One of the things I lose sleep over (Somebody get Serta on the line. I want answers!) is our inability as Lutherans to translate theological language into the vernacular when we write. I’m not suggesting we dumb theology down, rather that we speak in such a way so as to not lose our readers.
C. S. Lewis, in his Christian Apologetics, has something to say on this. “Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning,” he says. “A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.”
He’s on to something. In my job as editor, I see nearly every day that pastors in the church have faithful, pious, weighty things to say about our Lord, but a markedly smaller amount are actually able to translate those wonderful things into something readable by the average pew-sitter. And so I’m left to wonder if, in our zeal to plumb the depths of our Lord’s goodness, we end up drowning our brothers and sisters in Christ in verbiage.
That is not to say there is not a place for Logia and academia and deeply intellectual Lutheran volumes. There is. They are necessary, and they are good. Nothing brings me greater joy that reading an article from Logia or Gottesdienst eleventy-two million different times to truly understand it. But there is also a great need for Small Catechism-esque style writing. And I’m beginning to believe that those of us who are theologically trained are actually the worst at doing it.
People “are not irrational,” Lewis reminds us. “I have found that they will endure, and can follow, quite a lot of sustained argument if you go slowly.”
When he says to “go slowly,” I don’t think he means to speak loudly and clearly like we do to our deaf grandmothers.
Or maybe he does. I don’t know. I never met his grandma.
I think, instead, that he means for us to do exactly what our freshman-year English teacher taught us: Know our audience. That means that pastors must know their sheep. They must know how not to water theology down. They must also know how not speak about it in a way that is beyond a person’s comprehension. They must know how best to explore the profound biblical and confessional foundations of the faith. They must know how to draw out the faithful attention of their sheep. They must be able to take that which is timeless, which is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and make sense of it today, right now, in all its richness and doctrinal purity.
Maybe I am way off on this one. Perhaps I’m simply picky in the style of theological writing that makes sense to me, and I want all theologians to be able to write in the same way.
Or perhaps sometimes, in the joy and wonder of being caught up in our Lord’s Word, we simply need to remember those with whom we’re sharing it.