Mars Hill Church is a large church in the Seattle area, a church that would fit solidly in modern mainstream evangelical Christianity. The pastor, Mark Driscoll, is a smart man, a good communicator (he's written a few books and regularly contributes editorials that get published in local newspapers), and a significant voice in the evangelical community (in the wake of the Ted Haggard scandal, for example, Driscoll's response on his blog was widely discussed).
All that I have known for some time. I was therefore very surprised yesterday to read the most recent statement from Driscoll and his church, regarding a change they are making in what Bible translation they will use. It surprised me not because they are changing Bible translations (I could really care less). It surprised me because the reasons given for the change were so transparently stupid. Pardon my frankness, but the statements presented were laughable, and I can't fathom how an intelligent person such as Driscoll could have possibly signed off on them (or written them).
As a good sample of the silliness presented by Driscoll and his church, consider this statement:
"One of the more popular arguments for thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that people do not understand the theological nomenclature that Scripture uses to express doctrinal concepts. The reasoning follows that words like “justification” and “propitiation,” which the original text of Scripture used, should be replaced with more modern vernacular that people can understand." (emphasis mine)I'd love to see the "original text of Scripture" that used English words! (Though somehow I think I'd doubt it's authenticity, much like the coin stamped with the date "100 B.C." :) )
I was going to craft a response today, possibly sending it to Driscoll... but I was saved the bother by another blogger, Henry Neufeld, who wrote an excellent critique. I will simply quote a few key points from Henry's analysis.
"If God inspired the very words and details, he did not do so in English. He did so in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek."
"This is simply so naive that I have difficulty believing it was written by someone with Mark Driscoll’s training and writing skills. The word 'justification' is not in the 'words and details' of scripture as inspired by God. There is a Greek word in that verse."
"If they truly believe in 'verbal plenary inspiration' and believe that one must not alter the words and details of scripture in any way, then they must logically begin to use only the texts in the source languages."
Now, this seems obvious to me, so basic that it's self-evident... but if it doesn't seem so obvious to you, please let me know, and I'll back up and we can discuss the nature of language and translation. That's a topic that has interested me for a very long time, and that has a great deal of complexity.
But, I'm also interested in this from a psychological angle. If we conclude that Driscoll is making arguments here that are rationally indefensible... then what is motivating him (and the rest of his church leadership) to make the claims? I don't doubt his sincerity, either, though I have no idea how he will respond rationally to the objections raised. How does someone intelligent and informed end up with a sincere belief in something irrational?
This question interests me because it happens so often. Rational and well-informed people make claims that are only supported by obviously specious rational arguments (such as "the original text of Scripture used" words such as "justification" and "propitiation"). Yet, they are sincere, and often unmoveable. What is it, psychologically, that gives us irrational blind spots? And what can we do, as people that desire to be rational and open to critique, to prevent that psychological infirmity from inflicting us as well?