Saturday, October 13, 2007

God Talk

In the opening chapter of The Word is Very Near You Martin Smith asks the readers to pause at the threshold as it were and consider why they are reading a book on prayer. He suggests that one reason must be that they desire God. Smith says many people will naturally shy away from this suggestion.

He writes:
Many of us have never received any encouragement to recognize or honor within ourselves the desire for God. The expression seems too sublime to be applied to the faint movements of our own spirit. To speak to most others about having a desire for God would cause embarrassment or even invite ridicule. No one talks like this in "normal" life.
I think he's onto something here. I've seen this in myself, particularly the not wanting to talk that way. I've got these things going on inside me that are definitely somewhere on the road to mysticism, but I don't want to talk like that even with other people in my congregation because they don't talk like that.

And yet, isn't this a basic requirement for religion? If religion can be talked about in the language of "normal" life, is it really religion?

One of the best books I've read in the past couple of years is The Evangelizing Church, written by a team of thinkers from within the ELCA. One of the surprising conclusions of this book is that a critical step to becoming an evangelizing church (and not just a church that does evangelism) is getting the members of the church to talk to one another about the things of God.

At the same time, I think there's something reasonable in this reticence to talk about the movement of the Spirit. At some level it's a mark of humility. If I go to my neighbor and say, "God spoke to me," my neighbor may be right to look askance at me.

It seems to me that the right balance would be to speak boldly about the work of God in our lives within the Church but to speak to the world as the world speaks. Too often, I think, this gets reversed.


Pastor David said...

Exactly. It is a question of context. I do not preach the same way to my rural Texas congregation as I did at my suburban DC internship site, or at my seminary. It is a matter of hospitality to speak in the language of our audience - it is not their responsibility to learn to translate our language.

I have found, unfortunately, that many pastors are willing to extend this sort of hospitality, and expect their congregations to do the adjusting.

Thank you for pointing the evangelism connection. "Church lingo" just won't work for the unchurched.

David said...

I certainly think that we can talk about the things of God in many ways. Like Pastor David said, if I tried talking about theories of atonement or the Divine Mysteries in rural South Carolina it will be a short conversation. But if I want to talk about God, the cross of Christ and Holy Communion, well that's different (but the same). That comes in handy when I try to have a $100 conversation with my $25 vocabulary.

Pastor David said...

You may be interested in the conversatin over at postings from prairie hill about evangelism.

P.S. an after-thought said...

I think I agree with the intent of the suggestion. But how we talk is part of our "culture." It isn't my culture, for example, to use God language that is like wearing God on my sleeve, but it is the way some of my acquaintances talk. But that doesn't mean that God isn't in my heart and mind all the time. But we are often judged by our talk.

We are sometimes told to "just tell our story." This would be in our natural language. Telling someone how God works might make more of an impression than explaining some detail of doctrine.

I can tell you about times that prayer calmed my spirit. I can't tell you why or how this happened. But I can give God the praise for this happened.

LawAndGospel said...

PS- I think is the "why" of "I know prayer worked" is God. On the preaching side, I just finished a book entitled Finally Comes the Poet, in which the preacher should identify the life of the listeners, and bring them into a conversation with God, not a discourse. Which is not really about church lingo but about the barrage of stuff we all deal with and where is the word for me? That word cannot be communicated with words like "eschatology"

Andy said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. I was out of town this week and so wasn't able to respond sooner.

PS, our culture is in some ways part of the problem. Lutherans in particular have a culture of not talking about what God is doing in our lives. I absolutely think that talking about what we're experiencing, "telling our story," is much better than talking about doctrine.

I think it's important for us to talk about what God is doing, particularly with each other, because as they say lex orandi, lex credendi." Or to put it another way, we tend to be more aware of the fine points of things if we talk about them. Speaking about what God is doing in your life is an important spiritual discipline.

Pastor Eric said...

"The Evengelizing Church" is a great and a must read for people.

Speaking about God's work in our lives is indeed something that is not encouraged much in the church. When I talk that way I often times get strange looks - "How do I do that?". The times when people get the closest to talking about God in their lives is during Bible study. But even then people are guarded. I believe that is because people think there are "right" and "wrong" answers when it comes to talking about God.