Lea and I drove down to Estonia’s summer capital Pärnu on Saturday to attend a Family Life Conference sponsored by a local church. Our denomination’s president spoke during the final hour on his experience of the “5 Love Languages” and their importance in a healthy marriage.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, your “love language” is the means by which you most naturally express love for others and receive the love extended to you. While there are likely many more than just five, the languages usually listed are: Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gift Giving, and Encouraging Words. Each of these is of course pleasant but one or more are usually especially effective.

The tricky part comes in learning to speak and understand your partner’s language so that you can both receive messages of love sent to you as well as communicate your love in a way that your partner can receive. For more on the subject, refer to Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Languages of Love“.

The hour ended with a panel discussion in which the last question was something like the following: “Do you think that this talk of love languages might have any impact on the way we communicate the message of the gospel to the people around us?” Having just preached on Thomas’ scandalous and grotesque demand that he place his hands within Jesus’ fresh wounds, that got me thinking.

To John – the disciple who reclined on Jesus’ shoulder at the last supper and later wrote a gospel which claimed access to Jesus’ private thoughts and prayers – “Quality Time” seemed to do the trick. For Thomas – whose horrible demand reveals the depth of his disappointment – Jesus in fact offered a healing physical connection. And for Peter he prepared a meal and later told him “if you love me you will feed my sheep.” In short, each received Jesus’ personal consolation in the very way that made the most sense to them.

I think there is a tendency to read scripture as a set of universal truths overlaid on top of quasi-history. It seems to me that while there are certainly principles to be drawn out and expounded, often in the gospels and other narratives the reason something happens is because it was entirely appropriate for that time and place.

Maybe that is the difficulty I’ve had with evangelism. I make it into a contortionist exercise to bend the Roman Road around some one’s intimate life story rather than communicating the simple grace this person needs in this moment.

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