Shared Referential Identity

Whenever we share the Gospel with someone, we choose which content from the Bible to include and which to exclude. Choices to include less Bible content require a communication experience of shared referential identity.

To illustrate shared referential identity, think of the word "automobile." The word itself is NOT the actual object; it is a symbol that refers to the object, which in this case is a means of transportation of a particular type, that usually has four wheel, an engine, an enclosed compartment for a driver and passengers to sit, a steering wheel, etc. So the actual object thus described is the referential identity of the word "automobile."

Now if I say "automobile" to someone, and we both think of the same (or nearly the same) thing, we have achieved shared referential identity. And we have achieved it very efficiently by using only one word—automobile. 

However, if I say "automobile" to someone, and they think of something else, or they have no idea what I'm talking about, then not only have we not achieved shared referential identity, we must resort to message expansion to get there. I cannot use just one word ("automobile"); I must resort to using many more words to communicate effectively ("a means of transportation of a particular type, that usually has an engine, etc.").

Shared referential identity often becomes an obstacle to effective communication in relation to efficiently messaging the Gospel. Among Japanese, for example, Christians used the expression "Kami-sama" to refer to God. Unfortunately, most non-Christian Japanese would never think of the God of the Bible when they hear "Kami-sama." The concepts for achieving shared referential identity that they associate with "Kami-sama" do not generally include the attributes of God found in the Bible. Therefore, if someone sharing an efficiently crafted message about God does not take time to expand their message about him, they will have failed to communicate. On the other hand, if they expand their message about God, they no longer have message efficiency.

As the world moves farther and farther away from knowing the Bible's story about Jesus, achieving shared referential identity through message efficiency becomes increasingly more difficult. Among Japanese, virtually every key word that we might use to craft efficient messaging of the Gospel requires expansion. 

At the Gospel Story-arc Project, we believe it's critical to expand the message about who Jesus is, as we share the Gospel to a world that needs him. And we believe that the best way to expand the message is by leveraging the power of his story.  






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Randal Gilmore