Two things that I enjoy immensely in life are theology and baseball. While fiction and theology fill up most of my reading queue, I always try to be reading at least one book about baseball (even if it takes me some time to work through it). One volume I recently enjoyed was Tim McCarver's "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans," during which I was struck by a parallel between the game of baseball and Christian theology/ministry. McCarver, a former major league catcher, is more known for his work in the broadcast booth. Here's the quote that got me thinking:
"…the one thing I didn't take enough into consideration in the early years of my broadcast career was that my new audience was different from the players, managers, and coaches to whom I'd been talking baseball all those years. It dawned on me that finding a voice wasn't sufficient; I had to find the right voice to be able to communicate all my knowledge of the game and genuine passion for it to the fans. My problem was that I would say things about the game matter-of-factly, as if everybody listening at home knew it as well as I did. It's a trap many ex-ballplayers fall into. It took a while to realize that nobody outside the game knows it in the same way as people who are in it. What is routine to the player is not necessarily routine to the viewer. So you have to tell viewers at times what is and is not significant. It's not hyperbole or anything; it's knowing how to accentuate the points that you really think viewers should pay attention to. The hope is that the next time the situation arises on the field, they will be able to think along with me, or be one step ahead…" (xvi).
McCarver, who spent more than 15 years behind the plate, learned the game and its accompanying lingo in a way that his listeners will simply never have the opportunity to match. Similarly, the average pastor or theological student has learned his field of study in a way that most will never replicate. This need not diminish the layperson and his or her ability to grasp the gospel or some theological category; it is simply to acknowledge differences in calling and vocation. The challenge, then, for the minister, is to articulate the truths of the scriptures in a way that is understandable for listeners and that will help them engage these truths in deeper ways in the future.
As McCarver says, "…it's knowing how to accentuate the points that you really think viewers [and here we might insert listeners, readers, conversations partners, etc.] should pay attention to." So, the goal of the minister (or any other theologically informed person) is not to impart the knowledge or language of deeper theological discussions (ex. New Perspective or Federal Vision controversies), but to talk about the "game" in a way that the essentials become clear and the things taking place "on the field" become increasingly more compelling and understandable. Furthermore, as McCarver notes, “The hope is that the next time the situation arises on the field, they will be able to think along with me, or be one step ahead…” Is that not the dream of every pastor, small-group leader, and Sunday school teacher? That we might present the gospel and the truths of scripture in such a way that our future audiences are one step ahead of us, making gospel connections and Christ-centered decisions that even we have yet to make?
What do you think? How important is it for ministers to contextualize the actual language of the gospel in ways that are understandable to laypersons? While certain language is essential (for instance, I would never suggest that we cease talking about justification, imputation, etc.), are there some modes of language that are better suited for the classroom? Is the analogy I'm proposing too forced? At the very least I hope that it’s is food for thought.