Are We to Communicate the Gospel in Propositions or Stories?
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
There is a debate happening concerning the emerging church whether we should communicate the gospel in stories or propositions. In the debate, there has been an awful lot of heat and to my mind not too much light exhibit. Do we communicate the gospel in stories or propositions? I would answer: Yes! Yes, we can communicate the gospel in stories and in propositions and in many other ways, but we do so in a contextual manner with our audience in mind. If we are speaking to people who have a modernist worldview, then it is right to use propositions whereas if we are seeking to communicate with people who are postmodern in character then we must communicate via stories, etc.
One of the basic tenants of missiology and cross-cultural communication is that communication, if it is to be effective at all must be receptor orientated. Communication must take the culture and worldview of the receptor into account if it is to be meaningful. It must use the language, images, themes, motifs, ideas, and thought patterns of the receptor if the communication is to be effective. Accurate communication takes place to the extent that the communicator and the receptor share commonality.
Communication may be defined as:
A process of information transfer, such that a message is passed from the Communicator to the Receptor and the Receptor understands the meaning the Communicator intends.
Yet in seeking to communicate the gospel there is two things we need to keep in mind: First, our communication style must take seriously the genre and medium of communication suitable to the receptor so that the message is heard, encountered and understood as clearly has possible. Second, we have an added difficulty in that we are asked not simply to communicate a message but a person and a relationship. We are called to communicate both the written and living word of God. This includes relationship and not simply words or images, etc.
When communicating with postmodern people, we must bear in mind that they love stories and images but they can also understand propositional truth. They understand truth in both forms, but they don’t like truth that totalizers or is part of the power games that institutions play. Likewise, they see truth in terms of your truth and my truth, etc. Yet, our goal is not only to communicate a message or a book but ultimately a person and a relationship. Thus, the way we relate to and understand a book and a person is fundamentally different. A book can be summarised in a set of propositions and outlines. A person is summarised, if that is an appropriate word, in the stories that we remember when we think about them and not simply by a list of characteristics or titles. Part of the problem is that fundamentalist Christians who are so concerned about propositional truth is that they are more concerned about communicating a book than they are about communicating a relationship and a person. However, despite the theological perspective from which we come, we must always bear in mind that a basic tenant of communication is to do so from within the cultural and worldview framework of the people to whom we are communicating. Should we fail to do so then we will, fail to communicate and that is inadmissible when it comes to the communication of the gospel.
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