“I don’t think we have a right to bear witness to that which we do not experience.” Clarence Jordan
To give you a taste of Clarence Jordan’s writing, here are a few quotations:
—from The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons
What the virgin birth is trying to say to us is not that a man became divine, but that God Almighty took the initiative and established permanent residence on this earth!
Now we, today,…have reversed the incarnation. Instead of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, we turn it around and we take a bit of flesh and deify it. We have deified Jesus and, thus, effectively rid ourselves of him even more than if we had crucified him. When God becomes a man, we don’t know what to do with him. If he will just stay God, like a God ought to be, then we can deal with him. We can sing songs to him if he’ll just stay God…. We can build our cathedrals to him. This is the bind we get in today. We reverse the action—from heaven to earth—and we turn it around and build it from earth to heaven. And salvation becomes something that we will attain someday, rather than God coming to earth to be among us. So we build churches, we set up great monuments to God and we reject him as a human being.
A church in Georgia just set up a big $25,000 granite fountain on its lawn, circulating water to the tune of 1,000 gallons a minute. Now that ought to be enough to satisfy any Baptist. But what on earth is a church doing taking God Almighty’s money in a time of great need like this and setting up a little old fountain on its lawn to bubble water around? I was thirsty…and you built me a fountain. We can handle God as long as he stays God. We can build him a fountain. But when he becomes a man we have to give him a cup of water. So the virgin birth is simply the great transcendent truth that God Almighty has come into the affairs of man and dwells among us.
Why a “cotton patch” version? While there have been many excellent translations of the Scriptures into modern English, they still have left us stranded in some faraway land in the long-distant past. We need to have the good news come to us not only in our own tongue but in our own time. We want to be participants in the faith, not merely spectators. When Jesus told the story of “a certain man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” every person in his audience may have felt as though he himself were that “certain man” who fell among thieves on the familiar and oft-traveled road. But few of us would feel so personally involved. To give us a sense of participation or involvement, that “certain man” would need to be going from New York to Boston, or from Atlanta to Savannah, or from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or from our hometown to the next one. So the “cotton patch” version is an attempt to translate not only the words but the events. We change the setting from first-century Palestine to twentieth-century America. We ask our brethren of long ago to cross the time-space barrier and talk to us not only in modern English but about modern problems, feelings, frustrations, hopes and assurances; to work beside us in our cotton patch or on our assembly line, so that the word becomes modern flesh. Then perhaps, we too will be able to joyfully tell of “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and have felt with our hands, about the word of life” 1 John 1:1….
Perhaps the main reason, though, is that the major portion of my life has been spent on a farm in southwest Georgia where I have struggled for a meaningful expression of my discipleship to Jesus Christ. With my companions along the dusty rows of cotton, corn and peanuts, the Word of Life has often come alive with encouragement, rebuke, correction and insight. I have witnessed the reenactment of one New Testament event after another until I can scarcely distinguish the original from its modern counterpart. And because the present participants are for the most part, like their predecessors, humble people, I have longed to share God’s word with them. So in making the translation, I have kept in mind the little people of great faith who want to do better in their discipleship but have been hindered by big words they don’t understand or by ancient concepts they don’t grasp.
—The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Cotton Patch Version (Luke 10:25-37)
One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested him with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”
The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.”
But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But … er … but … just who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.
“Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. ‘When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.
“Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.
“Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’
“Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three-the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man – would you consider to have been your neighbor?”
The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the nig – I mean, er … well, er … the one who treated me kindly.”
Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”