Voices of the Reformation

We have much to learn from people of faith who have gone before us. Their stories not only inform, but can also inspire. Author and musician David Teems is an expert on two towering figures of the Protestant Reformation in England: King James, the man behind the King James Version of the Bible, and William Tyndale, one of the first to translate the Bible into English.

In this podcast episode, Teems shares stories of the Reformation that can encourage United Methodists and others in our spiritual journeys. His latest book Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation is a unique daily devotional that uses the stories and words of the reformers to encourage us in our daily Christian walk.

October 31, 2017, marks the 500thanniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther is said to have nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, effectively beginning the Protestant Reformation.

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David Teems

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This podcast we first released on October 27, 2017.

Transcript

Prologue

Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communication’s and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

October 31st 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther is said to have nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, effectively beginning the Protestant Reformation. So I thought it would be fun to talk to David Teems. Teems is an enthusiastic expert on the Reformation. He’s written biographies of King James, the king who authorized the King James Version, and William Tyndale who was one of the first—before King James—to translate the Bible into English. His latest is a devotional titled Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation, published by Abingdon Press. This is a fun and informative episode. Enjoy.

Conversation with David Teems

Joe: I’m in the studio today with David Teems. David, I wanted to ask you… I’m a fan of circuitous spiritual journeys. You’ve been on a bit of one…

David: Circuitous is a good word.

Joe: So how did you become a writer of English reformers?

David: That’s a good question. Let me go back in time a little bit, not my whole testimony.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I always had a thing for words. I played with words. My grandmother, she had this talent for words. Anyway, I went to Georgia State University and got a degree in Psychology, minored in Philosophy, went to graduate school for a semester and, you know, you’re acquainted with Shakespeare in college, but it didn’t really take because you’re studying and you’re analyzing it. That’s not a way to do Shakespeare any more than the King James Bible. It had the same effect because they’re from the same age.

Now I grew up in the church. My dad was a worship leader in the church I grew up in. I think I was baptized probably about 9, I think I was. But out of high school got away from God. I wasn’t a bad kid. But after one semester of graduate school I put a band together with this friend of mind and we had local success in Atlanta. I abandoned the academics and did music for the next 7 years. I played in a bluegrass band.

Joe: Oh wow.

David: Yeah. And it was just wildly successful.

Joe: What was the name of the band?

David: The name of the band was Saturday Session, because we met on a Saturday. It was kind of hokey, but I kind of felt a call to do music. I wasn’t sure it was a call, but it felt like one.

Joe: Right.

David: That’s when I met Benita, shortly after that, and we got married 2 years after I came to the Lord. I did music ministry for the next 10 or 15 years.

When I first came to the Lord I did what you do. I went out and bought me a King James Bible because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know there were other translations. I bought me a King James Bible, and I read through the thing twice.

Joe: Wow.

David: I got back into those Jacobean rhythms, those Elizabethan rhythms, and just… I realized how I loved it.

Years later, we were in West Virginia or something, and I picked up just a hoot…I was at the library. Benita’s mom lived up there. And at the library and I picked up a Shakespeare audio recording and listened to it. I listened to it again. I listened to it again, and those same rhythms. It’s like having read the King James Bible twice, now I’m back to Shakespeare. It’s like, oh, I went through the whole…. I mean, I kind of went through a Shakespeare geeky kind of learning thing because they were in the Jacobean culture, they were a listening culture.

The King James Bible even says in the forward of the Bible that it is to be read in all the churches. You do better by listening to Shakespeare or listening to the King James Bible as opposed to the analytical breaking it down and all down.

It kind of re-stoked my love of that. Like I said, in college the Shakespeare thing didn’t take. So it was actually the King James Bible that led me back into Shakespeare which led me into the 16th century. I started studying James. I started studying Elizabeth. I went deep. I read…. When I go into something, I plunge all the way.

Joe: Right.

David: And I went deep into it. I was talking to a publisher at Nelson and they said, Well, we’re looking for someone to a bio on King James. And I literally said, I think I’m your guy. Literally, within 2 or 3 weeks I had a two-book deal.

