Saturday 10 February 2018

Has the church lost its way in communicating to the "plough boy"?

Has the church lost her way in seeking to communicate to the ordinary man and woman? William Tyndale (1494-1536), the genius reformer and Bible translator, earnestly laboured to communicate the Bible in the "vulgar tongue" (the language spoken by ordinary people). In his case he laboured to translate the Bible into the English language and he no doubt shaped the English language more than any one individual apart from Shakespeare.

However, this blog post is not about exalting Tyndale, but about learning from the heartbeat of the Reformation. This is encapsulated in a quote by Tyndale, who while at Little Sodbury Manor (in Gloucestershire, England), he stated to a fellow priest, that "he would make a boy who driveth the plough know more of Scripture than the priest himself". The aim of his life was to communicate so that a ploughboy could understand the gospel.

Well, let us ask ourselves, is that our aim in the church today? This does not mean diluting the truth of the Bible, far from it. But it does mean communicating in a clear, simple and succinct way, so that all people can grasp the truth. If I look at my bookshelves and the many Christian books being published, it seems that an academic approach is gaining significant in-roads, but not always in helpful ways. We are not striking a fundamentalist note either here, one that looks down on academic theology, far from it. Men training for ministry, men in ministry, elders and all Christians need to consider whether they are preaching and communicating in a way that Tyndale would approve of.

How many Christian books today are simple yet profound? Not many. Let us all labour for clarity and simplicity. Let us learn from Jesus Christ of whom it was said in Mark 12:37 "... and the common people heard him gladly". Christ's teachings were with vivid and astounding simplicity that is so memorable. Just think of the parable of the sower.

1 comment:

Bill Schweitzer said...


Great point. The "schoolmen" were ever Calvin's foils and the habitual enemies of plain truth in his eyes. Four and a half centuries later, I cannot point to much in particular that the academy has done for orthodoxy but it surely has fostered many diseases.

I would also say that the larger problem is that we have largely lost sight of the objective of universal biblical literacy. We do not leave the ploughboy in his native ignorance but educate him in order to read and understand the Scriptures in his language.

Incidentally, that quote is widely misused as warrant for very loose translations of the Bible, an abuse that is corrected here: