Contents & Containers

A few years ago, Len Sweet in his book Aqua Church described the gospel as contents (like a liquid) and our ways of delivering the gospel as the container (like a cup). He was advocating that we must find new ways to deliver the liquid of the gospel to the various cultures that we are in.

At the time, I thought this was marvelous. I grew up believing that the gospel message (which was very marred) was to be delivered through any means. Ask people if they knew for sure they were going to heaven and launch into a full Evangelism Explosion presentation. So Len Sweet’s ideas were fresh for me… they allowed me to see the need for good delivery methods that were relevant to peoples lives.

However, over the years since then, I have come to see how such a view of containers and contents is impossible. And if I would have understood Len Sweet better, I would have realized that my rudimentary understanding of his writings were in error. McLuhen said that the medium is the message. Indeed, this is somewhat right. Every method we use shapes the message that is heard, in fact, the method is a piece of the message. There is no way to separate the two from one another. I have been reading Jacques Ellul lately. He states in his book Reason for Being:

The truly creative poet forges his
language at the same time as his message. There can be no separation
between form and content. The poet does not have an idea to communicate,
which he then puts into verse. By no menas! We are faced here with
something welling up from a deep spring; there is no distinction between the
properties of the water and the underground path it has carved out to reach the
daylight of expression. The poet is not a person who thinks and
has a nice style. His thoughts cannot be expressed in any other way.
He thinks as the words themselves come and evoke his thought.

Such an understanding is what is often missing in the evangelical church. Often they have the rudimentary understanding of communication and contextualization that I used to have. They also think they are more advanced because they are not offending people and people are responding to their message.
With the writer of Ecclesiastes, we need to be poets whose language comes from down deep in the soul and bubbles up and flows over into the world. Such a message when forged in the fires of cross, community, and new creation (using Richard Hay’s language) will produce a fleshed gospel– truly good news– that turns our world inside out– and perhaps creates some tension in society as well.

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