What many U.S. Christian authors write about today has little or no application outside of the U.S. It’s why the majority of Christian books are not exported or translated into other languages. Most often it is not the theology holding it back, but the theme of the book.
A simple example would be homeschooling. It is illegal in quite a few countries of the world. (Germany, Sweden, and many other countries ban it outright.) Don’t be surprised when your homeschool books are not exported or translated into German or Swedish, or a number of other languages.
Another example are books related to the church or small-group Bible studies. Many countries heavily regulate churches. In addition, many countries are dominated by certain denominational or even state/church organizations, which further limit use of materials giving a differing perspective.
The next layer of this issue is the tendency of writers to use examples describing things when the substantial majority of people globally don’t know what they mean. Idioms requiring deep knowledge of American culture limit understandability. Often, we don’t even realize when our writing slips into American “code.” (Think football versus football.)
A third layer of communication is simply language related. The reason why we find humor in someone trying to explain something to a non-English-language person by speaking the words louder and slower is because it happens frequently.
“DO YOU HAVE A FRAGRANCE-FREE SEATING SECTION IN THIS RESTAURANT?”
“I SAID SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT!”
People involved in Bible translation run into these issues all the time. There are languages and cultures that have no words for certain concepts that might be important in English Christian vernacular. (By the way, I hate to disappoint you; but the Bible was not originally written in English.)
So, how should we respond?
Take great care to write to people in a way they can understand. Communication occurs when the reader understands. Some writers think far more about the point they want to make than first considering whether an audience understands or even cares. Failure to focus on the audience might be the primary reason most messages never get through.
What does it mean to focus on the audience?
- Know them. Have an idea to whom you are writing. If the audience doesn’t change the way you write, you probably aren’t thinking about them.
- Focus on outcomes. Write with the end in mind, such as eliciting an emotion or a call to action.
- Think of different ways to get a point across than what first comes to mind. First thoughts might be fine, but often they are not. One suggestion is to practice writing something as if it’s going to be read by a person with English as a second language. This exercise not only makes you think about the audience for your message, but also forces you to communicate for understanding, which is different than writing whatever you want.
All this might bring to mind only language and cultural considerations when writing. But the issue is deeper still. Maybe at some time in the past, Christians could write and speak and generally be considered wise, but no longer. There are worldview considerations.
Writing to a reader who thinks you are at best foolish and, at worst, personally offensive, is quite challenging.
Christian writers should now consider themselves as exiles, like being a stranger, writing to a strange audience, requiring some translation in order to be understood.