Missionary groups translating the Bible into new languages follow an approach called “dynamic equivalence.”
However, for established churches in a nation, publishers tend to perpetuate words that no longer convey meaning in the culture. Yet, those words are familiar, friendly, and comfortable to practicing Christians. Here is an example everyone knows: The Lord’s Prayer has the words “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Who, today, says “thy?”
This is the test for dynamic equivalence: It is the language people dream in and make love in.
If pastors were trained as missionaries—instead of maintenance-oriented approaches to existing churches—if pastors were trained to lead churches with a top priority of mission—they would never use hymnals, worship materials, Bibles, Bible studies, or programs that do not speak clearly without explanation.
Well-meaning parents tend to perpetuate this old language with their children because it is familiar to them—even though it is unfamiliar to the children, who represent a new era. In this way, parents unwittingly inoculate their children from a living faith. When they do this, they cross over from the healthy tradition (the living faith of the dead) to unhealthy traditionalism (the dead faith of the living).
Another area that constantly changes is called redemptive analogies. Redemptive analogies are symbols that represent the redemption of humans through the work of Christ. There are many redemptive analogies in the New Testament. They worked well in the first century among people who would immediately understand them. For example, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. This redemptive analogy works well for reaching people in the first century because they know all about sheep and shepherds. For urbanites in the twenty-first century, this redemptive analogy, though in the Bible, requires unpacking. For evangelistic and mission purposes, it would be more effective to invent redemptive analogies that work for the target group you are trying to reach.
As new people become Christians and cross over from the world of the world to the world of Christianity, they are born again and begin to grow as disciples. As they grow as disciples, we follow the Great Commission imperative to “teach them all these things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). At that point (not sooner), it is appropriate, and even best, to share the redemptive analogies in the Scripture, even those that might be quite foreign to your target audience. However, they will require unpacking the meaning for those who are not familiar with the analogy.
Yet, on the mission end of ministry, redemptive analogies not common to present cultural nuances are actually stumbling blocks for the Gospel to get through to those receptive to meet Jesus Christ.