Communicating The Gospel To People Who Are Different -- By: Alan Neely

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 02:2 (Spring 1985)
Article: Communicating The Gospel To People Who Are Different
Author: Alan Neely

Communicating The Gospel To People Who Are Different

Alan Neely

Professor of Missions,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Some years ago a U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania, William Moorehead (D), told of giving an address after which a woman rushed up to him and exclaimed:

“Oh, Mr. Congressman, your speech was superfluous, absolutely superfluous!”

Moorehead was of course momentarily nonplussed by the lady’s remark, but he quickly recovered and said, “Why, thank you, madam. I am thinking of having it published posthumously.”

“Oh, wonderful,” she replied. “The sooner the better!”

In this very human and humorous anecdote we have a classic case of two people using the wrong words but at the same time effectively communicating. Often—in fact, much too often—people use the correct words but fail to communicate.

Alfred Fleishman writes of an incident that happened in St. Louis, an unfortunate example of miscommunication that became a front-page news story. A driver stopped for a red light at one of the city’s intersections, and a pedestrian who was waiting for the light to change saw that one of the tires on the automobile was almost flat. Pointing to the tire he shouted to the driver, “Hey, your front tire is going fiat.”

The driver got out of the car, looked at the tire, saw that it was dangerously low, and said, “Thanks for being a Good Samaritan!” The pedestrian evidently misunderstood the driver’s remark, for he immediately leaped off the curb, went straight for the driver, who incidentally was trying to get back into his car, and started hitting him with his fists and shouting, “You can’t call me a dirty name!”

Reacting to violence with violence, the driver fought back, and both of them ended up in the hospital—all because the pedestrian thought an idiomatic expression of gratitude was a gross insult.1

Now if this can happen in our country and culture—and it happens all the time—what is the potential for misunderstanding when, here or in another country, one attempts to communicate with people whose culture is not North American and whose language is not English? The risk and likelihood of miscommunication increases in geometric proportions.

All human relations depend on communication. Doubtless we have known this for a long time, but communication as modern information theory, as a science, is a recent development. Furthermore, many contemporary communication problems are relatively new, reflecting in many cases the increasing complexity of social int...

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