Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Communication - A Terminal Condition

If you've been involved in Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, you've had this experience before. You're driving along the interstate and you pass a car going rather slowly compared to the rest of traffic, but rather the speed "limit" as the local authorities have defined it. You notice in your haste that this SUV has anywhere from 3 to 17 bumper stickers on it, so you decide it's well worth your time to investigate what causes this car has decided to champion. As you ease off the accelerator, you begin to read the first one.

Next to the obligatory Jesus fish you see the number one must-have Christian bumper sticker of all time.
No Jesus No Peace

You think to yourself, "Not bad. I know Christians love a good pun, but I can see what they mean." Then you see the next one.
1 Cross + 3 Nails

After doing a little math and figuring out the pun at 70 miles per hour, you think, "Okay. I get it." Then you see the best one yet.

In case of rapture

While these bumper stickers may cause someone to think for a minute or to consider their lives, they do require a certain level of knowledge about Christianity to start with. But I think the last one is far too cavalier.

The first issue is that the bumper sticker assumes that the average reader will know what this "rapture" is and the significance of that event.

The other issue is that someone with this bumper sticker on their car more than likely believes in a pretribulational view of the rapture. If that's the case, then it's very likely that person is aware that the rapture that they are looking forward to so eagerly, is not a laughing matter for those who will not be raptured. It marks the beginning of a very terrible time for anyone left on earth. Millions upon millions of people will die in period that follows it.

We cannot be so concerned about making cute bumper stickers (or church marquees) that we grow callose to the very real plight of those in our world who have never trusted in Jesus Christ. The rapture, the tribulation, and hell should not be laughing matters to us, but rather a call to action. Share the love and grace found through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us.

Share the gospel on their terms using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Communication - Their Terminology

Fact: Many Christians don't remember what life is like outside of Christianity.

I believe the Gospel should be presented to the secular community on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Sometimes the the communication process begins to fail before the channel is even utilized at the point of encoding. Far too often we explain the gospel using one of two things:

  1. Christianese - n. the acquired second language spoken by members of the Christian community which consists of words that have either different or no meaning at all to the larger secular communities. Christians typically use this language to identify one another and/or determine the spiritual health of the speaker.
  2. Seminarese - n. the acquired third language spoken by members of the Christian community after prolonged isolation in institutions of higher learning away from the larger Christian community. "Seminarians" typically use this language to determine probable GPA of the speaker.

The Gospel in Christianese
Here is what a short gospel presentation would look when the speaker chooses to encode the message into Christianese.

"I'm not going to tell you about my religion because Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship. When I found Jesus I knew that my life had more meaning because now I can glorify God better than I ever could before. The wages of your sin will be that if you die without accepting Christ, you will recieve eternal death. The Word tells us that Jesus Christ gave himself for your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die. Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart today?"

If read the above and think, "What's wrong with that?" then, congratulations! You are fluent in Christianese. Note the use of phrases that would only be understood by people who are already Christians.

"A relationship, not a religion." - I know what you're saying and you know what you're saying, but to the untrained eye, Christianity looks an aweful lot like a religion with all it's worship, holy book, special music, and rules that people say you don't have to follow, but you're not allowed into their church if you don't.

"Ask Jesus into your heart." - When I was a kid people used to tell me that Jesus lives in our hearts, so I seriously thought that Jesus was a few inches tall and kept things going down there.

"going to heaven when you die" - Believe it or not, if I'm not a fan of Jesus and God and everything, spending eternity with them does not sound like a whole lot of fun. Then the unbeliever finds out that a bunch of Christians will be there and it seals the deal for them. (You may think I'm being sarcastic, but read Job 21:13-15 and see how those who refuse to worship God respond to Him even in the afterlife.)

The Gospel in Seminarese
In order to counteract the much too muddled language that Christianese offers, speakers of seminarese tend to overcorrect a bit. The gospel in seminarese as precise as it is baffling.

