Tag Archives: Anabaptist culture

The RAT: A New Bible Translation for Anabaptists

Anabaptists have not yet come to a consensus on the thorny problem of Bible translations. Now there is another option they will need to consider. A new translation is underway that may be of special interest to some readers of this blog. In this post I am sharing excerpts from translation efforts so far.

The translation team would appreciate your feedback. You don’t have to know Hebrew or Greek to help. As you read over these excerpts, simply compare them with your favorite translation. (Links to the ESV translation have also been provided–just hover over the references at the end of each passage and the ESV text will appear.)

Two kinds of feedback are most welcome: (1) Improvements on the passages shared here. (2) Suggestions for translating your other favorite Bible passages.

Without further ado, here are some excerpts from the new RAT:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the city that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not buy from any store in the country’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may buy the produce of the bulk food stores in the country, but God said, ‘You shall not buy the products of the store that is in the midst of the city (lo, Macy’s in Manhattan), neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you buy of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw in the window display that the products were good quality, and that they were a delight to the eyes, and that the store was to be desired to make one cool, she took of its products and bought, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he bought. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed Spandex together and made themselves loincloths. (See Gen. 3:1-7)

And when they were in the subway, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (See Gen. 4:8)

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the city of Sodom was prosperous, like New York City, the banking capital of America… So Lot chose for himself all the city of Sodom, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. (See Genesis 13:10-11)

 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into Waterloo County, then you shall select farms to be farms of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. (See Num. 35:9-11)

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess farmers greater and mightier than you, croplands great and growing up to heaven.” (See Deut. 9:1)

“Cursed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.” (See Deut. 28:3)

And no portion was given to the Levites in the cities, but only farms to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. (See Joshua 14:4)

The people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. By command of the Lord they gave him the farm that he asked, in Elkhart County. And he rebuilt the farm and settled in it. (See Josh. 19:49-50)

And David lived in the Shenandoah valley and called it the farm of David. And David plowed the farm all around from Harrisonburg northward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. (See 2 Sam. 5:9-10)

“To his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Holmes County, the farmland where I have chosen to put my name.” (See 1 Kings 11:36)

“I will deliver you and this farm out of the hand of the urban developers, and I will defend this farm for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” (See 2 Kings 20:6)

Jehoshaphat lived near Gap. And he went out again among the people… and brought them back to the LORD, the God of their fathers. He appointed judges in the land in all the farming communities of Pennsylvania, farm by farm. (See 2 Chron. 19:4-5)

I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the farm, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its fences have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Intercourse, to the farm of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” (See Neh. 2:3-6)

There is a river whose streams make glad the woodland of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. (See Ps. 46:4)

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the farmland of our God!
His holy plain, beautiful in flatness,
is the joy of all the earth,
Kansas, in the west,
the farmland of the great King.
Upon her grasslands God
has made himself known as a farmer. (See Ps. 48:1-3)

Some wandered in urban alleys,
finding no way to a farm to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a farm to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man! (See Ps. 107:4-8)

But seek the judgment of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord against it, for in its judgment you will find your welfare. (See Jer. 29:7)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the city to be tempted by the devil. (See Matt. 4:1)

“You are the light of the world. A farm set in a valley cannot be hidden.” (See Matt. 5:14)

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his row house apartment, another to his college class. (See Matt. 22:4-5)

“For unto you is born this day on the farm of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (See Luke 2:11)

“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten getaway cabins.’” (See Luke 19:17)

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the countryside until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and convinced them to join him in leaving the city for a safer rural environment. (See Acts 17:16-17)

“I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this wilderness who are my people.” (See Acts 18:10)

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Chicago... And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him to rural places like Chambersburg, Lansing, Elnora, Hartwell, Guys Mills, Carbon Hill, and Mountain View, reasoning daily in the halls of the Bible schools. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of America heard the word of the Lord, both Anabaptists and everyone else. (See Acts 19:1, 8-10)

But I say, walk on a nature trail, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (See Gal. 5:16)

Put on the whole hunter’s outfit, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (See Eph. 6:11)

And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the city? (See Heb. 3:17)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love our farming lifestyle, not neglecting to meet together to discuss pesticides and soil run-off, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another to increase our yield per acre, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (See Heb. 10:24-25)

He was looking forward to the farm that has drainage tiles, whose designer and builder is God. (See Heb. 11:10)

For here we have no lasting farm, but we seek the farm that is to come. (See Heb. 13:14)

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with Carhartts, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (See 1 Pet. 5:5)

And I saw the holy farmland, new Lancaster County, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (See Rev. 21:2)

I could share more excerpts from this fine new translation, but hopefully that is enough for you to get a feel for how it sounds. As you can tell, it tends toward the functional equivalence end of the translation philosophy spectrum, rather than being strictly word-for-word.

