Monday, October 23

A failure to communicate



Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that England and the United States were two countries divided by a common language. Here is a fun article that points out some of the differences between the way English is used here in the U.S. and there in Britain. Cheryl and I have been reading around in Rob Lacey's The Word on the Street, and there are a number of footnotes where the author has had to explain to American audiences the British expressions that he has used. The truth is that when you get an American and a Brit in the same room, at some point there will likely be confusion as one of them uses a term that the other misunderstands.

Followers of Christ can have the same problem when talking with people who aren't familiar with the church. Sometimes this is because the church adopted terms when they were part of the common vocabulary, but the church has hung on to them even though they are no longer used by anyone else. For example, when people from church are getting together to spend time together, they typically refer to it "fellowship." The only place outside the church where this term is still used is when someone is referring to the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We also use terms like tabernacle and propitiation and eschatology that aren't used anywhere else.

Unfortunately, these terms can be a barrier to people who haven't had the opportunity to come to know Christ yet. When they hear followers of Christ, there is the potential that they don't understand what they are hearing. If we want to reach the people around us, we need to show them how God is relevant to them. If God isn't relevant to their lives, they have no reason to come to him. That means that we need to communicate Christ in language that they can understand. There is a place for at least some of the more traditional Christian terminology. However, we need to make sure that we can talk about the truth and the hope of the gospel in plain language that our audience can understand. We need to make sure that we, as followers of Christ, are not divided from the rest of the world by a common language.

1 comment:

ash_loren said...

We have been talking about this a bit in InterVarsity lately. A majority of those involved have either grown up in the church or have been around it for a while. We all fall into using Christianese (and isn't it sad that "Christianese" has become one of those inside Christian words itself?) all of the time. We've been challenging each other to think things through in everyday language, especially the Gospel, so that when we talk with people they will understand it better.
I've also been thinking about that a lot since I've had more contact with those that are poor. Not that they're less intelligent than anyone else by any means, but the vocabulary can be different, for sure. (Just like...you know, the ebonics bible we were discussing a few weeks ago.) Anyway, yeah, that is super super super important.