John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Culture as a Second Language

On the day of Pentecost, when The Church was born, Jews from all over the known world were in Jerusalem. For many people, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And a miracle took place. But what was the miracle?

There was a sound like a blowing wind. And there were little tongues of flame resting on each of the followers of Jesus. But the real miracle -- the one that everyone talks about -- happened when they opened their mouths. All these people from all over the world heard the disciples speaking their language. Not Hebrew or Aramaic. People from Egypt heard them speaking Egyptian. People from Greece heard them speaking Greek. Arabs heard them speaking Arabic.

This was the real miracle: Each culture heard the gospel presented in its own language.

There is power in this. It helps to know that God didn't just send his Son to redeem the world; he sent his Son to redeem my world. Jesus didn't just die for everyone's sins; he died for my sins.

The transition from understanding the universal to the personal often comes when the teacher begins using my language.

Isn't this why we translate Bibles into other languages? Cameron Townsend went to Guatemala nearly 100 years ago, trying to bring Spanish-language Bibles to the people there. But when he got into the rural areas -- the places where people still spoke tribal languages -- he encountered resistance. One day an old man confronted him, "If your God is so smart, why hasn't he learned to speak my language?"

Cameron spent the next 13 years of his life translating the Bible into the language of that tribe. Based on that experience, he later started Wycliffe Bible Translators.

But, of course, this goes way beyond just translating the Bible. It should also include the language we use when we gather together as the church. Do we speak in such a way that a person who has never been there before could still connect with and relate to God? Or do we make them jump through a bunch of cultural hoops and learn to speak our language first?

I've been to too many churches that feel like they're stuck in a time warp. The message, the music, the dress and the issues discussed seem disconnected from today. I wonder how many guests would come to that place and wonder, "If God is so smart, why hasn't he learned to speak my language?"