Today, I have a couple of verses running through my head. The first set of verses is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where the Apostle Paul writes about how he has become like a Jew, has become like a person outside the law, and has become like a weak person. He writes that he has “become all things to all people,” and he does so “in order to win more people” and that he may “by all means save some.” He does all of this because of the Gospel. Then, over in Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul writes that he is “not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes.”
What is running through my head is that on the one side, the Apostle Paul was willing and open to constantly change the means and the methods of sharing the Gospel. I am sure that on his missionary journeys, he had to constantly change his means and methods in order to reach different pockets of people, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free men, whether city dwellers or country folk. Yet, what did not change, was the message of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about the Gospel that he received and passed on, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and to the Twelve.”
What does it mean to be willing to change the means and methods, but not be willing to change the message? Millard Erickson in his Christian Theology distinguishes between translation and transformation with regards to contemporizing theology. The translators are “theologians who feel a need to reexpressing the message in a more intelligible form, but intend to retain the content, as one does when translating from one language to another” (Erickson, 123). The transformers, on the other hand, “are prepared to make rather serious changes in the content of the message in order to relate it to the modern world” (Erickson, 123). As with communicating theology to a contemporary context so also communicating the Gospel to a contemporary context, both take speaking the language of the people. The content of the Gospel message has not changed, but the translation through means and methods constantly changes, all in order to win more people.
What about you? Do you write off people in a certain generation as a lost cause? Do you neglect to share the Gospel with those who are very different from you in terms of background, race, geography, and worldview? What about your church? Is your church committed to being good translators, speaking the timeless truth of the Gospel in contemporary language? Are you or your church going too far and changing the content of the Gospel message?
Leave me your thoughts below.