Thursday, August 20, 2015

5 More Questions for Greg Pierce of ACTA Publications

Greg Pierce is President and Co-Publisher of ACTA Publications.  Back in the summer of 2013, I interviewed Greg concerning the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition.  I contacted Greg recently to see if he would answer some follow up questions about how The Message was being received by the public, as well as to discuss some of the other upcoming publications from ACTA.

1) It has been almost two years since the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition.  How do you feel it has been received by the Catholic community?     
It took a while for Catholics to understand what The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition is and how it is meant to be used. There was some confusion as to why it is not an "official" Church translation of the Scriptures. But as they began to understand that The Message is a translation into contemporary American English from the original ancient texts that is meant to help people understand what the Bible means and to inspire them to delve further into what it means for their own lives, then it began to gain traction.
When I first started showing it to Catholics, their reaction was "What is this?" Now it is more, "Yes, I've heard of this, let me take a look at it." And once they get the idea, many of them--especially young people--love it. We are planning our second printing next year, and we authorized a special edition of 10,000 copies of our Catholic edition that is being distributed by the Claretians in Africa and Asia. Many Protestants are buying our edition as well because they want to read the Deuterocanonical books in The Message voice for the first time.

2) What challenges are still out there in getting The Message known about, and more importantly read, by more Catholics?
That is the real issue, isn't it? How do we get Catholics to read the Bible at all? I maintain that before people want to study the Scriptures, they have to fall in love with them first. How do they do that? One of the ways is to read the Bible the way it was written and originally heard: in vibrant, contemporary language, without footnotes or explanations. That is what The Message is designed to do. It is, first and foremost, a "Reader's Bible," one meant to inspire, enlighten, and--yes--entertain the reader. One of the lines we use is that The Message is "a Bible anyone can read and understand." What can possibly be wrong with that? Some Bible scholars and Church officials scoff at The Message, and a few even claim that people should only read translations such as the NAB or the NRSV. But I ask them if The Message were to bring even one person to Christ wouldn't that be a good thing.  Many people, especially young people, find the Church-approved translations difficult at best and incomprehensible at worst. It is almost as if they need to learn a whole new language before they can really enter into the Scriptures. I believe that if people read The Message and like what they read, they will be more open to reading and studying the more traditional translations, footnotes and all. And that, too, would be a good thing, wouldn't it? Most people in ministry who "get" The Message know how to use it to help others understand the Bible. I just have to help them "get" it, and that is what I've been trying to do for the past couple of years.

3) Over the past year, I have noticed an increased integration of The Message into a number of ACTA's books and prayer resources.  Now you are beginning a new series of books called Literary Portals to Prayer.  Could you explain to my readers what this series is about and how The Message is incorporated into it?
Early on, I realized that we would have to give Catholics "free samples" of The Message and that the best way to do that was to incorporate its fresh, compelling, challenging, and faith-filled into other things that people were reading or doing. So one of the first things we did was develop a 45-minute presentation called "The Message Proclaimed" that is written for and performed by a group of young adults. This has turned out to be a great way to introduce The Message to people who might otherwise never experience it. By watching a group of talented young people proclaims 10-12 passages from the Bible in language of The Message, people experience the Scriptures as they were originally "heard"--live and passionately--not as something stuck inside a 2000-year-old book that needs to be "unpacked" for them. We are now offering the script and a DVD of the performance to any diocese, parish, or organization that wishes to put on a performance of "The Message Proclaimed" at no cost. We'll even help train their own young adults to perform it!
We have also incorporated The Message into a variety of books by ACTA Publications (and other publishers as well) so that people could experience the translation in small pieces and wonder "Does the Bible really say that?" We have booklets for Advent and Lent produced by The Pastoral Center that are affordable to be handed out for the entire parish. Last year, we sold 10,000 of them for Lent, and this year we are following the them of Pope Francis' Year of Mercy in the booklets. We have also used The Message in books for the average person such as Great Men of the Bible by Fr. Martin Pable, This Transforming Word by Alice Camille, Christian Contemplative Living by Thomas Santa, Explain That to Me by Joeph McHugh, and Faith, Fun, and other Flotation Devices by Michelle Howe. We also have a new book called Yes, It Is So! 50 Call-and-Response Prayers from The Message for Gatherings, Meetings, and Small Groups.
Finally, you mention our new series Literary Portals to Prayer. I am very excited about these new books. I think they are one of the few truly new resources for personal prayer in many years. My twenty-something daughter, Abby, who is our marketing director and is also researching a volume on George Eliot for this series, calls it "A New Way In." The idea is fairly simple: We take 50 passages from a writer who has stood the test of time (e.g., Shakespeare, Melville, Alcott, Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, Hans Christian Andersen) and pair them with a well-chosen biblical passage from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition that illuminates the secular quote and takes the reader off in new directions of meditation. Each book is only 120 pages and is produced both in a pocket size (5 x 7") for personal use and an enhanced-size version (7 x 10.5") for public display, performance, and prayer. There is something very grace-filled about the result, and I hope that it will be "a new way in" to prayer for many people and in the process will introduce them to the insights that the Bible can bring to literature and vice versa.

4) What other resources utilizing The Message can we expect in the coming years? Any chance we may see The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Editionpublished in a variety of styles and sizes in the future?  
We have entered into a new partnership with Tyndale House Publishers to produce and sell the "Catholic Message" to an international and multi-denominational audience. This will include experimenting with new styles and sizes of both the full Bible and individual books. For example, I am interested in doing an illustrated version of the Book of Job, using The Message translation, which has allowed me to understand that great ancient story for really the first time.

