Lost in Translation

If you’ve tried lately to talk to your friends or family about the Christian faith, you may have discovered that people have a harder time today grasping the concepts than they may have in earlier generations. Terms that once were commonly understood by most people are now like a foreign language to nonbelievers (and even to some believers) in our culture. We cannot even assume the word “Christian” means what it once meant to people. Some understand it as anyone who isn’t another religion like Muslim or Hindu. Some understand it as someone who attends church, or who believes in the teachings of the Bible. To some the name “Christian” may be synonymous with a political persuasion. Through the years something has been lost in the translation.

I recently downloaded a fun new app for my iPhone. It enables me to type or speak a phrase and it will translate the phrase into whatever language I choose. It’s a pretty sophisticated app, which means it has trouble understanding my Texas accent. But other than that, it does a great job of translating … I guess. After all, how do you really know what the app is coming up with since you don’t know the language it is translating to.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a man who had the same concern.  He decided to play a little game with his translation app.  He sang the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” into his phone and had it translated into German.  Then he had the app translate the German version back into English to see if anything got lost in the translation.

Most of us are very familiar with the lyrics of the song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”:

Take me out to the ballgame.
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack.
I don’t care if I ever get back.

Let me root, root, root for the home team.
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.

Well when the guy had the app translate the song into German and then back into English it didn’t turn out at all like he expected.  Something got lost in the translation.  It sounded a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger had been asked to sing.  And the words?  Well, you be the judge:

Execute me to the ball play.
Execute me with the masses.
Buy me certain groundnuts and crackerstackfusig (huh?).
I’m not interested if I never receive back.

Let me root, root, root for the main team.
If they do not win, it is dishonor.
For there are one, two, three impacts on you at the old ball play.

Something got lost in the translation.

And the same thing is true as we try to discuss the Christian faith with others.  We cannot simply ask the question, “Are you a Christian?” without making sure they properly understand the word.

In New Testament times the word “Christian” was first coined by the enemies of the Christianity as a derisive term … “little Christs.”  Of course, those first followers of Jesus were happy to bear that name.  Names like “believer” and “disciple” are much more frequently used in the New Testament to describe followers of Jesus Christ.

In our faith conversations with others it is crucial that we make sure they understand the biblical definition of one who would be considered a “Christian.”  When most believers speak of a Christian they have in mind someone who has experienced the gift of eternal life.  Don’t just assume people know that.  A biblical “Christian” is one who has anchored their life in the truth of John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Only through faith in Jesus Christ may one assume that they are a “Christian,” and that their sins are forgiven, they have new life and are going to heaven when they die.  This faith is not mere intellectual assent, as if one knows that Jesus lived, died and rose again.  Saving faith means that one has put their full confidence in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the gift of eternal life.  And it is a gift.  Jesus accomplished everything necessary for my salvation when He died on the Cross and rose again.  I can never earn this amazingly gracious gift of everlasting life.

So make sure nothing is lost in the translation as you talk to others about being a “Christian.”

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  • Bio & Introduction

    Dr. Michael Dean has been the senior pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church since 1991, having also served churches elsewhere in Texas and New Mexico. He and his wife Nan are blessed with two married children and three grandchildren. With a keen sense of calling to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to his care, Michael longs to see people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ. His hobbies include long-distance running, golf and hunting.

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