Saturday, October 16, 2010

New is not improved

The Evangel blog has a brief post about a new translation of the Bible called the Common English Bible. Blogger David Koyzis asks:
After so many decades, is the runaway proliferation of bible translations in English still about making the Word of God more comprehensible to ordinary people? Or is it by now about niche marketing?
It also has a good user discussion of Bible translation proliferation, the style of this new translation (something like the New Living Translation), and even the need for better Spanish language materials. (Discussions like that are what popular blogs get. Sigh.)

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version, Expanded Edition (Hardcover 8910A)There’s no doubt that the Christian publishing houses push TNIVs and NRSVs and NKJVs to make a buck. While I personally use the ESV as a slightly improved (and non-politically correct) update of the RSV, I’d have been quite happy to stick with my Oxford RSV for another 50 years. I also despair that the NIV we gave our daughter for confirmation may be intentionally rendered “obsolete” (or at least out of fashion) by the time she graduates from high school.

Some of this translation fragmentation is an inherent problem of the everyone-decides-for-themselves attitude brought by the Reformation. As Koyzis observes in the comments to his posting
I rather think that the proliferation of bible translations is part of the same mindset that produces such huge numbers of denominations in North America. There is a longstanding tendency to begin everything anew when we’re dissatisfied with the old. But wouldn’t it be better to refine the old and avoid wasting so much time and effort starting from scratch?
This seems to be an an affliction the Catholics also picked up after Vatican II.

Lutheran Service Book - Pew EditionAlas, there is a similar sort of planned obsolescence for hymnals. Is it to make a buck? Clearly this is a problem with the LCMS and their Concordia Publishing House empire, which will want to sell another hymnal in 2025 or 2030 to supplant the Lutheran Service Book (2006).

Is this continual updating because of an undue fixation on the (con)temporary, the transient, the worldly culture? Is it the ahisotricity that seems to afflict every generation? Or is it our consumption-driven culture’s fixation on new! New! NEW!

For myself, the important goal for an Anglican hymnal is to provide the timeless hymns that connect us to nearly 2000 years of Christian worship. I see little that needs to be improved on Hymnal 1940. Yes, a few hymns are missing, but in this day of the Internet and laser printers, such omissions can easily be supplemented. The most objectionable part of the hymnal is that proceeds from its sales to go support KJS’ fading empire.

A few of the Schism I “provinces” seem to get this: if the CoE can use the BCP 1662 for three centuries, why can’t we use a single prayer book and hymnal for a century or even longer? Or, as happened with H40, add a few supplemental hymns in later editions (e.g. Joy to the World, Hymn #775 in the later editions of H40.)

Alas, I fear that most of the ACNA seems to prefer Hymnal 1982, despite its manifest failings, and will either continue to promote it or eventually supplant it with something even more “new” (even if not “improved.”) The decision of the LCMS with the LSB to improve their hymnal by reverting to more traditional hymnody seems to be a rare exception. (The LCMS is also unusual in having elected a new leader who vows to turn back the tide of theological modernism.)

Thanks to Google Books, musicologists and other highly motivated layman now have full access to all the great 19th century hymnals, including Hymns Ancient & Modern and Medieval Hymns and Sequences. That might get it into the hand of the music director, but it doesn’t get it into the pews (except perhaps for those parishes that either print or videoproject the hymns for each week’s worship materials.)

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