Divine Wind & Plum Wine

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A couple months ago I walked into a Starbucks and saw a guy studying from a premium Bible at one of the tables. “Is that a Cambridge Clarion?” I blurted to the stranger excitedly. He confirmed that it was. “Nice!” Later, as I saw him hard at work, we began a brief dialogue and I asked him if he was in seminary or perhaps writing a sermon. He told me that he was actually preparing to move to Japan that upcoming Thursday to be a missionary – indefinitely. Wow. Here was a young man setting off on a divine adventure, leaving relationships, home, and native language – doing something courageous that I have only dreamt about doing but cannot due to family, vocational, and financial reasons.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Japan is 1.5% Christian. That is not a typo. I love the people, the language, the cultural aesthetics, the history, and the food of Japan, but it is one of the spiritually darkest countries on Earth. Despite the many ways that Japan has thrived and prospered, I detect a pattern of fatalism and ennui when examining their pop culture art, which I believe reflects the spiritual undercurrent of the nation.

One recurring theme in Japanese pop culture art is uncontrollable, world-consuming destruction. Perhaps this is a remnant in the cultural consciousness of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla is an obvious symbol. Others include the enveloping headless forest god of Princess Mononoke, the rampaging No-Face spirit in Spirited Away, and the Tokyo and Neo-Tokyo obliterating destructive force of the titular Akira. Another theme is boredom or feelings of emptiness as motivation to engage in violent or extreme actions. Both student Light Yagami and the Shinigami Ryuk cite boredom as contributing to actions that eventually result in mass killing in the manga series Death Note. Not one but two murderous antagonists in the videogame Persona 4 cite boredom / emptiness as reasons for their diabolical actions. Even satirical manga superhero One-Punch Man struggles with the drudgery of lacking meaningful challenge. No wonder. English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple states that people who are bored, alienated, or not spiritually anchored may find that “danger absolves one of the need to deal with a hundred small problems or to make a thousand little choices – danger simplifies existence.”

In March of 2011, I awoke in the middle of the night. I was trembling, shaking uncontrollably, much to the alarm of my wife. I thought my body was cold, so I tried to bundle up with extra clothing and get back in bed. It didn’t work. I wasn’t cold, my body was just trembling. I had no idea what was happening to me and I begged for God’s help. After quite a while I was able to stop shaking and fall asleep. In the morning, I read that there had been a devastating earthquake in Japan, followed by a tsunami. It happened at the exact same time that I woke up, half way across the world. As the ground in Japan was shaking, so was I.

Interpret that however you wish, but when I shared this mysterious occurrence with a Japanese friend of mine, she later told me how encouraged she felt upon hearing it. To her, it meant that God still cared about Japan and the Japanese people, and perhaps he had good plans for that Land of the Rising Sun.

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An Open Letter to the Lockman Foundation – Revisited

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Two years ago on my previous blog I wrote one of my most popular posts,  ‘An Open Letter to the Lockman Foundation,’ regarding the state of the New American Standard Bible. That post generated over 800 WordPress views, 25 WordPress comments, and a great deal more discussion and debate on Facebook, Twitter, and another couple forums dedicated to Bible design and translation. Despite the agreement and debate generated, I haven’t seen much any change.

I recently went to a Christian bookstore to peruse children’s Bibles that my wife might use in her Sunday School curriculum. Naturally, I couldn’t resist checking out all the other Bibles as well. While mainstays like the NIV, KJV, and ESV had their own shelves, I found my beloved NASB tucked away amidst other pretenders to the throne on the “other translations” shelf. Quelle tragédie! What I had long regarded as the pinnacle of English translations, and what I formerly and arrogantly referred to as the “Bible for smart people,” now seemed to have fallen further out of favor. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to revisit my thoughts on the subject.

The original open letter:

Dear Lockman Foundation, I believe you are missing the potential of one of the greatest resources available in all Christendom – the New American Standard Bible. You hold the copyright to the most literal, literate, and literary translation of the Holy Bible in the English language. Despite this treasure, the NASB placed 8th on the list of most units sold per translation in 2012. Here are a few humble suggestions from a lifelong NASB fan and loyalist:

IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING: Crossway has 30+ different editions and permutations of the English Standard Version currently on the market, with more popping up all the time. They are aggressively expanding in all markets and have Celebrity Pastors hawking their goods left and right.

EMBRACE THE LITERAL: Being the most literal of all mainstream translations is a commendable feat and a selling point, but you can go further. Why not translate LORD in the Old Testament as Yahweh? Why not avoid capitalizing divine pronouns when there is no manuscript evidence to support this practice? Also, there are numerous instances where a word will have a footnote that gives an even more literal translation than actually used – why hold back?

CHANGE THE ‘AMERICAN’: Christianity is booming in the ‘Majority World.’ Crossway recently released the ESV GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE. Wouldn’t it sound strange to have a NEW AMERICAN STANDARD GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE? I love my country, but the word ‘American’ is unnecessarily limiting your customer base – even in regards to other English-speaking nations.

Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns. I hope for a bright and lasting future for this excellent translation. In the meantime, I will continue to use and enjoy my ‘77 NASB Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, my Cambridge NASB Pitt Minion Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Wide-Margin Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Clarion Reference Bible, and hopefully at some point in the future a Schuyler Quentel NASB!

Two years later, I have more to add. Unless something changes at Lockman, I believe the NASB is headed for extinction. Competition is fierce – they missed the opportunity to sell their copyright to Holman, there are countless English translations flooding the market, and Crossway is continuing to beat Lockman up and take their lunch money. The breadth of marketing, design, diversity, and quality of Crossway products is undeniable. I emailed somebody at Lockman suggesting the creation of a Reader’s Edition-style NASB, similar to the ESV Reader’s Bible. I was met with a cheerful response claiming that they already had one, and a link pointing me to something that in no way, shape, or form resembled a reader-friendly design philosophy.

The New American Standard Bible needs to find its niche, even if it does not adapt and evolve in the ways I suggested above. One strategy could be to place a high-quality NASB into the hands of as many seminary graduates as possible. This would help produce translation loyalty in generations of Church taste-makers.

But the biggest red flag of all… is me. Lockman? I’ve met someone. Yesterday I discovered the Lexham English Bible, or LEB. A new translation from Logos Bible Software, the LEB can be read online and is included with the free Faithlife Study Bible app (and presumably other Logos products). The clear downside is that the LEB is not available in print – yet. But, after two days with the translation I may have found what I have always wanted. In fact, so far it seems that the LEB checks every box I was advocating for the NASB to adopt! Lockman… maybe sell your copyright to Logos?

http://www.lockman.org/nasb/

http://lexhamenglishbible.com/