September 23, 2020

Fighting Words: What happens when we abandon the vocabulary of faith.

lutherbw.jpgI was viewing the web site of a church a friend was visiting, when I saw the current sermon series was entitled “Finding the Sweet Spot in Your Spiritual Life.” Compulsory video clip of the pastor with a golf pro, borrowing the language of golf to try and communicate the message of the Christian life.

Does it matter? The words we use about the faith….do they matter?

It reminded me of one of my favorite IM essays: Fighting Words. Another in the “iMonk 101” series of critiques of evangelicalism.

Continue Reading:“Fighting Words: What happens when we abandon the vocabulary of faith.”


  1. It all boils down to what you think Christianity is.

    If Christianity is a shared faith and history, which strecthes back 2000 (and more) years, with distinctive claims as to what God is like and what He has done, then a specialized vocabulary is vital (as indeed it is with any field of endeavor).

    If Christianity is only about what God is doing right now in my heart and my life, my language (even slang) is sufficient – if indeed, “head knowledge” doesn’t get in the way of “heart knowledge”.

    Evangelicalism’s abandonment of the vocabulary of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” shows what direction it has already taken.

  2. Mason Booth says


    i was recently at a conference that featured Leonard Sweet as the guest speaker. Dr. Sweet was talking about this exact issue. He is a brief exert of what he said.

    Dr. Sweet used Starbucks as an example. He said that everything at Starbucks runs very smoothly at their stores until someone comes in and ask for a simple cup of coffee. He said that if you come in and ask for a “grande double shot expresso decaff with skim milk” everything goes smoothly, but ask for a cup of coffee and there is a train wreck. Dr. Sweet said that Starbucks requires you to learn the language and that millions have learned over the years and that Starbucks even has a book that they will give you with their language in it, so that you can learn over 11,000 different types of drinks and their particular language. Dr. Sweet that the church has to realize that if people are willing to learn an entire language in order to ask for a cup of coffee don’t you think that they might be willing to learn a new language when it comes to God and salvation. Dr. Sweet went on to say that their are certain Hebrew and Greek words that every Christian should know and that we should not run from the language of faith, but embrace it and the mystery that it speaks of, just like Starbucks..

    Kind of sad when a coffee business knows and understands our culture better than the church, but such is the state of the church…totally irrelevant not b/c of our message, but b/c we have become like everything else.


    mason booth

  3. Hey it’s Jared again, the Bible College guy. What scares me the most about this is the quote en quote future leaders in the church who are attending Bible Colleges across the country are standing (or sitting) in the “service” singing these shallow songs and entertaining themselves. Thank the Lord for revealing to me the doctrines of grace while in the midst of this nonsense. Although it’s difficult at times to explain to people why I’m not “participating” in their “sacred journey” or whatever garbage they’re calling it now, I hope I at least cause some people to think, for once.

  4. Oh, and P.S., I once preached for my “Biblical Preaching” class on the imputation of the righteousness of Christ and was told it was too wordy or too complicated for most church folk, including some in the class to understand. I think that’s all I need to say.

  5. This is the classic case of dumbing down. Our lower education system philosophy seems to be, that if those who score the lowest are doing poorly then we need only to lower our standards to make it easier for them. Then, if there remain those who still are not doing well, then again, we only have to lower the standards once more or all too often we just pass them along anyway as if they actually understand what is needed to be understood.
    As we continue to do this in the church, we end up at the same place our lower education system seems to be headed, down, down, down.
    Language is vital. It helps in part, to identify who we are. If our language no longer helps to make that distinction, then who are we? I truly think that we need to be who we are in Christ, walk and talk who we are in Christ Jesus and quit dumbing down, down, down.

  6. There is more than one issue here, I think.

    1. We need to explain the Gospel to people in ways that they can understand. This means looking for fresh words about the ancient texts to help communicate their riches to a different audience.

    2. Our church services are predominantly for visitors instead of for members because we expect people to be introduced to Jesus inside the church rather than inside our homes. If Starbucks could not count on repeat customers, it would look like our churches.

    3. We are often saying exactly what it sounds like we are saying which isn’t a whole lot. We aren’t trying to explain the Gospel at all. There really isn’t much behind the cute talk.

    4. People need to hear different levels of focus, a it were, in order to hear the Gospel. For example, the catechism for a two year old is different than that for an adult. There is still truth in the two-year but it is missing some of the details. Adults also have different levels of ability to understand complexity and our presentation of the Gospel needs to speak at a variety of levels, like scripture does.

    5. We are often lazy and don’t want to do the work to understand something hard or that we in the end won’t really get. Another form of “I have no philosophy”. Or, as leaders we do not want to explain these concepts in ways that are accessible to our audience because that takes work. Laziness on both sides of the lectern.

    These are related but still separate issues, I would think.

