02 June 2011

Words, words and words

by Dan Phillips

I once taught a 12-week series on sanctification without ever using the word. Itaught an eight-week series on incarnation without ever using the word. — Rick Warren

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. — Paul
There are words, then there are words, and then there are words, aren't there?

Biblical faith is a faith of words. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," we read (Romans 10:17). "Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth," we read (John 17:17).

Well, now, look there: "sanctify," Jesus says. What does that mean? It isn't a word used in common conversation, at least not in the way Jesus used it. Takes some explaining, doesn't it? And whose job is it to explain it?

"Preach the word," Paul tells young pastor Timothy. He tells him to do it above all things (v. 1). In fact, Paul says that God values that labor of preaching and doctrinal teaching more than He values any other pastoral activity (1 Timothy 5:17). So it is the pastor's job to explain what all those words mean. Words like "sanctify."

Because Jesus uses those words, and He moves His apostles to use them. Words like sanctify and justify and impute and propitiate and redeem. We don't commonly use any of those words as Jesus and the apostles used them. We need someone to help us understand them. That "someone," God says, is the pastor.

Yet here is pastor Rick Warren saying, with an unmistakable tone of pride, that he "taught a 12-week series on sanctification without ever using the word." Twelve weeks on a topic, yet not one of his hearers would have been able to connect what he had said with the word that Jesus or His apostles had used. Why? How? Well, if Pastor Warren is to be taken at his word, he had to avoid reading any of the twenty-one verses in the ESV NT that use some form of "sanctify." So what did Warren use for source material? We are left to wonder, and to surmise that his hearers came away understanding Pastor Warren's thoughts on the subject, but not God's words on it.

I can only speak for myself: I would think that, if I had taught for three months on a Biblical topic without my hearers being able to connect it with Biblical words, I would feel I'd been a miserable failure.

Because you see sanctify is a big Bible word, as are holy and holiness. If I am not teaching people about those Bible words, I am not teaching them about the Bible.

For the Christian, those words are vital words indeed.

And then there are words that are not directly-Biblical, but they are pretty hard to avoid if you're trying to teach the Bible. Wouldn't incarnation be one of those words? What is John 1:14 about, if not incarnation? That isn't even really that uncommon of a word. I think a great many secular people understand the concept just fine. Why ever would a Bible teacher (i.e. pastor) want to avoid such a word, let alone pride himself on avoiding such a word?

Other similar words which express Biblical truth might include Trinity, and inerrancy, and canonicity. How could one teach very broadly in the Bible without engaging and eventually using such concepts?

Yet now I will leap past a possible third category of words (i.e. more advanced theological terms like aseity and infralapsarian) to a fourth: idiomatic, non-essential words raised to an unwarranted level of importance.

Here I am thinking of teachers like the late Col. Robert Thieme Jr., who invented an extremely technical catalog of terms used by no one else in church history, anywhere, ever. Even leaving aside the question of the Biblical accuracy of his teaching, the upshot I observed was that his disciples would be locked into Thieme-related churches. Everything else would seem shallow and watery, because they weren't getting the "deep truths" of alpha and bravo grace and rebound and so on. They find themselves isolated, divided from Christians of all ages and lands.

Or, to go to the Reformed tradition, there's Steve Brown. I shared concerns (here and here) about Brown's winsome way of grounding his teaching in personal stories, illustrations, and "Brownisms," rather than directly and consciously in Scripture and Scriptural words. The fruit often is disciples who can quote Brown fluently, but bristle at aspects of words from the Bible.

This is, I think, the inevitable fruit of substituting anything for teaching the words of Scripture.

God's intent seems to be unity. Certainly, Christ prays for unity in John 17. But God did a great deal to provide a basis for unity: there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, one body (Ephesians 4) — and one Bible. We believe that this Bible contains absolutely all the words of God we need on any subject (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

And what is that Bible filled with? Words. Not one drawing, not one diagram: just words. Words like sanctification.

If a pastor doesn't consider it his very God-given job to explain and apply those words, then one must ask: what does he think his job is?

And if a pastor wouldn't count it a miserable failure if he did not succeed in explaining and applying those words, then one must ask: what would failure be?

Dan Phillips's signature

70 comments:

Athanasius of Alexandria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greglong said...