I did the first one on King James. It’s called Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible. Then I was trying to figure, what am I gonna do second. I thought, well, I’ll do a twin biography on John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. You know Wycliffe was after the first English translation, even though it was from the Vulgate and very unreliable by earlier manuscripts. And it’s Middle English, too. It’s like reading original Chaucer. But the more I started reading about William Tyndale, I actually told the publisher, I said, Look, we can do both Wycliffe and Tyndale, but I’m so smitten with William Tyndale because Tyndale was the real deal.

Within a few years I had read everything I could possibly find on that whole 16th century, and fell in love with William Tyndale. You know, you do feel at times led to do certain things.

Joe: Sure.

David: Sometimes you’re just blind. You do something, not even having being aware that you’re led, which sometimes is even better. But I feel like Tyndale was a gift to me because without Tyndale we would not have the same Shakespeare. We would not be speaking the same English that we speak. He instilled and kind of introduced a lot of constructions…English constructions, into the language.

Joe: Can you give me an example of that?

David: Sure. Like, ‘state of the union.’ The blank of the blank. That’s a Tyndale construction.

Joe: Okay.

David: Without Tyndale we might have said, Israel’s children, or God’s children, instead of Children of Israel. That’s simple, but it’s a major construction.

Joe: Okay.

David: If you compare William Tyndale with Martin Luther, because Luther came out with his vernacular German New Testament in 1522. Tyndale’s English New Testament came out in 1526. But if you compare the two and… it may sound indelicate, but I’m not trying to be that way. Luther’s German has a kick to it, kind of like Luther himself. Whereas with Tyndale, because he had to translate the English Bible while on the run, there’s a light-footedness about Tyndale’s English. He had to get to the point right quick, and he was good at it. He was a master at it.

The generation after Tyndale saw the rise of the English theater in the 1570s. A generation after that you’ve got the rise of William Shakespeare which is just… it’s an evolutionary stage. It offended me at first to hear ‘without Tyndale, no Shakespeare.’ I said, Wait…wait…wait. But then once you read, and if you’re very familiar with both Tyndale and Shakespeare you can begin to hear Shakespeare in Tyndale’s writing. That just fascinated me. So I think…I think in coming to the Lord, reading the King James Bible, absorbing myself in it, kind of led me back to Shakespeare which led me to Tyndale. I’m so grateful for William Tyndale—as English speaking believers we all should be

We don’t even realize that he didn’t even put his name on his first Bible. On the 1526 English New Testament that gave us ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ and ‘for thine is the kingdom and the power and glory,’ William Tyndale didn’t even put his name on it because he was that sincere about his faith. He said, Christ gets the credit here. The only reason he put his name on the revised version in 1531 is because other people were taking his words and twisting them and adding their own. So he even has in the prologue about that. He said, This is why I put my name on here.

He was the real deal. He was living the life of Paul while he was translating Paul, and that creates a powerful empathy between William Tyndale and the Apostle Paul.

Joe: Tell us more about that.

David: The Apostle Paul… We consider him the spiritual giant and the genius (for lack of a better word) that was exercised in him, that was awakened in him. But Paul… you have the Apostle Paul who’s literary and Tyndale who’s literary.

Tyndale spoke 8 different languages. He had a Master’s Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree. Like I said, there’s this powerful empathy between them, but you just don’t sit down and write something like… I’m using Tyndale’s English-ing of Paul. But to say something like ‘if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not love I’m only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol; if I have the gift of prophecy and fathom all mysteries and have faith that can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing. If I surrender my body to the flames, if I give all my possessions to the poor and have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient. Love is kind. Does not envy, does not, does not boast….’

You can feel the rhythms kicking. You don’t just sit down and write something like that off the top of your head, or just being spiritual. We could be spiritual all day and not have that linguistic genius. Forgive the word. But it’s…

Joe: No, that’s good.

David: I mean, look what it gave us. Man, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Now that’s Tyndale’s English-ing of Paul. But like I said, by living the life that Paul was living, while he was translating the Bible, that’s what’s so beautiful about it. He gave us the true Paul.

Then, when the King James translators came along…. because the King James Bible is not a real translation, it’s more a compilation of the pre-existing English bibles. Estimates as high as 94% of the King James New Testament is the translation that William Tyndale, if not often directly.

I quoted a Scripture earlier “for whatsoever things are true and whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,” that’s from Tyndale. The King James Bible then goes on to say “whatsoever things are lovely” where Tyndale would say “whatsoever things pertain to love,” which I like better. But you can hear the music in the King James because it was a musical, listening, a theatrical culture. “Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on those things.” It is a fascinating thing.