  7. Phil McAlmond says

    To often I think, we may be trying to do the work of the Holy SPirit for him. If we truly believe that it is the Holy Spirit that brings a person to the Lord Jesus and thus to conversion, then our hope can not simply be on our ability to communicate or even relate to another semantically.

    Having spent much time overseas, I have seen the Holy Spirit work through those who do not even know the local language or the local cultures. In otherwords he worked through those whose hope was place strictly upon Him and not upon their ability to communicate culturally and in the local slang. Yes communication is easier if it is known by all involved but my point is simply that the Holy Spirit is greater than our limitations.

    Look at all of the languages that the sriptures have been translated into. If you were to go to those nations where the scriptures have given in their general language, you will not see, twenty or more variations of translations within that culture. Yet, amazingly the church is alive and well and growing. Not like in the west where we are not growing but transferring our numbers around.

    No, it is only in the west that this created need is given to justify our translating to death english version bibles to get a bigger piece of the market, which when it is all said, probably is the bottom line, The rest is just rhetoric.

    Besides all of this I don’t really buy the language stuff. It wasn’t until the recent past that we have had other translations to draw from other than the KJV (I know that there were some). Since we have had them, and quite a few I might add, the church in the US and Europe essentially isn’t even holding its own numerically with the general birthrate. In otherwords, where is the evidence that dumbing down and even changing our vocabulary of faith is truly working?

    Where is the evidence that not doing so, such as the 45% of bible users who insist on and faithfully use the KJV with its huge modern language issues is hurting us? That segment of our society is actually growing. Where is the evidence that substantiates, apart from simple preference, our having to keep reworking the scriptures to relate to our culture?

    We have the most user friendly versions of the scripture that money can buy and still we have such increasing biblical ignorance both within and outside the existing church. So, again, where is the evidence that dumbing down our spiritual vocabulary is working? I am sorry, I do not believe our ultimate hope is simply in language. Our hop has tobe primarily in the power of the Holy Spirit to communicate to and through us, the Word of God, inspite of our language barriers.

  8. Attracting people to church is easy. Even getting them to say “Yes” to Jesus is relatively easy. But getting them to grow to maturity, now that is hard. The challenge facing the church today is not attracting people, it is changing people. As IM points out, vocabulary is a big part of that. My full post on the subject is here

  9. We all frequently speak of the standard of God’s Word. I truly wonder which word we are speaking of?
    With all of the english translations and the significant differences between them one could draw very different conclusions about so many things. Well, in truth, we already do this.
    We speak of communicating with the lost, yet we have such a very difficult time communicating within the church that I wonder how our geering our language to the lost helps us within the church, unless of course we no longer think that our being of one mind is important. Maybe what we need is another translation with a new set of terms. 🙂

  10. It is interesting how this series of comments has people going in so many different directions. I honestly don’t think the dumbing down of America has anything to do with the decline in use of the KJV. It has more to do with a culture where laziness is cherished.

    There are lots of excellent points here though. But my summary of the situation is pretty simple. I have no problem with using examples from the world to get a seeker’s attention. Nor do I have a problem with using the “vocabulary of faith,” provided we remember that using the vocabulary and understanding the vocabulary are two completely different things. People knew the vocab 100 years ago, but I’m not convinced that most of these people knew of what they spoke. We are an inherantly lazy people, and we have a tendency to do the least we can get away with.

    So getting a person to use the vocabulary of faith is a false goal, in my opinion. The real goal should be to understand what that language means. Empty words are empty words, no matter how traditional or how beautiful they are.

  11. I accept as true what is said by rev-ed. We are a nation in so many ways lazy and this is especially true about the church in America. Knowing the meaning of the terms that we use is crucial.

    The decline of the use of the KJV isn’t nor wasn’t my point. In fact my point was quite different. Again communication?
    What I meant was simply that people can actually grow in the Lord, in doctrine, in faith, in grace, in truth, etc. while using the very old translation of the KJV. They are able to grow not because of the ease or friendliness of the language used in the KJV but actually in spite of it. I am not a KJV user. I used the KJV in my early years and then the NIV for 24 plus years and now I am using the ESV.
    Also, while I am here again, I do not believe it is so very easy to get people into church and have them remain or to get them to say yes to Christ Jesus and have it be real. If it was, the church would indeed be growing and not shrinking. I do believe that there is a very real difficulty in getting people to grow as John said. However if they don’t remain within fellowship will they grow? If they have said yes, but it isn’t genuine how can they truly grow in Christ Jesus and therefore into maturity?
    We are to grow in Spirit and truth, not simply in knowledge. The Presence and power of the Lord is most certainly required for genuine growth, not simply knowledge or information.

  12. With that clarification, I think Phil and I are on the same page. . . mostly. . . 😉

    My apologies for misreading.