Thanks, Dan. Bibley words are important, aren't they?

In other words...

Word.

Scott Shaffer said...

He must have used The Message: it doesn't contain the words sanctify or sanctification.

Great post.

Robert said...

It seems to me that Mr. Warren doesn't hold Scripture in high enough esteem, which means he doesn't hold God in high enough esteem. He obviously doesn't hold the words of Jesus in high enough esteem to use them in his teaching. And if somebody thinks I'm being harsh, just look at what Jesus says about those who rejected Him.

Doug Hibbard said...

I try and make it a point to use, then define and explain, at least one "theological" word each week: Incarnation, Trinity, sanctification, and those types of words for a few reasons:

1. What you mention here: these are terms that either Biblical or nearly universally used in English-speaking churches. So, people need to know.

2. The ones that are directly Biblical ought to be known just as much as anything else in the Bible.

3. I know that the people in my charge as a pastor are also watching TV preachers and hearing preachers on the radio. I also know that some of the preachers they hear are a little flaky and will use big words to sound spiritual and then twist Scriptural Truth into their own pretzel. If I can remove the magic sound of a big word, make it something that not only the preacher knows but that they know, then it helps reduce that confusion. Maybe there won't be the inclination to believe that sanctified money has to be sent in to keep the message going---mail it to PO Box....


And I would have thought you made up "Theme Churches" until I re-read the spelling.

mrben said...

Actually, Jesus didn't use any of the words you mention because he didn't speak English...

Rick Warren's claim is mostly interesting because he felt the need to say it, but actually I would rather people understood a concept than necessarily knew a particular word for it. To use Mark Driscoll's phrase of "culturally relevant, theologically orthodox", I would much rather people taught theologically orthodox principles using culturally relevant methods (and, yes, words), than have people listen to preachers who use nice big "Bible" words, but are using them for unorthodox (or even heterodox) principles.

DJP said...

You must be a first-time visitor. Welcome!

Yes, I'm aware that Jesus did not teach in English. What relevance does that have to the case I make in the post?

Tom said...

"Well, now, look there: 'sanctify,' Jesus says. What does that mean? It isn't a word used in common conversation, at least not in the way Jesus used it. Takes some explaining, doesn't it? And whose job is it to explain it?"

Explaining... How does one explain a word? A good definition doesn't contain the word you're defining, right? So, when teaching if one choses to use the definition/explanation of the theological term sanctification without using the actual word, are the students not being taught the Word and prone to downgrade, as some suggested yesterday?

If instead of using the word sanctify, you use purify, consecrate, separate them, make them holy, are you teaching another Gospel or guilty of not preaching the Word?

Here's the New Living Translation of John 17:17 - "Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth."

Is this particular translation being unfaithful to the words of Christ by using "make them holy" instead of "sanctify," if they are synonymous?

I ask this as a theology guy. I love studying theology and bible doctrine. My challenge to you is how does one teach people today who are for the most part Bible illiterate the great truths of Scripture and theology in a way that is true to Scripture but that speaks in the koine of today? Do people need to know the theological terms to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Tom

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

This struck me right up front, too, Dan. Glad you saw this, and gave us a *word* of caution.

To be so arrogant as to take God’s Words and replace them with your own is wrong. Seems to me he has committed a double whammy, by adding to and taking away from?

I still say Rick Warren teaches Moralistic Theistic Deism, and does not preach Christ to people of other religions, hoping that ecumenism will save the world, instead of Christ.

I hope people read Apprising Ministries, he does an excellent job of following the very words (on video and written) of so many false teachers.

Good article, Dan!!!

Robert said...

Tom,

I'd point to Frank's comment yesterday regarding football players knowing the terminology of the sport. I think it is a shame when we can come to expect our kids to know terms like encroachment, line of scrimmage, etc., and yet when it comes to theology, learning new terms is "too hard". Seriously? What is more important? Has anybody stopped to consider that when we act like it is not important enough to teach/learn the big words and hard doctrines of the Bible that maybe people will look at those actions and say, "It must not really be all that important."

