Getting Vulgar

“I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did — Jesus crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, Peterson).

June is a season of wonderful passages. Freshly minted graduates emerge from high schools and colleges. Seminarians are readied for ordination, following years of theological study. Here in Minneapolis, our “Briefing Course” is under way. Missionary candidates receive their orientation and eagerly anticipate their first assignment.

speak-words-give-lifeWe hope that these become wonderful passages into vulgarity.

Please don’t get me wrong. I mean “vulgarity” in the original sense of the word. “Vulgar” means (1) Of or pertaining to the common people, or general public. (2) Vernacular. (3) Belonging or relating to the common people, as distinguished from the cultivated or educated.

Recently I came across a passage from C.S. Lewis, perfect for the season. It deals, in particular, with the passage of seminarians from a life of study to ordination and ministry.

“An essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English,” Lewis writes. “Failure on this part should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu, but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language: the vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” (The Christian Century)

We had better learn to become “vulgar,” in this sense. We had better communicate the Good News of Jesus in contemporary “American” — as well as Bantu, or Tagalog, or Nepali. Failure at this part is failure in the whole exam.

What does Jesus mean to you? Do you understand, in some measure, his great gift of grace? Have you come to believe in him? Once we have begun to understand and believe, the gospel must become a part of our every-day, walking-around living. It must become part of our every-day language: on sidewalks, in shopping malls, in city parks and living rooms, around coffee tables and barbecues. It must become part of our common, “vulgar” life — not only what we do in classrooms or at church, but who we are and how we live “24×7.”

It is a season of wonderful passages. Let’s make one of them a passage into “plain and simple” gospel living.

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