No more broad bishops in London

The Church of England has always prided itself on being a broad church. The Diocese of London has always been at the heart of that church (and my old home of Chelmsford was within it before 1846), and in recent years has become one of its success stories: from 2001 to 2008 church attendance there grew by 9.1%, compared with an average fall of 5.8% for the whole C of E. Part of the reason for that growth, I am sure, was that the diocese catered for the varied needs and preferences of churchgoers by providing a broad range of churches and services.

That breadth in the diocese was, perhaps accidentally, symbolised in the names of two of the suffragan bishops in the diocese: John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, and Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden. These two bishops with “broad” names also illustrated the breadth of the church: on the right, Broadhurst, who is also chairman of Forward in Faith, as a traditional Anglo-Catholic; and on the left, Broadbent as an evangelical who also calls himself a Christian Socialist.

But now the Diocese of London has lost both of its “broad” bishops in one month, and in doing so has abandoned its broad bent. (Has anyone else managed to get those two words into a sentence together? 😉 )

It was in October that Bishop Broadhurst became one of five Anglican bishops to announce that they would join the Roman Catholic Church and its new Ordinariate. This implied his resignation as Bishop of Fulham, but that was announced officially only in early November (effective from the end of December). A major reason for Broadhurst’s move seems to be his dissatisfaction over exactly how the Church of England plans to introduce women bishops.

Then this Tuesday the Bishop of London asked Bishop Broadbent “to withdraw from public ministry until further notice”, because of his comments on the forthcoming royal wedding, which I mentioned in a previous post.

Now personally I think that Broadhurst did the right thing, because the position he and his fellow “flying bishops” held in the Church of England was always untenable, and this was becoming all the more obvious as the church moved towards accepting women as bishops. On the other hand, I consider that Broadbent has been very badly treated – and I have joined a Facebook page to support him. I also read that former Archbishop Carey has supported Broadbent – this has not been noted as widely as it could because sadly the Murdoch group has chosen to hide content in The Times behind a subscription wall.

But my point in this post is not to debate the issues. Rather it is to note how symbolically the Diocese of London has lost both of its “broad” wings and as a result has become much narrower. Is this the way the Church of England is going? Now that the Anglo-Catholic troublemakers have been edged out, is the same to happen to evangelicals who rock the boat? While Broadbent has not opposed women bishops, he was “one of three serving bishops in the Church of England to refuse to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference”. While that is not of course the immediate reason for his suspension, it would have been all the easier if he was already in disfavour in high places.

In April this year I reflected:

I think it was Wallace Benn who suggested that a wrong decision on [women as bishops] might lead to the Church of England losing both its evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings. I couldn’t help thinking of the Church as an airliner in the air … The airliner has lost power … and is gradually losing height. If it wants to continue to fly it needs to restart its engines – and it can do that only by turning to God. But the worst decision it could make is to cut off both its wings. Without them it cannot even glide to a relatively soft crash landing; its only hope is to plunge straight to disaster. So please, Church, let’s avoid that, stop bickering about side issues, and look to God to regain the power to fly.

Well, the Church of England has already lost much of its “broad” right wing, with the departure of the “flying bishops” (who can no longer fly apart from the airliner!) and their supporters. Perhaps it could continue to fly on “a wing and a prayer”. But the worst thing it could do is to cut off its “broad” left wing for the sake of balance.

However, I write this as someone who has effectively jumped off the threatened left wing – that is, the Broadbent rather than the Broadhurst one. In September, when my wife and I moved to Warrington in the north of England, we started to attend Oasis church in the town, which is outside the Church of England and flying its own independent course. Perhaps as the Church of England pursues its relentless course towards a crash we should all be looking for other ways to keep aloft and moving closer to God.

A royal wedding and a glut of holidays

Breaking news:

Prince William and Kate Middleton will marry on Friday 29 April at Westminster Abbey …

Prime Minister David Cameron said it would be “a happy and momentous occasion” and would be marked by a public holiday.

Congratulations to William and Kate! They will have a lot to organise in just five months, as my bride and I discovered last year.

Now I don’t want to be at all negative about this happy occasion, or to get into the kind of trouble that Bishop Pete Broadbent got into for his critical comments about it (and which brought this blog a surge of hits because I have written about Broadbent on quite unrelated matters). I am sure that these young people know what they are letting themselves into. They have not rushed into anything, and I am confident that their marriage will last far longer than the ten seven years that the Bishop predicted – at least if the media are responsible and don’t dedicate themselves to tearing the couple apart.

