My Tuesday class just wrapped up our study of James. Next Tuesday, Oct 17, we will begin a journey through the Book of Samuel (parts 1 & 2). It tells the story of the rise of the kings in Israel, focusing on the story of King David in thrilling detail. Samuel is well-written and filled with a lot to enjoy and to reflect upon. My Tuesday class meets from 11:45 to 1:00 every Tuesday in Piro Hall. Many people bring lunch. I hope you will consider joining us. And if you can’t make it next Tuesday, just come when you can. We’ll be in Samuel for many months. We are not on a schedule, as the class sets the pace.
Gallup has released another interesting poll. This one took a look at the growing tendency of Protestants in America to attend churches that are not affiliated with a denomination. This is set against the growing percentage of Americans who do not have any religious affiliation at all, the “nones.” A decrease in denominational affiliation from 50% to 30% in sixteen years is staggering. The landscape is changing so fast you wonder if the UMC can possibly cope.
Americans who identify as Christians other than Catholics or Mormons increasingly put themselves into a non-denominational category rather than identifying with a specific denomination such as Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian and so forth. Others simply identify their religion as Christian without any reference to Protestantism or a specific Protestant denomination. As a result of these trends, the percentage of Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination has dropped from 50% in 2000 to 30% in 2016, while Christians who don’t name a specific religion or denomination have doubled in number, from 9% to 17%.
A “deity pronoun” is a pronoun that has been capitalized when it refers to God, such as “He,” “Him,” and “His.” Capitalizing is understandable because we want to show reverence and respect when we refer to God. The problem is that in English we don’t use capital letters to denote reverence, as in Hitler and Satan. I’ve checked a few major Christian publishing houses and none that I found used deity pronouns. That includes Inter-Varsity Press and Zondervan, two major evangelical publishers. The NASB translation uses deity pronouns, but none of the others do. Not the NIV, ESV, CEB, NRSV, HCSB, RSV, nor the KJV. So . . . if you are tempted to capitalize pronouns referring to God, resist the temptation. It is a question of good grammar, not reverence. Here’s a passage from the Zondervan style guide:
The capitalization of pronouns referring to persons of the Trinity has been a matter of debate for many decades. Should He be capitalized when referring to God or not? Impassioned arguments have been offered up on both sides of the question. The following paragraphs outline Zondervan’s policy and the reasoning behind it.
In most cases, lowercase the deity pronoun. Although both the lowercase and capped styles have long and deeply rooted pedigrees in English literature, this manual advocates the use of lowercase pronouns in nearly all situations.
Reasons for Lowercasing. Many religious publishers and most general publishers have adopted the lowercase style, in large part to conform to the styles of the most commonly used versions of the Bible (the King James Version, the New International Version, and the Revised Standard Version). It is the style recognized as contemporary by the greatest number of readers and writers both inside and outside the church.
Because capitalizing the deity pronoun, as well as a vast number of other religious terms, was the predominant style in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century publishing, it gives a book, at best, a dated, Victorian feel, and at worst, an aura of complete irrelevance to modern readers.
Contrary to popular opinion, capitalization is not used in English as a way to confer respect (we capitalize both God and Satan, Churchill and Hitler). As pointed out elsewhere (see “Capitalization: Biblical and Religious Terms”), capitalization is largely used in English to distinguish specific things from general. Jesus is no more specific, in that sense, than Peter, and both should therefore be referred to as he.
Some writers argue that the capitalized style should be used to avoid confusion of antecedents in closely written text (for instance, whether Jesus or one of the disciples is being referred to as he in a given passage). Even in this last case, a careful writer should be able to make the meaning clear without capitalization. After all, the writer should be able to distinguish between the twelve disciples without resorting to typographic tricks.
Many readers, especially the younger ones, do not recognize the reasons for such typographic conventions, and the capitalized pronoun may actually cause confusion or be read as emphasis when none is implied.
Finally, an insistence on the capped style can introduce unintended religiopolitical overtones into a publication. When He is capped for God or Jesus, it can appear to younger readers especially, as though the author is purposely emphasizing the maleness of the deity, in direct response to feminist theologians who argue for the inclusiveness of God. Apart from the merits of either side of that debate, the capitalized deity pronoun introduces a polemical overtone that may wholly detract from the topic at hand.
Is Capitalization Ever Justified? There are some situations in which the capitalization of deity pronouns is preferred, for instance, in books that have a deliberately old-fashioned tone or when the author quotes extensively from a Bible version that uses the capitalized style (such as the New King James Bible or the New American Standard Bible). When deity pronouns are capitalized, though, the words who, whom, and whose should not be. If a publication falls under one of those categories, the author should discuss his or her preference with the editor ahead of time, and the preferred style should be specified on a style sheet so that the other editors and proofreaders involved in the project will be informed.
In Quotations. Even when lowercasing the deity pronouns in a given publication, the capitals should be retained in any quotations from other books that use the capped style. Likewise, if the deity pronoun is capped in a publication, the lowercase should be retained in all quotes where it is found in the original source. Quotations should always retain the style of the original as a matter of accuracy (or unless otherwise noted in a footnote or on the copyright page).
My sermon today was on Esau, focusing on forgiveness and reconciliation. I was asked to post a quote from Lewis Smedes that I used in the closing: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Here is the end of the study I wrote to accompany the sermon:
The most remarkable story of Esau comes at his reunion with Jacob when the long-gone brother returns to Canaan. Understandably, Jacob is terrified of meeting his brother. Jacob knows what he did to Esau and expects his twin to wreak mighty vengeance to set right the wrong. So Jacob carefully arranges the encounter, sending ahead plenty of gifts to try to assuage Esau’s justifiable anger. As he approaches Esau, Jacob bows to the ground seven times. He is a very nervous man.
But when the moment comes, Esau runs to meet Jacob, throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him. The brothers break down in tears. It is a touching moment that says much to us still about the power of forgiveness. In those moments, Esau went from being a supporting actor to a main character.
Esau grasps that forgiveness is like breathing. It must be breathed out as we breathe it in. Forgiveness received is forgiveness that must be passed on. When we are forgiven, but refuse to forgive, it is like trying to take in a breath and hold it rather than breathing it out. Eduard Schweizer put it this way: ‘God’s forgiveness is not for decoration but for use.’ A truly grateful heart is also a forgiving heart.
Well . . . I finally had to do it. The scottengle.org site was built many years ago in Microsoft’s Frontpage. Sadly, they stopped supporting the product long ago. I’ve been unable to update it for a couple of weeks now and my host said there was no fix. So, I’ve moved to this new website, which will be under construction for awhile. There are hundreds of links in the site, all of which have to be rebuilt by hand. It will take me awhile!
So . . . if you need something from me. Just drop me an email and I will send it to you.
I’ll be able to offer some new content on this site. If you have any suggestions, let me know.