Zondervan’s challenge to erase its racist material

I first saw this link to Christianity Today’s article in MarkDRobert’s blog. Now, it’s my turn to respond to CT’s article: Speaking Up for Asian Americans. (Sorry if I sound like an old dog barking too loudly at night. If I lose some friends due to this post, that’s okay because what I have to say is something I believe is right). I am increasingly convinced that the entire Christian community does have a responsibility to be more sensitive, and more conscious of our hidden sin of racism (and this includes people of all races and ethnicities–myself included). The most deceptive sins always seem to be the subtle ones–the one’s that easily get passed undetected on our moral radars. Zondervan published a skit produced by The Skit Guys that poorly and in very bad taste, caricatured Asian Americans. Mark Oestreicher (apology), president of Youth Specialties, and The Skit Guys (apology) issued public apologies. The article on Christianity Today stated: “Oestreicher called the character in the skit a “horribly, inexcusably, and unquestionably racist” portrayal of Asian Americans, pointing to an underlying “systemic racism” within the organization for okaying the skit’s publication.”

I am sure the Asian American Christian community appreciated such an apology; however, some damage is already done and is difficult to reverse because a trust has been violated. However, I am sure that over time, there will be forgiveness and reconciliation for Youth Specialties and The Skit Guys. I am sure that they have produced learning material that has edified the church’s youth and I thank God for that. But I must also say that it reveal the embarassing and shamefulness of racism, which still exists today, and is giving people a bad taste in their mouths. Most Asian American Christians today, like myself, tend to be evangelical in their theological outlook, and are customers and even fans of some of Zondervan’s products. It is very possible that some Asian Americans will have lost trust in their products and their ability to monitor what gets published and what doesn’t. My point is that morality is an important issue for us Christians; it is a central issue for most of us, and racism is definitely a moral issue. It is not a side issue that can be easily swept away under the carpet, ignored, and forgotten. There needs to be forgiveness, reconciliation, and reparation. That is the Christian way–Christ’s way.

I must say that this depressing issue reveals a systemic racism that must be acknowledged and dealt in a serious and tangible way if Zondervan is to regain credibility in the eyes of Asian American Christians. I think a company like Zondervan should also hire some god-loving Asian-American Christians on their editorial staff in the hopes that things like this do not happen again. Thanks to an outside third-party, Rev. Soong-Chan Rah (blog), who called Zondervan on this. However, these prophetic calls should not only have to come from outside third-parties. They should also come from within the organization before it ever has a chance of germinating. Sorry if I have begun to sound like an opinionated prophet (prophets are usually lonely people because they go against the grain). I teach Sunday School and would have been totally embarrassed and probably quite unhappy if I had been using this teaching material. Thank God I wasn’t using it.

It never used to be in my conservative nature, but I am coming to see that, sometimes, it may be necessary to have certain systems in place to get rid of systemic racism (and also other negative -isms); it can act as a form of checks and balances (but like Congress, it doesn’t always work). I would also like to see an editorial board that is more sensitive to racial issues. I know this can be political, especially within evangelical circles; however, it doesn’t have to be. Anti-racism and other -isms are not necessarily a mainline Christian thing to support. Evangelical Christians should support other issues that evangelicals have not necessarily been associated with, e.g., environment, racisim, social justice, etc. The motivation behind such a system is for the purpose of dealing with the age-old problem of human sin. I don’t think this is an issue of whether one votes Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. It’s a matter of doing the right thing. If godly Christians do not take an active role in eradicating sin and dealing with the consequences of human sin, then who will? We must take a stand on such issues. The evangelical sufferagettes did, Abraham Lincoln did, William Wilberforce did, John Wesley did, so why not us today? (Personally, I think Rick Warren is doing a good work. Christians like him are waking up to a more socially-conscious outlook and are seeing how their faith can play a positive role in our society and our world today).

I am a believer in church unity and naively believe that we can have unity in the universal church. For the sake of Christ, and unity in the church of Jesus Christ, let us be the church that God calls us to be, not only one that is multi-denominational, but also, multi-ethnic. If Christ has called the church to live in harmony and unity, it must be multi-ethnic and even multi-creedal. Unity in diversity is possible. If we live and abide by the golden rule: to treat others as we would want them to treat us, and live empowered by the Holy Spirit, we would have fewer problems and truer unity. I was late getting in on this topic but here is a link to an interesting discussion that had been going on concerning this topic on Camy’s Loft: Chinese Take-Out and Sushi for One.