In the traditional Anabaptist spirit of the brotherhood principle, the translation committee welcomes your help with their work. Feel free to critique the above excerpts, or suggest more in the comments below.

And oh! I almost forgot to tell you: “RAT” stands for “Rural Anabaptist Translation.” Proving that rats live in grain bins, too, and not only subway tunnels.

ratreading
Reverend Rat reading from his new favorite translation. Photo Credit: janjaromirhorak via Compfight cc


Disclaimer: Perhaps it would be the part of wisdom for me to clarify that the above post is a work of satire. [Update: See my post “Christians and Satire: What Does the Bible Say?” if you have questions about this style of writing.] As with all good pieces of satire, it is intended to be both entertaining and educational. (If you find it neither—or even if you do—please feel free to write a parallel post proposing a CAT–a “City Anabaptist Translation.” I will enjoy the entertainment.)

The educational bit in this piece is simple: It is an attempt to remind us that rural does not always equal good and city does not always equal bad in the text of the sacred writings—despite our cultural tendency to conveniently miss much of the evidence challenging our rural values.

It is possible that this satire transgresses one or two rules of good exegesis or logic. I hope, God willing, to sometime write a post that gives better evidence. It would answer this question: “Can (Anabaptist) Faith Survive in the City?” That is a serious question that deserves serious answers. Meanwhile, you may wish to read my three posts answering the following question: “Why Should You Care about the City?” Each post discusses one answer:

  1. Because God cares about cities.
  2. The city needs you.
  3. You need the city.

Well, it’s time to sign off. Gotta go feed them calves. Wonder where they’re at?


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Why Should You Care about Cities? (3/3)

Who you are depends largely on who you have been with. And most of what you know you have learned from other people. If these statements are true, then it must be vitally important to be intentional about our relationships.

A Christian’s most vital relationship is with Christ. If your relationship with him is all it should be, then he can help you survive even the worst set of human companions. The normal way that Christ strengthens and trains us, however, is through human relationships.

What kinds of relationships will help you grow? Diversity helps. Let me suggest a sample:

  • People who have known you well for a long time.
  • People who are wiser than you—mentors.
  • People who are eager to learn from you—disciples.
  • People who are like you, who help you feel at home.
  • People who are different from you, who make you feel not-at-home.
  • People who don’t know you well.

The last couple categories might be less obvious, or at least less comfortable. If you are surrounded only by people who don’t know you well, it can be hard to develop a secure or accurate self-identity. (See my poetic musings on that possibility.)

On the other hand, if you are surrounded only by people like youself, then your picture of yourself might be rather two-dimensional, lacking depth and perspective. Spending all your time with people just like you won’t teach you much about the rest of life, either. This is why youth need adults, men need women, and you need the city.

Why should you care about cities? I’m sharing three reasons in this blog series:

  1. God cares about cities.
  2. The city needs you.
  3. You need the city.

This post will discuss the third reason. Why should you care about cities?

You Need the City!

This might be the least expected reason why you should care about cities, but it might also be the most important. If you would be a wise and effective Christian, then you must first be a learner.  And Christians, including rural Anabaptists, have much to learn from the city.

Cities can help you learn about yourself. When I was in Thunder Bay, I was one of a team of five Mennonite adults surrounded by First Nations youth. When went to college, I was the only Mennonite in my city. When I taught school in the Bronx, I lived in a neighborhood that was about 80% Hispanic. When we lived in Queens, there were at least seven ethnic groups on our immediate block—Chinese, Puerto Rican, Guyanese, Sri Lankan, African American, and, including us, two white households.

Each of those contexts taught me things about myself. Now we plan to move to a neighborhood in Atlanta that is over 95% African American, also within reach of multi-ethnic college populations. I anticipate many new learning opportunities.

I think it would do most people good to live for at least a year as an ethnic or cultural minority. When you live as a minority, you learn that you are not normal—most people are not like you. You learn that your heritage has some unique strengths. You also learn that your culture has some besetting sins (perhaps selfishness with time and possessions, thanklessness, or impatience). And you probably even learn that you have some unexpected racist tendencies (I did).

Cities can remind us that we really don’t understand “the lost” as well as we think we do. Here I begin with a point I made in my last post—that too often conservative Anabaptists think of missions in terms of caring for the poor, tending to overlook other kinds of people. But a happily married (gay or otherwise) university professor or plastic surgeon with a six-figure income needs the gospel just as much as the whino on the curb.

