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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Re-Post - The Language of Faith

Jollyblogger has re-posted his interesting essay on "The Language of Faith." (Click on the title to my post here to read his post.) Anything having to do with language and faith, church, and the Bible are of great interest to me. Here are two paragraphs from Jollyblogger followed by my response:
She says that rather than interpreting the Bible through the lens of the world, we need to interpret the world through the lens of our faith. That seems pretty self-evident on the surface, but it comes into play when we try to contextualize the message. I am not arguing that we not contextualize, but anytime we adapt the message to the cultural there is a sense in which we are letting the culture become our interpretive grid. She suggests that, rather than trying to put the Bible in the language of the world, we try to interpret the world in the language of the Bible.

This is not an easy formulaic thing. It may be easier said than done, because there is the matter of intelligibility. The Biblical message must be intelligible to the hearers. But, she suggests, and I think rightly so that the Biblical message is not as foreign to the culture as we might think. If the world doesn't understand what grace, faith and redemption are, we don't need so much to find new words to explain the concepts to the world, but simply teach the world what the concepts mean. Good thoughts!!
There is something that is good and right here, but there is also something that can, I think, lead us astray which is not at all the intention of the original author. I have heard this idea expressed before, and it does sound good, and there is truth to it, but the stumbling block, in my opinion, is that "grace, faith and redemption" are not really concepts, but, rather, English words referring to biblical concepts. It is possible to find English words which refer to biblical concepts which communicate more accurately and more clearly to those who do not have a biblical worldview than do the words which we who are accustomed to the language of the church (what might be meant by "the language of faith") use.

Jesus did not require that the Samaritan woman at the well learn a special church language to come to understand that he was the Messiah for whom she and her people had been waiting. [N.B. Nor did he teach her the meaning of church language.] Jesus did not use the language of the synongogue when he shocked Nicodemus with the everyday words "You must be born again." Nick understood the words, but not the concept.

One major problem with many churches and Bible versions today is that they use "sacred language" which requires "the world" to come to "us" and learn "our language" rather than doing like Jesus did and going to people and speaking in ordinary language, their own language. Jesus did not speak dumbed down language. His concepts were profound. But his vocabulary was accessible to all.

I am deeply concerned about the language we use in our churches and our Bibles--this is the focus of my Better Bibles Blog. We need the concepts of faith, grace, redemption, mercy, justification, propiation, and yes, even sin, to be communicated in a biblical way to the culture around us. But if we expect to teach people the concepts by starting with our usual words for them, I think we are starting out wrong. We don't need to use a special vocabulary to teach these important biblical concepts that the author referred to. We do, however, as she said, need to bring those concepts to a world that is lost and desperately in need of them.

Let us take time to study how Jesus spoke and taught people. Our communication to the culture around us will become more effective if we do. By using the kind of vocabulary which Jesus used, we will not be contextualizing [N.B. in the negative sense of accommodation that some speak of these days], but, simply incarnating, just as Jesus [himself], our Living Word was incarnated, and just as the Written Word, God's revealed truth, was incarnated in ordinary human language, not requiring any special religious or heavenly language.

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