And isn't that how people get to thinking that Daniel ate vegetables and drank water as part of a diet? Although, when one looks at the Bible, the account there shows that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were fatter than the other youths who ate the king's food. That can't really be that important to talk about, though, right? Especially when somebody is trying to push a diet plan that people will like because of the results. And let's not talk about the big fancy terms that describe what the doctors Warren brought in to develop and promote this plan. Heck, why even deal with the term heresy and heretic? Why would somebody go through the effort of using such complicated words? Because they bear some weight and indicate their importance.

Strong Tower said...

Muligan...

Tom Chantry said...

I do not understand how anyone can study the Scripture and not come to the conclusion that words are powerful things not to be trifled with.

The word contains the essence of the thing and communicates the underlying logic behind the thing. Without the word, there is no logic, and thus no knowledge. One of the fundamental realities about the true God, as opposed to the multitude of false Gods, is that He speaks. He is distinguished from the Devil in many ways, but primarily in that He speaks truth.

Consider only this:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

OK, so some will say that this means "the message of eternal life." "Word" could mean "message." But why was it plural? I believe that Peter is saying something more. It is not that the sounds coming out of Jesus' mouth are somehow magical, but rather that they are the specific words He has sovereignly ordained as the means of awakening life within dead hearts. That makes them powerful. And we would change them?

Yes, they can be translated (and were within the Bible itself) but this is to be done soberly and with great care. To cavalierly determine that the words of Scripture are too big, to technical, and too boring for people to hear and learn is to deny the power of the very means Christ has ordained unto resurrection.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I agree with you, Tom. And one of my favorite Scripture passages is: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the WORD God, which liveth and abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:23."

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Two tangentially related books:

1. An excellent book by Paul David Tripp called War of Words. (I need to re-read this book as it puts in perspective how we communicate with one another in light of being the King's ambassadors; especially good for parents or dealing with childish people.)

2. More on-topic, J.I. Packer's 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know. I was delighted to get to study/discuss this book with a small group led by my beloved Pastor this last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Today's post reminded me to thank God for my pastor and his humble, faithful devotion to God's word and tending to the flock.

David Sheldon said...

If the "words" aren't important enough to be "God's words" then to whom are the listeners likely to be "attached": to the preacher or to the One preached?
All true shepherds make it their absolute priority to have sheep follow the Good Shepherd via the Spirit through the Word! They train them in such! "Preachers" who do not have this as a priority are not His Shepherds. Obviously, Dan, you are dead on target.

That Crazy Christian said...

No need to worry Dan, "Pastor" Warren isn't bad, he's mediocre. That's at least a few steps better than what you describe here.

It's fine, nothing to worry about here.

Tad said...

Using a common theological language is crucial. Does Rick Warren think that his flock will worship under his leadership in perpetuity? It would be like refusing to teach medical students the proper names from the parts of the body. How can one contend for the faith once for all delivered to the Saints when one doesn't know how to speak in the common language of faith? Another pragmatic pitfall is the fact that cults do use the biblical terms and yet change the meanings. How will his people be equipped to contend against false teachers if they cannot converse with them?

GrammaMack said...

"Well, if Pastor Warren is to be taken at his word, he had to avoid reading any of the twenty-one verses in the ESV NT that use some form of 'sanctify.' So what did Warren use for source material?"

Excellent point. Thanks, Dan.

mrben said...

Sorry - I thought I had explained my point, but re-reading I guess I wasn't clear.

The point is not whether or not RW used the word "Sanctification" - as I noted, Jesus never used that word. The fact that he has taught on the concept is more important than the words he happened to use. The primary question is whether or not he correctly taught the concept.

The concepts are far more important than the words, and yet we seem hung up on the words. One of the driving forces of the reformation was to allow people to hear and read the Bible in their own language.

I'm not saying that words aren't important, but I find it hard to berate someone for attempting to contextualise a concept without actually hearing his 12-week series and knowing whether or not he did the concept justice. For all we know, he could have decided to entirely use the Greek word for sanctification instead....

(You can substitute 'doctrine' for 'concept' here too)

Morris Brooks said...

God could have used other words, but He chose the ones He did. Preachers, and there are many besides Warren, who teach their people Biblical concepts using words other than what the Bible uses, make their people followers of themselves rather than followers of God.

Carrie said...

Warren: "So what I like to do, as I’ve said, I like to teach theology without telling people it’s
theology and without using theological terms."


Why?

