Conservative Christianity and the Authorized Version: Introduction
At last week’s Knowing, Loving, Ministering Conference, Scott Aniol opened the floor for a brief discussion about the relationship between conservative Christianity and the use of the Authorized Version. His recent sabbatical in the UK gave him regular interaction with dear brothers in Christ (some of whom I expect will be reading this) who are in ready agreement with the positions on worship and affections that we articulate here, but who contend that our conservatism is truncated if we employ modern English versions of the Bible.
For the most part, the authors on this blog make regular use of modern versions. Speaking for myself, I preach at our church from the English Standard Version and am convinced that the critical text is more likely to reflect the original apostolic writings than is the TR.
The argument that conservatives should also embrace the AV is not one that is entirely new to us; others have poked at the apparent inconsistency between using old hymns and new translations. Those who raise the issue generally fall into three categories:
- Advocates of contemporary worship who see our use of modern versions as a revealing inconsistency in our arguments about music. They believe that if we reflected on our reasons for using modern versions, we should also come to see that the very same arguments support using modern worship styles.
- Those who see the disconnect between our employment of modern versions and traditional worship as a pragmatic liability. They contend that we hamper the growth of our churches by alienating both those who prefer modern worship and those who prefer to use the AV. To pair traditional worship with the use of the AV would give us a more natural demographic to which would could appeal.
- Those fellow conservatives who have a sincere preference for the TR/AV, or a conviction that the TR/AV is the superior text and translation. These also believe that there is a disconnect in our position, and would have us embrace a more consistently conservative theology.
Let me say clearly: I have no interest in this series of engaging the broader arguments for and against the TR/AV position. That discussion is far too broad for a series of blog posts.
What I intend to do over my next several posts is address the specific issues relevant to the TR/AV position as it relates specifically to conservative Christianity. At present, my purpose is to address this from three angles:
- Textual criticism: the conservative proponents of the TR/AV applaud us for seeking out and even deferring to the wisdom of earlier generations of Christians (Chesterton’s democracy of the dead) with regard to worship, culture, and Christian affections. But they suggest that we should employ similar deference to previous generations with regard to their choice of biblical texts. This position is reinforced with an appeal to the sovereign hand of the Lord in his church: that the nearly universal use of a TR text for hundreds of years is providential evidence that this is the text God intended for his church.
- Precision of language: conservatives regularly highlight examples in which contemporary culture is decadent. Language is not static; as usage changes, it is certainly possible for a language to gain and lose the ability to easily express certain nuances and distinctions. Conservative advocates of the AV insist that contemporary English suffers from precisely this kind of degradation, and that the AV is therefore capable of communicating subtleties that modern versions simply cannot.
- Aesthetics and reverence: all conservative Christians are interested in the cultivation of ordinate affection. We often argue that traditional hymn texts are better suited for expressing and cultivating reverence. Conservative advocates of the AV contend that that translation is also distinctively, perhaps uniquely, suited to encourage reverence and sobriety in believers.
My goal in this series will not be to convince those who favor the TR/AV to abandon their position. Rather, I want to make the case that there is no necessary connection between conservative principles of worship and the use of the TR/AV as one’s Bible.
About Michael Riley
Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.