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Press association bows out; NIV issue heats up at Wheaton

EARLYSVILLE, Va. (BP)–The Evangelical Press Association has concluded its involvement in a key journalism ethics dispute “without rendering judgment,” noting “our efforts at mediation failed.”
The dispute stemmed from investigative-type reporting by World magazine last spring on plans for a gender-inclusive revision of the New International Version Bible translation to be introduced into the U.S. market by Zondervan Publishing House, the NIV’s U.S. publisher, in several years.
After a storm of controversy, Zondervan announced it was canceling the NIV revision, in a statement issued with the International Bible Society, the NIV’s copyright holder, May 27 after several deliberations by IBS directors from May 22-26. The NIV, for numerous years, has accounted for 45 percent of all Bibles sold in the United States.
The Evangelical Press Association’s board of directors, in a two- page statement dated Oct. 18, said “a judgment of right or wrong by EPA will accomplish no good thing” in an ethics complaint filed by Zondervan and the Bible society against World alleging violations of the EPA’s code of ethics over various facets of the magazine’s reporting style, including its assertion of a “feminist agenda” fueling the revision process.
“It may bring momentary satisfaction to one party or the other, but will not contribute to bringing clarity to the journalistic issues nor unity among brethren,” the six-member EPA board said.
The press association’s ethics process was muddied in July when a report by an ad hoc EPA ethics committee, which sided with Zondervan/IBS against World, was released to some news outlets before being acted upon by the EPA board of directors. The EPA board acknowledged the error, along with an error in appointing non-EPA members to the ethics committee, a violation of the association’s bylaws.
Meanwhile, the Bible translation controversy has found new life at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school in the Chicago area.
A Wheaton New Testament professor, Gary M. Burge, claimed, “James Dobson and a circle of men tried to hijack the New International Version,” in a column in the Wheaton Record student newspaper’s initial edition this semester.
Burge’s column prompted a three-page rebuttal from Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministry. Dobson had convened a meeting of 11 evangelical leaders May 27 — including Zondervan President and CEO Bruce E. Ryskamp, IBS President Lars Dunberg and World publisher Joel Belz — which resulted in key points of consensus: “Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible” and “We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.”
The group also agreed on 14 “guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture.”
Burge contended, “A shudder ran through the Bible-publishing industry” as a result of the Dobson meeting, held in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The EPA board, in its statement, commended World magazine “for bringing to public attention the significant issues that arise in the translation of the Scriptures” and Zondervan and the IBS “for their commitment to publishing and distributing the Word of God.”
“We regret, however, that the rhetoric of the debate between these parties often seemed to lack charity,” the EPA board continued, “and the debaters sometimes appeared more interested in winning arguments than in pursuing truth.”
The EPA board quoted an essay titled, “Pursuing Charity and Clarity Together,” by Wayne Grudem and John Piper, two leaders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood who opposed the NIV gender- inclusive revision, urging Christians to debate the issues with clarity and charity.
“By charity,” Grudem and Piper wrote, “we have in mind mainly the good will that avoids caricature and seeks to state other’s views in ways they would approve. … By clarity we mean the use of language that expresses as fully as possible what we affirm and what we deny.”
The EPA board continued, “We believe the parties to this dispute have not always done this. They have not only defended their positions without clearly stating that of their opponents, but they have made accusations in the public arena that have stirred up contention in the evangelical world.
The EPA board said it will “continue to search our own hearts and to examine our motives and practices to determine whether or not they have glorified God in all things, and we urge all parties in this dispute to do the same. We also urge them to adopt an attitude of humility, repentance, and forgiveness in their pursuit of truth.”
World publisher Belz said of the EPA’s Oct. 18 statement: “World is grateful for the EPA board’s decision not to pursue any further the earlier charge of ethical violations. World accepts the board’s exhortation that we all conduct our journalistic tasks with charity.” IBS director of communications Steve Johnson said the IBS would have no further comment. Zondervan corporate affairs director Jonathan Petersen could not be reached for comment Oct. 28.
