What Language are You Using?
August 12, 2013
Updated February 27, 2014
5 comments 14 views
A couple of years ago in an article entitled, To The Praise of his Glory” in the Review and Expositor the author wrote, “Paul mentions ‘redemption,’ the great metaphor of emancipation taken from the slave market in Ephesians 1. The costliness of this act is spelled out in the term "through his (Jesus') blood," a reference to his life poured out. In a culture in which a significant proportion of the population was enslaved, this metaphor spoke dynamically about the significance of the salvific act accomplished in the death of Christ.
For modern man the metaphor's significance is not readily apparent. For him slavery is a historical phenomenon from the remote past, while redemption is that which is done to green stamps and store coupons. Thus, for him the biblical metaphor has lost its significance. Ironically, however, redemption is one of the terms used most often by the church, usually without explanation, in its proclamation of the Christ-event. Whereas Paul used metaphors from everyday experience to describe the meaning of the Christ-event, we tend to proclaim the metaphors themselves (which modern man has no experiential basis for understanding) as the reality. Instead of proclaiming what is unknown in terms of what is known, we tend to proclaim the unknown in terms unknown, insisting that our hearers first learn our language. In the use of language we have much to learn from Paul.”
I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with the author. He is certainly right that we use terms that people don’t know or understand and basically tell them to learn our language. If we are seeking to be churches that reach out into our communities, if we believe that week by week people are going to be at worship who aren’t familiar with biblical language, if we believe that we are going to encounter people as we get outside the walls of our church and into our neighborhoods who don’t know all these words, then we need to work harder at telling people what we mean when we talk about biblical and theological terms.
At the same time, I believe that we can take these biblical concepts and make them live powerfully. For instance, the idea that slavery is, “…a historical phenomenon from the remote past, while redemption is that which is done to green stamps and store coupons.” (what are green stamps, by the way—how quickly what is a relevant picture changes), simply is not true. We have a powerful picture of modern slavery which pulls at the heart of those who long for justice and can help people understand redemption in the 21st century context.
A few questions, 1. For pastors, when you write you messages do you assume people are not going to know Biblical terms and so you take that into account? 2. For all of us, What are a couple of creative ways you have spoken Biblical terms that translate those terms into the 21st century? 3. Are there differences between Canadian Churches and U.S. Churches in needing to do this kind of interpretation so people can understand Biblical language and terms?
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This is a good article. It is very important to use language that people understand. Last night I watched a movie called "Flywheel", produced by the same group as for "Courageous"and "Fireproof". In this movie the used car salesman heard a story from a customer who could no longer make payments on her car, and would have to give the car back, because of loss of work, medical bills, etc. The car salesman asked how much she still owed on the car, and she replied about $1200. He wrote her out a bill of sale and title to the car, and told her he believed her and that she no longer owed anything. Done. Car payments forgiven and eliminated. Maybe not a perfect example, but a modern example or analogy of God's grace. This example touched me because I could understand it, and maybe because of how it was presented.
Yeah, an author claiming that "redemption" has little meaning in pop culture hasn't looked at pop culture much. In the first 20 hits on Google, one can find Redemption High-Rye Bourbon (92 proof), Redemption Belgian Pale Ale, and Redemption, a movie about people who make their living in New York redeeming cans and bottles. More meaningfully, one finds "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," and a plenty of other books and movies claiming that they are stories of redemption. These latter examples come a lot closer to the biblical ideal, though most illustrate a redemption that takes place through human effort, canny skill, or luck. Still one could do much worse to learn what "redemption" is than watch the Shawshank Redemption. It's all about hope fulfilled, and isn't that at the heart of the Bible's idea of redemption too?
Maybe it is because I am not a pastor that the big words don't give any trouble but the two letter words and the pronouns do. For example,
1 John 4:4
New International Version (NIV)
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
Exactly what does "in" mean?
Blessings Larry from an old retired guy! You are spot on! Every sermon I ever wrote was addressed to ths unsaved persons and children in the room and shat I found was that the life long CRC persons often came up to me and said that they learned things about the text they had never known befode. I learned in iteractive adult Bible study that so much of what we have heard since we were children in church needs to explained cleadly in lay language. I always stressed in BS, "if you have ANY question, please ask. I was stunned (yet I wasn't) when a fell asked, "I've often heard pdeachers say that we have to be born again...what exactly does that mean? It is hard for us to realize how much we say that goes over the heads of many. Once a woman came to me after a service and said, "you are the simplest preacher I've ever heard!"...I think she meant it in a good way :-)!
Thank you for your good work!
Agree with James VanderSlik. Christians give "insider" non-standard meanings to words. When I am on the road I occasionally listen to Catholic Radio. Their preachers use standard English and standard dictionary meanings.
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