Get caught up.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. ~Hannah Arendt
Some objections that will be made to using primarily evocative language in communication are that (1) technical language allows the communicator to be more specific and clear or that (2) communicating the same level of clarity in evocative language will take longer, and may never achieve as much clarity.
Both of these objections reflect a mindset that places the transmission and understanding of information as the most important thing. In certain cases, information in a timely manner is important. “If you don’t get vaccinated, you will die” counts on that list. Certainly, information like this is important.
However, other goals may trump the transmission of information a most important. Most specifically, when we are seeking to transmit values to our kids or to promote humility, courage, love, acceptance, or other character qualities to them, mere information and well-oiled arguments won’t accomplish this. When we’re seeking to engender compassion for the homeless, hungry, sick, and dying, the informative method will be short-lived. In fact, accomplishing these sorts of tasks is not a one-time deal but rather an ongoing interaction between individuals. In these cases, evocative language is much more effective than technical language. In short, communicating meaning and value is a long process best served by evocative language, while communicating information is a relative short task best served with technical language.
In McLaren’s book, Jesus is the central communicator. In the Gospels, he is constantly teaching his followers about the Kingdom of God, about the Son of Man, about the End of the Age, and other important ideas. (By the way, Kingdom of God and Son of Man are both evocative phrasing.) In our information age, we read much of Jesus’ teachings looking to glean the information that is important. In this mindset, McLaren wonders aloud, “There’s hardly ever a question [Jesus] answers; instead, his answer comes in the form of a question, or it turns into a story, or it’s full of metaphors that invite more questions.” Then McLaren finally asks, “Why risk being misunderstood—or not understood at all? If the message is so important, why hide it in evocative rather than technical language?” (39)
That is the question: why? If the Trinity is so important, why didn’t God give us a better idea about it? If the Kingdom of God is so central to Jesus’ message, why does he mostly tell us what it’s like, instead of what it is? If Jesus is the only way, why doesn’t he tell every person he meets that very thing? Forget living water, born again, mustard seeds, pearls and swine, paths and gates.
Cut the crap Jesus, and give us a straight answer!
But that’s not what Jesus did. Why?
And this is a good question too. If Jesus would’ve been straight with us, it would’ve avoided things like say the Crusades, the Reformation, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Christianity's denominational rifts, and much more. It seems God could’ve saved himself a significant PR problem if he would’ve been less coy.
I’m going to forego directly answering this question. Instead, I’m going to address a peripheral issue that might help us to understand, perhaps, what Jesus’ ambiguity can accomplish if we rightly understand it.
Here’s the peripheral question: What was Jesus seeking to communicate? He spoke of many things: loving God, loving others, God’s kingdom, the end of the age, peace on Earth, fasting, hypocrisy, the Ten Commandments, wine and bread, all sorts of things. What did all this have to do with anything? What was Jesus seeking to accomplish by telling us about all these things? What did they have to do with anything? Why didn’t he simply come out and say what he meant, once and for all? All this confusion and division could’ve been avoided with a little more clarity (not to mention foresight).
Jesus could’ve accomplished this clear-minded communication in a succinct manner: technical language. Yet this was rarely the case. Instead, Jesus constantly used evocative language, stories, metaphors, and imagery to convey his message. This seems to point to another goal: Jesus was seeking to communicate meaning and value, not information.
If this is true, this could and should upend much of our information-value mindset. If Jesus was seeking to transmit character qualities and values, then it requires ongoing interaction and intimate contact regularly and for a long time. Embracing his message of meaning and his transmission of values means regularly, actively, constantly connecting with his message.
Unfortunately, our informational mindset has made us ready to get the essentials in quick sound bytes in between other piecemeal news and knowledge. Using a similar fast-action approach to Jesus’ slow-setting teaching will create conflict, aggravation, and, ultimately, failure.
Our options are limited. Actually there are only two: accommodate our lives to embrace the slow-set teaching of Jesus and slowly incorporate his character and values, or maintain the pace of our lives and give up trying to accommodate Jesus’ inconvenient methods.
“Two paths diverged in a yellow wood…”