Around the time I got out of ministry, there were a lot of big name pastors who were leaving ministry to explore new options. Most of them are now pretty involved in the non-church world. All of these people were very talented at what they were doing, but are now using those talents in places outside of the church.
I had a conversation with a guy, we’ll call him Bill, about one these individuals a few weeks ago. We were talking about the influence this particular person had within non-Christian circles and what Bill said was this:
“That’s the problem with _____. The talent became more important than the theology. The theology got lost because of the incredible talent.”
Because I follow this person pretty closely, and I think the theology is really good.
As a matter of fact, some of this person’s theology was the very thing Bill and I had been discussing and affirming as important.
What was the disconnect? Why did Bill react so strongly to someone who, at the core, affirmed the same things he did?
My guess is because of the language used in their two different context.
Bill and I were having a conversation with very Christian language. And this is how Bill speaks about these topics. Bill is a pastor who talks to church people and helps them dive deeper into their faith.
The person in question uses different language. This person cuts out the church speak and Biblical language so it is more accessible to people who don’t go to church or maybe even aren’t sure where they stand with God.
I think what was happening with Bill is not so much that the theology was bad, it was that the theology was not framed in terms Bill was used to.
There is a particular vernacular associated with the Christian life. When we don’t use this vernacular, people get very suspicious. So we are quick to either dismiss it, or “reclaim” it.
This is done in the academic world as well. My field is in the social sciences, and when social science reveals something true about human beings and the world we live in, Christians rush to “Christianize” it. We take the social science literature and we re-frame it using our words and terms so it can become “ours.”
I actually think this is backwards.
This week, we are exploring the Good News for all people. The central narrative of the Gospel is that God offers good news to all of humanity. God’s love, goodness, grace, and life is not offered only to a particular people. It is offered to all people in all times and in all places.
It starts in a very specific location, and then moves out and expands and grows larger.
Abraham. Israel. Jesus. Jerusalem. These are all the places where a specific expression of the goodness and grace of God are manifested. But the goal was never to stay there. The goal was always to expand “to the ends of the earth.” This phrase simply means – to everyone.
The Gospel is not for Christians. The Gospel is for humans.
As Christians, we are representatives of this Good News for all people.
Yet somehow we have reversed the ripple effect. What Christians seem to do now is go out into all of humanity and try to bring it back into the center. We take good things and we give it “our” language. Only then can it be legitimized.
I would argue this is backwards.
Rather than taking the human experience and making it Christian, we should be taking Christianity and making it human.
When I see grace and truth and love and hope in the world, I should affirm those things, not steal them. My job is not to re-interpret “secular” things and put the language of grace and faith on them so it can become Christian. My job is to interpret what grace and faith look like to humanity as a whole.
Sometimes I might even use words to do so.
We get nervous about people who leave church work and talk about Christian things without Christian words. But perhaps these are the people leading the way in a new kind of evangelism.
Because the power of the language of faith: grace, love, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, freedom, hope, flourishing, wholeness…. these words matter and make a difference in real life.
And not just to Christians, but to all people. I have often heard it said if the Gospel is not Good News for everyone, then it is not Good News for anyone.
The Gospel matters, and we need to take it seriously. But we need to take it seriously as something which has implications for all people.
But it requires us to see the Gospel as something we are called to give away and share, not something we grip tightly and keep to ourselves.