Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bridging the Divide

It is sometimes assumed that the reason unbelievers reject the Christian message is that they just do not understand it. This is not necessarily true. The gospel is a stumbling block, and many reject it because they do not like what it says (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4). But it is true that there are barriers between us and those we are trying to reach. This is inevitable, but if we can remove some of those barriers it will help us to reach people.

One of the obvious and well known barriers is the barrier of language. But it is important to remember that with a difference in language can also come a difference in understanding the world. Often a different meaning to words means a different underlying concept. There is no single word that communicates to the modern person with no Christian background the meaning of words like "justification" and "born again." They need to be explained. Often it takes time to get the concept across to someone. It may take more than one discussion. And the danger with attempting to translate our concepts into the language of those who are outside Christianity is that we can not only change the words, but the concepts. It is easy to change grace, a concept foreign to many, into salvation by our works or some form of mystical experience. We need to work hard to communicate the right things to people. Now there may be not only words, but also ways of doing things, that we can change to better communicate with people. But we also need to realize we cannot please everyone and to carefully consider what we should and should not change.

Not only is there a tendency to be confused about terminology, but there are many people and organizations who have confused stereotypes of what Christianity is. There may be many out there who do not know that their stereotypes of Christians are just that: stereotypes. In this it does not help that there are Christian individuals who live up to the stereotypes. Therefore, we need to avoid living up to the stereotypes.  And if possible, to show people we are not like that. To show we are not self-righteous or uneducated. But this means we need to have carefully considered the issues involved and are able to put forth a thought-out position on them. And again, it will take time for people to get to know us well enough to look past the stereotypes and see us as we really are.

Now none of this is possible without the power of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44). But we still need to ask what we can do to avoid making the matter worse through what we look like and what we do.

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