Communicating well is hard work. And when it comes to topics of eternal significance, the stakes are never higher. If it were simply a matter of transferring information, perhaps the challenge would not be quite so daunting. But the reality is, when we are speaking of grace and forgiveness, our purpose and place in the world, and of a pursuing God rescuing and restoring those made in His image, it demands so much more than the data dump religious talk can so often be reduced to.
The Gospel of God’s pursuing grace towards us is a truth that is unchanging, and it is profoundly enduring through all generations and cultures. However, the communicator of the Gospel is just as profoundly, with great irony, flawed and unable to sufficiently declare and display it to others in scope and depth that the task requires. While the Gospel itself is not lacking, the communicator is too often lacking an understanding of the hearers for it to be readily comprehended, and thus believed.
Timothy Keller writes “Many Christians seeking to preach the gospel to a new culture are simply unwilling or unable to deal with this issue; they believe their task is simply to carry biblical doctrine over the bridge into the new culture. In other words, they see gospel communication as a one-way bridge. They do not like the idea that information must come over the bridge in the other direction. They don’t see its importance, or they see this as a threat to the authority of Scripture. The problem with this idea of mission is that it assumes we who are on one side of the bridge already have an undistorted grasp of the gospel, and that our knowledge of the culture on the other side is not important. This view is blind to the truth that we are not only sinful but also finite, and therefore we cannot have clear and exhaustive knowledge of anything. We are largely oblivious to the power of culture to shape our understanding of things.”
When we are sharing the Gospel with others, we need to listen to their story, their questions, their obstacles to belief, so that we will be able to convey the changeless truth in a way that is appropriately prepared for that person, for their heart. Otherwise, we will befuddle them, trying to communicate with words and metaphors that were effective for us to understand and adequately addressed our questions, in a way that wrongly assumes that a one-size fits all presentation will “work” for them because it did for us. We are so much more complex than that, and deep, and real. And the Gospel is able to address the complexities, the depth, the realities of us all, when appropriate time and attention is given to how best to present it to a listening soul.
A prayerful dependence and disciplined preparation is as appropriate on the declaring side as it is on the listening side, they both go hand in hand. God is the one who saves, and apart from Him working, nothing eternal is accomplished. But He works on the bridge in both directions, helping us understand the context of our ever-changing culture that we might understand the best way to present His never-changing truth.