A friend and I were recently discussing the idea of Anabaptists doing missions in Toronto. This friend has lived in Toronto for eight years and continues to work there. Here is some of what she had to say:

It irks me to no end to hear about “mission trips” to Toronto that consist simply of people standing on street corners handing out tracts—likely to tourists because that’s who hangs out around the Eaton’s Centre. How exactly is that addressing the needs of the hipster in Liberty Village, the professor in the Annex, the young family in Riverdale, the public servant at High Park, the gay couple on Church, the young graduates in the Beaches, the writer in the Junction. Those are my friends and colleagues. And they have spiritual lives and needs too…

I am puzzled by the notion that our life in in city is different than life in Elmira or Parry Sound or Newton or Harrisonburg or Shipshewana or Walnut Creek. Urban people do the same things—go grocery shopping, volunteer at school, walk their dog, visit the library, help out with neighbourhood events, go out to eat, see plays and hear concerts, enroll their kids in swimming lessons. If we as Anabaptists believe in lifestyle evangelists—just go. But check out the demographics of more than the poor and needy. If God is truly no respecter of person, then the urbane, literate, middle class professionals are in as much need of Christ’s love as anyone. But if you are going to live in their neighbourhoods (because let’s face it—the best way to get to know someone is through their kid or dog), you need to be able to afford it. This means having a profession that is transferable to a urban centre and being socially fluid.

We like to talk about how Jesus hung out to the poor and marginalized. But Matthew was a tax collector and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. Imagine being friends with the policy wonks, decision-makers, financial investors and cultural creators of our times!

Then, in a final reply to the idea that the poor are often more open to the gospel (which I would argue is almost certainly true, on average), she added this:

…People who are not in desperate socio-economic straits are not open to the gospel? Using that logic, most of Mennonite-land should be impervious.

Ouch. And probably truer than we like to think.

Street-corner evangelism certainly has its place. Many have come to Christ through such efforts. But I would suggest that most are unlikely to respond to Christ unless they experience a meaningful, ongoing sharing of life with Christian friends. Why should we limit our city mission efforts to “hit-and-run” approaches?

And most of us are somewhat poorly prepared to win people to Christ. We may understand the gospel well enough (see my next point, however). But to be an effective “gospel-er” we also need to understand our audience. Consider how Paul adjusted his message to his audiences.

I still do not consider myself an effective evangelist. But I do know that I have a better grasp today than I did in my youth of how a secular, post-Christian mind can tend to think. How did I grow in understanding? By spending time around secular minds. When I was in university (or college, as they say here in the U.S.), it took me about three years before I felt that I understood my classmates and professors well enough to start writing a Christian opinion column in the student paper.

Some are faster learners than me. And even after three years I’m not sure how effective I was. But my basic point remains: Growth in my understanding took time—long, daily time spent with unbelievers.  (Ask any cross-cultural missionary.) And if I had never moved to the city for school, I would never have debated Freud, traced Islamic history, analyzed Milton, read Genesis, tiptoed through feminist assumptions, debated homosexuality, and laughed in the hall with my new postmodern friends.

Such educational cross-cultural relationships can be formed almost anywhere, if you try hard enough. But they are almost unavoidable in most cities. What an opportunity!

Cities can help you understand the gospel better and experience it more fully. Nothing makes you appreciate a homegrown tomato like eating the cardboard imitation found in your local supermarket! Similarly, meeting people from other world religions can help you see the unique vitality of the Christian gospel. Wrestling with heresy helped the early church identify orthodox belief more precisely. Engaging thoughtful non-Christians today can help us do the same.

Being surrounded by undeniable, unavoidable needs can help you focus on the core message of the gospel, with its power to save. Well-manicured hands are nice, but when a patient arrives with a heart attack, you aren’t going to reach for your nail clippers. And when you are helping youth escape the sensual tentacles of mass youth media, you might not worry too much about whether they become skilled at singing four-part choral music.

Both Christians and unbelievers from other cultures can push us to do a better job of distinguishing between our cultural traditions and gospel traditions. (“I don’t see that in the Bible!”) Diversity within the church can give us a sense of proportion about the little things that sometimes divide us. (Fact: Most Christians have never given a moment’s thought to questions about how big your beard should be or whether you should wear covering strings.) As we ponder together how we can best meet the needs of our communities, the differences that otherwise might divide are sometimes revealed to be assets, turning the local church into a veritable Swiss Army knife of multifaceted strengths.

Diversity in the church gives all sorts of opportunity for growth in character. For example, some Caribbean cultures might think Germanic Mennonites are too quiet. Why don’t we show more zeal in worship? How can they tell what we are really thinking about them and their ideas when we hide our disagreement behind so much polite silence? And they might find us disrespectful. Why don’t we wear ties to their funerals? Why do we walk right past our elders at church without greeting them (even if they are in the middle of a conversation)?

