A surviving church will speak a surviving language.

The language of the future will demand new ways of saying what we say—meaning what we mean—and signifying what’s significant. Or—put another way—a new language will transcend our tunnel vision self-interests—sidestep our knee-jerk environment—and rise above our "well-intentioned efforts . . . to ‘get it all together’ for God."1

In short, this new language will get beyond the god-awful shadows that follow the cultic lovers of the literal, the collusions of turned-in communities, and the trackers of vacuous trends.

This language will no longer describe "what is." Instead, it will describe "what is coming to be!" It will no longer "supervene" in life—that is, merely "add to life." Instead, it will "intervene" in life—it will actually "change" life.

Few church leaders have explored this new language, and still fewer claim any fluency in it.

Surprisingly, the language of the future was also the language of the ancient past. We’ve simply lost it! Hosea confirms that God speaks to us through damah—or "prophetic metaphor." That’s the reason inspired prophets were creators of comparison and contrast—artists of analogy and affinity—virtuosos of similarity and similitude. . . .

And that’s the reason Jesus announced His transcendent truth through transparent metaphor. It’s also the reason Jesus, Himself, was the greatest metaphor of all time. This God/man said, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."2 His ministry, in other words, was transparent! We see now why both Scripture and ancient history embraced prophetic metaphor as the very language of God!

Today, once again, damah is transcending all the failed language of the past. For we are returning to the prophetic metaphor of an oral culture—or, often, an "electronic" oral culture. The oral tradition of the ancient Hebrews—where sensory images point out of the power to which they point—"is still the most powerful code . . . and will remain the principal one for the foreseeable future."3

And, once again, prophetic metaphor also transcends all studies of meaning. For we are returning to the wisdom of damah—only this time, it’s a "virtual reality" damah. Though not reality itself, Virtual Reality is becoming the most profound medium of reality. Its fiction is proving more powerful than "fact," and its vision is proving more factual than "fiction."

In the words of biblical mystics, it will speak "of nonexistent things . . . as if they [already] existed." It will declare "the end and the result from the beginning."4 Or, in the words of a modern mystic, Virtual Reality will prove "the most fertile power possessed by man."5

So emerging leaders must learn to speak this new language. That means putting things side by side that don’t go together, holding the tension between the known and the unknown—the prudent and the prophetic—the predictable and the unpredictable—the credible and the incredible. . . .

In fact, the spiritual linguists of the future must become "virtual" themselves! They must become "conservative daredevils" and "cautious prophets"—speaking with "concise ambiguity". . . .

. . . and "vivid transparency."

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003) p. 2183.

2. John 14:9, The Amplified Bible.

3. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 193.

4. Romans 4:17, Isaiah 46:10; The Amplified Bible.

5. José Ortega y Gasset (in his description of metaphor).

Future Church Administrator