The Truth and Translatability

As I write this, what comes to my mind is a documentary—I once saw— on the question—‘What is the name of the sound a rooster makes in different countries?’

Of course, the Indian murga says coo-ka-du-coo; in China, the gongji says, woo-woo-woo; the French coq says co-cori-co and the American rooster says cock-a-doodle-doo. Also, if the Georgian mamali says khikh-li-kcho, the Peruvian galla says qui-quiri-qui. And, the Iranian khooroos says qo-quoo-li-qoo-qoo!

The rooster crows everywhere—that is a universal truth. But the way we name it is different. However, the way we call the crowing of the murga could be understood as translatability—i.e., the truth of the rooster crowing translated into cultures around the world, in its different forms. It is a valuable insight when it comes to the question of contextualisation.

There is translatability to the Christian message. The translation of the Christian message in diverse languages of the world serves as a paradigm that illuminates the way that Christianity has been received and appropriated by local cultures. The translation efforts have empowered the indigenous church in every culture, while at the same time refused the imposition of the specific cultures that brought in the message. The Christian message is what it is because of its paradoxical capacity to both be transformed by its encounter with “cultural otherness” on one hand while being able to absorb what is relevant—and even transform the unredeemed—on the other.

The uniqueness of the Christian message is precisely the translatability, mutability, and adaptability. Thus, contextualisation is a touchy matter. There are dangers of obscurantism and syncretism. If we are not careful, we fall into obscurantism. That is to say; there is the risk of obscuring the Gospel for the sake of an idea or truth that is less important within the cultural interaction. For example, a person might believe that a certain style of worship, a way of gathering, or demeanour of the believers are essential features of the Christian faith. Alternatively, we end up being vulnerable to adapt indigenous religious thoughts in its multiplicity of forms, and we compromise the uniqueness of Christ.

Then the question is, how do we communicate the Gospel? How do we contextualise the message or the presentation so that churches might become more indigenous along the way?

Contextualisation is about bringing the truth of the Gospel in a way that is most faithful, clear and relevant! Faithful: in the sense that we recognise that the truth of God is unchanging. God has revealed His truth through Scripture, and we cannot change it to bring more people in. To be faithful is to know and apply the Word rightly when we live in the culture with all its diversities. Relevant: this is about relating to the diversities in our community with the people God wants to reach. For example, our form of ministry, teaching styles, church architecture, etc., should interface well with the way our surrounding culture lives. Clear: it is about revealing the Kingdom of God in the midst of a world that is fallen. Culture itself is neither good nor bad. However, within the culture, there is evil, as well as good. Evil pervades every aspect of our society and even regulates certain aspects of culture. We need to provide a clear picture of what God designed and intended.

In this issue, we are celebrating and curating our thoughts on contextualisation—an essential element for our life in our nation. We should then present the Gospel in a manner that is faithful, clear and culturally relevant.

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