A few weeks ago we went as a family to the Globe to watch Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. It was a magical night, my first time there, and I am determined not my last. Before hand, though, I put a lot of work in to make sure I’d read the script and understood the story so that I could navigate my way through the beautiful but sometimes undecipherable language of ‘The Bard’.
In last Sunday’s sermon I alluded to a conversation I had with David L… about the language we use to talk about God. The underlying question was, how can we talk about God in language that is accessible and meaningful to today’s culture? The question was not simply how can we translate old versions of the Bible removing the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s etc. so that the words themselves are modern equivalents of the original word, but how can we talk about God and faith using contemporary concepts and understanding. Often when we talk about God we use Biblical imagery or Biblical stories, and this certainly has its place, but dare I say it, this runs the risk of two related dangers. To begin with, you can take a 50’s love song from the charts of the day and get a modern chart topper to sing it, but the song is still the same song, using the same words and pictures from past era and may seem twee or outdated to modern teens. Similarly, you can dress a story from the Bible up in modern words, but the content it talks about is still the same content, and the danger is that you’re telling a story that doesn’t relate to contemporary hearers.
The other danger is that by doing this we run the risk of being unfaithful to Scripture and Jesus’ method of communicating. How did Jesus communicate his faith and understanding of God? One of the main ways was through stories. Stories are fantastic tools for not only capturing people’s attention, but also helping them grasp concepts that can’t be described in conceptual language – and let’s face it, it’s notoriously difficult to describe God, he’s beyond straight description. But what stories did he tell? He didn’t retell the old stories that often, the stories of the Bible of his time, the Old Testament as we might retell his stories today. I’m trying to think of an example of him telling the story of David or Moses or Elijah, and I can’t. No, he told stories that related to the people of his day, using the language of his time and the concepts that folk of his day thought in. He told stories of farmers and masters and plants. Underneath, it was the same truth he was telling, but in the language and framework of his time. Surely to be faithful to Scripture we should do the same?
There’s no doubt that some of his stories still work – the parables are still dramatic stories and this says a lot about what a master-storyteller he was – but often they require a lot of work for us to really get it, just as we have to work hard to understand Shakespeare. The question I wonder is – and I’d love you to help me answer it – how would he talk about faith and God today? What language and concepts would he use? What images, occupations and news-stories would he reach for – I can’t see him talking about agriculture so much can you?
Church Newsletter 16th June 2013