I Object To Your Objectivity
Tim Stafford's review of Marvin Olasky's Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism (July/August), while championing fairness and objectivity in the traditional journalistic sense, proceeds to turn Olasky's argument into a cartoon devoid of nuance and dimension. Dismissing directed reporting as "Old Testament journalism," Stafford accuses Olasky of arrogance in claiming the ability to determine the "God's-eye view" of most issues. In fact, how-ever, Olasky presents six categories of issues in descending order of certainty. Only "class one" issues include an "explicit biblical embrace or condemnation." Every other class allows for some measure of disagreement among Christians seeking to apply biblical principles to twentieth-century life.
As an example of Olasky's arrogance, Stafford includes the following quote: "Biblical ob-jectivity means supporting the establishment and improvement of Bible-based education, and criticizing government schools." What he fails to mention is that Olasky is illustrating a class-two issue, one with only an "implicit biblical position." Just before the controversial quote, in fact, Olasky nuances the issue: "Even though there is no explicit biblical injunction to place children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear." Does this change the conclusion? No, but it does perhaps help to provide a flesh-and-blood portrait of Olasky rather than a caricature with a god-complex.
As a national correspondent for World magazine (which Olasky edits), I can testify that the values of directed reporting--while they may clash with traditional conceptions of media objectivity--do not preclude really listening to interview sources, as Stafford would suggest. Rarely, in fact, am I given the spin before I begin my reporting. Standard operating procedure is to begin probing and "see what turns up."
Recently, for instance, I was in Southern California to report on Proposition 187, the state ballot initiative to crack down on illegal immigration. Though I went without any clear idea of a "biblical" position on the issue, my own law-and-order bias led me to favor efforts to crack down on lawbreakers of whatever stripe. However, after interviewing ten believers in Tijuana who had themselves hazarded the border crossing in an effort to support their families, I began to change my mind. The resulting story was full of ambiguities and Catch-22s--hardly the kind of smug reporting one would expect after reading Stafford's review.
Notre Dame, Ind.
The Great Good Of Baseball
Philip Yancey convinces me that writing is a psychotic act. But this is no excuse for his mad judgment that watching two innings of Atlanta Braves baseball was "meaningless." Yancey does need help, since it is true by definition that watching any innings of any baseball game cannot be meaningless. As one deeply suspicious of therapeutic interventions, I can only hope that Yancey will be helped by some kind of behavior modification so that he will appropriately appreciate the great good that is always present in watching any baseball game, if only for two innings. I certainly would not want Yancey to curtail his writing, but I do hope some friends will help him learn to watch a baseball game; for like writing, watching baseball is an acquired taste that demands great virtue. I like to think of it as that beacon of sanity in a world gone mad.
The Bible's Strangeness
Daniel Taylor's thoughtful review of Reynolds Price's Three Gospels [September/October] prompts reflection on the endless challenge of Bible translation. It is true, as Taylor implies, that Price is too quick to reject the dynamic (or functional) equivalence method explicated by Eugene A. Nida and Jan de Waard, which is more sophisticated in its treatment of the text's original historical sense than Price and other critics allege. Price also dismisses too hastily church-sponsored translations such as the New English Bible and the New Revised Standard Version. When dealing with a text whose meaning is as contested as the Bible's, there is much to be said for translation by an ecumenical committee--even if the committee eschews the sort of literalness Price prefers. Nevertheless, Price does not presume to offer Christians a new standard text; rather, he aims to surprise and enchant readers with the Bible's strangeness.
Price's agenda resembles that of the late Jewish philosophers and translators, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, whose German translation of the Bible sought to preserve Hebrew idiom and poetic structure. In the United States, the Buber-Rosenzweig philosophy of translation recently has been resurrected in the work of Everett Fox, Lawrence Rosenwald, Leora Batnitzky, and others. In his English translation of the Pentateuch [The Five Books of Moses, Schocken Books, 1995], Fox warns readers that they will find "no old friends" in his version of the Scriptures. Similarly, Price's translation admonishes us to respect the historical distance between biblical times and our own and reminds us yet again that translation, no less than writing itself, is fraught with subjectivity. Thus the work of translation is never final, and no Bible--not even the King James Version--can ever lay claim to universal authority.
-Peter J. Thuesen
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Copyright(c) 1996 by Christianity Today, Inc/BOOKS & CULTURE. November/December 1996, Vol. 2, No. 6, Page 3