Maybe Warren answers this somewhere but I just can't understand what his motivation is for dumbing things down to this level. What a shame that his congregation members are lucky if they can even work their way up to just milk. Forget about meat. This is vegetarian Christianity.

David Rudd said...

yes, words have meaning.

so lets take a poll and let the majority decide what someone else's words meant!

post-modernity at its finest.

(and by that i mean this, you guys would never let someone get away with the argument that "the meaning of words is determined by the hearer")

jared said...

Great post Dan! This is one topic that really gets my eye twitching when I read how people like Warren see no importance in using specific, biblical words when teaching other Christians.

But I guess that's the whole issue, right? Is the biblical mandate the discipleship of Christians, building them up to become mature in their thinking through the teaching of sound doctrine?

Or is it...well, the PDL?

At some point we all must move beyond a Veggie-Tales understanding of the Gospel, roll up our sleeves, engage our hearts and minds, and dig into the meat of the Word.

Daniel said...

If I taught an eight week cooking course and failed (consistently) over those eight weeks to ever mention an ingredient by name, I don't think I would hold that up as something to admire. If anyone came out of that course knowing how to cook, it would be in spite of my teaching, and not because of it.


Just saying.

Eric said...

How is it that in this society it is normal to expect people to be able to understand and operate high-tech phones, computers, etc., but we are told that they cannot possibly be taught the meaning of a Biblical term that they may not use every day? Are people really as stupid and unteachable as we are asked to believe?

I posit that what we see reflected in such thought is not so much a sensitivity to what is modern as a disdain for what is ancient.

Fred Butler said...

It seems to be a common approach in modern, evangelical apologetic technique to purposely avoid the use of bibley words because if we use them, the postmodern, hipster dufus "seeker" will be left perplexed and confused. I hear this advocated by a number of popular radio apologists and I find it troubling.

I never understood what is the problem using the word "regeneration" and then explain to the person what it means. This idea that we must avoid the use of biblical words because a person may not understand, not only devalues the doctrine as it is communicated to us in biblical language, but insults the intelligence of the hearer.

trogdor said...

"Actually, Jesus didn't use any of the words you mention because he didn't speak English."

I'm fairly surprised that nobody has yet shown up to inform us that Jesus did speak English, 1611 vintage.

joel said...

I have been trying to follow the comment thread over the last couple of days with regard to Warren’s influence on today’s Church. When you guys quote him as saying that he taught such and such a 12-week course on a historic Christian doctrine without ever using the historically accepted Christian term for the doctrine, i.e., Santification, I keep wondering in the back of my mind what translation of the bible he is preaching out of and the people in the pews are reading out of.
I keep thinking that the teaching must center around some very lose paraphrase or maybe no reading whatsoever from the scriptures. I grew up reading the NIV, which is considered by some to be pretty shoddy translation, and I think I could have given a fairly accurate definition of Santification by the age of 10. That said, I now read mostly from ESV and try and understand whatever original Greek or Hebrew words I can. For instance I was surprised to learn that there are different Greek words, with different meanings, that we translate into English as Repentance.

joel said...

To sum up, the more I learn the more I find myself striving to be more precise, especially when sharing the Gospel with other people. If I didn’t have a solid understanding of the difference between Justification and Sanctification then I would be lost trying to explain, in common terms, to someone I was witnessing to on the street why they can’t get right with God by doing all of the things they are trying to do to be a good person.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

@ Joel:

Thinking back on some of Rick Warren's sermons I have seen, I do not remember him having a Bible in his hands.

Rachael Starke said...

Having come from a tradition that overemphasized memorization of the Reformed Theological Glossary of Terms and Their Proper Use in Certifying Oneself as Wholly Holy,

but underemphasized the appropriation of the aforementioned terms into ones' actual life,

I can understand in theory if some don't want to be like those kinds of people. I dont' want to be like those kinds of people either.

But this isn't about not talking/acting like other people. This is, once again, about talking like God. And being like God.

Dan says - "Here are multiple places where God uses these words, because they say something important about who He is and what He does. God uses them. We should use them too. It's the pastor's job to help with that."

And people are still coming back with what sounds like, with all due respect, what my fourth-grader says when wrestling with English comprehension questions -

"But Moooom, this is soo harrrd. I don't wannna....."

