Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The curse of knowledge

“Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it.”

The title for this post, and the quotation above, are taken from the book Made to Stick, © 2007, 2008 by Chip and Dan Heath, published by Random House.

The curse of knowledge is a stumbling block for every Christian who attempts to speak of his faith to non-Christians.  We have developed a whole jargon of “spiritual” terminology that is so familiar to us that we cannot imagine what it was like before we were converted.

“Converted” – there I go.  What does that word mean to me?  How can I make it clear to someone else who may not have a clue what I am saying?

I remember the time before I became a Christian and thought that people who claimed to be born again were hypocrites boasting of being better than other people.  No doubt some of them were, but I have since come to know many people who have been changed through and through by the love of God.  And it has happened to me.  How can I communicate that without using hackneyed expressions?

I don’t believe we can get the message of Jesus Christ out to people in our post-Christian society while using the kind of language we use in talking with one another.  The curse of knowledge is a great impediment to that, at least until we realize that it exists.

The apostle Paul writes about becoming “all things to all men.”  The whole passage reads as follows:

“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).

He was not pretending to be two or three different persons, depending on who he was with, but he could understand each person’s way of thinking and speak with him in language he would understand.

In the public square, or marketplace, of Athens, Paul spoke of Jesus to any who would listen.  They took him to Areopagus, Mars Hill, the site of the highest court of Athens and asked to explain himself.  He spoke to them of the altar dedicated to the Unknown God and told them he was only telling people about this God whom they worshipped in ignorance.  He continued his defence with many quotations from Athenian philosophers that would have been familiar to his listeners.  It was only when he spoke of the resurrection that he introduced an unheard of doctrine.  At this point the hearing broke up, some mocking Paul, others saying they would like to hear him again some other time.  A few people in Athens were converted, including Dionysus, one of the judges.

Oh to have that kind of wisdom, to be able to present the gospel in the language and terminology of the listeners!

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2 responses to “The curse of knowledge

  1. John Kramer August 15, 2013 at 10:40

    Good reading. I have found that when I’m genuinely interested in the welfare of whoever I’m visiting with, it becomes a lot easier to relate to them, in their terminology, to where they can truly understand the message. The message is not about words anyway, it is a spirit which will be felt in their hearts.

  2. Bob Goodnough August 15, 2013 at 15:14

    Thank you for that thought. Listening, really listening, is the first part of real communication.

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