The EPA board said the press association, based in Earlysville, Va., now will “turn to our own housekeeping. We will review our code of ethics and revise our bylaws as necessary to provide procedures adequate for handling ethics cases.”
The press association’s code states:
“Christian publications should be honest and courageous, their presentations characterized by sincerity, truthfulness, accuracy and an avoidance of distortion and sensationalism. Those responsible for the publication must exercise the utmost care that nothing contrary to the truth is published. Whenever substantive mistakes are made, whatever their origin, they should be conscious of their duty to protect the good name and reputation of others. In dealing with controversial matters, opposing views, when presented, should be treated honestly and fairly.”
At Wheaton, Burge contended in his column “leading Bible scholars from opposing points of view were not invited” to the May 27 Dobson meeting, nor were publishers of the gender-inclusive New Revised Standard Version or the New Living Translation.
Dobson, in his rebuttal, stated Zondervan and IBS officials were asked to invite anyone of their choosing to the meeting. In attendance were Ryskamp and Dunberg and from the Committee on Bible Translation, a 15-member group of scholars with authority over the NIV translation, secretary Ken Barker and member Ron Youngblood.
Of Burge’s claim that a “shudder ran through the Bible-publishing industry,” Dobson wrote:
“This is, I think, the only assertion in the article that Dr. Burge got right. Publishers with gender-inclusive translations or those in progress were shocked when the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Conservative Congregational Christian Churches, and thousands of vocal Christians, began expressing disagreement with the plan to modify the Scriptures. Clearly, the publishers had misread the convictions of a sizable majority of Christians with regard to this sensitive subject. The controversy was mushrooming day by day. This is why Zondervan Publishers and the International Bible Society quickly announced an end to the translation they had planned to publish.”
Dobson noted more than 40 Bible scholars and theologians have endorsed the consensus statement and Bible translation guidelines resulting from the May 27 meeting. Southern Baptists among the endorsers are Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy; and two former SBC presidents, Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., and Jerry Vines, co- pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
According to Burge, “The issue here is not that scholars doing this sort of (gender-inclusive) translation have a ‘feminist agenda.’ As a member of Tyndale’s team who worked on the Living Bible revision, I can affirm that our only motivation is to translate the Bible in a manner that communicates God’s Word effectively without unnecessary hindrances. Bruce Metzger of Princeton led the revision of the RSV and has again and again affirmed how English forces writers to bring masculine language into the Bible when it isn’t even there. … Keep in mind that no one in this debate is talking about removing masculine language for God (King, etc), nor masculine language for Jesus (Son, etc.). … Like it or not, Western culture is creating a linguistic world that is gender-sensitive.”
Dobson wrote, “I agree with those who say it is dangerous to tamper with the actual (biblical) text and to assume that the inspired writers didn’t compose what they really meant.” Deferring to “respected theologians to argue our point of view,” Dobson acknowledged, “I’ve never claimed to be a Bible scholar … . But as a layman, let me say that it appears dangerous to begin substituting words in order to make the biblical text harmonize with current political thought and the emotionally charged opinions of the day. In the present context, more than 2,000 verses had to be altered to produce a gender-inclusive version. A person does not have to be an authority in Greek or Hebrew to see where that could lead.”
In another development in the Bible translation controversy, World’s Oct. 18 issue quoted John Stek, president of the Committee on Bible Translation, as saying, “We do not hold ourselves at all responsible for the statement put out by Focus” detailing the consensus reached at the May 27 meeting. “It was not our statement, and those who were members of CBT who were present there were not speaking for CBT” and were not “designated representatives of CBT. … The committee has not held itself in any way responsible for that action or obligated by it or bound by it.”
Barker agreed, telling World, “We were representing only ourselves and not CBT. … CBT is in the process of reviewing its own guidelines in respect to inclusive language, and that is a work still in progress. I don’t know exactly — no one would — how that will turn out.”