Smith, Bruce A. 2013. Living translation: My story. Xulon press.
Xulon Press is the largest Christian Self-Publishing company in the U.S. and is owned and operated by Salem Media Group. According to its website, since 2001 it has self-published over 10,000 Christian authors.
Smith’s doctorate is a ministry degree achieved on-line from Regent University, on Organizational Leadership. Additional educational information on Smith can be found at linkedin.com. Regent University is a private Christian research university located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States. The university was founded by Pat Robertson in 1977 as Christian Broadcasting Network University, but changed its name to Regent University in 1990.
Bruce Smith is the President of Wycliffe Associates, an organization with headquarters in Orlando, Florida. According to its website, “Wycliffe Associates accelerates Bible translation around the world by empowering national translators and equipping the local church to share God’s Word in their own heart language” (www.wycliffe associates.org).
The worldview of Smith and the essence of his book can be summed up in the statement. “Ever since I can remember I’ve done things quickly” (64). The book outlines all the things that Smith has done quickly and all that he intends (not hopes) to do quickly. The chapters are short, averaging about eight pages, and the sections, paragraphs and sentences are brief. One gets the impression that the book is the result of transitory references from his diaries. He skips back and forth between experiences that are chronologically unrelated.
Smith is obsessed with purpose—check out the WA website—and he is intent on showing how Bible translation really should be done: quickly and with the highest degree of technical assistance one can afford. At times, although Smith sees that humility and prayer are also avenues to success, they may take second place to strategic planning and determination.
Chapter 12, late in the book, is called “Action” and Smith’s simple chart outlines his goal of moving from being “responsive” to being “proactive”. This is confirmed that in his “years in leadership there have been occasions where individual or team actions have come into question. Are they helping or hurting?” (p. 99). But here, at present, Smith simply means WA goals, not those of the larger Bible translation community.
The reader is assured that Smith has been invited by God to advance Bible translation (ix). He did not start out that way and confesses that he has not done any Bible translation himself. Rather, he sees himself as a man of action, running the race and involving multitudes in his vision. In this respect he is the quintessential American leader who believes he knows what should be done and will take risks to get them done. And Smith is never short of proactive illustrations: he has only to turn to himself as pilot, athlete, administrator, world traveler, and always at the leading edge. Others may discuss and do long range planning; Smith is in action and solving problems.
There are of course Bible verses that justify actions of running, racing, and throwing off everything that impedes us (Smith cites Hebrews 12:1,2 for example).
Smith’s missionary career started out as a pilot and mechanic with MAF (formerly called Missionary Aviation Fellowship). He is prone to exaggeration and does not seem to carefully check his facts, like many entrepreneurs. For example, his history of WA is brief and omits any mention of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, USA, which authorized the organization’s inception, including the use of the name “Wycliffe”.
It is as if Smith founded WA, although as he admits “On my best days I know I’m a questionable choice” (p. 56). There is also something in the statement “I grew up learning to hate people who were different than me” (p.62) that should give the reader pause. Could there be other victims of such feelings?
In November, 1999, Smith was asked to leave MAF (p. 53) due to a different vision and priories (p.53), but a little later (no date is given) he was asked “by someone at Wycliffe Associates…if I would be interested in applying to be their next President” (p. 54). There is also a short apology to those in MAF who suffered under his leadership. “I did not desire to intend or hurt them [those that left MAF when he was the Chief Operating Officer]. But I know I did” (p. 77). And in Chapter 15 (Love Languages) there is a more extended section on “Loving Colleagues” (pp. 122-124), even though “When conflict arises, I immediately suspect the other party of wrong thinking and selfish motives” (p. 124).
When Smith “seizes opportunities” (p.66) he obviously thinks, sometimes tentatively, that they are a part of God’s plan. He trusts God and gets to work, focusing on the future and not walking around “with slumped shoulders, staring at the ground” (70). Instead he is looking for new horizons.
Smith seems touched and challenged by what he experiences in Papua New Guinea (with Neil Anderson and the “Fukatabe”, Chapter 14), as well as what he learned about Muslims in Pakistan (Chapter 10). Those experiences, and many others, dare Smith to continue his proactive view and leadership.
WA is made up of partners (the subject of Chapter 17), and its partners were first contacted through the services and auspices of the US Wycliffe Bible Translators. This, however, is never acknowledged.
Chapter 18, “The great multitude” (Revelation 7:9-10), concludes the book. Smith asks why more Christians are not involved in missions and why they cannot imagine the Revelation worship scene of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”. This is indeed the vision that any Bible translator should have.
Although my review of Smith’s book is somewhat negative, I applaud all those volunteers who have willingly given service to Wycliffe Associates. They have benefitted the work of Bible translation around the world with dedication and humility. Smith, on the other hand, certainly has the dedication, but examples of humility are much more limited.
After reading Smith’s book I saw the following statement on the WA website (March 1, 2016):
“(Orlando, Florida, USA)—Wycliffe Associates, an international organization that involves people in the advancement of Bible translation, has announced that it is not renewing its affiliation with the Wycliffe Global Alliance, a network of Bible translation organizations formed in 1991. Wycliffe Associates has been serving Bible translation since 1967.
“The decision was made by the Wycliffe Associates board of trustees at their February 26, 2016 meeting, and announced by Wycliffe Associates President Bruce Smith on March 1, 2016 to staff and volunteers in Orlando, Florida. The decision is also being communicated to global partners in person, by phone, and by email.
“Smith cited several reasons for Wycliffe Associates’ departure. The first is Wycliffe Associates’ commitment to support only Bible translations that use literal common language for Father and Son of God. The Wycliffe Global Alliance includes Bible translation agencies that do not include Father and Son of God in some translations of the Scriptures.”
There are several things to point out about the WA statement:
- WA claims that one of their primary reasons for leaving Wycliffe Global Alliance (the umbrella organization for all Wycliffe affiliated translation organizations, of which WA was a part) is because WGA approved of non-literal language for “Father and Son of God” in translations. This is a red herring where WA adopts the high moral ground.
- The WA site does not mention that the matter of “Father and Son of God” has been studied and reported upon by a noted and select theological and translation committee. There are a number of websites that speak to this issue:
- http://www.sil.org/sil/news/2012/SIL-dialogue-translation-practice.htm, which outlines the steps SIL International (the overseas arm of WBT) took to clarify the issue;
- http://www.sil.org/translation/divine_familial_terms.htm, which outlines the “best practice” statement of our translation practices;
- http://www.wycliffe.net/resources/missiology/Bibletranslationandmission/tabid/96/Default.aspx?id=2213, where The Wycliffe Global Alliance speaks to the issue of contextualization;
- http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/octoberweb-only/son-of-god-translation-guidelines.html, an article in Christianity Today that summarizes the guidelines for translating ‘Son of God’ among Muslims.
- The matter of WA’s own quick translation method (called MAST) also underwent an external evaluation by the Maclellan Foundation (see http://www2.wycliffe.org/e/26032/ssment-of-the-mast-methodology/5kcssq/554593315). The report was not favorable to WA, which had agreed to the study but not its conclusion. It is not surprising that WA has therefore opted out of the WGA.