Two men in dark suits showed up in the hallways of my congregation the other day, hoping to connect with the men of my church and get them involved in the work of Gideons International. They were courteous and forthright at the same time. Businesslike. We prayed together briefly. I think the Gideons do marvelous work, but I also think the organization needs to be reinvented from the ground up.
Even though Gideons_International distributes more Bibles and New Testaments than ever before, it is a struggling organization. They are trying to rebuild in Wisconsin, where the organization began. In my view, they will not succeed unless they take courage in both hands and do the following:
(1) Bring young women as well as young men into the leadership structure of the organization, in order to reflect the best of 21st century business mores in the organization’s structure and self-presentation. It makes no sense to come across as products of a time warp from half a century ago.
(2) Distribute ESVs and NIVs, not KJVs and NKJVs, in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Gideons already distribute NIVs, not KJVs, in Africa. It’s about time Gideons looked on “Western” English-speaking countries as mission fields in the same sense that English-reading Africa is. I prefer a Bible in the King James translation tradition to one that is not. Therefore I favor ESV over NIV, and understand why RSV and NRSV (think Isa 7:14) are not suitable. On the other hand, I think NIV is preferable to KJV or NKJV. Regardless, this is a question Gideons needs to reopen. They would be wise to seek the input of people in the churches they are seeking to (re)connect with. The top-down model of the organization is a handicap at this point.
I also suggested to the two august men in dark suits that Gideons consider distributing NLTs. I refrained from mentioning that above, so as not to be displeasured by the thought of a certain hippo (David Ker) and other friends over at Better Bibles like Wayne Leman thinking more highly of me than I deserve.
I wish to point out that I have no truck with the kind of critique of Gideons offered by those possessed of rabies theologica (for example, here). I’m a Calvinist, but a Calvinist who complains about a presentation of the gospel that begins with “God loves you” is hopelessly in need of a strong counter-rebuke.