(The Language of Christianity continued from Part 1, if you have not read Part 1, please click here.)
What if Christians simply needed to do 3 things to be better understood by the culture around them and be more effective in evangelism?
1) Christians need to use their Christian lingo around other Christians, but around non-believers they need to be prepared to use different terminology, and be able to describe the words they would normally use better.
This will help non-believers understand better what the Christian is talking about and will help Christians to know what they’re talking about even better in being forced to describe what they say more.
2) Christians need to be able to not only articulate the Gospel, but live it. What does that mean? Christians need to start witnessing in deed, not only in word.
Just walking up to a non-believer or knocking on a door worked in the past, maybe, or did it? Most people I know will not answer the door or slam the door if they see a religious person at the door. People feel awkward and tend to avoid these conversations in public anymore as well. It is important if we are going to have these conversations that we actually take time to get to know people and genuinely build relationships with them, otherwise, it’s all for naught in our culture.
3) Christians would do well to not be experts in theology, but be familiar with theology, redemptive history, the Gospel, the details of the work of Jesus in salvation (soteriology), some of the hallmarks of church history (Catholic, and post-Reformation because we have a shared history at one point), and be able to articulate some of the cultural values an beliefs of the day.
This will help the believer to not be a walking house of cards when confronting a non-believer. We are living in a world where people learn that Nietzsche taught “God is dead” and scientific naturalism post-Darwin has “progressed” our world beyond belief in faith and religion. You walk up to a typical person and tell them about creation, the fall, and redemption in Jesus Christ they are likely to be amused at your belief and inspired, maybe, by your conviction. However, you’ll have brought a knife to a gunfight. People in America know a little about Christianity. Enough to be familiar with some lingo, but not enough to really know what it’s about nor what that lingo really means. Many people see only the negative Christian figures, the worst of the worst of Christianity, on television and in the news, so their perception of Christianity is exactly that not to mention the Catholic priests in America who have been exposed as pedophiles. Many in America believe in relativism and/or in pluralism. Truth is subjective to the individual and nobody knows the whole truth. Religions have some truth, but all are a part of the whole. All have something good and should be respected. Adherence to one is arrogant and selfish.
Lesslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society described how this view of modern culture is actually more arrogant than any religion. Many proponents of pluralism mention the story of the blind men and the elephant. Presbyterian minister Tim Keller and many others today have beautifully illustrated this story and it’s error. Some blind men walk up to an elephant from different sides. One feels the trunk and describes the elephant as being mushy, and hose-like. Another blind man feels the elephants back leg and says the elephant is more like a tree being sturdy, round, tall, and strong. Another blind man feel the tail and describes the elephant as being small, thin, and having a clump of hair. Then, people who tell this story say all religions are like the blind men. All are true, but not entirely true. They all only have a piece of the truth because they don’t see the whole elephant. Then, the pluralist says, so basically, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
However, this story is told from the perspective, as Newbigin says in his book, of someone who can see the whole elephant. To tell the story, someone had to have seen the whole elephant, the blind men, and everything. Therefore, the pluralist has put themselves in a position to see the whole elephant making them superior to all religions. Thus, they, in truth, have become the more arrogant ones. The error of this story is that the pluralist has made it appear as though nobody has access to the truth except themselves which is in itself an exclusivist claim strangely from an inclusivist belief. Inclusivism, and tolerance sound like warm drops of sunshine in our culture because it’s the dominant view. Pluralism is becoming the norm. Now, I would not have understood this or some of these other things if I had not spent some time understanding the culture. Without an understanding of the culture and remembering what it is like to not be a Christian, we weaken our position and our witness in sharing the Gospel of Jesus.
Christians need to interact with culture and understand it, though not necessarily become the culture. This doesn’t mean Christians should not listen to non-Christian music, not watch non-Christian tv or movies, and not go to non-Christian places such as coffee shops or pubs or maybe even clubs. It does mean that everything we do is for the glory of God and we view everything as Christians through the lens of Christ. When we watch a movie like Inception or Pan’s Labyrinth we don’t simply watch it, but we analyze themes in the movie we can use to connect the Gospel with our culture. Redemption, self-sacrifice, and other parts of the Gospel are in our culture though darkened by it at the same time.
I’ve provided 3 things that I believe in general would be supremely helpful for Christians in sharing the Gospel of Jesus (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ along with the results of that great work in regards to New Creation and the Kingdom). Sometimes even describing Gospel can lead to other words that need describing as I have shown with New Creation and Kingdom, but we should not be lazy. We need to be more disciplined as Christians in not merely focusing on our doctrine for mental affirmation, but adhering to it by our lifestyles as well. The separation is a distinctly modern one, and my advice is merely advice which can be relegated to the area of opinion and marginalized as such. However, it is my prayer that Christians spend more time engaging culture with their faith, learning more about their own faith, living by that faith, and sharing the Gospel.
If the language of Christianity isn’t working, maybe instead of losing the language we can do a better job of using a different language in order to lead others to the language that we commonly use, then prayerfully, lead them past the language and to saving faith in Jesus Christ by the Spirit’s leading. Amen.