How do our lives preach about God to our neighbours?
Working in Canada’s only officially bilingual province gives me many occasions to enjoy both our official languages. Coming across the translation of a familiar English word, however, recently brought me up short.
The French word for a "preacher" is le prédicateur.
Preachers are to declare the Good News and proclaim the Word of God in its fullness. These are great and heavy responsibilities to which all Christians are called from time to time.
Whether or not we ever step into a pulpit, we all share the gospel with our friends and teach the Bible to our children. So all of us are preachers, at least some of the time.
That’s an astounding, even crushing, burden – to be called to speak "the very words of God" (1 Peter 4:11). We could not possibly bear it unless the very Holy Spirit of God empowered us.
The French translation of preacher can get us thinking about another aspect of our preaching.
Literally le prédicateur becomes "the predicator," which might make you think of the Terminator or some villain in a superhero movie. But in fact a predicator is actually someone who "asserts something about another thing."
Predicators are those of us charged with the awesome task of asserting true things about God. We dare to finish the sentences that start with God as the subject.
God is –.
God is like –.
God has done –, is doing –, and will do –.
The most important thing for you to know about God is that God –.
In fact every Christian – whether we speak much or little about God – is implicitly a predicator. In everything we do in every area of our lives, we imply certain predicates about God.
"What kind of God is it that those people worship? Well, judging from how they behave, God must be –."
"Judging from how they treat their spouses and children, God must be –."
"Judging from how they treat each other, God must be –."
"Judging from how they participate in society, all I can conclude is that their God is –."
Just as we observe Muslims or Mormons or any other group to ascertain what is at the centre of their religion, and particularly to see whether we should welcome or fear them, so we Christians are being observed in a Canada that increasingly knows nothing otherwise about our faith.
And particularly as certain loud people are speaking and acting in the name of evangelicalism south of the border, many of our Canadian neighbours have become deeply uneasy with anything tagged "evangelical." That word has become a predicate with a range of unsavoury meanings that hinder any opportunity we might have to invite people to consider the God we worship.
"Hah! Evangelicals apparently are –. And they seem to like to –. So if we let them, I’m afraid they’ll just –."
Over the next decade how will we Evangelicals try to alter the perceptions, the predicates, our fellow citizens will stick on us?
Everything we post on social media predicates something about us. Everything we put on our congregation’s website or church sign communicates a message.
Everything we wear, eat, listen to, watch, drive, inhabit or buy signals our values.
Everything predicates, so everything communicates.
We dare not hope people will take the time to study our Christian Scriptures, or read a fine book by our favourite Christian author, or even just attend one of our Christian services to see our religion at its best.
People will do what is easy to do with what is easy to find – on the Internet and in their everyday acquaintance – and will draw lines from that to who we are and what we do. They’ll extend those lines to determine whom we worship.
And then they will draw lines back again to decide how to treat us – and anything we care to say.
Isn’t that all we do when we’re investigating another group or religion or movement?
The challenge is this: How will we prompt better predicates about our kind of Christianity, yes, and especially about the kind of Christ we adore and long to commend to our neighbours?
This is our pressing public task – since we will be invited, or even merely allowed, to do little else if we don’t strategically and faithfully improve our predication.
John Stackhouse teaches at Crandall University in Moncton, N.B. His next book is Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World (forthcoming from Oxford). Find more of his columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ChristAndCulture