New and returning Wheaton College students this fall were greeted by an article on the opinion pages of the Wheaton Record, the college's newspaper. Authored by New Testament professor Gary Burge, its first sentence was: "James Dobson and a circle of men tried to hijack the New International Version this summer while you were gone."
Mr. Dobson, founder and head of Focus on the Family, hosted a meeting on May 27 where theologians and publishing executives agreed on translation guidelines designed to protect the Bible against gender-neutral biases. But Mr. Burge suggested that the guidelines represented "a breathtaking display of hubris." He predicted "the generic use of man will disappear in our lifetime or soon thereafter," and warned that if evangelicals cling to the old language, they risk "cultural marginalization."
Students joined the debate. In a letter to the editor in the following issue, junior Jonathan Mitchell warned: "Gender-inclusive language is the first step on the road to biblical deconstruction. What may begin with a simple tinkering of a pronoun here and there in translation will end with the text and the meaning of the Bible being determined by the latest contemporary fad."
Mr. Dobson also replied in an article that was about the same length as the Burge article. Publication was delayed as editors, Focus executives, and college administrators wrangled over its length. Editor Lee Powell wanted to trim it by 60 percent. However, Focus prevailed.
Mr. Dobson claimed Mr. Burge in his account of the Colorado Springs meeting had misstated and distorted the facts, painting "an elaborate conspiracy theory, based on circumstances that never occurred." Noting that more than 40 theologians, Bible scholars, and prominent evangelical leaders also endorsed the guidelines, Mr. Dobson asked, "Does this sound like a clandestine, sinister plot 'to hijack the [NIV] this summer while you were gone?'"
Mr. Dobson stated that NIV publishers "had misread the convictions of a sizable majority of Christians," and for that reason had to cancel a proposed gender-neutral version.
The Record permitted Mr. Burge to have the final word. In a response tacked to the end of the Dobson piece, Mr. Burge said there had been no intent on his part to malign Mr. Dobson or his work. He said his account of the May 27 meeting came from the pages of some Christian magazines and chats with participants.