Friday, 3 August 2012

Mind your language!

Words are important. It's so easy to give the wrong impression just by using a slightly ill-advised word or two. I read about a classic example of this yesterday, regarding the phrase 'kingdom of God;. Many Christians would say the key message of Jesus' teaching is 'the kingdom of God is near', the words Jesus used in Mark 1:15. Now I understand this to be good news; I have some idea of what the 'kingdom of God' means. But what about people without any background in Christianity? What might 'kingdom of God' mean to them.

Jesus used this phrase 2,000 years ago, in a time and place where the word 'kingdom' meant something. Indeed the phrase 'kingdom of God' (along with 'Jesus is Lord') was a politically-charged rebuff against the Roman empire and the emperor. But now, certainly in the western world, what meaning does the word carry? Isn't it something more like this:
A Monty Python knight in shining armour
If there is any electric charge to the language of kingdom today, it is the faint current of the quaint and the nostalgic, conjuring knights in shining armor, round tables and chivalry, damsels in distress, fire-breathing dragons, and Shakespearean thees and thous that doth go running hitherest and witherest. In Jesus' day, kingdom language was contemporary and relevant; today, it is outdated and distant.

This is from Brian McLaren's book, 'The Secret Message of Jesus', which I mentioned in my previous post about the fruit of the Spirit. McLaren is especially interesting in meanings and culturally relevant communication:
We must discover fresh ways of translating his [Jesus'] message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world...
The network of God

So McLaren looks for phrases we might use instead of 'kingdom of God' that would get across the meaning that Jesus intended. How about 'dream of God'? You might then rephrase the 'Your kingdom come...' part of the Lord's Prayer as, 'May all your dreams for your creation come true'.

How does that feel to you? If you're new to Christianity or not a Christian at all, I'd love to know what 'dream of God' says to you in contrast to 'kingdom of God'. Does the latter leave you a bit cold, like McLaren suggests? Do please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The dance of God
McLaren tries several other metaphors, including the 'revolution of God', 'network of God', and 'dance of God'. All of these emphasise different elements of what Jesus taught the rule and will of God was all about, but none quite seems to capture the whole, complete meaning. I suppose, then, we shouldn't be afraid of using several different metaphors, should we?

In any case, I think McLaren is raising a tremendously important point about the language we use when we're talking about our faith in Jesus. If we're not careful, we can send a message completely at odds with what we're intending to communicate; and that message might be a real turn-off to many people.

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