“There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb. There is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the lamb.” This hymn represents a powerful truth of the Christian religion. A full explication of the atoning death of Christ would still do little to communicate the full power and impact of the realities behind these simple words. The blood of Christ is not a mere theological construct. The fact that there is power is also no mere propositional claim. There is, in fact, real transformative power in the “precious blood of the lamb,” but how do we speak this today? How ought the speech-act of gospel proclamation be conducted in light of such seemingly esoteric utterances about blood and wonder working power? Rightly so, in evangelism we must work to contextualize, to interpret, to exposit into culture through the lens of culture but there are limits to translation.
The fact that Jesus is portrayed figuratively as “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” is something that needs background and time to develop for our un-Churched friends. Often, we do not have the luxury of such time or the relational clout to develop such concepts through teaching. We often choose to avoid such symbolism and “advanced” theological concepts. What would have been an immediate “ah ha” connection for a Jewish audience presents itself as an obstacle for hearing to our audience today. There are still some concepts that ought not be translated, some symbols that are too “precious” to contextualize and must be taught.
In Kallenberg’s seminal yet short work Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Era, he states, “…postcritical thinking transcends modern views of language…put simply, conversion involves the acquisition of a new conceptual language,” (pp 38-39). When we come to Christ (and are coming to Christ) our conversion must include, amongst other things, connecting to our world, to God, and to others through the use of an altogether new language. Because of this, evangelistic practices must not seek to merely contextualize, as important as this is. Evangelistic proclamation must also always teach the new language of faith. Certainly, different groups will need different forms aspects of faith contextualized and there are certain symbols of faith which may be appropriate for one group while obstacles for others. Having said this, the “precious blood” and its transforming power seems to be one of several realities we need to teach our hearers to understand and take on.
The centrality of the cross and the resurrection in time and space represent so much more than mere symbolism, they are the essence of the message of faith. There is no faith without the blood shed on the cross, no hope without the power of the resurrection-simply put, there is no gospel without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A bloody Jesus may appear to be a stumbling block for some people groups but unless we export this grotesquery into all cultures intact we run the danger of losing the connection with the existential referent itself. Of all things, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that must be pressed into because therein lays the power for transformation. The fear, particularly for us “experts” on culture and contextualization is that we will be seen as cut from the same cloth as those “old timers” or fanatics. We must not shy away from this but instead recall and recite another great hymn, “Give me that old time religion-it’s good enough for me!”