Maybe there's room for discussion about how to do this with first graders vs. with eighth graders, and probably there's room for discussion about the many, many pastors who have failed in their responsibility so that our churches are full of first graders who should be eighth graders.

But surely we can agree that Jesus, being the second person of the Trinity, really does talk a lot about sanctification, by name, and thus we should too.

Aaron Snell said...

Joel,

"For instance I was surprised to learn that there are different Greek words, with different meanings, that we translate into English as Repentance."

Really? Which word besides metanoia do we translate as "repentance"? None that I am aware of, at least not in formal equivalence translations like the NASB or ESV.

Eric said...

Let's see: 5 years ago the words "Twitter" and "tweet" were not a part of the average person's vocabulary, yet these terms were introduced into the vernacular with specific meanings - and people learned those meanings and began to use the terms in their everyday vocabulary - fascinating. Who would have thought that would be possible?

Aaron Snell said...

mrben,

It seems to me that someone who accurately explains biblical concepts in terms his audience can understand is doing something everyone here, including Dan, would find laudable. But that's not the issue being criticized. It is the seeming unwillingness to connect those concepts with the biblical vocabulary, and the apparent pride taken in doing so, that Dan is calling into question. Yes, it is good for a pastor to accurately communicate biblical concepts so his flock can understand. Does that mean he should disdain teaching them the words that our English bibles, or the church, use?

Solameanie said...

Why is "Words" by the BeeGees running through my migraine-afflicted head right now? ;)

Solameanie said...
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Highland Host said...

It is better by far to take the time to EXPLAIN those difficult words than to omit them entirely. But of course the alternative is to do what some of the more watery Bible versions do (and no, I do NOT mean Baptist ones) and substitute easier words that sort of mean something similar.

GRACE is not the same thing as KINDNESS. Sanctification, which means to set something apart for God's use, simply cannot be expressed by any other word. Apart from other religious words like consecrate. Now, before someone accuses me of being an antinomian, let me say that for a person to be set apart for God's holy use, that person must actually be made at least relatively holy in and of himself (or herself, come to that).

candy said...

I teach my fifth and sixth graders theology with theological terms. I tell them that my expectations for them are high, and they seem to appreciate that I assume they get it. I don't assume they are dumb and they don't like to be treated like words and theology need to be dumbed down for them.

I am just thinking that if Warren read 22 volumes of Edwards, wouldn't the language itself permeate his thinking? Did he read the cliff notes or the Reader's Digest versions instead?

Tom Chantry said...

It is the seeming unwillingness to connect those concepts with the biblical vocabulary, and the apparent pride taken in doing so, that Dan is calling into question.

That's true, and I would also imagine he would disapprove the eagerness to avoid connection with historical theology and the terms agreed upon throughout the history of Christianity. This also has its pitfalls, opening us to every error already repudiated in the past.

Tim Graham said...

First, I agree that the use of common words with well-understood meanings is essential for correctly propagating doctrine (or, for that matter, for communicating effectively about anything at all).

But,without taking away from that point, it's worth pointing out that "sanctification" and "justification" are not the actual words used by Jesus and Paul. They are English derivatives of Latin words selected as appropriate translations of a collection of Greek words. So, while not wishing to go too far in the direction of the Bishop of Durham, it's possible that some of those words have accumulated meanings over the centuries which actually weren't part of the meanings of the original words.

That having been said, I still think that the best approach is to stick with the "English Bibley words" like sanctify and justify and to explain the meanings of these words in terms that are appropriate to the group being preached to.

Aaron Snell said...

Yes, exactly, Tom. I meant to say something like that but didn't get it worked in to the wording of my comment.

Eric said...

The more I think about this, the more ridiculous it seems to me. In what other discipline is this philosophy embraced? What is the whole point of school? Does school not take terms and ideas that were previously unfamiliar and make them familiar? Is this accomplished by avoiding the terms themselves?

Imagine: A patient walks into the doctor's office with a particular malady and while waiting for the doctor the patient makes note of the diploma on the wall: issued by Saddleback Medical School.

Patient: Doc, I got this lump here that has been growing for quite a while now.

Doctor: You might have a big blob of bad cells that you really should get rid of.

Patient: You mean cancer?

