God Talk

March 29, 2006

Brian McLaren has a great piece in the March issue of Sojourners entitled "Found in Translation." The subtitle is "'Kingdom of God' is so last-century. Are there new ways to talk about Jesus' good news?" He offers some things to think about when it comes to what words we use to talk about God's work and teachings. He explores six metaphors that might communicate better today than kingdom—dream, revolution, mission, party, network, and dance. Here are a few highlights:

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, his language was charged with urgent political, religious, and cultural electricity. But if we speak of the kingdom of God today, the original electricity is largely gone, and in its place we often find a kind of tired familiarity that inspires not hope and excitement, but anxiety or boredom.

... It’s a very practical question for people like me who believe that the secret message of Jesus has radical transformational potential today—and who feel called to try to communicate it. Of course, we’ll always need to go back to Jesus’ original words and story, seeking to understand how kingdom language worked in his own day. But then we must discover fresh ways of translating his message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world, if we are to “teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it.”

The search for the best translation is an artistic pursuit as well as a theological one. It involves not just a deep understanding of Jesus’ message, but also a substantial understanding of our contemporary culture and its many currents and crosscurrents. Whatever metaphors we choose will likely have a limited shelf life, and each will be open to various misunderstandings—just as Jesus’ own metaphors were.

... There are many other metaphors we could explore. In a sense, Jesus’ creative use of parables sets an example for us to follow. It inspires us to ongoing creative communication—seeking to convey the kingdom through the symbolism of words as he did in the short fictional form of parable, and also in poetry, short story, novel, or essay. But it doesn’t stop with the symbolism of words. People have been inspired to express the kingdom through the symbols of space and form, color, and texture—in architecture and interior design. They have used the symbolism of movement and gesture in dance and drama. They’ve used the visual languages of painting, sculpture, collage, flower arranging, or gardening. Even the symbolic language of taste can express the kingdom in cooking. Come to think of it, we might say that the kingdom of God is like an arts colony.
Amen! There is a lot to think about in this piece. Hopefully more Christians will give serious consideration to what words we use to talk about God. If we can translate the teachings of Jesus into language that people are more likely to understand, then we will be more likely to lead them closer to the love of Jesus.

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