You know that saying, that if you can’t explain a concept to an 8 year old, you might not really understand it?
This is, I fear, one of the problems plaguing the church in North America, and one of the chief reasons Christians have trouble talking about their faith in meaningful, substantive ways with people outside their tribe.
It’s easy to hide behind language (think specialized jargon, ie, Christianese) that operates as a validation code to those who are already on the “inside.” We use a few special words as if to say, “See? I get it. I’m in the club. I know what we’re talking about.” Ask a few probing questions, and it becomes clear we don’t really know what we’re saying.
We also hide behind context. We tend to (only?) talk about these things in the places and among the people who already agree with us. We know we won’t be challenged on what we say, and this spares us the hard thinking about what we actually mean.
My Life Group had an interesting discussion as we looked at John 14 and Jesus’ iconic statement “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is one of those classic Jesus lines that, in church circles, is seen as completely self-evident. No explanation needed. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that Jesus is divine, and the only way of salvation. Right?
I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe he’s the only way of salvation. But I don’t believe that verse is completely self-evident, a sort of magic bullet. First of all, it wasn’t self-evident when Jesus first said it! The disciples were still confused. Philip and Thomas kept asking questions. Second of all, I’ve talked to too many people outside the Christian huddle who have widely diverging interpretations of what that verse means. It does not automatically end all conversations. Clearly, if Jesus needed to keep explaining what he meant, so do we.
I’m not arguing that we become simplistic. Lord knows, there’s too much of that already.
But I am arguing for simplicity. Two quotes I like about keeping things Simple:
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” (Albert Einstein)
and my personal favorite:
“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity” — Attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Let’s strive to speak, write, teach, preach, and evangelize in the same way.