Recently, Buzz Feed released a video in which non-Christians try to guess the meanings of a few common Evangelical Christian terms, such as “love offering” (“sounds like an orgy!”) and “washed in the blood” (“horrifying!”). The video is humorous and admittedly uses a miniscule sample size for its test, but it is thought-provoking none-the-less. The language of the church is no longer part of common cultural knowledge, and some of it may sound downright creepy to outsiders.
I teach a songwriting class at a Christian university, and we spend a lot of our time developing metaphors. I teach them that it’s crucial for Christians to find interesting and relevant metaphors for expressing spiritual truths, both so that they can avoid cliches as writers and so that they can speak in a language that many people can understand. Around the time that we were practicing our metaphor writing, a large evangelism event called “Harvest America” was about to come to our town. The event was a huge success, but my students and I all thought we could come up with a better metaphor for the conversion experience than “Harvest.” Taken outside of the Biblical context, “harvest” has some negative connotations (there are a whole lot of horror movies with “harvest” in the title). Add to that our culture’s general disconnect from an agricultural society, and this metaphor has lost much of its power.
Using an approach to metaphor from Pat Pattison, whose technique you can read about here, we brain-stormed about the qualities of a conversion experience. We chose “transformation” as our key trait. Then we discussed connecting ideas that also contain that trait. Finally, we chose a somewhat cheesy connecting idea: Extreme Makeover. We all wrote for 5 minutes over the metaphor “Conversion is an Extreme Makeover.” (We made no distinction between the original or the home edition of the hit reality show.)
The result was a collection of beautiful meditations on salvation and on the new heaven and earth, with one idea rising consistently to the top: “Restoration.” We imagined God cleaning and repainting long-neglected corners of our hearts. We mused over the implications of being clothed in grace instead of in ill-fitting sin. We pictured the Extreme Makeover bus driving away to reveal our forever home. In the end, my students all agreed that they would feel good about inviting someone to an event called “Restoration America.” The exercise was a success, and I even wrote a song based on that day’s exercise.
It’s true that metaphors like “harvesting souls” and being “washed in the blood of the Lamb” come from the Bible, but many people today are unfamiliar with the Bible, and they won’t become familiar with it until someone can speak to them in culturally-resonant metaphors. I’m so proud of my students for searching for new ways to express these old truths, and I hope that other Christian artists, writers, and evangelism-event-planners will follow in their example.