Lost in Translation

Translation In the book The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch references a work by William Ocasio in which he describes the Columbia space shuttle disaster.  On February 1, 2003, when Columbia reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, it disintegrated and killed all seven crew members.  In analyzing the disaster, Ocasio realized that the problem was ultimately not about individual errors but instead about language.

Hirsch describes it when he writes, "Essentially a vocabulary of organizing plays a significant role in determining what practices will be considered normative and what practices are literally unheard of. Thus, the linguistic categories that an organization uses can shape how it conceives of core tasks."

Because of a problem of language, the Columbia space shuttle disaster happened.  There was a lacking in categories and vocabularies and articulation, which left NASA blind to the problems they faced.

How often does the message of the Gospel encounter this same problem?

How often do we get so caught up in our own church-speak that the Gospel gets lost in translation?  Think about it the next time you go to church or hang out around church people.  Do they use the same language as ordinary people?  It’s okay if there is some different language, but when we try to share the Gospel, do we too often assume that people just know the language and the categories?

If we do not consider the language barriers and our issues of translation, the Church will face a huge problem.  A disaster is waiting to happen for those who don’t know the Gospel.  And many of the truths that we trust are “simply unheard of” not because we don’t talk about them, but because they have no idea what we are talking about when we do.

Central to the work of a missionary is always translation.  That doesn’t mean we abandon key doctrinal language like justification, the Gospel, or vocation.  But it does mean that as missionaries we find ways to teach and to explain them in the language of the people.  It means we don’t just assume that everybody knows what we are talking about.  And we make sure that the message of Jesus doesn’t get lost in translation; we do whatever it takes to make sure that we translate the ancient message of the Gospel into the context of the culture we are trying to reach.