That’s why I’m… I mean, I’m getting animated about it, probably taking all of our time, but it’s a fascinating study. I mean, especially when you consider with William Tyndale, this is the guy that gave us our quintessential English Bible and the language we speak it with.

Joe: And it’s not just a translation. This was the first time people were able to read the Scripture on their own.

David: Absolutely.

Joe: It wasn’t in people’s hands before this time, which is hard for us to imagine when it’s everywhere now. I have it on my phone. I have it….

David: Oh, I know

Joe: You can Google it.

David: We have so many different versions of it, too. I mean, in my Tyndale book I compare some Scripture from Tyndale with…. And forgive me for those of you who are a fan of this particular translation, with The Message. They’re two very, extremely different bibles.

Joe: Yes.

David: The Message is more of a paraphrase. But it’s a modern attempt to explain as opposed to just to give us translation of Scripture. But where you have ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ which is Tyndale. Tyndale innovation. Tyndale introduced that phrase into the English language. The Message says (Forgive that laughter; I didn’t mean that.) because I don’t mean this disparagingly at all because there’s a place for these translations.

Joe: Absolutely.

David: The Message says, ‘keep us alive with three square meals.’ That’s explanation. That’s an attempt to explain, where Tyndale just gives you the music. There’s huge difference.

Joe: And I hear you saying that poetry matters because it’s a heart language more than it is a…

David: And God knows what he was doing. God spoke with a lyrical voice. And he gave it to somebody like Paul who was lyrical. You know, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’ I love what Tyndale did to that.

But you are right. The English believer in the early 1500s, you know, for centuries under the…. I don’t want to say tyranny (that’s a hard word.), but under the established church, which was the Roman Catholic Church, and you had no choice about it. There were no choices. But you had none. You were fined if you did not go to the church. And they put heretics to death. And that’s pretty strong.

Thomas Mooe, he…. You know, where Cardinal Woolsey, who was the chancellor before Thomas More, Cardinal Woolsey would burn books. But he was a little bit squeamish about burning people. Thomas More relished in it. He hated William Tyndale with a passion, and wanted nothing more than quote “to see Tyndale with a fire brand burning in his back.” He wanted to curse Tyndale, not only in this life, but in the life to come.

The English believer, all they had was the Latin. They had no access to the Bible because they only had access to Latin, and most of them did not know the Latin. Nor did many of the priests who intoned the mass.

So here comes Luther, of course, breaking you know, the big bang we should say, or willing to open Pandora’s Box, which actually…. Erasmus…. Desiderius Erasmus, who was kind of the forerunner to Tyndale and Luther’s translation. Erasmus came along around the time of Luther and stuff. He basically put out a call for a vernacular Scripture. Luther picked up that call. Tyndale picked up that call, thank God. But the typical believer had no access.

So now Tyndale comes along, and he’s an outlaw doing it. To translate the English Bible he had a target on his back, a price on his head, but he gives them God in their own language. They were hungry for it. I mean, they fed on it ravenously. This is the culture that gave us our language and gave us our English Bible.

Our language at this point is going downhill. And language is… like the word of God, language is a living thing. It’s a continuing thing. I think it reached its peak in the late Elizabethan, early Jacobean time. Today, we’re seeing an alteration, a change of it, of course, with texting and the whole…. We’re so attached to our toys and it’s changing it all. But I just encourage anyone to buy my book. My Tyndale book particularly is… I designed it for the general reader. It’s not academic speak. It’s just like I’m talking here. And you can get a good story in the book on King James, too. Just a good and simple presentation on why we speak the way we do. There’s just so much more. I mean, to pack it in even to a hundred thousand words is not saying enough. But, as you can tell, I get animated by…

Joe: Let’s talk a little about your new book, because you have a new book out. It’s called Godspeed.

David: Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation.

Joe: Which is really interesting. You use these people we’ve been talking about, Tyndale, Luther and others, to talk about our own spiritual journeys and the ways we can grow in our discipleship. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and a little bit about how you want to see people use it?

David: It’s 365-day devotional that features the voices or the opinion, the very words, of the reformers…the major reformers like…. William Tyndale has first chair in here. I’ve given him center stage because he absolutely deserves it. But there’s, of course, Luther. John Calvin. Thomas Cranmer. Philip Melanchthon. I even have Queen Catherine Parr. She wrote beautiful poetry and beautiful devotionals. John Wycliffe.

