Commentary

With all due respect

Only a few biblical scholars have achieved the worldwide stature reached by J.B. Phillips, the Anglican canon. In the 1940s and 1950s he created for us his contemporary Scripture version, The New Testament in Modern English. In 1961 Phillips created a sort of catechism companion to his biblical translation, a book his publisher, Macmillan, offered under the memorable title “Your God is Too Small.”

A lot of Lutherans embraced Phillips’ work, as they did a 1967 effort from the American Bible Society. Their new translation of the New Testament carried the bold title Good News for Modern Man. Some readers remember the engaging line drawings as much as the creative, contemporary treatment of familiar old texts.

But what about that title? “Modern man” suggests the marginalization of half the population (and probably more than half of regular churchgoers). Maybe the American Bible Society’s God was too small!

“Modern” is a relative and ever-changing term. Nobody living the year Good News for Modern Man appeared could have imagined what the world would look like now. Increasingly we hear the complaint, “Everything is just moving too fast!”

Phillips wanted to show some respect for the generation for which he wrote. So did the translators of the Good News Bible. Confessing believers in our own generation are looking for ways to show and receive respect as well.

Nobody wants to feel disrespected. But respect isn’t enough; it needs to lead to affection and, in the pattern of the One who embraces us all, genuine love. Growing from respect to love is not really so difficult. God has done it all. That’s not a small God we’re talking about. That’s the Good News God.
How, then, shall we live? Respect, affection, love. God set the pattern. Let’s live it!

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Kretzmann is the founding president of Metro Lutheran. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.