Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kingdom Language

Via Transforming Sermons, I read this great post by Larry Chouinard on The Language of the Kingdom. An excerpt:
The modern effort to communicate in culturally relevant terms has often failed to realize that the grid through which we sift the message might actually distort or blur the Kingdom vision. When our language reeks of the corporate world it often produces a cost-effective model that loses sight of Kingdom virtue and the value of the one. When our language is permeated by the categories of the psychotherapist, our focus often becomes individual well-being and happiness at the expense of selfless service and an other-directedness. When the language of the Kingdom is hi-jacked to support a political agenda, the Kingdom's message of peace and justice is often distorted by national interest. In fact, the language of the Kingdom reflects a way of life and priorities that may seem foreign, strange, and even foolish to the conventions of old world thinking. For example, how do the following virtues of the Kingdom resonate in a culture dominated by old world thinking:

Humility in an age of Self-Promotion
Forgiveness in an age of Retaliation
Patience in an age of Instant Gratification
Generosity in an age of Greed
Compassion in an age of Self-Absorption
Love in an age of Eroticism
Truthfulness in an age of Deceit
Gentleness in an age of Competition
Kindness in an age of Personal Rights
Self-control in an age of Addiction
Justice in an age of Violence
Peace in an age of Fragmentation

Excellent stuff. Go read the whole thing.

I dealt with this subject a little bit here: Counterculture, Story, and the Vocabulary of Faith.
An excerpt from my piece:
The kingdom of God is a counterculture; therefore, because the Church exists to proclaim and practice the presence of the kingdom, the people in churches should be thinking and living counterculturally.

As in all cultures, this counterculture has its own stories and vocabularies with which to tell these stories. The trick of course is articulating these stories with these vocabularies in ways that are translatable to those outside the culture but that still maintain the integrity of the stories and vocabularies.

Some examples of words and concepts that are good, that we should protect because they belong to the kingdom counterculture:
-- grace
-- atonement
-- redemption
-- Gospel

Those are words and concepts that are fuzzy outside their home culture. The mistake we make is when we abandon these words and concepts as "not useful" or "no longer meaningful" rather than to put them to good use and lend them meaning by both teaching them and living them.

While I'm on the subjects of the kingdom and language, this seems like a good place to recommend Brant Hansen's recent articulation of the kingdom: The Gospel, According to Jesus


Chad said...

I agree that the essence of the gospel often gets lost or watered down in an effort to be relevant or to interpret the Christ story through a political or psychotherapeutic paradigm. However, I believe the gospel message can be conveyed more powerfully and convincingly by showing how other professions converge unwittingly into central tenants of the gospel message.

For instance, Annie Lamont says that refusing to forgive someone is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die. This gets to a larger point which is that the way Christ taught is ultimately the best way to live. This is important in getting through to the many people who see Christianity as oppressive and basically all about what not to do.

Jared said...

I think we ought to treat the Bible's vocabulary and story as the meta-vocabulary and meta-narrative. The Bible illuminates everything else, not the other way around.

I'd consider the Lamott anecdote you mention an illustration. I'm all for illustrations.
Heck, I'm all for articulating the gospel in understandable ways. I talk about that a bit more in the "old" post of mine linked to in this one.

But I think using illustrations to explain is different from abandoning the biblical vocabulary of the kingdom.