Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: religious jargon

Intriguing book titles

These are two of my recent reads, with titles that seem to need a little explanation. Randy Newman’s book, Questioning Evangelism, is not about questioning the value of evangelism, which might be your first impression. Rather, he is advocating asking questions as a means of evangelism.

Forty-five years ago, Tom Skinner published a book entitled If Christ is the Answer, What are the Questions?  His theme was that we are not helping anyone find salvation if we prattle on with ready-made answers but don’t know what are the pressing questions of the person to whom we are speaking. Randy Newman takes us down that same road, with suggestions of how to deal with some of the pressing questions of our day.

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Yes, Nazis had a conscience. Adolf Hitler was a powerful evangelist for his cause and inspired the masses of the German Volk to believe in his promise of renewed purpose, purity and hope. He proposed himself as the role model of revived German manhood. And yes, he had a hidden agenda. For many years he said very little about his belief that the Jews were the main obstacle to the promised renewal of the German Volk, only dropping hints here and there to reassure those who believed as he did that he was still heading in the right direction.

By the time he got around to putting his final solution into action, he had the German people solidly behind him. When he spoke to a crowd, often for an hour or more, he was very adept at reading their mood and leading them to believe that he alone could bring the renewal for which they longed. In the end, the majority had fully bought into the belief that the only right thing to do was to eliminate those people whom Hitler told them were the obstacle to realizing their dream.

The Nazi Conscience is a chilling book; Claudia Koonz has thoroughly researched the Nazi era and brings to life evidence of how the well-educated German Volk reacted to a charismatic leader who offered them hope.

Why am I juxtaposing these two books, so different in their message? For one thing, I’m not so sure that they are so different. Both books lead me to question the trustworthiness of charismatic leaders who work on people’s emotions. Both books are implicit warnings about having a hidden agenda.

If we are going to share the gospel we need to get to know the people around us, understand their deep questions and longings. We should make sure we understand them before we leap in with an answer. A few thoughtful and considerate questions might help us to understand and lead them to look at things a little differently. That will often be the most appropriate starting point for us.

We should not be looking for the approval of people who think like we do, rather we should try to introduce a new thought to someone who has never looked at things quite that way before. To do that, we need to speak plain English. Slogans and religious jargon that are readily understood by people within our circle are meaningless to those outside that circle.  

A popular saying in our day says : “be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s good advice, as long as we don’t think that we have attained to a higher level of understanding and need to help others to climb up to our level.

Another danger is to think that other people’s sins are worse than ours. We can’t help them if we only want to talk about how horrible their sins are and never admit, seem quite oblivious to, our own sins. Our task is to point people to the Creator and the Saviour, not to ourselves.

Sometimes we hear it said that the people around us are not interested in the gospel. Could the real problem be that we are not interested in the people around us? Randy Newman ends his book on a hopeful note:

I believe that the soil in which we now plant gospel seeds is better fertilized. Plausibility structures are being rebuilt. Assumptions are more favourably disposed in our direction. And the notion that faith is  relevant to all of life is no longer considered nonsense. The opportunities for evangelistic fruit might be about to increase dramatically.

Questioning Evangelism, Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did, © 2014, 2017 by Randy Newman. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids MI, The quote above is from page 259.

The Nazi Conscience, © 2003 by Claudia Koontz. Published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA

Words easy to be understood

As Christians we tend to speak in Christian jargon. Aren’t we aware that other people don’t talk like that? Or do we think it’s neat to have our own lingo that other people don’t understand?  The apostle Paul didn’t think that was a good idea: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (1 Corinthians 14.9).

We are not fulfilling the Great Commission if we try to share the gospel in terms that are only understood by those who are already Christians. Let’s not shrug off the lack of results by saying that people just aren’t interested anymore. The fact is that we speak a language that is foreign to our surrounding culture.

What is sin? What does it mean to be lost? What does it mean to feel convicted of our sin? What is the new birth? These words are all in the Bible, but they do not resonate with the mindset of a great part of the population. We could go into long-winded explanations of such words, but it is often better to tell our own personal experiences, in the simplest and plainest words possible.

Some Christians seem to feel they need to sound impressive when they write about their faith. It will likely come across as pompous, and boring. The opposite extreme – using words that are currently hip, can also turn people off. Sometimes a person will hear a new word, assume he knows what it means and use it in conversation. The effect often isn’t what he anticipated.  It is important to know our audience and to be able to relate to them on some common ground.

Slogans should be avoided. One that is often heard in our church circles is “We need the unity of the spirit rather than the spirit of unity.” I believe the intention is to say that we should be truly united in the bond of peace, rather than just agreeing to make nice to each other in public. But that isn’t really what the slogan says. In fact, it really doesn’t say anything at all. There is no grammatical difference in meaning between “unity of the spirit” and “spirit of unity.” The use of slogans can become a substitute for thinking. A good rule of thumb would be that if we can’t explain the slogan in simple, easy to understand terms, we shouldn’t use it.

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