The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Friday, September 01, 2006

Jargon Revisited

Here's an entry from The Pastor's Bathroom Reader, from a newsletter "pastor's page" that I wrote ten years ago.

The Rev. Michael Hackbardt has written in his introduction to the Bible paraphrase known as "God's Word To The Nations,"

In the course of the effort which produced God's Word I determined that a number of the traditional theological terms that pastors and other theologians have assumed to be basic to communicating the Good News are poorly understood or even unintelligible to most readers--both inside and outside the church... the church needs to be aware that much of its cherished vocabulary is not communicating the Good News clearly or effectively!

Does our "Christian jargon" confuse rather than enlighten? That is one question. There remains an entirely different question: How do we bridge the communication gap?

Obviously, we must at some point replace the jargon words with words that have meaning to unbelievers. But do we replace them wholesale, at every level, in the hymns, the sermon, the liturgy, as well as in new member class? (Some would object that this is "dumbing down" the liturgy and the preaching.) Or do we educate people into these words as we bring them into the church--use the language of unbelievers in the new member classes, but use the church language in church, and give the seekers and new members a glossary of terms? (Some would object that this is putting up hurdles for new members to jump--like asking them to learn a foreign language in order to worship God.)

These questions are being debated quite vigorously in the Missouri Synod today. But I fear that the debate may lead us away from the real issue in communicating the Good News of Jesus. The real issue is not how we talk about Jesus in church, but how do we talk about Him in the community? How do the members of Good Shepherd communicate God's love to a new mother, a new neighbor, a mother in the carpool, the guy on the other side of your back fence? When we begin to deal with this issue, matters of vocabulary pale in comparison to more important factors, like how do I show love, how do I keep from being a phony, how can I be sure my actions confirm my words, how do I invite him to a Wednesday night service? These are the real concerns in the very real issue of how we bear witness with love.

After ten years, I am no smarter about this issue than I was, but it continues to be a central concern of mine.