Anne Askew was an English reformer and reading about the life of Anne Askew broke my heart because she was 25 years old and she was kind of a modern woman in early modern structure, early modern culture. They tortured her. She was good friends with Queen Catherine Parr, and she was a street preacher basically. That was against the law anyway. Anne Askew. Beautiful woman. But the powers that be arrested her, didn’t even give her a trial, but tortured her trying to get the names of…. Like they suspected that the queen was a reformer because it was still kind of outlawish back then, with Henry. (And I’ve gone away from that elevator pitch, now and I’m getting on something else.) But she’s in the book throughout the book. But they tortured her so badly…. And you weren’t supposed to rack a woman. But they racked her so badly that they pulled her bones from her joints. She had to be carried to the scaffold to be burnt at the stake. They had to carry her in a chair.

But the elevator pitch is: It has a quote from the reformers, and many of the times I allowed them to make more comment or I make commentary. Then there’s like a prayer or a benediction or some historical bite at the end of each page, and then a Scripture in the actual…in the original tongue. It would be from either William Tyndale or Miles Coverdale or the Bishops Bible. Sometimes the King James Bible, but it’s in the original spelling. And it’s so funky because there was no standardized spelling many years, many years after that. Probably centuries after that.

Spelling was a matter of taste. I mean, even Shakespeare later on spelled his name 6 different ways. People think, Well, he was an idiot. Well, no he wasn’t. It was just his mood. It was a mood thing.

The real takeaway from this book, I believe, is that these are voices of people whose opinion or the clarity that they had, came at a very high cost. I’ll use William Tyndale for instance. The things that he said, not just translation, but things he wrote outside the translation. Most everything he said would cost him…it was outlawed. So it would cost him his life. But the words of Tyndale and what he encourages is an absolutely clarity.

It was drunk culture back then. What I mean by that is the Roman Church was drunk on their power. They were drunk with rage for the heretic. They were drunk on their own opulence, drunk on their wealth and opulence. King Henry VIII was drunk on his malignant narcissisms. He wanted to be Henry V. So he would put his country at risk in war just for his ratings.

People like Tyndale and Luther and Cranmer and Calvin, these guys had to work and function under that radar. So everything they said had the power of sobriety to it. That’s really what the takeaway of this book is. These writers…and I chose quotes, major quotes, but you get a sense that as you read it. It’s not just for curiosity’s sake. It’s not just cool little things. You really do get a clear, clear word.

There were 3 things that most of the reformers were drawn to, but Tyndale particularly and Luther, too. One was Christian community because he had some people that were backing him. He lived on 10 pounds a year, which was even the little bit of almost nothing back then.

And you know, (another aside) Tyndale would write for 5 days a week. Do his translation and write his books 5 days a week. The other 2 days he was tending to the poor and the outcasts of whatever community at hand. He would give them money. He would buy them meals. And he lived on nothing. But anyway he depended on Christian community, and he depended on the love of Christ. Those 2 things should go together.

The third one is the word of God. And these guys…. Because the word of God was so fresh. It was so flush right to the surface. It was so immediate, because here you have a vernacular Scripture with Tyndale and with Martin Luther and with the other ones that were to come—Calvin and later on with the Geneva Bible, which was Shakespeare’s favorite Bible. So the word of God was THE thing.

Those were the 3 things that these guys depended on: Christian community, the love of Christ, and the word of God. So there’s a lot of entries in here about the word of God. Can I read one of these?

Joe: Yes, absolutely. Please.

David: Okay, this is from January 30th. The title is called ‘Fresh Word.’ And this is from Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and his son, Edward VI. And Cranmer was martyred, too. This is a quote from Cranmer:

“Let us reverently hear and read Holy Scripture which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by men’s imaginations for our justification and salvation.” That’s from his homily on Scripture.

The next thing I’m gonna read here is from the entry. This is my commentary. “The reformer bound himself to the scripture for in it was life. It was sustenance, maintenance, nutrition, the vitals necessary for survival however close or inevitable treachery was. The presence of death only enhanced meaning, making the pages of Scripture come alive in ways not possible in a more favorable time. And they were wild for it. It was fresh word, vital word, a bit raw, a bit uncivilized, life-changing, life-enlarging word.”

