There’s a joke that says if you speak two languages, you’re bilingual. If you speak three, you’re trilingual. If you speak one, you’re American.
During a recent trip to Germany, I saw how American I am. It’s humbling to rely on an app to communicate, to look for signs with translations, or to be stuck in the drive thru trying to order food but you can’t because the person on the other end doesn’t speak English, so you have to hop out of the car to ask a stranger sitting nearby if they speak English and they say yes and help you order your food. Am I right?
There’s also a sense of empowerment when you learn how to say even simple words in someone else’s native tongue, like Danke (thank you). Everyone’s eyes light up when they hear their own language.
When it comes to sharing the gospel effectively, Christians are called to be spiritually bilingual. What does that mean? In Acts 17, Paul met some Greek philosophers in Athens who wanted to know about Jesus, so they took Paul to a place called Mars Hill to talk.
Christians are called to be spiritually bilingual.
I got to visit Mars Hill after Germany. Two minutes from the top, I walked past the Theatre of Dionysus, which dates back to the fifth century BC. Here the ancient playwrights shared their dramas, competing for awards. I imagine Paul walked by it on his way, maybe noticing the actors, their poetic lines wafting on the air.
When Paul got to Mars Hill, he could’ve talked about the Israelite prophecies right away. He could have gotten upset when the Athenians gave him blank stares because they didn’t know who Isaiah was and then complained that “people don’t want to hear the gospel.” Instead, he spoke of things from their world so they could know the God who made the world. He quoted Epimenides and Aratus, Greek poets: “‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring’” (Acts 17:28).
Being spiritually bilingual means we ask ourselves, “What would help this person understand the gospel?”It means when unbelievers visit church, we don’t creep them out by saying things like, “We’re all covered by the blood” without context. We might hold a vegan cooking class instead of a prophecy seminar if we’re in a west coast liberal city. Or when we meet a PhD student, instead of handing out beast-covered pamphlets, we talk about how science and Scripture align. It means we try to speak their language, so their hearts and minds can light up with God’s love.
Allie is a 2012 ARISE graduate and on-staff writer and communications assistant for Light Bearers. She is fascinated by the intersection of faith and the creative process and enjoys poetry. When she’s not watching a good movie with her friends, she enjoys narrating life with mediocre accents.