By Dhati Lewis, Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church, Atlanta, GA
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17, CSB
As a church, one of the main things we embrace is the fact that discipleship is not simply a ministry of the church—it is the ministry of the church. We do not have a disciple-making “department.” Every single thing we do as a church is intended to help us make disciples. As pastors, teachers, and leaders, our job is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
“And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” – Ephesians 4:11-13, CSB
Our job as pastors: to equip the saints
So if our job as pastors and elders is to equip the saints and build up the body of Christ, we must rely on God’s Word as the foundation for all that we do. We don’t equip and build up out of our own knowledge and expertise. God’s Word is a powerful tool for teaching, rebuking, and equipping. And if my job as a pastor is to equip and build up the body of Christ, then God’s Word is and will be a high priority in our church family.
There’s just one problem. We have a massive language barrier. While staff pastors may have the training and tools to examine the biblical texts in their original language, most members of our congregation do not. So in order for our people to have access to one of the most important and powerful tools for discipleship, we have to trust scholars and translators to give us English translations that are accurate, readable, and reliable.
Yet, even within that goal lies another problem. What is readable to one person may not be accessible to another. Our church does life and ministry within the complexity and diversity of a thriving urban context. On any given Sunday, we have people from a number of ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic experiences, and educational degrees. We desire to use our Sunday Gathering as a platform for discipling our guests, friends, and family—but how do we do that if there are so many barriers between our people and the biblical text? The answer lies in contextualization.
Why is contextualization necessary?
Contextualization has gotten a bad rap over the years. Because it has been so misunderstood and misused, many people now operate out of the belief that contextualization leads to compromise. But this is not the case. Let me give you an example. If I were to get in a plane right now, fly to China, walk into a crowd of people, and start preaching the gospel, what would happen? I would probably just get a lot of funny stares. Why? Because I would be speaking in English! What good is it for me to preach the gospel in a language people do not understand? If I wanted to preach effectively in that context, I would need to find a translator who would take what I said in English and translate it into the local language. The better the translator, the more effective the communication. While some sentences may be best communicated in a word for word style, there will be others that the translator will change entirely in order to best communicate the desired intent. Every language and culture has unique ways of communicating content. Good translators are masters in multiple contexts and are able to bridge the gap in between.
Think about it. Even this blog is contextualized. The editors work to edit my content in a way that is most accessible for their readers. They are not trying to change my content, rather, they are working to re-word it so that it makes better sense to you—the reader.
Ideally, this is what a Bible translation does. The translators serve as a bridge from the original language, culture, and styles of communication and help connect them to our language, culture, and style of communication today. Good contextualization never caters to the target context. The goal is always to hold fast to the original content without compromise.
Too often we are put in positions where we feel like we must choose between two non-negotiable things. As elders, we refuse to teach our people a watered down biblical translation that doesn’t accurately depict the original text. At the same time, we refuse to teach out of a text that is so convoluted with academic lingo and strange sentence structures that many readers can’t understand what it means.
The CSB achieves readability without compromising accuracy
The CSB does an excellent job of communicating in terms that today’s common man can understand. This, however, is not new. There are a plethora of other English translations that prioritize the use of common vernacular. Just like there are a variety of other English translations that prize word-for-word translations of the original text. Yet, what I often see happen is that someone will read a word-for-word translation, get confused, read a more accessible translation, and then try to combine the two versions to make sense of it. The CSB solves that issue by achieving readability without compromising accuracy.
While other translations and types of biblical study tools are extremely useful for different arenas of study, I have seen no other translation that best captures and communicates the gospel for our day today. I have spent years teaching, studying, and preaching out of other translations. I have often preached out of a combination of translations in an effort to best help my people understand what God’s Word was saying about a particular issue. The CSB strikes this balance like no other translation, giving our church elders confidence to recommend it to our entire congregation. It is accurate enough for an elder to preach from and accessible enough for a new believer to read on his or her own.
We are excited to launch the CSB at our church, praying that it is used by the Holy Spirit for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the members of Blueprint Church may be complete and equipped for every good work.