The Foreign Language is Love

I remember boarding the District tube line in London, England. The whole place smelled of diesel and urine, but every once in a while you’d get this blast of hot air carrying the scent of baking bread.

That’s London for you.

I settled in for what was normally a quiet ride, standing in the middle aisle, my hand holding on to the rail above, my body swaying with each turn like a scarecrow in a fall breeze.

Then he boarded the train. His head was shaved, his clothes were disheveled and his eyes, they were fire. He carried a megaphone attached to a small speaker (presumably for outdoor use). He was quiet, until the tube train started moving through the dark recesses of underground tracks.

It was as if he woke up.

“Do you know God, brother?” he screamed, six inches from the face of an older man. The man didn’t say anything, just stared right past him, so the guy with fire in his eyes moved to the next person.

“Do you know Jesus?” he challenged, this time directing his vengeance at a girl in her early twenties.

“Yes,” she replied, her lips terse, her skin pale. “I’m a Christian.”

He squinted, as if examining her soul. Then he laughed a mean laugh.

“You’re no Christian. If you were, you’d be doing this,” he said, brandishing his megaphone before moving down the row.

* * * * *

Whenever I explore different ways to communicate the concept of sin, I often hear the same comments.

“You’re not taking sin seriously enough,” they usually say. “You’re watering down the Gospel.” I grew up in a charismatic Evangelical church, so I understand the sentiment.

“You have to warn people,” some folks have commented. “You have to tell them that the wages of sin is death.”

* * * * *

Imagine coming to the horrible realization that the highway overpass you are on ends in midair. You pull your car over to the shoulder and wait, hoping to warn any oncoming drivers of the predicament ahead.

The first car approaches, and you manage to wave them to a stop. They roll down their window.

“You’ve got to stop. The road is in disrepair. Keep going, and you’re dead.”

The person looks at you, clueless. See, the thing is, you’re in a foreign country and they don’t speak your language. They shrug their shoulders, start to pull away. You don’t know what else to do, so you grab the driver in a choke hold and start beating him upside the head, grabbing for his keys. But he drives off, angry and terrified.

The next car approaches. Now that you know they don’t speak your language, you skip straight to the beating part, hoping to bludgeon them unconscious before they, too, plummet to their death. Once again, scared and angry, they drive off.

* * * * *

When will we realize that we have to learn a new language?

13 Replies to “The Foreign Language is Love”

  1. my memory of England was really aweful food. i mean, who eats cucumber sandwiches anyway? good post about love… do you think evangelicals have made significant moves away from this bullhorn mentality?

    1. if you want excellent food in England, don’t eat English food (except Sunday lunch at a pub, which is awesome)…eat the ethnic food. Indian curries, Chinese food, Thai food – no where on earth is this stuff as good as it is in England.

      I think we’re getting better about shouting in people’s faces. But I still think we could do a better job of using language that actually makes sense to people, instead of sticking to the old, tired, religious cliches that only serve to turn people away.

      This is where my fascination with the concept of sin comes from (and especially the language the church uses to convey that concept). Our current ways of speaking about sin only serve to perpetuate false understandings in the secular world.

  2. I feel like some of the language is the language of friendship. Laughter, conversation, mutual sharing . . . without that, how can we dare to think we should be heard? And not friendship for the sake of a chance to evangelize – that’s not friendship. Real, true, vulnerable, joyous, hard friendship. We’re not so good at that sometimes.

  3. I think common evangelistic training in the late 80’s and through the 90’s was all about telling as many people as possible about the Gospel and hoping it sticks. So you would have those that would scream and shout, and those that would mindlessly hand out tracts, all to make sure that as many people as possible at least heard the name of Jesus. What is much more commonly accepted and practiced now is the art of community. And I know it’s a horrible buzzword! But getting to know each other and loving each other has shown to be incredibly effective. If people know you genuinely love them, they are more apt to allow you to speak some biblical truth into their lives because you are doing it from love. I’m glad to see the evangelical church move in this direction, and I’m glad to see the opposite has faded.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Matt. I agree. Where do you think the evangelical community can continue to improve?

  4. I’m not sure I understand where this apparent consensus comes from, that the alternative to ‘communicating the concept of sin’ is to communicate and/or practice love. Other alternatives include quickening the Kingdom of Heaven within us (or, to put it simplistically: reckoning ourselves to be dead to sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ) — but even that is something different from what James promoted as the way to interact with others.

  5. Hi, there. I just wrote about my Anglophilia, so this post of yours is rather timely. :)

    I agree with your message, but it leaves me wondering: If we continue the analogy, how could we use love to keep our fellow travelers from falling off the precipice? Just thinking aloud, but maybe we ought not hang out right by the edge where the situation becomes dire and we’re reduced to panicked screams, but rather join our friends in step along the way and humbly invite them to go with us along a safer path entirely.

  6. My mother-in-law is a lifelong elementary school teacher. She always says that you can’t reach someone you don’t love. I grew up being taught that we need to warn people of their sin, but prching at people never worked for me. Humility and love – and good timing – have helped me cross that language barrier Bette than any megaphone could.

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