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Friday, February 03, 2006

Bible translation encounters The Real World

Brian D. Russell of Real Meal Ministries blog writes in Encounters in the Real World: Missiological Reflections on the Role of Scripture:

The very act of involvement in mission takes us out of the safety of our own communities of faith and places us in the marketplace of pluralism. It is a realm in which our Christian language will prove to be indecipherable at best and contested at worst. Yet, I believe that the way forward is a passionate and rigorous return to the principal source of our knowledge of Jesus – the Bible. Being on mission demands that we are intimately acquainted with the Scriptures in their totality. In the Bible, we encounter the mission of God to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, and we meet humanity in all of its potential, fallenness, and ambiguity. If we learn to read the Bible in light of our missional practice, I believe that we will be more discerning in our conversations with others and learn to speak in the language of persons created in God’s image

I consider these statements very well worded--especially that first sentence. I often think that what the Church needs more than anything else is a renewed understanding that we must do two things: maintain a very high standard within the Church so that our community is safe; and, two, venture out of the safety of our community in order to achieve our mission.

What implications does this have for Bible translation? Are we providing to Christian workers the vocabulary and the texts for mission? Are we able to take our Bibles to the "marketplace of pluralism" and witness the inherent effectiveness of the Word of God when spoken in the language of the harvest field?

These are staggeringly important and difficult questions, if I may say so.

Do you have any thoughts?


At Fri Feb 03, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"safety of our own communities of faith"

There is something about this statement that contrasts with my own view of the gospel. I'd like to speak about for it for a minute...

Following Jesus of Nazareth is not a religion. Following Jesus is not a culture unto itself. Following Jesus is not merely about being part of an exclusive community of faith, and in turn, inviting people to share in this community of faith.

"Communities of faith", at best, should merely be springboards, headquarters if you will, for what we do in the rest of the world. They should not be the places where we reside however.

Following Jesus is about trying to transform the world as a whole INTO this community of faith. Not merely inviting the world to it. Transformation, not invitation. Utopia, not religion. And that can only be done by playing a real part IN the world -- Not playing a part that sits on the safe, spiritual sidelines, handing out invitations and brochures to heaven.

Heaven is real, but our job for the time being is to work with God to make his will known on Earth as well.

Following Jesus is a way of life that encompasses every aspect of life in the world. And we must live in, shake up, and challenge the world just as he did. It is a peace movement, a love movement, and a justice movement. A movement that gives food and shelter to the poor. A movement that frees captives and slaves. A movement that abhors war. A movement that isn't afraid to call judgement on the powerful. A movement that weeps with, and mends the brokenhearted. A movement that expends it's money on people who don't even deserve a cent of it. A movement that can even make entire governments feel guilty about and reassess their policies. A movement that literally says "The Kingdom of God is at hand!" -- That's the kind of missionary work that has any real lasting effect. We must bring the "community of faith" to people, not merely invite them to it. Only then will they see it's worth and application to society and personal living.

Perhaps this is all a bit much for a comment entry on this blog...But needless to say, the "mission" of the gospel should be much more three dimensional than just handing out bibles and persuading with people to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. The mission should be showing people who Jesus is through our very own lives, as we live in the world -- Only then will they really consider accepting him themselves.

I'd hate to offend anyone, but when I think of fruitful evangelistic efforts, the images that come to mind are programs like Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, or Goodwill. I see the gospel embodied in people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa....And not so much in the work of modern Gospel evangelists or tracts.

At Fri Feb 03, 05:05:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

This is an interesting comment. But it needs to be understood in the context of the rest of the posting, in which Russell talks about outreach to Muslims and Jews who already have an understanding of Bible stories. It is worth remembering that when Paul was reaching out to Jews, he based his approach on the Hebrew Bible which his audience accepted as authoritative, but when Paul spoke to the pagan Athenians, he did not quote the Bible but rather the Athenians' own philosophers. Yes, we should do our mission on the basis of the Bible and in a biblical manner. But we shouldn't just quote the Bible at people who don't accept its authority and expect them to accept and respond to our preaching. Instead we need to start our mission where people are, "to the Jews... as a Jew", to the Muslims as a Muslim, to the new agers as a new ager, and to the atheists as an atheist.

At Fri Feb 03, 09:13:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"Instead we need to start our mission where people are, "to the Jews... as a Jew", to the Muslims as a Muslim, to the new agers as a new ager, and to the atheists as an atheist."

True that.