5) Finally, does the future look bright for The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition?
I already told my wife, Kathy, that when I die I want her to put on my tombstone: "He always was too optimistic!" I will say that publishing a Catholic/Ecumenical edition of The Message is the most important thing I have done as a publisher in my 30 years in the business, and I believe that this book will inspire many people, including many Catholics and especially many young-adult Catholics to read the Bible for many years. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.


Anonymous said...

I have always noticed that The Message is treated like the red-headed stepchild on this blog (not the author but the readers). But we really need to understand the place that a translation like this has within the Church.

We first need to understand that those of you who read this blog are quite competent when it comes to reading, studying and understanding the Bible. A translation like The Message seems rather pedestrian at best and heretical at worst. However, we have to understand the audience. The Message is not meant for you.

My conversations with people not very close to Jesus and this includes adults and young people, reveal that they just don't understand the Bible and don't see the relevance to them. Imagine what we are doing to these seekers...throwing down an NABRE, RSV, or God forbid, a DR in front of them might very well drive them away. There are many problematic passages that are hard to read and understand. Take me for example, I have many years of education resulting in a PhD and I'm a reader at Mass. Sometimes I struggle with something I need to read at Mass because the phrasing is unlike anything we ever speak out loud. A few weeks ago I had a reading to proclaim that had six commas in one sentence...parenthetical thoughts nested within parenthetical thoughts. It's almost impossible to read to one's self let alone try to proclaim it in a way people might understand.

This is why I love The Message. Yes, there are problems with translation I will admit to, but when this is read or proclaimed out loud, people understand it. If I had my way this would be the Bible I gave to every kid in our CCD. We want them to fall in love with what scripture says and this translation is great for this. As a matter of fact I am going to buy a few copies of this and when a person I know says they would like to read but don't understand, I'm going to give them a copy.

Thanks to ACTA for what they are doing to make God's love letter to us more understandable.


Timothy said...

I am with you 100% Keith. I even enjoy reading it myself.

Deacon Dave said...

In my 18 years of pastoral work with youth and their parents 9as well as sponsors for Confirmation youth)I have received adult requests for "the Bible that is easy to read, the one you gave the kids". It was the Good News Translation (GNT). I like it much better than The Message and it seems much more in line with a more traditional reading of the Bible yet with ease and clarity. Yes there are some verses that I do not like in this translation but I still think it is a great way to provide an easy-to-understand Bible without going to the extreme lengths of The Message.

Christopher Buckley said...

I love it, and I praise the reasoning behind it.

At the same time, I have serious trouble with branding it the "Catholic" message. With nothing but good intentions, it's misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

Get it an imprimatur by an episcopal conference or from the Holy See, and then you can call it a "Catholic Bible."

Until then, it's an ecumenical edition (in Catholic order).

EvergreenGuy said...

I have been reading the Catholic edition of The Message and I have warmed to it the more I have read it. It is clunky in places? Yes. Is some of its word choices already getting a little dated? Yes. But for all that, it is a much more approachable and readable version of the Bible at a basic level. I think it does serve a very important niche for pepole to introduce them to the stories and characters and principles found in the Bible. It isn't a study Bible or a Bible that one would use to study the Bible as an ancient piece of literature. And that's important to realize. For serious study, I would want to use something like the NRSV or the NABRE. But we don't just read the Bible for information -- we also read it for transformtion. I am convinced that The Message has value in introducing people to the transformtive message of the Bible. I am grateful for this translation, and I look forward to seeing it in wider use.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with Deacon Dave. The Good news Bible is very good as well for those who don't understand.

Biblical Catholic said...

I am definitely of the opinion that The Message is a serious distortion of scripture. There are many places where its rendering of certain verses can only be described as heretical, such as in its rendering of the 21st chapter of John where it seems to deny that the apostles have the authority to forgive and retain sin.

And I believe that the translation philosophy is completely wrong and ahistorical. The whole argument that the Bible was written in popular slang and therefore translations should be written in popular slang is just completely wrong.

Also false is the idea that the original readers completely understood everything they read and had no need for interpreters to explain it to them. If that is true, then how does one explain the extensive commentaries on the scriptures produced both the rabbis within the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds? How does one explain the many hundreds of thousands of pages of Bible commentary produced in the earliest centuries by the Fathers of the Church? How did the whole discipline of Biblical exegesis come about?

And the idea that the English language is constantly changing and evolving and therefore you need constant retranslation otherwise people won't be able to understand the Bible is an exaggerated concern. Bible translators who claim that a translation from the 50's or 60's is too 'dated' to be understood by modern readers is grossly exaggerated.

For example, in the introduction to the 2011 edition of the NIV, the authors claim that they needed to update the language because the original NIV is too 'dated' and can't be understood by modern readers. Is that really so? The first edition of the NIV was in 1978, the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, when have you ever seen a teenager complain "man the language used in this movie is too dated, I can't understand it, it needs to be updated for modern audiences?"

Teenagers today regularly read books from the 50's and 60's as part of their high school curriculum, where they may be assigned Lord of the Flies or Fahrenheit 451, has anyone ever complained that the language in these books is 'outdated' and they can't understand it? They are also required to read books like The Great Gatsby(1920's), or the works of Dickens or Melville (19th century), again has anyone ever complained that the language is "out of date"?

I could go on and on, but this is enough for one post.