Wednesday, January 20, 2010


On new words…


Feed: Fine Tuning
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:52 AM
Author: Phillip Magness


I know language changes. And some new words are helpful. "Trinity" doesn't actually occur in the Bible. Neither does "Sacrament." So some of the new buzzwords may be OK. Accordingly, I am going to lay off "missional" as a buzzword, though it tends to irritate me. Certainly the book of Acts describes the mission of the early church, and we have always sent and supported "missionaries". Church usage is normative, so I'll agree with Dr. Gibbs' assertion, made at the conference, that "God is in the gaps" between "Scripture and the Confessions". He works through His church. Through working with the Word, the Church came up with "Trinity" and "Sacrament". So maybe some of the new words will turn out OK.


But given the frequency and novelty of some of these terms today, I think it is fair to ask whether the church being shaped by the world - rather than by the Word - when we use so many buzzwords that carry either modernist or post-modernist freight.


Sure, some of these words might serve the Church well. For example, there was much talk of "context". Certainly there is much truth in the proposition that those who preach and teach need to be sensitive to the situation of their hearers. One does not preach in a language the hearers do not understand. One must teach at a level the hearers can comprehend. Properly used, "context" might become a 21st-century American English equivalent of the Lutheran theological Sitz im leben ('setting in life").


But "contextual" if often used in our culture to justify "whatever works", or "what is true for me may not be true for you." It is the way our public university English and History teachers speak. Accordingly, it has post-modern baggage connected to other buzzwords I heard often at the Conference and also at the regional "Blue Ribbon" gathering I attended in Madison: perspective, relative, impact, diversity, empower and community. None of these words are necessarily wrong when used carefully. But they all stem from the world of relativism. So careful use should also mean minimal use, lest the words echo in the body of Christ and overwhelm the commonsense, Biblical way in which the Church has historically spoken: see, confess, convict, nations, save, and communion.


Words matter. Are we sharing different glimpses of glory in a passionate way so that we can grow stronger by enlarging the numbers of our faith community? Or are we to share what we have seen with our neighbor, that they may know the truth, and be freed to join us at the Lord's table?


The former is the way of organizations marketing themselves to religious consumers. The latter is what we read about in the Scriptures. Can we have it both ways?



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