their work for the “very vulgar,” and those common people still need our help. Vernacular translation is a gift that requires constant defense, which is precisely the reason we have Bible societies.

Join the Conversation

Another False Friend

Mark Ward

When you know a helpful label and understand the phenomenon it is naming, you see that phenomenon better than you did before.

So it is with the central concept of Authorized: “false friends.”

I was just reading the KJV, and I saw another false friend. Can you find it below in John 8:44?

Betcha you can’t without reading Greek—or a contemporary translation!

It’s actually the little word will. In a context like this, today, “ye will do” means “you will do it in the future,” or “you customarily do.”

I don’t think the KJV translators got this one wrong. I assume they did not. I will say, however, that I’m having trouble understanding their construction. I thought that even in Elizabethan English, “will” in a context like this (“ye will do”) was a helping verb indicating future action. I gather that that wasn’t the KJV translators’ intent, but the niceties of Elizabethan English sometimes escape me. I would have expected “the lusts of your father ye will to do” if the KJV translators intended for me to read “will” as something other than a helping verb.

The Greek is clear to me, though. The sentence means “the lust of your father you desire to do” or “purpose to do.” The KJV translators must have been using the word “will” as in “desire” or “purpose,” not the word “will” as in the helping verb indicating future.

Because I assume the KJV translators were right but I nonetheless get the “wrong” meaning out of the phrase “ye will do” (because all I know is contemporary English, not Elizabethan), this is a false friend.

Thank you, conceptual labels. Thank you, false friends.

Join the Conversation

Answering Moe the Internet Bully

Mark Ward

Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes fame was sometimes targeted for abuse by a bully, Moe. Unfortunately, Calvin’s clever retorts usually came to him hours after Moe’s initial taunts.

I’ve got a parallel situation: a minor instance of woke bullying was directed at me a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t answer as I wished because the bullying happened in a forum I’m not really free to speak in as I might wish—and the best answers didn’t occur to me immediately.

I was posting my announcement of a new Christian podcast, something I and a team of multiple people spent many months producing, and Moe commented in a public forum,

I assume 80% of the episodes will have only white guys around the table, like every other Christian theology podcast?

I’ve seen this sort of thing ten thousand times. But this time, it was personal. I needed to process my thoughts and make an at least internal reply.

Here’s the reply I wish I could have made.

Dear Moe,

Let me state this forthrightly: you are playing a lazy, cynical, hectoring game in which everybody loses, most of all the people the game was ostensibly designed to help. And I won’t play. Even a number of prominent white liberals have publicly tired of this game (Mark Lilla, Camille Paglia; see also Ross Douthat’s brilliant line about black lesbian sufis). This is a game C.S. Lewis named decades ago as “Bulverism”; that is, finding in someone’s social location or other interests a hidden motivation that supposedly invalidates all their reasoning. In this case: clearly, you had only white guys on your podcast because you are trying to promote the interests of white guys against others’ interests.

Bulverism is as easy as taking gluten-free candy from a Millennial. And it’s hard to answer. A person of good will who has an encounter with a Bulverite feels like he’s just been asked in public, “Have you beaten your wife today?” The question itself is offensive, because it hides inside it an ad hominem charge.

You include a figure in your comment: “80%.” Something objective like that number almost makes it sound like we might be able to find a recognized standard by which to judge appropriate representation of people-who-aren’t-white-males on a theology podcast. But, in fact, I can’t seem to find Bulverites who will produce such a standard. Bulverism, in all my experience, is never satisfied. Those who resort to it have never given me any evidence that they think their opponents can be won over, only derided, defeated, and destroyed. In fact, resorting to Bulverism is itself a declaration that efforts at persuasion have been judged useless or unnecessary. Rhetorical bludgeoning is the only tool left.

So again, Moe, I refuse to play the game. Your comment is wrong; it is sin. This kind of response is an acid that maliciously eats away at the good others try to do without building anything good in its place. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) This simple apostolic instruction you have disobeyed.

Let me also make a consequentialist argument—by giving an example of how white liberal fascination with identity politics has hurt the people it was intended (and, I’m willing to say, often sincerely intended) to help. I make this argument precisely because I want to help my neighbor, too! A friend of mine who teaches PhD students in sub-Saharan Africa was complaining to me the other day that when they send their best African students off to the US for training, they’re immediately hired on to teach in US schools because of those schools’ diversity initiatives. Now Africa goes without some of its best and brightest, further cementing advantages already enjoyed by Western Europeans; and certain faculty members enter their teaching careers carrying an extra burden on top of the impostor syndrome that is common across all academia (the feeling many of us have that if our colleagues only knew how ignorant we really were they would laugh us out of the room): they have to labor to rid themselves and others of the idea that they were hired not for their abilities and knowledge but only to pad a melanin-count tally.

What could you do instead of armchair acid-spraying, Moe?