Ever read the Chinese version of the Gospel of John (or at least, one of it's long standing ones)?

In the beginning was the Tao,
and the Tao was with God,
and the Tao was God.


And the Tao became flesh.

Some Western Christians, comfortable in their own culture spheres, may jump at that kind of translation and cry "Syncretism!!". However, it's a lot more accurate than they think. Not to say that Tao is exactly like the Logos, but the concept has many more native similataries with Heraclitian philosophy and invokes a much more powerful idea than simply translating it as "Word".

Additionally, I was raised by a Theravedan Buddhist mom. I know a little about it, and if I were to translate John, I would go so far as to say:

In the beginning was the Dharma,
and the Dharma was with God,
and the Dharma was God.

To a Hindu, I might say,

In the beginning was the Atman,
and the Atman was with God,
and the Atman was God.

I find it delighting that there are a variety of Eastern concepts and philosophical terms already in place that would serve a great use for communicating the Good News of Christ.

But that's because the Good News originated in the East in the first place. Not here.

As far as Muslims go, I see them as a sect of Christianity (albeit a heretical one), much in the same way I see Mormonism or Gnosticism. There's already plenty of common ground to speak with them about Christ without trying to reinvent the wheel for them.

At Fri Feb 03, 10:21:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

To clarify:

Just like Paul used Hellenistic rhetorical mechanisms to engage with Greeks (as opposed to Rabbinic ones), or just like he found his opportunity at the Areopagus to springboard his message of the "Unknown God" into a message about the Kingship of Christ; or just like John used the Hellenistic concept of Logos to communicate the preexistent nature of Jesus Christ, then so should we communicate the Gospel adapted to the person we are communicating to.

Saying that the Tao, Dharma, or Atman are incompatible with the concept with our Christian understanding of the "Word" is superficial, in my opinion. If one looks at these things as general cultural expressions and desires of the same things we have, then the problem is erased.

They're not entirely compatible theologically or philosophically with Christianity, of course, but they CAN be -- But that's our job to make it so.

Insteading of insisting on one way of communicating a message or feeling safe in our own expression, we should instead learn about, adapt, communicate, and ultimately redefine other philosophical ideals in the world -- Turning preconcieved notions of what a native culture or foreign text says about their own ideals on their heads. This is what Paul did. This is even what Jesus did with Judaism and messianic hopes, for that matter.

In short, it's about bringing every thought into subjection under Christ.

Anyways, it's late and I'm ranting, I think. :D I'm in a rush -- Hopefully this hasn't come out too incoherent.

At Sat Feb 04, 05:29:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

OK, after waking up this morning and reexamining the article, it seems to me that it's talking more specifically about Apologetics than it is Missionary work (yet, I suppose one could say that Apologetics is one aspect of the Mission as well).

I reiterate my point above about Islam -- that it's a heretical sect of Christianity. As is neo-Gnosticism or Mormonism.

We come from the cradle of Judaism, so our relationship with it is unique. The problem here is not an understanding of the Bible as a whole as it is an understanding of Covenant specifically. And we will never make any good grounds with Judaism when we approach it as a different religion to preach to. Secondly, I believe that the more Christians embrace a New Perspective understanding of Paul, the more we can make inroads with our Jewish brothers (but that's another subject I won't get into for now).

Back to Islam and Gnosticism -- Like the Jews, they are our brothers as well (albeit, our "little brothers". Judaism is our "big brother"). And like Jews, they are not merely foreigners "who like to read the scriptures". They are far from that.

David, you also mentioned Atheists....

We'll, as far as they go, the biggest battlefield here is Science...And I'm sorry, but this is where I'm a "Heretic" myself. I see no fundamental disagreement with Science and Religion (and yes, that includes Evolution).

Unfortunately, many Biblical literalists don't share that view. In many ways, I consider them as the first obstacle to encounter before I even consider what an Atheist might think.

At Sat Feb 04, 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Straylight, I tend to agree with your final comments about science and religion. I know of people with a scientific background who were very interested in the Christian faith. But then someone told them that to become a Christian they must first reject evolution and lots of science which they had learned. That is certainly the wrong way round. Even if evolution is not true, even if (as some wild people might say) it is an atheistic conspiracy against God and the Bible, I would never suggest that rejecting it is a precondition to becoming a Christian. Instead, let the person first repent and believe, and then gradually learn about the Bible. Then, probably a few years down the line, let them reexamine their scientific presuppositions and reconsider whether they can continue to believe in evolution etc.


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