But I do wonder if a public holiday is appropriate. If, as I assume, this is to be an addition to the already announced holidays for England and Wales, we will be enjoying four extra days off in less than two weeks, two successive four day weekends with only a three day week in between. That is even more time off than we get at Christmas and the New Year. Can our economy cope with more time off? Has proper account been taken of how this will disrupt all kinds of activities from education to refuse collection?

I expect that many people will take the chance to cross the Channel, not so much for Broadbent’s suggested “party in Calais for all good republicans who can’t stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event” as to find spring sunshine and stock up on cheap booze.

A new take on the Nativity

So much has been written about the Christmas story, as told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, that it seems surprising that someone should find new insights about them, not from abstruse research but from reading the stories in context. But that is what seems to have happened for Tony Jordan, who is “one of Britain’s top TV writers” – according to an interview in idea, the magazine of the UK Evangelical Alliance (November/December 2010, p.30), about a BBC show The Nativity to be broadcast this coming Christmas. Jordan replies to the interviewer about how he approached the gospel nativity narratives:

… I talked to as many religious people as I could, but there were still things that didn’t make sense to me. For example, if Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem, the place of his birth, for a census, he must have had family there. Just one cousin. But he went to the pub. …

So I was sitting there at 2am, a Bible that’s all stained up, a hundred post-it notes, and suddenly it came to me in this wonderful, night-time stillness. I knew that I would just tell this beautiful story properly, because by doing that I can answer those nagging doubts. So they’re not taken in by their family because Joseph has with him this woman who’s pregnant and it’s not his. They disown him. And everything else fits. …

Now maybe Jordan’s insight is not really original. But this idea that Joseph’s relatives disown him is not one I remember seeing anywhere else. Yet it really does make sense of an oddity in Luke’s narrative.

There is more to this article, which is perhaps more important. Jordan continues:

The real truth of the story is not in small historical accuracies … As I wrote this script I cried on every page. Before I wrote this I had a lot of niggling doubts, but now I have no doubts.

I hope and pray this will also be the experience of many who watch this show – four parts to be shown between 18th and 31st December on BBC One.

NIV 2011 Update: first impressions

In September last year I was one of the first bloggers to comment on the announcement of the NIV 2011 update, first briefly at Better Bibles Blog and then in more depth here at Gentle Wisdom. See also my post the following month about Bill Mounce joining the committee preparing this update.

Fourteen months later, to the day, the text of the update was released online (it will available in print next year), and I have been much slower to write about it. It was left to David Ker to announce this text at Better Bibles Blog – although I did manage the first comment there. Indeed it is so long since I have posted on this blog that some of you may have thought it was dead. But it was only sleeping, and this issue has woken it up at least for a moment.

So here are my first impressions of the NIV 2011 update. These are based not on extensive reading or other use but on reports and discussion of individual verses and translation decisions. I have found Robert Slowley’s detailed analysis especially helpful.

It seems that the 2011 update is indeed more or less what I predicted last year that it would be. I wrote:

I expect the 2011 NIV to look very like the current TNIV, with at most a few minor concessions to those who have persistently condemned its gender related language. There will of course also be some small improvements of the kind one might expect when updating a translation a few years old. But I am expecting the new version to be much more like TNIV than the current NIV.

And that is indeed more or less what it has turned out to be. According to Slowley’s figures, 60.7% of verses in NIV 2011 are identical to both NIV 1984 and TNIV; 31.3% are the same as TNIV but different from NIV 1984; 7.5% are different from both NIV 1984 and TNIV; and only 0.6% are the same as NIV 1984 but different from TNIV. That shows that the new version is much more like TNIV than like NIV 1984.

Nevertheless, in as many as 8.0% of verses NIV 2011 is different from TNIV. This is perhaps rather more of a change than I had predicted. I am glad that the translation committee has made changes, no doubt many of them in response to the consultation which they held late last year. But I am not happy with some of the changes made. While I did not much like the old NIV (and TNIV) rendering “sinful nature” for Greek sarx, mainly in the letters of Paul, I consider the change back to the traditional “flesh” (2011) to be a step in the wrong direction, making this important concept more obscure to readers who are not theologically trained.

