Have you ever been reading a news story and hit a paraphrased quotation -- as opposed to a verbatim direct quote -- that made you stop and mutter, "Now wait a minute! Did that person really say that? Does the reporter actually have a recording of that?" This is a topic that has come up here at GetReligion a time or two before, as regular readers may recall. In the age of the World Wide Web, it really is great that editors have the ability (and we cheer when they elect to do so) to print transcripts of controversial speeches and interviews.
Here is the passage that punched my "record" button this time.
There is a very nasty academic battle going on right now over at Oxford University and I have been silent on it for a very good reason. The story centers on Anglican critics of Wycliffe Hall, one of the Oxford schools, and its leadership -- especially its principal, Richard Turnbull. Wycliffe Hall is also the academic partner of the Oxford study program operated by the global network in which I teach, which is the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
Much of the coverage driving the controversy has come from Stephen Bates, the religion correspondent for The Guardian. No one who follows the Anglican wars will be surprised to know that the conflict centers on issues of gender and sexuality. However, another basic doctrine is being debated -- the ancient teaching that salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, alone.
Thus, in a recent report by Bates we read:
In a video of a speech released onto the internet this summer, Dr Turnbull is heard suggesting that 95% per cent of the population were going to hell unless they converted to conservative evangelicalism.
The university report says Wycliffe Hall needs to "make a determined effort to clarify these matters to the rest of the university if it is to achieve manifest harmony with the university's principles of education." It adds that the university's licence to the permanent private halls did not give them the right to move outside "the values to which the university holds, namely of liberal education conducted in a spirit of free and critical enquiry and debate." They should not override Oxford's policies on equal opportunities, harassment and freedom of opinion and speech.
The key is the paraphrase quote in the first paragraph, the headline-grabbing part about "95% per cent" of the people in England "going to hell unless they converted to conservative evangelicalism."
That is quite a lively paraphrase. As you would expect, the direct quotes are now floating around the Internet. A transcript shows a statement that is a bit more complex. It appears that Turnbull actually said:
Evangelism is another one of those words that has been broadened to -- well, or submerged maybe more than broadened -- under this overall title of "mission" and you wonder what it really means when that is debated. We are committed, are we not, to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who do not know Jesus. And in this land that is 95% of the people, and 95% of the people in this country facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to bear. So those are my four points about evangelical identity: the priority of scripture, substitutionary atonement at the heart of our doctrinal beliefs, the need for personal relationship with Jesus and our commitment to evangelism.
This is clearly a statement of the ancient Christian doctrine that salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, alone. The emphasis on a "personal relationship with Jesus" is not unique to evangelicalism, let alone "conservative evangelicalism."
What the man said was controversial enough, in the context of academic life and Oxford.
But this was certainly one case where the reporter threw gasoline on the fires of hell with a loaded paraphrased quote. When in doubt, we need to let religious leaders speak for themselves -- especially when a speech or sermon was recorded. Let's go to the tape (or the digital file).