Doctor: I'm not real sure what you call it, but I know you don't want it. I think you should get one of those pictures taken of the inside of your body. Go down to the other department (I forget what it's called) and ask for a picture thingy.

Patient: You mean an MRI?

Doctor: What's that?

Patient: Well, it's kind of like a picture of the inside of you body that can be used for diagnostics.

Doctor: That's what I said. I'm not sure why you insist on using these confusing terms - just ask for the picture.

Patient: Well, I thought you also could have meant X-ray.

Doctor: X-what? Please don't make this so complicated - they didn't teach me any of this stuff where I went to medical school. I think I'll send you to one of those doctors with one of those titles who looks at these big blobs of bad cells.

Patient: You mean an oncologist?

Doctor: Whatever.

David Regier said...

I will just say this: Understand Orange County CA, and you will understand Rick Warren a whooooole lot better.

joel said...

Aaron, I have read that metamelomai can also be translated into English as repent, but it has a different connotation than we are used to as bible students.

Mike Riccardi said...

Aaron,

Along with metamelomai (cf. Mt 21:29, change of mind; and Mt 21:32, feel remorse), epistrepho is also usually thrown into the discussion because it's the most common Greek equivalent to shuv (the OT word for turning, or repentance) in the LXX. It's also used in a handful of NT passages with the basic meaning of "turn" (Ac 11:21; 26:18; 1Pet 2:25). It's used in close concert with metanoeo in Luke 17:4, Acts 3:19, and Acts 26:20.

Hope that's helpful.

And Dan, I love this post. Nuff said.

Scooter said...

"Language is the technology of thought."

I really like that phrase. It summarizes well what language does. Wouldn't my defective use of words reveal my defective view of God?

And another thing, doesn't Amos warn us words and fellowship,

“Do two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?"


When Jesus says, "Repent!" and if Joe Everyman understand that to mean, "Turn from your own ways" and if I understand that to meet, "Here's some chocolate marble cake," we have a problem. Our different understanding of Jesus' words means we will do very different things in response to his words. Add on top of that Jesus believed his words had authority (and by extension meaning), I'm in a heap of trouble.

I really like your 4th category of words Dan. I'm putting that in the back of my mind.

jrcannedy said...

I’ve taken theology classes (for lay people) at the Credo House in Edmond OK. In each course we were given two vocabulary tests to prepare us for the course material. Many of the terms were not found in scripture and many were but in order to understand the development of doctrine throughout church history and Gods word we should endeavor to teach, preach, and understand it in the form it is given. Words such as sanctification and justification have deep and rich meaning and should not be thrown on the trash heap of anti-intellectualism.

This reminds me of orthodoxy verses orthopraxy, don’t bore me with the details just tell me how to apply it.

Aseity, short version, “from itself”

Aaron Snell said...

Joel & Mike - thanks!

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Dan,

I know this may seem unrelated, but bear with me for a moment.

Having a hearing disabled son, I've done a (little!) bit of reading on the relationship between language, brain development, and thought. (Oliver Sacks' Seeing Voices is a fascinating place to start, if anyone is interested.)

To greatly oversimplify, turns out we can't think very well about things we can't name or describe. Seems pretty obvious, really.

Imagine for a moment a profoundly deaf child born to hearing parents who refuse to learn to sign. Imagine reaching the age of reason without acquiring a vehicle for thought and communication - a language. Those children, even if exposed to language later in life, rarely become able to think abstractly. What a tragedy!

To lack the means to help your child learn, communicate and think is a great misfortune. To do that to a child deliberately seems criminally cruel.

Similarly, when we lack the vocabulary to discuss spiritual truths - doctrine - coherently, we aren't able to think very clearly either. To willfully avoid learning (or teaching) is to deliberately handicap oneself.

It gives new depth to John's mighty declaration, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Julie

DJP said...

Terrific contribution, Julie. Thank you.

Rachael Starke said...

Oooh, Julie FTW.

SandMan said...
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SandMan said...
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Jeri Tanner said...

Absolutely, Dan. I've become a big advocate for using the same words and language the Bible uses about all doctrine. It clarifies many things that can otherwise become smothered under our beloved traditions (for which we so often develop catch-phrases).

dac said...

so, RW taught for 12 weeks on sanctification, but described it in words that people actually use in their every day speach.

