Sunday, April 22, 2012

One of my Favorite Authors

I would like to tell you about an author whose work I have been enjoying immensely. He was an Anglican who wrote in the middle of the twentieth century about returning to the kind of uncomplicated Christianity that characterized the early church.

C.S. Lewis? No. Maybe I should try again.

He was a pastor who found that his congregation was having difficulty understanding the Bible, so he began a fresh translation of the New Testament into contemporary language.

Eugene Peterson? Wrong again.

Did any of you guess J.B. Phillips? Some of you may know J.B. Phillips from The New Testament in Modern English, which is still in print, although not terribly well-known. At one time, his translation was much more popular. There is one hardcover edition that was used in schools throughout England. I have a few old copies of his New Testament, and the quality of English is admirable, direct and lively but also literary and beautiful.

Until recently, though, I was not aware that Phillips wrote quite a bit about Christianity. I chanced upon New Testament Christianity at a thrift store. For me, it was a kind of delightful surprise, like finding a previously unpublished Bach fugue. Like Lewis, Phillips used the modern language of science to describe theological terms in ways that twentieth-century, non-religious readers could understand. New Testament Christianity is unfortunately out of print. If you can find a copy of it in a book store or thrift shop, it is well worth getting and reading. It is a small and short book, but a refreshing read.

I wish that Phillips would get more attention, and I hope that his writings might be due for a kind of revival. I prefer Phillips' translation to Peterson's. Peterson is enamored of exclamation points, and he never met a cliche he didn't like. Sometimes The Message is very good, and sometimes I want to get a red pen out and start editing it. Phillips' translation, which is about sixty years old, reads fresher to me than Peterson's, which is barely ten. The New Testament in Modern English is the translation that I wish The Message were.

Similarly, I love C.S. Lewis. He is one of the few authors that I like to re-read. I am not alone in admiring Lewis' writing, judging from the perennial availability of his works. Phillips even wrote a book titled Plain Christianity, which I cannot find, unfortunately. Phillips' books would find approval among readers hungry for more of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

Have you read any of Phillips' work?  What did you think of it?