Concerning gender related language, I predicted “a few minor concessions”. I think what we see in the update is a little bit more than that. But it is very much less than the full return to traditional but misleading language which some had feared. Slowley’s analysis of “word changes relevant to the gender language debate” is interesting here. He notes changes in the frequencies of certain words. Here I present some of these data with groups of words combined:

Male words sometimes used generically:

  • Brother(s): 1984: 788; TNIV: 614, down 174; 2011: 633, up 19.
  • Father(s): 1984: 1572; TNIV: 1274, down 298; 2011: 1280, up 6.
  • Forefather(s): 1984: 112; TNIV: 4, down 108; 2011: 13, up 9.
  • He/him/himself/his: 1984: 22675; TNIV: 19686, down 2989; 2011: 19880, up 194.
  • Man/mankind/men: 1984: 4090; TNIV: 2278, down 1812; 2011: 2489, up 211.
  • Son(s): 1984: 3227; TNIV: 3115, down 112; 2011: 3131, up 16.

Gender generic words:

  • Ancestor(s): 1984: 8; TNIV: 336, up 328; 2011: 325, down 11.
  • Human(s)/humanity/humankind: 1984: 51; TNIV: 316, up 265; 2011: 223, down 93.
  • Mortal(s): 1984: 20; TNIV: 58, up 38; 2011: 50, down 8.
  • People: 1984: 2224; TNIV: 2727, up 503; 2011: 2717, down 10.
  • Person(s): 1984: 111; TNIV: 203, up 92; 2011: 329, up 126.

Unfortunately Slowley’s data do not include some words which might have been of interest such as “sister”, “they” and “child”.

These results are interesting for their consistency. From NIV 1984 to TNIV there was a significant increase in the user of gender generic words and a corresponding drop in the use of words which are usually male but sometimes used gender generically. Of course the latter words are still used in TNIV when their referents are clearly male. From TNIV to NIV 2011 there has been a consistent reversal of this trend (with the one exception of “person”, sometimes used in 2011 where TNIV has “human being”) but the size of the reverse change has always been very much less than that of the change from 1984 to TNIV – in most cases less than 10% of the change.

Now figures like this can only give a very rough estimate of how many of the gender related changes in TNIV have survived in NIV 2011. But they reinforce the impression I have gained from looking at some verses with specific changes, that the great majority of the changes have survived, sometimes with improved wording, and only a small proportion have been reversed. The reversals, I have noticed, tend to be in sayings which have a proverbial character; probably the translators considered that generic “man” and “he” are still used in such contexts. It is interesting to see that the singular “they”, which some had predicted would be purged from the 2011 update, has in fact been used more in the new text.

Unfortunately the result of this partial reversal has been inconsistency which may cause confusion. Users can get used to a text like NIV 1984 in which “man” and “he” are consistently used in a gender generic sense. In the 2011 version these words are used in this way, but only rather rarely. The danger then is that in those few places the generic sense will not be recognised and the text will be misunderstood as making a point about gender. An example of this might be Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2011 = 1984), one of the few uses of generic “man” in the Gospels.

Related to this is the use of Bill Mounce’s favoured word “mankind”, 61 times in NIV 2011, compared with 36 in 1984 and none in TNIV. This is often used where NIV 1984 had “man” or “men” and TNIV has “human beings”, e.g. Genesis 1:26,27 and 1 Timothy 2:5. “Mankind” is a great improvement on generic “man” or “men”. But sadly this word has become something of a shibboleth among feminists, and so its use is likely to ensure that this group of people in need of God’s word will reject the NIV 2011 update. This problem could have been solved easily by the substitution of “humankind”, used 14 times in TNIV but not at all in the 1984 or 2011 versions of NIV. But then perhaps “humankind”, which Mounce rejects with “What an ugly word!”, is also a shibboleth among anti-feminist conservative Christians to the extent that they would not accept a translation using it.

One rather odd change I noticed, which some might attribute to political correctness: in Matthew 5:32 the “adulteress” (1984, TNIV) is no longer a wrongdoer but has become “the victim of adultery” (2011).

I have been encouraged to see no strident general rejection of the NIV update on the blogosphere. I hope that is not just because I haven’t been looking very widely. All I have found is Denny Burk’s predictable complaint about the rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12, to which Douglas Moo, the chair of the translation committee, wrote a gracious response which really should put this matter to rest. We can hope and pray that those who made such a fuss about the TNIV will this time keep quiet, or at least express their opinions in more measured tones.

I do not want to welcome this new version unreservedly. I do not like a number of the rather few changes that have been made to TNIV. But if, as I hope, this version can become one around which evangelical Christians can unite, rather than dividing and fighting, then it will be a great step forward for advancing the kingdom of God.