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We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit

How often do we hear “Holy Spirit” addressed by name? Very rarely…or almost never. Too often, we refer to the person of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or a “the”–which conjures up an image of an object, a mere thing like a dove, fire, wind, breath, etc. I have never been completely comfortable addressing the Holy Spirit as an “it” or with a definite article “the”. However, there are many occurences in the original Greek where “Holy Spirit” is referred to without the definite article “the”. For instance:

In Acts 4:31, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν ἅπαντες τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος. (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 2:4, the Greek does not use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “…filled with the Holy Spirit” but this might be more accurately translated as “…filled with Holy Spirit”. “Holy Spirit” is used in the same context as Acts 4:31 but note that “the” is added where it does not exist. Why is there inconsistency?

In Acts 10:47, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ἔλαβον (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “…received the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 8:19, the Greek doesnot use the definite article “the”: λαμβάνῃ πνεῦμα ἅγιον. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “received the Holy Spirit” but couldn’t this be better translated as “…received Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is also used in the same context as Acts 10:47 but “the” has also been added where it doesn’t exist. Why the duplicity?

There are numerous other occurrences where the definite article “the” is not used in the book of Acts: Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 8:15, 17, 19, 39; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9; and 19:2, however, there may be more. Why have all our English translations added the definite article “the” after “Holy Spirit” in places it does not exist? Why is the definite article “the” used and sometimes not used? I would like to know why.

Was Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) intending to refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner by not using “the” in the above verses? Possibly. It seems so arbitrary and ambiguous to me. Was it for the sake of uniformity or clarification? Perhaps. If “the” has been incorrectly added, this may have inadvertently contributed to our objectification and de-personalization of “Holy Spirit”. This is not surprising since we are made to refer to Him as a “the” or a mere “it”?

If the person of the Holy Spirit is a person just like Father God and Jesus, why do we not refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner? Scripture seems to allow for it. In most cases, to refer to the Holy Spirit using “the” may be scripturally correct. In other words, we could also be correct in addressing or referring to “Holy Spirit” in the same manner that we address “Heavenly Father, …” or “Dear Lord,…” Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of the Lord. If the person of Holy Spirit is a full member of the trinitarian Godhead, doesn’t the person of Holy Spirit deserve to be referred to in a more personal manner as we would like for ourselves?

There seems to be a subconscious depersonalization and marginalization of Holy Spirit in our translations. it is no wonder the Holy Spirit seems to be impersonal to many Christians. We have turned him into an object–a distant third member of the trinity–when we should recognize him in a more personal way. We have not learned to respect the person of Holy Spirit as we should and have relegated him to some mystical realm that is difficult to touch, like a wind or a breath.

See also: Holy Spirit is a name

TNIV vs. ESV: Who is winning so far?

I have tried not to get too involved with the battle of the bibles but here I am again with another post on it. I love my bibles so I can’t help it; it’s almost like a sport but with a religious twist to it. The TNIV bible sales are picking up and I think that it has the potential to become as popular as the NLT. Thus far, the TNIV is on its way to becoming more popular than the ESV. I went to a couple of bible bookstores in town and browsed their shelves. In the first bookstore, there were at least 20 copies on the shelf. In the second bookstore, there were at least the same number. This says a lot about how the sales of the TNIV are going. Just from my observation of the shelves of the local bible bookstores, I can safely predict that bible sales of the TNIV are going to increase steadily in the next few years. What about the ESV? Well, it’a dramatic difference with the ESV. One store had only 3 copies of the ESV. A second store in town also had about 3 copies. It was really pathetic to see only 3 copies of the ESV in each store. Even the HCSB, God’s Word, and the Message bibles had more copies than the ESV. If this doesn’t say something about the bible sales of the ESV, I don’t know what else it can mean. It has now been a few years since the ESV has arrived onto the bible scene but it has not made a big impact in bible sales–at least where I live. Last month, I spoke to the regional representative from the Canadian Bible Society (Canadian counterpart to American Bible Society) and asked him how the sales of the ESV were going in this region. He told me that it was not going very well at all, and it seems to be the same story in other areas of the country too-at least in this part of Canada. And I haven’t even mentioned the big box bookstores yet. They seem to carry more of the TNIV than the ESV.

Take a look at the uncanny similarities from Romans 8:2-5:

ESV:
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

RSV
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

I don’t see how the ESV has differentiated itself enough from the RSV. What value has the ESV brought that makes it better than the RSV? There are some value-added improvements but they are not substantial enough for it to be considered a large enough improvement over the RSV. If the future 2nd edition of the ESV does not contain more improvements over the first edition, it will not have a chance against the TNIV. It is not differentiated enough from the RSV for people to feel justified to make a purchase. If the ESV translators had made more of an effort to improve or change the way it reads from the RSV, it might be a different story today. Sure there is not a huge difference between the TNIV and the NIV but at least the TNIV translators have made more changes in the area of gender-neutral language, plus some textual improvements over the NIV. These changes have given the TNIV more value over the NIV. In the end, when it all comes down. It is marketing that makes or breaks a bible (or even a book for that matter), but the quality also has a large part in its success too. In the world of business marketing, what differentiates one product from the other is in the value it provides for the reader. Perhaps, in the future, the publisher of the ESV should push for bigger improvements. So who is winning so far? You tell me.

