The Name Game – Part 1

It was an old song, made popular by Shirley Ellis back in the 60s, and went something like this: 


“Hannah, Hannah, Bo-Bannah,

“Banana, Fanna, Fo-Fannah,

“Fee, Fi, Mo-Mannah…Hannah!”


name-gameThe nonsensical Name Game song took a name, played with it, changed it, and then finally came out with the original name again in the end. I was reminded of this children’s son while reading an article on my favorite Christian hedonist blog, John Piper’s Desiring God. Written by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, New Testament Professor, D. A. Carson, the article discussed the theme of naming God in a pluralistic society: or more directly, talking about Jesus in our current world.










As I’ve been doing some research lately on the whole “Emerging/Emergent Church” issue (I can’t keep them straight yet), Carson’s article caught my imagination. Just how do we, who trust Jesus, name Him to others who do not have the same familiarity with Him? According to Carson’s article, to some Jesus is one of long list of profanities employed; to another, He is an ideal but certainly not a person; to yet another He was a man who obeyed God, but not God, and so on.


Often when we engage our modern-day, Godless culture in a discussion about Jesus, there is little to no agreement about the terms we are about to use. I say “Jesus.” You say “Right.” I say “Savior.” You say “Sage.” I say “God.” You say “Good man.” And so it goes. We engage in what we think is dialogue, but in reality it is two conversations, going in separate directions, that just happen to be in the same vicinity: Talking at each other, rather than to each other.


Jesus ran into similar circumstances with those He interacted with and addressed: The woman at the well, Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, the list goes on. Each time, there were misconceptions about who they were talking about (on the part of those He engaged, certainly not on the part of Jesus).


In John 4:1-30, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. In their exchange she makes an observation about Jesus that tells us her perspective of who she thinks she is talking both to and about.


The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet…’

John 4:19


womanatthewell013A prophet, in mere secular terms was a mystical person who could interpret hidden knowledge. However the woman was a Samaritan, so she had some knowledge of the God of Israel. So we might consider her as a “religious” person (but not a necessarily believer). Her frame of references in addressing Jesus as a prophet was that she was speaking to a man who, by God’s Spirit, could declare truth concerning the kingdom of God and the long sought for Messiah.


Many today are in the same camp when it comes to talking about Jesus. They recognize a holiness, or perhaps a wholeness, in which He appears to be an embodiment of a longed for spiritual perfection they seek to encounter. They recognize Him to be authentic, but His representatives here on earth as less than genuine. If we engage these modern seekers but are not aware of this gap in their presuppositions about Jesus and those of us who follow Him, we’re liable to think they accept our line of thought when in fact, they are moving away from us and closer to some mystical, spiritual “Christ-concept” that is antithetical to our purposes.


womanatthewell021As He addresses the woman, Jesus deals directly and unequivocally with her perceptions. He speaks to her need to understand worship and describes spiritual worship that pleases God. Since she was a Samaritan, Jesus knew she longed to worship God in a genuine and God-pleasing fashion (not unlike what some in the Emerging/Emergent movements seek today). When she takes the discussion to another level of inquiry, acknowledging a genuine faith in the promised Messiah, Jesus presents genuine truth, candidly and straightforwardly declaring Himself to be “Messiah.”


As we engage the current culture (the postmodern or, as some refer to it, the post-Christian era), we must bring the truth authentically, genuinely and directly. We are not to conform Christ or Christianity to look more like the culture. Christ is genuine enough for any era. He is inherently essential to every need. All we need do is represent Him as directly as He Himself did to this Samaritan woman. And we are fully equipped to do so as His disciples. Christ is not a commodity to be packaged and marketed to better appeal to a consumer. Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, and all we need do is let His Holy Spirit equip and enable us to proclaim His Gospel to the world.




God Bless and Grace 2 U


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