Then there’s a section in the bottom called, ‘In Your Gaze.’ And this is a prayer. “Keep me in your gaze. In these uncertain times, govern my appetite. Let me acquire no taste for foreign meats, my stomach ruined for stolen bread. In Christ my bread and thirst, the food that makes hungry where it most satisfies.” And then the Scripture at the bottom of this page: “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s Matthew 6:11 from the William Tyndale New Testament, 1526.

Joe: Wow.

David: So each day has that type of attitude, whether it be about the word, whether it be about something that Luther has experienced or Calvin or Tyndale, whoever. But that’s the way it’s laid out. The takeaway, like I said, is a word of sobriety because we…. Culture today is very similar…has very similar elements that culture back then had, which is frightening. But it’s very true.

Joe: One of the things we do on Get Your Spirit in Shape is we talk about what we call the spiritual nutrition, which are things to think about. We also want to talk about spiritual exercise, what are the things that we can do. What is one of those practices that you do to help keep your spirit close to God, helps draw you closer to God?

David: You know what? It’s interesting. You know, we did a devotional at…what’s this place called?

Joe: It’s United Methodist Communications. You were our chapel speaker just a few minutes before recording this.

David: And I did a thing…. I’ve got a few CD records of this where I memorized Scripture, 3 or 4 minutes of Scripture with music in the background. I haven’t done it in a while. It’s different scriptures woven together in a theme of the love of Christ—the love of Christ towards you. And as I did it, if you remember, there were…. I almost couldn’t get through it. I choked up because I’ve been dealing with some things in my own life, you know, this coming off rails is not easy. Nor is it easy coming back. It’s not easy putting Pandora back in her box. That Scripture hit me so powerfully this morning that I almost couldn’t make my way through it. It was really kind of a breakthrough moment for me in front of people.

I love it when that happens because if there’s anything we need in culture today is transparency. And we need sobriety. We need our clarity to sparkle. I believe that’s what this book does.

But getting back to your question, for me I’ve memorized large swaths of Scripture. I think when I have…like today, coming out in front of people, even speaking of scriptures, it just…it’s like it… all my magnets turn on again. So that’s…for me, being literary myself word is very powerful. It’s the thing…. I mean, I’ve written books about Scripture. I’ve written books about the King James Bible. I’ve written books about the guys who wrote the King James Bible…

Joe: And the guy who wrote the book before the King James….

David: Exactly. The guy who did the King James Bible. And I’ve fed and go deeper. And so for me, it’s as simple as that. When you memorize a whole Psalm or memorize, you know, a book. I mean, I’ve got a good friend of mine in Atlanta who had memorized the whole Book of Psalms.

Joe: Oh my goodness, wow.

David: Man, how… I know what it takes. People say, How in the world do you memorize these 3 or 4 minute things? Or, memorize a whole chapter?

Joe: Yeah.

David: And you have to just do the work. It just takes work. But to memorize…and the whole Bible. That takes some serious…and some serious retention. I don’t have that kind of retention. But that…that’s what works for me because it’s all my buttons. All my triggers are set off, you know, the literary thing. And when I hear that lyricism in Scripture and I’m allowed to flow on its music.

Sometimes, I can’t remember what I said this morning, but I can hear the first few instrumental kickoff of a song, and I can start…I can tell you every lyric of the song because it came on a musical bed. Psalms do that. You hear a psalm and there’s…it’s easier memorization.

Joe: Absolutely.

David: So Scripture…Scripture has that musicality about it. And part of that is retention. So that’s…that’s my long answer to your short question.

Joe: Thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, David.

David: We just started…

Joe: I know.

David: Thank you, Joe. I appreciate it.

Epilogue

Joe: That was David Teems, the author of a unique, new daily devotional called Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation. To order his book, to download other Get Your Spirit in Shape episodes or to find other United Methodist podcasts, go to UMC.org/podcasts. Not only is there a link to buy Godspeed on the page, there are some other links there that can help you learn more about the Protestant Reformation. And you can also email me there with your thoughts and comments about Get Your Spirit in Shape.

And one more thing… If you would, take a moment to review Get Your Spirit in Shape on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you download our podcasts. More reviews help more people find us.

Well, that’s gonna do it for this episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back soon with another conversation that’ll help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.