I have been a Portuguese and Spanish interpreter for at least forty years, translating for teachers, preachers, lecturers, and everyday people. From unknown speakers and world class leaders, to small groups and stadium crowds, I always ask one thing of speakers before we begin: “Please don’t use puns, acrostics, or baseball illustrations.” Language structure is different in Romance languages, like Portuguese and Spanish, than they are in English, and many places around the world know little about baseball.
The Most Powerful Message
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful message ever delivered. It is good news, God’s answer to every human question. Yet, the essence of the Gospel can get lost in translation if the messenger wraps the message in the wrong language.
Translation is at the Heart of the Gospel
At the core of the Gospel is the Incarnation, when God emptied himself to become human, the little baby of the Nativity scene. It is as if, through the incarnation, God “translated” Himself into human language, implying that the message of Christ can now be translated to make sense in every culture of the world.
How to Avoid Getting Lost in Translation
To avoid losing the meaning of the Gospel during translation, we must become “all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). But what does this mean in the everyday practice of evangelism? Let me suggest five ways to help you live and share the Gospel with cultural relevance, sensitivity, and power.
Approach Others with Humility. “I have found the truth in the Gospel. Jesus is the answer.” Such a statement can be perceived as arrogant or self-righteous. Consider a different approach: “I have been searching all my life and found the Gospel to answer my deepest questions.”
Take Time to Listen. The Gospel has the answer to every question of the human heart, but not every person is asking the same question. Let’s be careful not to waste time giving answers to the wrong questions.
Learn the Language. Cross-cultural missionaries go to language school before they can serve. Even within the same language, there are differences. Learning the language before speaking goes a long way to avoid losing the message in translation.
Take Your Time. As you probably noticed, these steps require time and an understanding that conversion is not a one-time deal, but a process.
Use the Incarnation as Your Model. God became a human, a baby, and a Jew to communicate salvation to the human race. The “incarnational” approach attempts to communicate the Gospel from within, combining all the approaches above, and endeavoring to share the Gospel “from within.”
Two-thirds of our world are still walking towards eternity without God. Jesus gave us The Great Commission, and for the past 2,000 years, the Church has provided us the example of reaching the next generation. Now it’s our turn to translate the Gospel into the language of the next generation and be Christ’s witnesses.