And thats wrong.

ok. I get it.

Wait, no I don't. For grins and giggles, look up, say, Romans 6:19 and tell me how many translations use sanctification and how many use something different?

Or is it just that RW doesnt use the RSV (err, ESV)

vermilionReformed said...

Nothing wrong and everything right with taking a Biblical concept framed with accurately translated Biblical words and giving them some fresh accurate fleshing out. That puts the concept on an accessible shelf. But to undertake a lenghty treatment of a subject and never use the actual words that the disciple is likely to encounter as he /she then studies the Word or has inputs from other profitable teachers, has the effect of distancing and isolating them from the Word and other helpful teachers. It also can act as an accountability limiting strategy so the teaching cannot be directly compared with senior teaching saints of my peers or the ages. A teacher must make explanation but then use the words likely to be encountered in further reseach unless the goal is personal disciples rather than make disciples of Christ and His body the Church.

DJP said...

Well-put, VermilionReformed. Thanks for reading the post thoughtfully.

Manfred said...

Shame on you for calling Rick Warren, "Pastor". He is not. Other than that - most excellent post!

Chris Nelson said...

Rick Warren is just one of those liberals like Machen talked about 80 years ago. He preaches a different religion. He just is a good enough marketeer that he does not come flat out and deny the essential doctrines out loud yet his dismissal of them is obvious from what he does.

Coram Deo said...

In a remarkable economy of words vermilionReformed distilled the exact same thing Dan said in an entire blog post. That's no mean feat!

Well done, sir!

CD

P.S. - Good post, Dan. Thanks for treating this subject.

Robert said...

I'm an engineer. However, if I took Rick Warren's approach to explaining terms to those that I'd want to present complete (which should be a pastor's goal) in my field, I would be thought of as incompetent and would be fired from my job. That would even be mroeso the case if I was talking as if I were proud of the fact that I didn't explain some of the common engineering terms we use.

When I mentor younger engineers, I use more common words to help explain the larger, more complex terms and acronyms. However, there is still a point where the larger, more complex terms take on a more comprehensive meaning than the simpler words used to explain them.

This holds true for theology as well. When we use the words justification, sanctification, imputation, trinity, etc., they take on a larger meaning than the words used to explain them as we grow more mature in our beliefs. It also allows us to relate to each other more because we might be struggling with different sins, but we're all undergoing sanctification.

I guess I could also liken this whole thought process to the suggestion that was once made to teach ebonics so that people could relate better. It makes no sense to dumb down everybody to be at a common level. That is the reverse of education. You start here and it won't be long before people start saying what a lot of false teachers say...God loves you for who you are...He created you that way. As my good pastor friend (who God used to call me to Himself) once told me, the things that are tolerated in this generation are accepted in the next. And this would be the major problem I have with the whole Piper/Warren thing...it is going to affect the next generation in ways that we cannot yet see.

Jerry Wragg said...

Excellent post, Dan. And Julie's comment was a bulls-eye!

I've told my congregation on a number of occasions that when teaching a congregation under normal circumstances, no pastor teaches less clarity and depth on a subject than he himself grasps. To be sure, he will take great pains to define terms, he may perhaps serve a smaller slice of the truth-pie, but it will be all that the pie offers (it won't just be cream off the top, so to speak). God's intended meaning is found in His words, and the depth of truth being expounded by a faithful shepherd will always be taught at the level of clarity the pastor grasps it. Point being: If Rick Warren teaches a fairly shallow series on how a believer is set apart unto God, then I can assure you that's all the depth Rick Warren can plumb on the subject.

Jerry Wragg said...

