Contend Earnestly: Understanding Terms, Instead of Just Using Terms

Friday, September 10, 2010

Understanding Terms, Instead of Just Using Terms

What I have found when speaking to Christians is that we love to use big words. Listen to pastors and it seems as though they get some sort of extra credit the more times they use terms ending in "ology". But what is our aim when speaking to others about any subject? Shouldn't our aim be to make sure those that are listening to us actually hear what we are meaning to say? I've talked about this some in other posts when speaking about bible translation or when speaking about terms like "Son of God" with Muslims. I still find these thoughts to be very important and ones that I am not backing down from.

Let me give you some examples. Should I want to keep the term "propitiation" in my reprotoir when preaching, or should I want the hearers to understand that Jesus took away the wrath of God? What is more important? The term, or the understanding of the term? Should I want to keep the term "deacon" or should I want people to understand what it means to be a servant inside community, as the church gathers and scatters? Should I want to keep the term "gospel" or should I want people to hear the "Good News" of what Jesus has done for them specifically?

I bring this up because my wife and I were getting the morning going when my wife brought up the fact that we were going to be starting up our Bible study before the kids went to school each day. My oldest responded, "Doing the bible study in the morning is a waste of time!" Now, at first, I was a little miffed, and so was my wife. But, I then thought, "this is a 7 year old, does he know what he just said?" I then asked my son, "What does that statement mean for you? When you say that, what do you mean?" He responded by saying that they didn't have much time in the morning and doing a bible study makes them rush and could make them late for school.

I then told him, "your understanding of the saying, 'it's a waste of time' is wrong" I then went on to explain what it meant and he could see right away why he shouldn't use that saying for studying the bible.

I think we do this more than we think in everyday life with others and especially in preaching or explaining the gospel to others. We can use terms like Christian, sin, atonement, church, propitiation, and even Jesus without explaing what these terms or Person actually means. If we don't explain these terms, but merely use them, aren't we really just being a cheerleader for those who understand these terms and think you to be highly educated when you use them? I truly believe that there a lot of people out there that haven't rejected the actual good news of Jesus, but have rejected the Western Christianized version of what it means to follow Jesus. I believe there are many right here in America, both citizens and foreigners, who haven't actually heard, meaning understood, the good news of Jesus and rejected it.

I guess it depends on why you speak to people about Jesus and the good news. If you desire to have people actually hear you, you might want to make sure they understand what you are saying. If you want to just "be right" or "sound exegetical" then let's keep using big terms, get pats on the back from our comrads and watch people never come to the faith or reject the actual Good News of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
If you want to continue to read some other posts I have done on this idea check these out:

What is Contextualization?

Contending Well for the Faith by Mike G.

Translating the Bible from an Idiot's Perspective


@bryceisjustsayin said...

Look at you exegete like a mad man.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Seth. We ought to be more concerned we communicating clearly, explaining what we mean rather than using theological jargon. That said, I provide the following caveat to ward against a potential implication from your post.

Explaining terminology and make sure that one understands our speech should not be equated with ridding ourselves of rich language. We do not want to become "The Party" as found in Orwell's 1984 that speaks of a thing being "good", "double-plus good", or "un-good". We do not want to simply state "God is cool". No, he is abundantly magnificent, infinitely glorious, etc. There is something quite profound in using clear, precise, exalted speech in reference to God. I may liken this to speech with my wife. I may say,"Laura, you are swell." And, at times, that may be a timely spoken word. However, I should not leave off using more glorified language as one finds in poetry.

Once again, I am not charging you with stating that we should use simplistic language only. I simply add these comments to ward against a potential implication, one I find destructive.

Seth McBee said...

Matthew...I totally agree with you...good points.

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