Posted by: Philip Rushton | October 20, 2014

Misused Metaphors: Recovering what it really means to be ‘born again’

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  John 3:3

There is a lot of lingo that gets thrown around in Christian circles.  We speak the “Christianese” language that is an amalgamation of biblical metaphors and random catch phrases that have leaked their way into Christian culture.  We talk about being “saved,” we pray for a “hedge of protection,” we admire “Proverbs 31 women,” and we “witness” to people.  We also have “life verses,” joke about “sunday school answers,” pray for “traveling mercies,” and call Presbyterians “the frozen chosen.”

The problem is that some of these metaphors and phrases are used so often that we forget what they really mean.  This is particularly true in regards the language of being “born again.”  In his book, More Ready Than You Realize, Brian McClaren recalls a conversation he had with a teenager named Dan who was starting to explore Christianity.  McLaren writes:

I asked Dan, “where are you these days in your relationship with God?”

Dan replied, “Mr. McLaren, coming to church helped me.  All I really want now is to learn the ways of Christ . . . But one thing: I hope I never become a born-again.” I asked him why that was, and he answered, “A friend of ours at school became a born-again.  She used to be a really nice person, but now she’s always judging everybody and she’s pushed away all of our friends.  It’s like either they have to convert, or she doesn’t want them as a friend.  So I want to keep learning the ways of Christ, but I don’t want to be born again.”

Mclaren goes on to point the deep inconsistency between what the label “born again” implies and what it really means.  He writes:

To be born again means to become like a child, to become a learner again, to abandon your adult pretensions about how much you already know, and to accept the childlike posture of having so much to learn. . . Ironically, to Dan, being ‘born again’ sounded like becoming what in Jesus’ day was known as a Pharissee . . . and oddly, it was with a Pharisee that Jesus originally used the ‘born again’ language, suggesting that to be born again was the opposite of being a Pharisee!”

James Discovering His New World

James Discovering His New World

Indeed, the metaphor of being ‘born again,’ is often applied to a more fundamentalist Christian posture.  We use it to describe the closed minded, overly confident, judgmental Christian.  Ironically, the image of being born-again implies a posture of humility, wonder, and and openness.

I believe our ability to reach out to a skeptical yet spiritually hungry world requires us to embrace the true meaning of being born again.  When we approach people from a posture of arrogance rather than humility we build unnecessary barriers towards spiritual seekers.

I used to think that being a good evangelist required me to be able to win a debate and have answers to everybody’s questions.  What I am starting to realize is that evangelism is less about mastering a one-way presentation and more about fostering a two-way conversation.  True evangelism involves developing spiritual friendships with people.  We ought humbly join people on a journey of mutual discovery as we seek answers to the major questions of life.  This begins, I believe, by recovering the posture of one who has been born again.


  1. Would that we all would become like the picture of James discovering in the open minded child like seeking as to the ways of YAHSHUA’S WAYS. Henry

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