Interesting, in a tragic way: All this "let's be simplistic" kind of teaching and ministry has been increasingly promoted and practiced by evangelical churches across the country for roughly 40 years now. What has such innovative communication produced? Are Christians overall more biblically literate and keenly discerning? Has the church more swiftly recognized and soundly refuted today's subtle errors that attack the very foundations of Christian doctrine? After all, spiritual maturity, according to Ephesians 4:12-16, is marked by Christ-like holiness, unity around essential doctrines, and protection against the gullibility of spiritual infancy! Honestly, it's time to call these "techniques" what they are: Bad experiments perpetrated on the sheep by shepherds who are either duped within their own philosophy, or just plain stubborn about wanting the kind of ministry results that God isn't the slightest bit interested in. If preaching the word of God from a pure and transformed heart, with the clarity and power intended by God in the text, is presently "out of season," our privilege and mandate does not change! God said there would come a day when the unvarnished exhortations from Scripture would not be attractive, and why should this come as a shock? We are bringing the gospel to a lazy, superficial, mentally junktified culture. Is there a hope worth preaching to such a society? Resoundingly, YES! But it will only come by the power of God, produced and measured by Him alone and not by our cleverness or mega-numbers obssessing. C'mon, isn't it time we jettison this sad experiment and get back to actually trusting the power of the Gospel!?

Morris Brooks said...

Amen, Jerry, but when you are desparate for the crowd you won't do what will drive them away. The point implied in what Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 4:3-4 is that as there are those who will turn their ears away from listening to the truth there will be preachers who will turn away from preaching the truth so as not to lose their audience.

Coram Deo said...

Jerry's analysis is exactly right.

It's been well said that "You win them to what you win them with"; and Rick Warren has, in my opinion, "won" a mega-goat herd that's representative of the type of superficial, stony ground professing believer that Christ Himself regularly caused to turn away from Him by revealing and confronting their sinfully corrupted hearts.

Before I get clobbered I'm not saying that Rick Warren pastors a 100% unregenerate church, I'm simply pointing out what should be obvious enough by now; he's a thoroughgoing man-pleaser of the highest order...oh yeah, and he's proud of it.

In Christ,
CD

Jerry Wragg said...

Here's a thought: If the numbers & broad popularity of a ministry, rather than substance & content, are always accepted as ultimate proof of it's credibility, then we can never really know if we've entered the "time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will appoint for themselves teachers after their own desires."

Stated another way: The chief characteristic of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 is the broad popularity of unsound teachers appointed by masses who only want to hear unsound things, so it cannot, therefore, be healthy for believers to make a teacher's broad popularity the litmus test of ministry credibility.

What I frequently hear: "That teacher is popular with Christians because he/she is a lights-out gifted communicator of the truth!"

What I find when I listen to their teachings: Very skeletal biblical content, lots of pop-cultural humor & drama, a few principles conjured and mused upon by the teacher with only scant reference to the actual content of a Scripture text, all set forth in as much conversational/informal speech as possible.

"Lights out gifted?" Isn't it obvious from their broad influence? I mean, people flock to their "style;" they just "connect."

It couldn't be because people who resist sound doctrine define what "gifted communication" is, and then flock to the kind of teachers they themselves have made popular, could it? Nah....

Merrilee Stevenson said...

This post and Frank's post about RW have me mulling a few things over about RW. The comments here seem to be pointing in that direction as well: he seems to be consistent in his method and practice of marketing the church to the crowd, and "preaching" to the tares/goats. I was reading the table of contents on Amazon of Warren's The Purpose-Driven Church, and also struck by him saying that he had the gift of evangelism in his interview with Piper--what parts of it I watched. Again, word-discrepancy: what he calls "evangelism," corporate leaders and elected presidents would call marketing or community organizing. What it produces is people willing to buy in to cheap gimmicks and false ideas of hope and change that are ego-centric in their thinking. (No wonder he was asked to pray at our most-recent inauguration!)

And I don't know Warren's congregation. But I attended a church for nine years that fully embraced the Saddleback method and the Willow Creek marketing label, and there was no "fountain flowing deep and wide" but instead a giant kiddy pool full of muddy water.

Coram Deo said...

Those were some solid expository thoughts, Jerry. Thank you for sharing that.

Merrilee - BINGO!

CD

Elaine Cavalheiro said...

Mr. Ben says "I would much rather people taught theologically orthodox principles using culturally relevant methods (and, yes, words), than have people listen to preachers who use nice big "Bible" words, but are using them for unorthodox (or even heterodox) principles."

As if those were the only options! Ya know, there are people who teach theologically orthodox principles using big Bible words.

The Wanderer said...

There are plenty of dynamic equivilent translations that never use the technical terms of theology. Warren has a long history of using a multiplicity of translations when preaching. A habit I find very irritating.