14 July 2007

Pompous Language, Pretentious Preachers, and Post-Evangelical Doctrine

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This excerpt comes from the same sermon we excerpted last October 29, "Everywhere and Yet Forgotten," a sermon preached on July 29, 1860, at Exeter Hall, London.
    would we had another Job, to chastise the high-sounding language of [post]modern theologians.

There are starting up in our midst men, who if they are not heretics in doctrine, are aliens in speech. They are men described by the old preachers, who say, "Mark!" and there is nothing to mark, and who shout, "Observe!" and there is nothing to observe, except the want of everything that is worth observing.

We know ministers who cannot speak in the common language of mankind, but must needs adopt the jargon of Carlyle, who sets language on its head, and puts the last word first. These men must needs make the English language a slave to the German—the glorious grand old Saxon must buckle to their heresies and conceal the depths of their falsehoods.

I pray God the time may come when some man may unmask them, when all these wind-bags may be rent, and all these bladders may be pricked, when if teachers have anything to tell us they will deliver themselves so that all can understand. If they cannot use plain language let their tongues go to school till they have learned it.

C. H. Spurgeon


C. M. White said...

It seems our blogs are on the same page today...though mine takes a bit more of a modern spin. Haha.

Paul said...

I hope all your [post-]modern readers know what "bladder" he was referring to!

Carla Rolfe said...

"I pray God the time may come when some man may unmask them, when all these wind-bags may be rent..."

And amen to that.

James Scott Bell said...

"They are men described by the old preachers, who say, "Mark!" and there is nothing to mark, and who shout, "Observe!" and there is nothing to observe, except the want of everything that is worth observing."

That is rich. And so true (then and now). Only now it's mostly done without even the attempt at good word usage.

One of the things I like most about TeamPyro is that you take the time to put good words to work in expressing good thoughts.

Anonymous said...


Sincere question --- after reading Spurgeon here, I am wondering why so many then still use Latin language on a lot of the blogs and even in churches with the Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura words - when it can be confusing unless you studied the Reformation or know Latin, you don't know what those Latin words mean.

Why not just write the English words of Sola Fide etc. so people can easily understand them and not have to do a double explanation of both what the Latin words mean in English and then explain what the English words mean.

I am being sincere, why keep using Latin instead of saying those words in English. I am not saying we shouldn't say "Justification by Faith Alone" or "Salvation by Grace Alone". but why not say them in English. 98% of the time i see them only listed in Latin, which then seems like you need to be an inser to know that they mean or feel an outsider that you don't know Latin.

The words of Spurgeon made we wonder about that, so I thought I would ask.

Thank you!


Phil Johnson said...

Dan: "after reading Spurgeon here, I am wondering why so many then still use Latin language on a lot of the blogs"

You mean Latin 's not required in the blogosphere?!!

If I'm speaking to or writing for someone whom I have reason to think probably doesn't understand a term like sola fide, I would ordinarily try to explain it, or not use it at all. We use some terms like that because in contexts where they are familiar, they make really nice shorthand.

And if I sometimes forget to translate those expressions in contexts where people are confused by my usage of them—mea culpa.

brentjthomas said...

Be careful of the mental parts when dissemble the wind-bag bladders! Further besides for fixing of the knowledge, and for this apologetics, the Christian beliefs, even the language, it is the Pyromaniacs helping us. We appreciate the esteemed blog too much. Always links keep them in an available favorites place. Spurgeon can be suitable applied again and again, with not any problems.

brentjthomas said...

OOps. Sorry, but I think that I just set language on its head. I made the English language slave to Engrish. An accident. It asks for the really sorry to the readers.

donsands said...

Some preachers try to impress with language. And some in other ways.
I guess it's the whole trying to be impressive thing.

I love CH because he is so impressive, and yet could there have been a more humble man, besides Moses, and Paul.

I saw the Marines slogan, --(The USMC's motto Siempre Fidelis is Latin for "Always faithful")--, and I never knew what it meant, until I asked. But I like it.
I think people need their brains stimulated. I like to learn new things. I may have to go and ask what such and such means, and that can be humbling sometimes.

brentjthomas said...

I just returned from church, and thought I'd re-read the earlier comments I made on Saturday, which were written just as I was filled with the zeal, inexplicably, the yearning to write agreements and encouragements in the Engrish tongue. I believe that those Engrish comments require someone with the Gift of Interpretation to translate them into "glorious grand old Saxon".

brentjthomas said...

This Spurgeon sermon delivers some great points that relate to earlier Pyromaniac posts about tongues and the gift of interpretation, tongues of angels, etc..
I'm trying to sort some of that stuff out: when I was a teenager I watched our Baptist church tear itself apart over such matters. I don't remember any of the parties involved communicating well, even in English. I am grateful that you Pyromaniacs do communicate so well, and so reasonably, with such an intense focus on sola scriptura.

