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Speaking the Language

Speaking the Language

We must identify modern symbols of the resurrection to speak Christ’s story in an accessible language.

Abstract ideas and experiences can be difficult to relate to or to fully understand until adequate symbols or metaphors are established to bring them into focus. As Christians, we have a distinct message to share. What if the world isn’t hearing that captivating message, not because we aren’t trying, but because our metaphors are inadequate? What if people simply can’t relate?

I once heard it said, “If the world were ever to really understand the message of the church, we’d have to bar the doors to keep people out.” Could it be that in the midst of the darkness, frustration, and disillusionment of the world, our apologetics, moral stances, and our bickering simply do not point to a life of resurrection? Perhaps part of the reason we sometimes find the world cold to the gospel is that we aren’t speaking it in an accessible language. 

The identity of the church is formed by the collection of our stories: Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Joseph; Egyptian slavery; Daniel and the lion’s den; David and Goliath; the division of the kingdom; the Babylonian captivity; the birth, life, and death of Christ; the resurrection; the acts of the apostles; and so many more. These stories are our moments, our identity, and our language.  All of these stories are adequate metaphors of the resurrection life!

They act as adequate metaphors because they repeat realities in our present context time and time again. We see moments of difficult reconciliation in our world, just as it was for Joseph and his brothers. We encounter moments in which an aggressor finds grace and mercy, as it was for Cain. We rejoice in moments of long-sought justice, just as it was for Israel among the Egyptians. It is through these stories that we adequately speak the language of the resurrection to one another, to our children, and to our world. 

How do we recover this language and become fluent in order to engage people in our modern context?

The first priority is to immerse ourselves. Are we hearing the stories of the faith in our communities? Is our identity being recreated and reinforced as we study? Second, if we are to learn to be speakers of our language, we must wrestle with these stories of ours. Are we still assessing new ways to communicate the love of this God who suffers with us in Babylon, in the desert, and in prison? Finally, speaking requires practice. We must learn to identify our stories being relived and retold in the secular context, and we must recognize the work of God in the here and now as the continuation of what was begun in our stories.

The resurrection continues in our context today, and we must name it and point to it. Only when we identify and repeat these narratives and symbols of our faith will the world around us be able to grasp this love we have experienced. And once people get hold of the resurrection, we’ll have to bar the doors and windows of the church to keep them out!

Travis Lee is youth pastor at Oklahoma City Trinity Church of the Nazarene.

Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2018