What if I said this to you?
“You should dead drift an olive wooly bugger, with just a touch of swing, right through the gut and watch for a flashy, butter-colored take.”
“Take the gaston with the thumb-catch on the left, gas pedal your right hard on the slopey smear, and dead-point to the crimpy undercling.”
Believe it or not, neither of these is a nonsensical aggregation of words. In fact, there are many people who would understand exactly what I was saying in each case. An experienced fly fisherman would know just what I was advising in the first and a rock climber would instantly grasp the second.
Language can invite people in and make them feel like they belong and are seen, or it can exclude them and possibly even make them feel like unwanted outsiders.
…speak in a way that makes God seem beautiful and close rather than exclusive and distant.
Jesus understood this. This is why He spoke to people using language and ideas that were familiar to them. To two fishermen, He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). To a wealthy and investment-minded young man, He said, “You will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). To a woman seeking water at a well in the afternoon heat, He said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13, NIV).
Just as Jesus Himself was available and accessible, walking the dusty roads of ancient Judea, He made His language available and accessible to those to whom He spoke. This makes sense, of course, since He was, Himself, the Word “made flesh” (John 1:1-3, 14). The purpose of words is to communicate and connect, not to exclude and alienate.
As Christians, we should follow Jesus’ example of speaking to people of the love and faithfulness of God in language that is understandable, interesting, and attractive to them. Our goal, particularly when talking to prospective believers (which is everyone who’s not already a believer!), should be to speak in a way that makes God seem beautiful and close rather than exclusive and distant. Just like Paul did with the ancient Greeks in Athens when, after repeatedly affirming them, he said matter-of-factly, God “is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
David is a speaker/director for Light Bearers and ARISE co-founder and instructor. Since his baptism in 1999, David has traveled the globe preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife Violeta are the happy parents of two boys, Landon and Jabel.