Drowning In A Sea Of Metaphors

Catalyst is not the kind of conference I am used to.  It is far more Emergent than anything of which I’ve been accustomed. Their guest list made this apparent: Rob Bell, Shane Hipps, Jessica Jackley, and Malcolm Gladwell (of course they also had Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, and Chuck Swindoll). I did learn a great deal from being at the event, however, and was both encouraged and challenged. One speaker, however, reflected what has, in my mind, plagued the Emergent church leaders.

Shane Hipps, a former ad executive for Porsche turned Mennonite pastor, spoke Thursday afternoon. He began by discussing the relationship between the message and its medium. He started out taking us down familiar paths, the medium affects the message, etc.  But what happened next threw me, and my church group, for a loop. “The message always changes!” Said Hipps. He proceeded then to string together a sea of cliches and metaphors about how Christians should embrace this “ever changing message.”

The gospel is organic, he said, and like a plant it needs room to grow and develop. Therefore Christian leaders need to be less like guards and more like gardeners. If you get the impression that Shane is tossing the Bible out the window he responds that he is in no way doing that. The Bible is full of diamonds, he says, and we need to, as Christian leaders, go digging for these diamonds and uncover the sweet beauty of the Bible. So good Christian leaders are gardeners and spelunkers.

If all of this wasn’t weird enough, when Hipps finally began drawing his lecture to a close I realized that he hadn’t said anything really tangible for most of the lecture. In fact he kept using the word “gospel” in such an ambiguous way that it was hard to understand what he even meant to communicate. It was his final comment that brought concreteness to his whole lecture: the gospel is ambiguous and only your individual communities can define it. In light of his final word, then, I can make sense of all that he said before hand but it seemed blatantly dishonest to not be upfront about what he believed from the beginning of the lecture. Furthermore it ruined the entire communication process by being so metaphorical.

You see metaphors are extremely powerful tools, and can greatly aid communication. But when you are using a metaphor to describe another metaphor to describe some ill defined terminology it becomes completely asinine. Mister Hipps represents a common trend in much of the Emergent preaching I hear these days. It is full of cliches and catchy and pithy sayings, but it lacks any definiteness or anything concrete. Perhaps that is simply a result of the postmodern philosophy they have embraced, which bemoans any sort of absolutism.

Whatever the reason for the trend, Christians need to be definite in their communication. When we speak on matters of truth, where truth can be known, we must boldly and plainly say what we mean. Where the truth matters Christians need to speak it plainly and clearly. Our culture is drowning in a sea of metaphors, clever cliches, and ambiguous phraseology. Christians can throw a life line by speaking the truth.

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  • Zach Trimble

    I really am resonating with you right now in that in churches all around…I sit and listen to sermons that repeat catchy phrases over and over and I will be sitting there taking notes…by the end…I have nothing to actually hold onto. In all fairness…this isn’t just the emergent church’s problem. I have seen this for years, and literally all over the country – in many church groups. I think it’s a larger problem in that we don’t do our due diligence to get into God’s word and find those “diamonds” of truth…those biblical messages (that actually don’t change…I disagree with Hipps) that if you give them a chance and actually study and think about them deeply and broadly…could fill hours and hours of content. Instead…I hear a bible verse…some fluff that doesn’t actually apply to the verse…and then several repeated sayings (many of which are good and true but may not apply to the verse at hand).
    I do think Hipps has a good point in that we are to be gardeners…only in that we need to go digging and find sweet nuggets of truth in the Bible…but I would say we need to be both “gaurds” and ‘gardeners”…we need to go “gardening” for the truth of the scriptures…and then we need to “gaurd” the UNCHANGING truths we find…defending them against distortion and proclaiming them daily.

  • A very important post, indeed, David.

    There are way too many slogans without much substance.

    Be wary of those that begin: It’s about this not… A false dichotomy will often follow.

    May the Lord lead all saints into all truth.

  • If you don’t open your mouth and effectively, lovelingly communicate with your neighborers and Christians, your culture. You are telling your community they can all go to hell.

    Check this out Read…
    Acts 17;16-36 Paul’s heart and attitude tword the Greeks at Mars Hill.

    My Podcast. current Episode.

    Episode 106 – The 7th Commandment (Part 1) – The Vampire Metaphor (Part 1)

    The first of the 7th Commandment series… Vampire Metaphor

    God Smack – Vampires Lyrics
    Few creatures of the night have captured our imagination like vampires…
    What explains our enduring fascination with vampires?
    What is it about the vampire myth that explains our interest?
    Is it the overtones of sexual lust, power, control?

    I attempt to answer this question as well as so history of the Vampire Myth.
    Repentance is putting to death the life draining, blood sucking vampire nature in all of us.

    Gen 1:3, Acts 17:16-32, Mat 10:26-27, 1st John 1:5-10, John 3:19, John 1:4-5, John 12:46, John 9:5, Job 24:13,15,17, Isa 29:15-16, Ps 139:7,11-12, Jer 23:24

    Ps 90:8 (NIV) You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
    Job 12:22 (NIV) He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.
    Job 28:11 (NIV) [God] … brings hidden things to light.
    Dan 2:22 (NIV) He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
    1 Cor 4:5b (Phi) He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.