Let’s be entirely honest here as we talk together. How good are you at picking up signals from other people? I like to think that I am relatively perceptive at times, but there were other times when I feel like something ought to be so obvious, but it just goes right over my head.
I mention this because sometimes I am tempted to think like this regarding people who are not Christians. The existence of God seems not only self-evident to me, but it also seems to be reasonably true. I think the testimony of history supports the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because of that fact, there is even more evidence that the Christian God is the specific God that exists. It seems so clear to me. The signals are right there, and I pick up on those right away.
But then I think about my relatively awkward set of social skills. Sometimes people talk about things that I feel like I should pick up on, and I just do not. For whatever reason, the implications of whatever they are putting forward just don’t seem to square up in my mind, and I entirely miss the cue or reference. I sometimes wonder if that is kind of what it is like for non-Christians. Is it just a failure to pick up on the clues?
Don’t get me wrong, I entirely think that we are all responsible for our own decisions and have all fallen away from God based on the wrong choices we have made. No one is perfect which is why the free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ is so vital. That said, I really can’t help but wonder if there are some people who simply just don’t get it. They don’t see the heavens that declare the holy God. Instead, they see evidence that declares the glory of nothing. Instead, they just portray the consequences of random chance. They are still responsible for the choices that they make, but for whatever reason, they are just missing out on that signal from God.
Of course, Romans 1 speaks about suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. That suppression of truth would certainly lead to the failure to recognize the signals from God. After all, it is hard to recognize truth if you’re busy denying its existence. Imagine the ultimate awkward social situation. Someone is trying really hard to make you recognize something. Normally for me, there is a topic that should not be brought up for whatever reason. Someone is trying really hard to let me know that I should avoid that topic, but they can’t outright say it, so they keep hinting in hopes that I will pick up on the hint and not bring it up. Inevitably, what do I bring up? That’s right. Exactly what I should not bring up. It is certainly less than ideal for me, for the person who is trying to help me avoid stumbling into that position and for whatever person we were trying to avoid the topic for. Despite all the evidence that is pointing me towards the topic I should avoid, there is just a separation. I just do not understand.
I think that ought to inform our apologetic approach then on some level. Especially as our culture and the West becomes less culturally Christian, some of the shared assumptions are going to go away. Because of that, some of these hints that ought to help turn people towards God simply are not even on the radar. If our culture kind of understood the concept of sin, then we could talk about sin, and even if they did not believe in God, at least they would do what we are talking about. Right now, I am really not convinced that using that word is necessarily a way to connect with our culture. Not that there is anything wrong with the word sin, and it is a very important word. However, how we explain what sin is and the language we use needs to be accessible to our audience.
It is certainly not about watering down truth. We should never do that. We should not hesitate to call sin evil for example. That’s what it is. It separates us from God. We don’t want to make people think that it is okay. Rather, what I am saying is that the way we describe what sin is may require updated language for our time or at least a willingness to explain a term such as sin. That is the alternative of course. I say that sin separates us from God. Someone else might ask what sin actually is. I need to be able to explain what it is in the way that this person will understand it. Understanding is key. How can they learn to avoid sin or hate sin if they don’t even know what sin is?
I think this is vital for all of us as we think about communication and missing signs. There are lots of us who are quick to assume that the culture just doesn’t understand us. I am one of them, and I think it is true. By and large, secular culture does not understand Christians or Christian language. However, I expect them to pick up the implications and the signs that I am giving when I talk about Christian things. It just goes right over their head. It is not for lack of knowledge, insight, intelligence, or anything else. Rather, I would contend that there is a large break in word usage that leads to a lack of understanding. We need to be able to communicate the full truth with people around us, but it does not do very much good if they do not have any concept of what we are talking about.
You might be like me and not be very good at picking up signs. If you are like me, you would kind of hope that if you are missing the signs, someone will come along and read you into the situation. It kind of makes me think about CS Lewis’s The Silver Chair. Aslan had provided the children with a variety of signs to help them rescue the prince. They kept missing them largely because of their own forgetfulness, defiance, and frankly sinfulness. When they finally get back on track, they are very grateful. They feel better because they have gotten back to where they should have been in the first place. It feels good to be able to pick up signs.
As Christians then, let’s not be people who keep dropping signs that other people are going to miss. Instead, if they seem to be missing the signs that we are putting out there, maybe we should be a little bit more intentional, straightforward and relevant to the world that we occupy today. Never water down truth. Ever. That said, make sure the audience we are talking to actually understands the concepts we are trying to communicate with our language. We don’t change the concept, but we may need to use language that people understand.