Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
“A Simple Communication Tip” by Greg Koukl (October 1, 2012)
Koukl is a gifted and capable apologist. He is the founder and president of Stand to Reason apologetics ministry. In his October 2012 Mentoring Letter, Koukl’s evangelism tip focuses on communicating truth in a way that is heard. It is not an attempt to soften the hard edges of truth, but rather to use expressions that enable one to move beyond the initial fence or obstacle encountered by those with whom we are speaking.
And it is not only an attempt to avoid some of the negative cultural baggage, such that only if one uses the right words to define sin, the listener will respond positively to the gospel. There is still sin that will make one repulsed by and defiant to the gospel, unless the Holy Spirit is opening ears to hear and softening the heart to respond.
It is important to use expressions that will better enable you to communicate biblical truth due to misunderstandings and incorrect definitions. Read on!
To solve the lingo problem, I’ve made it a habit to find (and use) substitute words—synonyms for religious terminology—to brighten my conversation and improve my communication.
For example, instead of quoting “the Bible” or “the Word of God” (both easily dismissed), why not cite “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “those Jesus trained to communicate His message after Him” (the Apostles), or “the ancient Hebrew prophets”?
These substitute phrases mean the same thing, but have a completely different feel. It’s much easier to dismiss a religious book than the words of respected religious figures.
When referring to the Gospels, try citing “the primary source historical documents for the life of Jesus of Nazareth.” That’s the way historians see them, after all.
Avoid the word “faith.” Substitute “trust” for the exercise of faith (“I have placed my trust in Jesus”)—which is the precise meaning of the original biblical term, anyway—and “convictions” for the content of faith (i.e., “These are my Christian convictions”).
For the same reason, don't talk about your “beliefs.” It's too easy to misunderstand this word as a reference to mere beliefs, subjective “true for me” preferences. Rather say, “This is what I think is true,” or “These are my spiritual [not ‘religious’] convictions.”
“Non-Christians” or “unbelievers” are terms that can subtly communicate an “us vs. them” mentality. Instead, substitute the phrase “those who don’t share our views.”
I’ve even found myself avoiding the word “sin” lately, not out of timidity about the topic, but because the term doesn’t deliver anymore. Instead, I talk about our moral crimes against God, or our acts of rebellion or sedition against our Sovereign. By contrast, abandon “blown it” and “messed up.” They don’t capture the gravity of our offenses.
The word “forgiveness” still seems to have power, but sometimes substitutes like “pardon,” “clemency,” and “mercy” can put a fresh face on it.
Rest assured, there’s nothing wrong with using replacement words. Biblical translation is always a matter of choosing English synonyms for original Greek or Hebrew terms. The goal isn’t to soften the original meaning, but rather to make it more vivid and powerful.
Help yourself to my substitute words, or make your own list of synonyms. Try to find down-to-earth ways of communicating your convictions to others (notice I didn’t say “share your faith”) so they don’t tune you out. Simply put: Watch your language.