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FIRST-PERSON: 2 denominations worth listening to

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The firestorm of controversy over the TNIV has not cooled down in the lazy haze of summer.

Two of the nation’s largest evangelical denominations have weighed in on the matter. Both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America passed similar resolutions opposing the TNIV during their annual meetings last month.

TNIV supporters might respond that these actions are, of course, to be expected, given the conservative leadership of the SBC and PCA, especially on matters of gender. Still, the real significance of these two resolutions is not that they express concern about the TNIV, but why they harbor such concerns.

First, both resolutions affirm the responsibility of the churches to hold para-church publishers accountable for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Both the PCA and the SBC resolutions express appreciation for the New International Version (NIV), noting its influence in their constituencies and in the larger evangelical community. In fact, both resolutions note that it is precisely the vast influence of the trusted NIV that causes such concern about the potential influence of an inaccurate translation bearing the NIV name.

These warnings come at a time when many evangelicals seemingly look to publishers and booksellers to make all the decisions about what is best for the churches. From Bible translations to Sunday School curriculum, if it comes from Grand Rapids, how could it be bad for us?

The SBC and PCA have reasserted, however, that no matter how important our publishers and para-church groups may be, it is the churches of Jesus Christ that are, after all, “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NASB).

Secondly, both denominational resolutions express concerns about the TNIV based on a commitment to the verbal inspiration of Scripture — a commitment explicitly asserted in the respective confessional documents of the SBC and PCA, the Baptist Faith and Message and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Both resolutions, therefore, chided the TNIV translators for forgetting the central aim of Bible translation — the faithful recounting of the words breathed out by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles.

The larger evangelical community would do well to listen to this warning, especially coming from these two bodies. After all, the SBC and PCA held their ground in the 1970s’ “Battle for the Bible” while much of mainstream evangelicalism touted a “big tent” on matters such as inerrancy. These days the SBC and PCA often stand almost alone in support of some of the most basic matters of biblical authority, whereas “mainstream” evangelical institutions such as Fuller Theological Seminary long ago charted a leftward course. The SBC reversed a denominational leadership steeped in Protestant liberalism. The PCA emerged from a nearly century-long struggle of evangelicals against a leftist denominational bureaucracy in the mainline Presbyterian Church.

Both groups know the stakes of “openness” when it comes to the full and verbal inspiration of Scripture.

Of course, neither group charges the International Bible Society translators or Zondervan publishing house with “liberalism.” It is clear that the motives of many involved in the TNIV project are completely praiseworthy — to seek to communicate the truth of Scripture to a new generation. Moreover, few publishers have done more for the cause of the gospel and the witness of the church than Zondervan.

Still, when these two denominations warn of a potential downgrade at the point of biblical authority, however unintentional, we would do well to listen.
Russell D. Moore teaches Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and is executive director of the seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

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  • Russell D. Moore