The church’s unity in diversity

What a magnificent Easter! My wife and I have seen two excellent large-scale musical/drama productions this Easter: Face to Face and So High the Price at two large local churches. One was a large pentecostal church, and another was a large evangelical church. I couldn’t help but notice the two different styles and emphases. The pentecostal’s Face to Face tended to show more miraculous healing scenes and gospel narratives. The evangelical’s So High the Price showed only one healing scene but mostly scenes of non-healing gospel narratives. The pentecostal church had a very well-trained and professional feel in its music and drama, which is likely due to its emphasis in contemporary worship music and teaching style. Whereas, the evangelical church had a very good orchestra. Each church had its own strengths. After reflecting upon the various scenes from the two fine productions, I remember that each one had scenes that the other did not have. If I were to have seen only one production, I would have missed some valuable and important scenes and music that were not present in the other production. But when I put the two together, I got a fuller picture of Jesus’ story.

So what is my point in all of this? This is also how we can think of the universal church. All churches, all denominations, and all traditions have different areas in which they like to emphasize. Therefore, all of us have become accustomed to our own particular theology through the preaching and teaching we hear. This is a part of the invaluable religious/spiritual enculturation process. I used to be isolated within only one style of worship and theology, and therefore, heard one side of the Christian story. But now, after having voluntarily exposed myself to seeing and hearing the different views of the wider Christian church, I am able to be more welcoming to the different ways of viewing the bible and understanding theology. Each of our different views in the universal church are not necessarily opposed to one another. They are just different and can offer all of us a fuller picture of who Jesus is and how he works in all of our lives. There can be unity in diversity.

There are many well-meaning Christians who may be afraid of diversity for fear that too much diversity may bring about disunity or disharmony. This danger may be countered when we leave room for Christ Jesus to occupy the first priority in our lives. It is only through the power of Holy Spirit who can give each of us the courage, openness, and the liberty to deal with all our differences. God is bigger than all of our differences and it is only through the Spirit that we can be renewed with a larger capacity to receive, even a theology, that is bigger than our own. As fellow believers of one household of faith (oikoumene) from various traditions, let us be encouraged to listen to, and try to understand one another, even if the other’s viewpoint may seem opposed to our own understanding of theology. I am definitely not talking about collapsing our individual theologies into one, nor even a formation of an organic union of denominations; I am talking about a unity in the Spirit! I believe that spiritual unity is the will of God. I have found that through this openness, my capacity to think theologically and be welcoming of other theological points of views has increased. I do admit that I still have my personal biases but this cannot be avoided, due to the fleshly limitations that is common within each human being. I also admit that this is difficult because we still desire to aim for an orthodox theology. Open-mindedness should not mean that we forfeit our freedom to think critically. God has given each of us the right and the ability to think critically of our theology. Critical thinking is a requirement of “working out” a good sound theology. An openness to the critical ideas of one another can help us build a better overall understanding of the scriptures and of biblical theology. For the sake of one, catholic, and apostolic church, let us remain open to the Spirit’s work of building unity in the midst of, what may seem like, chaotic diversity.

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (NET Bible, Eph.4:2-6).

Sorry if I lost your comments from this post. I had to delete the original post due to a Blogger problem, then re-post the entry.

Happy Easter to everyone!

This Easter season, my family and I have been blessed to see two excellent large-scale drama productions Face to Face and So High the Price at two local churches a few blocks from my home, plus a Maundy Thursday service where the altar was stripped and our feet were washed as a symbolic reminder of Christ’s death and his example of servanthood to humanity. What a wonderful experience in celebration of our Lord this Easter!
May everyone have a happy Easter and you celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus’ resurrection from death is proof to humankind that God has the power to heal us and forgive us of our sins. Father God desires to live in our hearts even in this life here on earth, and be united eternally with his children. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has given humankind the power to live as God’s children today and for all eternity. Praise the Lord!

TNIV & Grudem: great April fools joke on Better Bible Blog

  • For a great April Fools joke, see Wayne’s post called “Grudem joins TNIV team” from April 1 on Better Bible Blog.
  • An interesting post on how Wayne Grudem translates aner (Greek for man or human?), see Suzanne McCarthy’s post#1 and post #2 on Better Bible Blog.
  • For a change of heart on bible translations, see Gary Zimmerli’s post on A Friend of Christ.

