Translation vs. Transformation

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, December 08, 2014

Translation vs. Transformation

There are many things that confront leaders regarding the interplay of church and culture, but perhaps none is more pressing than the dynamic between translation and transformation.

Theologian Millard Erickson, building on the insights of William E. Hordern, notes that every generation must translate the gospel into its unique cultural context. But this is very different from transforming the message of the gospel into something that was never intended by the biblical witness.

Transformation of the message must be avoided at all costs. 

Translation, however, is essential for a winsome and compelling presentation of the gospel of Christ. 

And it is precisely this interplay between translation and transformation that must be navigated by every leader in regard to culture. 

If transformation takes place, then we have simply abandoned orthodoxy for the hopeful sake of warm bodies. The tickling of ears does not exactly have a welcome spot in the biblical materials.

If translation takes place, we intentionally build bridges of cultural understanding, but retain our prophetic voice in the marketplace of ideas.

Transformation is heresy.

Translation is the heart of our mission.

Knowing the difference is the crucible of leadership, and the difference between being in the world,

…and of it.

James Emery White


Millard Erickson, Christian Theology

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.