Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bible Translation and Urban Ministry

How Hamtramck has Changed my Prejudices against Dynamic Equivalence

If you read my previous post on Bible Translation Basics you know that I have a strong leaning towards literal translations or formal equivalence translations. I value accuracy and openness in a translation, so that the translator's views and interpretation do not endanger new readings of the text. However, I was born again in college, in an academic atmosphere where the student population all had attained a certain reading level. Hamtramck is different. Urban ministry requires each minister of the gospel to be all things to all people, and the diversity of Hamtramck requires an even greater commitment to crossing cultural and educational lines in order to deliver the Word of Truth.

Hamtramck contains over twenty-five languages and a large number of ethnic groups. The racial tension runs high, overwhelming city youth and creating e barriers to education as well as the gospel. Hamtramck High School only graduates about 31% of the senior class. That means that more than 2/3rds of the students will not receive a high school diploma. Of that 31% only about 2% qualify to pursue a four year degree, and of that 2% an incredibly small number have the financial ability or motivation to do so. The police are forced to discharge mace an average of once per week in order to control the gang fights and riots that center around violent expressions of hopelessness, in the guise of ethnic and cultural conflict. The elementary schools here allow parents to override teacher's decisions to fail students, so many reach 6th grade without the ability to read and without a foundation to ever arrive at literacy within the school system. Over 80 violent incidents were reported to the District and that probably does not include fights in which no serious injury occurred. When you consider that there are only 180 days in the school year, you realize that High School here is truly a traumatic place. In addition to these challenges many children are cheated of opportunities from birth by alcohol, lead poisoning and homelessness. Literacy becomes a secondary concern to survival.

In the light of these barriers, functional equivalence translations such as the NIV and the NLT become great aids due to their ability to communicate across literacy barriers. Even in normal speech, normal Bible phraseology and "Christianese" becomes an impediment to understanding the truth of God's message. Before I was skeptical of these translations and the theological imbalances I felt they brought to the text, but when it comes to helping a city youth understand the simple gospel that has the power to free them from sin and deliver them from the of their situation, when it comes to life or , I'll take functional equivalence any day. Jesus came anointed to preach the gospel to the poor Luke 4:18 and His body still has that anointing today. The Holy Spirit presses us on to share across any barriers and allow no stumbling blocks to the message of hope and transformation. The people Christ most wants to reach are those who have the least of this world, and the least ability to find Him without miracles and missions.

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