So, who is right—Germanic Mennonites or Dominican Christians? Both! Or neither! But seeing ourselves through someone else’s eyes is informative, and learning to love each other is a challenge that can cause us to lean harder on the gospel. And if you lean hard enough, your shame of the gospel will evaporate when you discover, like Paul, that the gospel has the power to bring people of all cultures together as one in Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; Eph. 2-3).

Consider the counsel of Christena Cleveland, from her book Disunity in Christ:

Culturally homogenous churches [churches where everyone shares the same culture] are adept at targeting and attracting a certain type of person and creating a strong group identity. However, attendees at such churches are at a higher risk for creating the overly simplistic and divisive Right Christian and Wrong Christian labels that dangerously lead to inaccurate perceptions of other Christians as well as hostility and conflict. What often begins as an effective and culturally specific way to reach people for Christ ends up stifling their growth as disciples. Perhaps this is because we often fail to make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. Discipleship is crosscultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. Like iron sharpens iron.

For this reason, I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity. Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of age, gender, economic status, education level, political orientation and so on. Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom. And churches situated in multiethnic communities… should absolutely be ethnically diverse. (pp. 21-22, bold added)

Let me share an hypothesis: I suggest that conservative Anabaptists risk becoming increasingly ingrown, divisive, and ineffective in missions unless more of us experience the sort of cross-cultural challenges that urban living offers.

In closing, let me repeat some advice to myself: When you do move to an urban setting, bear the gospel, yes, but go as a listener and a humble learner. 

Let’s face it: All this rightfully-urgent talk about urban missions can be perverted by our pride. Among some of us, urban ministry has given us not only a sense of urgency but also a sense of superiority. For many who have cut their rural umbilical cords, urban ministry is cool (substitute the latest relevant slang). We may forget that rural and small-town living are also honorable.

We may also overestimate our preparedness for urban living and ministry. For some hard-hitting warnings to white wanna-be urban missionaries, read Christena Cleveland’s article “Urban Church Planting Plantations.” Here is the burden of her words:

So much of the urban church planting I’ve seen simply replicates and extends the power inequities between whites and people of color that were cemented years ago on plantations… I’m amazed at how quickly majority-culture pastors with no urban ministry experience acquire a passion for urban ministry and then automatically assume that they are qualified for the job… This privileged perspective on urban church planting undermines the unity of the body of Christ. If each part of the body has a unique perspective, gift and role to play, then we need to recognize that we’re not equipped to do every type of ministry and humbly collaborate with the parts that are better equipped.

Ouch. Read her whole article. Be humbled. But don’t give up on the city. Just go with a renewed determination to be a learner—a disciple-maker who is first a disciple.

I know I will have a lot to learn when we move to Atlanta. One thing I hope to learn is how Anabaptists can better participate in Christ-centered racial reconciliation. Though our heritage has unique gifts to bring to this work, most of us are either pretty ignorant or pretty ineffective. Too many of us are still happily colorblind, which is a problem, as my friend Lowell Herschberger explains. We have much to learn.

I need the city, so do other conservative Anabaptists, and so do you.


This is the end of my series called “Why Should You Care about Cities?” Much more could—and should—be said. And I’m aware that some of what I said could be misunderstood. I have spoken strongly, and I have made some generalizations. But what will it take to engage God’s people to respond to one of the greatest challenges of our time—the rise of global cities with their multi-ethnic, multi-need populations?

Rest assured: If you don’t go to the city, the city will come to you. It is already coming. It is coming in the form of your news media, the designs of your consumer products, your college-trained bankers and doctors, the teachers and curricula in your local public school, your construction products, your farm commodity prices, government regulations, the election of your next president, your Amazon orders, your cell phone apps, your Internet signal, and, hopefully soon, Dwight Gingrich Online.

Will we run to meet this Goliath? Or will we merely try to dodge his spear? Better, will we see the city as not only a giant to be slaughtered, but also a fertile field? Will we take a proactive approach to global urbanization? Or will we retreat behind ever-less-effective geographical and cultural walls?

It was in the world’s third-largest city (population c. 500,000) that Christ’s followers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). And it was to the largest city in the world (population c. 1,000,000) that Christ specifically sent his apostle to the Gentiles: “Take courage… you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). The big city just might be the most ideal habitat one could possibly imagine for a Christian.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations in your nearest city!


Do you agree that more Anabaptists could benefit from urban living? What do you think we need to learn from the city? What should we learn about ourselves, our neighbors, and the gospel itself? Share your observations in the comments below. And thanks for reading!


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