Is there a need for a female identity?

Some feminists may be driven by a desire to find a female identity, just like we were driven to find an Asian Jesus, a black Jesus, and a white Jesus. Sure some women who may have experienced abuse by men might find it more challenging to relate to God as “Father God”. As a result of abusive treatment by men, some women may find it difficult to think of God as a loving fatherly figure (such may be the opinion of some Christian psychotherapists). In such cases, they might find it easier to relate to a “gender neutral” God. I can see why the Roman Catholic Church has found “Mary, the mother of God” to be a useful feminine identity. Women who have been abused or those who have become resentful of men might find a feminine figure like Mary easier to identify with. However, I am not suggesting that we Protestants should begin saying “Hail Mary” like Roman Catholics. What I am saying is that those who need healing from past abuses might then be more readily able to identify God with gentler and softer characteristics. They still have the Holy Spirit to relate to as their “Comforter”. With the Holy Spirit’s comfort, guidance, inspiration, and etc., do we really need a feminine God? The Holy Spirit or Comforter has connotations of one who comforts. In the bible, God is said to act like a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13); one who cries out like a woman in childbirth; one who acts like a mother eagle; and one who rages like a mother bear (Hosea 13:8). These are vivid imagery and can add meaning to how we think of God as one who comforts, cares, cries, and protects ones children. To say that God is a “mother bear” or a “mother eagle” would be incorrect. Likewise, to say that “God the Mother” is identical to saying “God the Father” is to be unscriptural and unorthodox; this is to speak on a completely different level. In the biblical text, no one has ever addressed God directly as a mother. This is why I suggest that our practice of addressing God as “Father God” is clearly orthodox, scriptural, and free from any ambiguous scribal errors.

Reconstruction and feminization of God

To use gender-neutral language in the bible is one thing, but to completely feminize God is another thing. A sector of feminism has tried to neuter and feminize God’s male gender in Father God, not just from the bible, but also from our everyday speech. If there are any feminists out, please don’t take this the wrong way. Theological conservatives are not against feminism per se. I must say that feminism has made some positive contributions for more equitable treatment of the marginalized; and I think many conservatives would agree with this. However, our conservatism prevents us from agreeing with some of the ideas in Christian feminism, specifically, regarding the feminization of God. It is an uncomfortable image and I must try not to be reactionary about this myself. But before we begin blaming feminism for “taking society backwards,” we should “remove the log from our own eyes”, then we may critique some of the points we may disagree with in Christian feminism.

No one can dispute Jesus’ gender, but we can dispute our depictions of his color or race. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, we have tried to racialize Jesus as a black Jesus…an Asian Jesus…and a white Jesus. Christians from the first century likely would have been appalled at how we have painted the face of Jesus in many colors. Perhaps the early church would have felt scandalized by our false depictions of Jesus, whom they knew as a Mediterranean man. How many of us have been shown pictures of a white Jesus in Sunday School and thought nothing of it? While growing up, I actually thought Jesus was a white guy. It likely never occurred to many of us that the pictures of Jesus we saw were not accurate depictions of the real Jesus in history. Christians like to conveniently make Jesus into what we want him to be to us. Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Just as there has been a deliberate agenda to repaint the face of Jesus into the color of our choice, we cannot deny that there is also a feminist agenda that wishes to neuter God the Father. Some feminists do want to reconstruct or re-image Father God into a female motherly figure. A book where one can learn more about this might be The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism by Mary A. Kassian (Crossway). If it was so easy to paint Jesus as a white Jesus, a black Jesus, or an Asian Jesus, just think… how much easier will it be to neuter and feminize God the Father who is invisible and unseen to us? If this were to happen, what would this sound like? One might begin the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Mother, who art in heaven.” This does sound kind of hokey to theological conservatives and even to theological liberals. However convenient and necessary to be able to relate to a comforting and loving God, feminism ought to recognize the limits of how far they should go? Where should Christian feminism stop? Some think that it has gone way too far, but some think that it hasn’t gone far enough. Let me ask: If Jesus recognized God as his Father, who are we to change Father God’s gender? (Luke 10:21-22; 23:34). Didn’t Jesus also teach us how to pray to our “Heavenly Father” (Matt. 6:8-9)? As children of God, aren’t we also encouraged to call to “Abba Father”? (3rd picture: Jesus the Guru; the link above is a speculative depiction of what some think Jesus might have looked like, based on a reconstruction of an ancient skull).