A caveat emptor for those purchasing degrees...

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As schooling starts up again this fall, how much should you trust your professor? Your textbooks?

Years ago when I read Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and found he'd misquoted a primary source--the Belgic Confession no less--I finally made my peace with a truth that had been burrowing its way into my brain for a quarter century: reason and intellect have been as corrupted by the Fall as marriage and sexuality, and the logic and citations of those who claim to be scholars are to be trusted about as much as the counsel and morals of those who claim to be marriage counselors.

Donne's "Hymn to God the Father" is well-known to our congregation and I hope you know it, also. It's real poetry, which is to say comprehensible. Some time ago a former church member, now an English prof, e-mailed me the following...

It's funny you should bring up Donne's "Hymn to God the Father."  This is one of my favorite poems too, so when I taught it a week ago in my ...literature class I was horrified beyond words to see that the editors of our lit. text had egregiously altered the poem in FOUR places. I couldn't believe my eyes!

Here are the changes as I found them in our textbook (I put Donne's original words in brackets): 

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,

       Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

   And do them [run] still: though still I do deplore?

            When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

                        For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won

     Others to sin? and, made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

  A year, or two: but wallowed in, a score?

               When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

                        For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

     My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by thyself, that at my death thy sun [son]

      Shall shine as it [he] shines now, and heretofore;

           And, having done that, Thou hast done,

                  I have [fear] no more.

Now, what do you make of this? Let's just take the two substitutions of "sun" and "it" for "son" and "he" in the last stanza. What they've done is nothing less than to take Jesus Christ--Donne's only hope of salvation at his death--out of Donne's poem. This is either stupidity to the first degree (i.e. they lack the ability to type Donne's original words into their typesetting program) or--what I suspect more likely--surreptitious and lethal postmodern terrorism. To take Jesus Christ out of Donne's poem is to write a completely new poem and affix Donne's name to a poem he never wrote. This, I submit, is intellectual crime of the first order.

The other two substitutions--"them" for "run" and "have" for "fear"--are bafflingly idiotic. Why would anyone intentionally replace stronger words for weaker words?

In the final stanza, Donne confesses his great sin of fear. In the final line of the poem, he deliberately says "I FEAR no more" to emphasize that God has completed His work in Donne's life by delivering him from even this great sin. "I HAVE no more" is pathetic--but more to the point, it's not what Donne wrote.  

Those who are familiar with Donne's original diction may catch the changes, but what of all the undergraduates across the nation who--with no knowledge of the original--are now taught a poem from which the shining of Jesus Christ in His full redemptive glory has been replaced with the UV rays of a naturalistic sun? I tell my students not to use the word "very" in their writing, but I'm VERY upset about this. What kind of a world are we living in, when editors of literature anthologies no longer have the integrity (or the ability) to pass on a great heritage without altering it?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!