  1. You could give money to support one PhD student in biblical studies or theology from Africa in Africa (or from Asia in Asia or from Latin America in Latin America, etc.). I have a friend who teaches in the former Soviet bloc. He can hook you up, I’m pretty sure.
  2. Better than giving money, you could give yourself. Join an inner-city evangelistic mercy ministry and get firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is to overcome the community-wide problems there. Invest in enough individuals, as I have, to have your heart broken at least once over their choices.
  3. Write a kind comment saying, “Thank you for your work on this podcast! Have you ever seen the work of X Person Whose Work I Admire [And Who I Think Could Do To Get More Airtime]? I’d love to hear him/her.” A person of good will, such as I take myself to be, will certainly hear this appeal.

Perhaps you’ve done some of these things, Moe. Perhaps I am misjudging you. Perhaps your comment was made in a moment of wokeness, and you’re not usually like this. Perhaps you had a bad experience today with persons of ill will who jaded you and made you want to lash out (been there, experienced that; my solution? Get off Twitter). Next time we meet in the internet hallway, by the lockers, I urge you to give me a sincere question rather than a shove.

Join the Conversation

Is Christianity True Truth, Or Is It an Evolutionarily Successful Archetype?

Mark Ward

A friend of mine is something of a seeker, entertaining and exploring Christian faith and often apparently inhabiting it—but still struggling in a move from darkness to light. That’s the best way I know how to describe him.

He wrote me an eloquent letter in which he used his training in philosophy to wonder out loud if Christianity is merely a set of Jungian archetypes, a set of myth-making stories that echo something deep in the human psyche that somehow over evolutionary millennia we have found useful. This is the way Jordan Peterson treats the biblical narrative, too.

He couldn’t bring himself to conclude that Jung and Peterson are right, but he had to work through their ideas nonetheless.

Here was my response.


You can play this game of spotting the True Truth underneath the mere stories until you are blue in the face—and blue in the spirit. Who’s to say that the materialist/scientistic viewpoints aren’t equally beholden to archetypes encoded by evolution into the human psyche over millennia? They aren’t “true,” just exceptionally and demonstrably useful for the survival and propagation of the species.

In this “seeing behind the veil of archetypes” view, I think you end up having to say that materialism explains all, that none of our thoughts is reliable, only useful. Whether our internal states (thoughts, ideas, imaginations, beliefs) match the outer world or not we can never know, and it doesn’t matter. We are part of the system; we can’t stand outside it. In fact, nothing “matters.” “Mattering” involves value judgments, and to posit any value is to bridge the unbridgeable gap between “is” and “ought.” There is no oughtness in a world that just is. Make peace with pointlessness, buddy. And whether you do or not is actually solely and completely determined by the immutable laws of cause and effect that generate all your behavior.

I gather that you’ve tried this materialistic approach to life and found it wanting. You affirm clearly and passionately and with a palpable sense of personal relief that there must be a bridge between is and ought. There must be meaning. And I say, along with the Bible, that meaning is something only persons do. If there is meaning and purpose overarching human activity (and gravity and supernovae and animal death, etc., etc.), there must be a God of eternal power and divine nature who is doing all the meaning and purposing we know exists.

In the biblical view, men are adept at—and eager to—suppress these truths about God that they can’t not know. So I’m not at all surprised to see someone as smart as Jordan Peterson (and I do enjoy hearing him; he’s so close to the Truth because he seems to have extra willingness to face culturally uncomfortable truths—perhaps because his work on totalitarianisms made him face undeniable moral truths that provide him an epistemological tonic) damning the Bible with faint praise, as it were. I’ve got a clear, biblical answer to all attempts to make Jesus’ story archetypical rather than actual. It comes from Paul.

He said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)

It doesn’t really matter if the story of Buddha “really happened” in space and in time for Buddhism to retain its power as an archetype. But it decidedly matters whether Jesus really incarnated, really died, and really rose again. If the Christ event did not occur, we might as well worship Harry Potter instead. He died and rose again just as much as Christ did—and his books are more entertaining. (By the way, I like Harry Potter!) Or maybe we should worship the trinity of Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf. Gandalf is the Father archetype, Frodo the Son archetype, and Sam the “Paraclete” Spirit archetype. We could go on and on. All cultures have had their world-making myths.

But Christianity claims to be “True Myth,” to use a phrase from my beloved C.S. Lewis. It is myth, because it is archetypical: the Bible provides a story that orders our reality. But it is true myth, because it all really happened the way the Bible says it did.

So… your final sentence is where I land, too. Things fall apart with Christ, the center cannot hold. In him we live and move and have our being. In him all things cohere. I shouldn’t take the existence of archetypes as a way to relativize Christ: they are precisely what I would expect given the ordered world God gave us. I should instead see alternative archetypes, from Buddha to Bill Nye, as “principalities and powers” that are trying to overturn the True story of our world.

Join the Conversation