"The omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable triune God, eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit, being born of a virgin. Jesus Christ, being tempted in every way, did not falter in His life, but was delivered into the hands of evil men and was crucified. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ shows us that He is the full and perfect vicarious sacrifice to the post-lapsarian condition of man. He died as the substitutionary atonement for you. On the third day He was resurrected showing us His victory over death. The first steps of your soteriological journey begin by trusting in Jesus Christ as the propitiation for your sins so that you can dwell eternally with Him in the eschaton. When you begin this soteriological endeavor, He will send the Holy Spirit who will indwell you and comfort you as you await the day of your resurrection."

Too much to comment on here. It's completely incoherent. If you do understand it, congratulations! You're thousands of dollars spent at seminary is starting to pay off.

Speaking to people on their terms does not have to be hard. When you are sharing the gospel with someone, think to yourself, "What am I really saying? Would I understand this if I were not part of the Christian culture?"

Encode the message using their terminology. We have the only life-giving gospel and the world cannot afford for this message to be lost or misunderstood simply because we choose to encode it in such a way that only other Christians can understand it.

Remember - Communicate on their Terms, Using their Terminology, so their condition isn't Terminal

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Communication - On Their Terms

Yesterday I shared this diagram with you.
Communication Model

I believe the gospel should be shared with people on their terms using their terminology so their condition isn't terminal. The first portion is the focus today, and it relates to the channel in the communication model above.

Their Terms
One of the problems we face when we're presenting the gospel is that we often fail to use the appropriate channels of communication. In some models the channel will have a jagged line in the middle of it to represent noise or interference. At the most basic level this means is that the channel of communication is insufficient in some way. (Hint: Every channel has some noise.) The communicator has the responsibility of choosing the channel with the least amount of noise in it.

Some insufficient channels we Christians tend to use to share the gospel are

Bible Studies
"Bible Studies" are the silver bullet of the Christian community. Need counseling? Bible Study. Need time away from the kids? Bible Study. Need friends? Bible Study. Need Jesus? Bible Study. If you're not sure about this, then think about it from the other direction. If you were going through life, oblivious to the eternal consquences of sin, would you ever dream of going to something called a "Bible Study?" What if you were a Christian who just didn't feel comfortable in their church anymore. Are you going to head for a Koran Study?
They do have their place, but if they're going to be evangelistic in nature, I think they really need to be purposeful in their approach.

I was walking down the street with my wife one evening in a somewhat trendy part of town. A man dressed like Ward Cleaver handed me a piece of paper. (I always take tracts because I like to see what type of presentation they use. If it's from a cult of some sort, I try to take as many as I can!) This one was from a Christian church in the area and it had a picture of a teen with a boombox on his shoulder who was rocking a sweet mullet. I'm not exagerating, I swear. The title said, "Hey Teenager!" and when you opened it up, this little booklet walked you through the dangers of rock and roll music, then explained how all those hot women, cool music, and great clothes could be avoided by trusting in Jesus Christ. I don't think it had the desired effect.
While many tracts are pretty good as far as offering a clear gospel presentation is concerned (see EvanTell's May I Ask You A Question), many are not so good. I'm not entirely convinced that in this post-modern (some say post-christian) culture we're living in that these little booklets are as effective as they once were. It seems like as the world shifts toward postmodernism, people need to see the Christian life lived out in front of them in order to see that it is genuine.

Christian Concerts
Many Christians think that Christian music will save their friends from eternity in hell with its uplifting lyrics (read "not cussing") and its great beat (read "stolen from secular bands"). Christian concerts attract one audience primarily: Christians. It's great to have them, but please don't consider them as a viable means to share the gospel because any messages are quite literally preached to the choir.

Please understand that I'm speaking in generalities here. I know someone will say, "Hey my brother was saved at a Bible study!" or something like that. Occasionally someone will end up at one of these events and realize they've just been playing the Christian game all this time, and now they truly get it. I've even heard of this happening in a seminary or two, though I did not witness it myself. I do believe these cases are the exception and not the rule.

Some solutions that I think would be more effective in sharing the gospel in our postmodern culture are through hands on ministry services or talks on current events topics as seen from a Christian perspective. The methods you use are going to be dependent on the specific culture of your area, but to do it well, you will need to think like a non-christian for a few minutes and ask yourself, "Would I want to go to this?"
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