Will You Join in My Crusade?

nlJBpmgNote: Today I’m again taking a quick detour from a trinitarian look at the genders in order to, well, rant a bit. I’ll be back on topic on Thursday.

Recently, while writing my post on interdependence, I noticed something new when I went to link a passage to biblegateway.com. Specifically, I noticed that the option to select the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) of the Bible was gone. Poof. Vanished.

This bugged, since I like the TNIV because it takes the readable translation of the NIV and effectively baptizes it in gender inclusive language. You know, substituting “people” for “men,” “brothers and sisters” for “brothers” and other, in my view, appropriate updates.

So I did a little research and discovered that biblegateway.com removed the TNIV option because they have now opted to go with an updated version of the NIV. From the biblegateway.com website:

“The 2011 update to the NIV is the latest fruit of this process. By working with input from pastors and Bible scholars, by grappling with the latest discoveries about biblical languages and the biblical world, and by using cutting-edge research on English usage, the Committee on Bible Translation has updated the text to ensure that the New International Version of the Bible remains faithful to Howard Long’s original inspiration.”

A great statement to be sure, but perhaps a bit non-specific. Because one of the key 2011 updates to the NIV is gender inclusive language. Hence, no need anymore for the TNIV. If you’re interested, the NIV translator’s notes are here.

A bit more research revealed some predictable drama around this new version of the NIV. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, rejected the updated NIV in the middle of 2011 after discovering over 3,600 “gender related problems” with the new version. Then, in Fall 2012, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod followed suit, saying:

“The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind.”

All of this brings me to my point today:

It’s time we abolish gender exclusive language in our Bibles, our worship songs, our promotional materials, and in our conversations in the Kingdom.

In fact, it’s past time.

Here are 4 reasons why I think it’s time to shuck our historic reliance on gender exclusive language in the church:

1. Gender exclusive language perpetuates the cultural malady of male privilege. After all, if “people” are “men,” where does that leave women? Institutionally speaking, one of the key ways we reinforce the problem of privilege is in our language. Change the language and you help change the equation. Change the language, and over time women and men find it easier to share equal footing in the church.

2. Gender exclusive language is simply inaccurate. If we mean all people, let’s just say so. Yesterday in church I experienced dissonance as our female worship leader led us in the song All Because of Jesus by Casting Crowns. It’s a great song, but it got a bit funky when she sang the line “it’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ, that covers me and raised this dead man’s life.” Huh? Obviously, the song writer meant “person,” but what’s the harm in saying so, particularly since congregations are full of both men and women, and especially if women are leading worship in our churches?!?

3. Gender exclusive language presents a barrier to faith for an increasing segment of the population. One of the objections I’ve heard to ushering in gender inclusive language in the church is that it would upset the status quo. First of all, how do you think Jesus felt about the status quo?!? But also, what if, increasingly, the dogged persistence of gender exclusive language was keeping people from Jesus? I know women who would walk out of a church at the faintest whiff of gender exclusive language. What do you think Jesus, or the apostle Paul, would have to say about that? If our practice of gender exclusive language is limiting the propagation of the Gospel, it’s time to rethink our approach.

4. Gender exclusive language doesn’t honor God. God is not a “him.” Somehow, in some way, God represents both genders. After all, according to Genesis 1:27, both men and women are created in the image of God (by the way, the updated NIV still uses the gender exclusive word “mankind” in their treatment of Genesis 1:27…sigh). As we’ve seen on this blog, God is interested in women and men relating in an equal and interdependent orientation. Maligning that intent by our use of gender exclusive language doesn’t honor God.

In another lifetime, I led worship for many years. And I balked at the thought of changing song lyrics to be gender inclusive. My reasoning was that it would stir up questions and possibly dissent. After all, who wants to sing “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful ones thy glory may not see,” when you’ve been singing it differently your whole life?!?

So, in the end, I’m sympathetic. It could be awkward. But I’m also resolute. After all, changing the words, rethinking our approach, will provoke a conversation.

And that’s a conversation that we frankly need to have.

8 responses to “Will You Join in My Crusade?”

  1. Wilmer says :

    I will join you, friend!

  2. Paul says :

    This is good stuff. Couple thoughts and a question:
    #1. Agreed.
    #2. I’m not sure you went far enough here – your comment gives the author of that song the benefit of the doubt…very generous of you. But that’s part of male privilege – when you don’t think of women – your songs reflect that myopic perception…not very generous of the author of that song.
    #3. Agreed.
    #4. Agreed.

    One of things that’s hard for me with changing scripture is that it was written in time, at a particular point in history…it’s set in a context. I get leery of updating it even if that update fits the gospel and fits the “spirit” of the teaching/authors original intent. I don’t think that updating it would eliminate the discussion or the struggle. But I like that it’s grounded contextually and forces me to wrestle with all sorts of things.

    How do we decide what to update and what to continuously struggle with explaining to people?

    Take for example slavery. Should we update Scripture to fit the spirit of the teaching and modify what it says about slavery?

    One thing I recently noticed in the NT is just how often the Apostle Paul is explaining circumcision. He explains and re-explains it over and over until he’s blue in the face all through his epistles. Maybe it’s different because the canon wasn’t put together at that time though…? But it makes me think.

    So yah – what do you think about context/struggle/updating etc? And how do we know what is up datable and what is not?

    For the record I’m in favor of the new translations that use gender inclusive language…but I still have these questions:-)

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Yeah, good questions Paul. I feel like I’m wrestling with these things as well. One thing I’ll add into the mix with your questions is the reality that all translators are, well, interpretive. That is, translators make choices all the time, and some words leave enough of a range of interpretive options that those choices can result in wide disparities. Headache, right?!? Coffee after sabbatical for you and me, eh!

      • Paul says :

        Hum yah that’s a good point that I think most people don’t like to wrestle with…I think the fact that all translations are inherently interpretive really scares people…we want scripture to be “inerrant” and easily understandable by the most common person.

        Anyways – yes I’d love coffee and gender interpretive scripture convo!!

        PS: thanks for responding to my post – CS Lewis says that if you put ideas into the public it is your responsibility and obligation to respond to the questions it raises. So – well done!

      • rdixon1365 says :

        Throwing down CS Lewis! Extra points Paulie. When I started this blog, I tried to count the cost that would come with replying to all of the comments, but, still, there’s a 3 week lag time!

  3. Nathan French says :

    You correctly point out that Paul would not wish to turn people away from the gospel that would save their souls. However, he did, with the apostolic authority given him by the risen Lord, expressly forbid women from having authority over men in the church. I once debated a professor from Fresno pacific on this, to which he replied that he didn’t agree with Paul. I asked him how he could put his own opinions over the commands of the Holy Spirit. I got lots of dirty looks that night.

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Sounds like a fun debate Nate! Wow. I mean, I read Paul differently, and for me (and for millions of others) the Scriptures compel me to the conclusion that men and women are called to equally share authority in the church. Thanks for the comment!

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