Scott Hill said...

Dan, I agree that if someone doesn't know the Latin we use then we have not communicated, but I am not for doing away with terms like Sola Fide, or simul justus et peccator and just using the English translation.

For me personally when I here these terms I not only think of the theology, but also the history of the reformation itself and the great men of God that surround that history.

I generally use the terms to one, teach the meaning of the latin term, which means using english, and two to teach some reformation history.

As for our blog name, we just thought it sounded cool.

DJP said...

Dan, if I may chime in one more thought:

I don't think there's one word-choice template to use, that works for every audience. Paul spoke the same message to the Antiocheans, the Corinthians, and the beards at Mars Hill, but he used some different terminology and quotations and lines-of-approach to each. I've preached the same message in rescue missions and fancier churches, but the wording I use has some variation.

I definitely think the Sola's are useful, but either only to those who know the meaning, or if we explain them. For instance, I once preached a Reformation Day sermon which I titled Five 'Alones' That Changed Everything. My springboard was Romans 1:17, and from it I preached the truth expressed by the five Sola's, explaining and applying. From what I'm told, the Lord graciously used it for those with and without a Biblical background.

FX Turk said...

Dan --

On the one hand, I'm all for making discipleship like any educational process. For example, first you learn numbers and sets, then you learn arithmetic, then you learn division and multiplication, then you learn algebra, etc.

On the other, eventually you have to learn the technical language. people who play baseball have a technical language which is -required-; people who play video games even have a technical language which is required (for example, everyone knows what happens when some noob get pwn'd). In the same way, if you're serious about understanding the Christian faith, you'll have to learn some theology, and the language of theology is littered with Latin and Greek.

Does someone have to affirm sola fide and homoousios to become a Christian? Not hardly. Do they have to learn -- for their own good, for their own discipleship -- that it is only faith in Christ which saves, and that Christ is of one substance with the Father? Yes, I think so.

Technical language is hardly a liability. It strikes at the heart of the claim that our faith is some kind of brainless, anti-intellectual thing which men accept and follow blindly.

GeneMBridges said...

By continuing to use these Latin terms, we are anchoring ourselves to the Reformation. The Reformers and the Protestant High Orthodox, as one reads their theologies, were concerned to anchor themselves to the Ancient Church. The Ancient Church was concerned to anchor itself to the Apostolic Church, and they, in turn, anchor themselves to the Old Covenant Community (for example, the frequent use of Isaiah in the works of John, and the whole Book of Hebrews, and that's just for starters!). So, we're only following precedent.

Further, even if we translate "Sola Scriptura" for example, to "Scripture Alone" we aren't explaining anything. In fact, we could be exacerrbating the problem. The "Sola" language is borrowed from Aristotelian categories of causality, but if you bring them over in English, as in this case, one can give the impression that "Scripture Alone" means "Scripture only," which is a mistake. It only refers to the rule of faith such that Scripture alone is infallible, but tradition is fallible and useful. So, the English rendering still requires some explanation and may also result in a bigger mistake on the part of the hearer than "Sola Scriptura."

Let's take "Sola Fide." On the one hand we speak of "justification by faith alone" but Sola Fide can be misread (as it often is as "salvation by faith alone"). That too is a mistake. Justification by faith alone (Sola Fide), in the Reformed tradition, is a species of Sola Gratia, for we anchor justification by faith alone in grace alone. We take the two together to form a unit: justified by faith alone and saved by grace alone), and they stand in a particular relationship to each other. In English, I fear this often gets lost.

Taken apart, you wind up with hyper-Calvinism (by collapsing all the decrees into one of grace and forgetting that the covenant is unconditional in terms of merit but not in terms of instrumentality) or Arminianism (by divorcing Sola Fide from Sola Gratia completely or treating Sola Gratia as quantitative, not qualitative, as if there's a certain amount of grace emanating from God and a certain amount of grace emanating from the person, and these together result in justification, with justification ultimately grounded not in grace alone, but faith, that is to say, on the basis of faith itself, not merely as an instrument connecting us to the righteousness of Christ).

In short, no matter if you use English or Latin terms, you'll wind up having to explain the terms.

I'd also add that I think the use of historic terms is useful to encourage the flock to get acquainted with historical theology and church history. We live in an age where, let's face it, the popular literature has been dumbed down greatly. What was considered common knowledge in the 19th century (or even the 17th!) is today considered "too hard," or "for preachers." This, of course, leads to a people who are "destroyed for lack of knowledge," and we can see exactly what Isaiah had to say about that. Keeping the historic language thus not only keeps us anchored, it provides, I would hope, an incentive for study. Certainly, we should explain our use of these terms, but there is also a time, as we often tell our children (or at least I know my parents and teachers often told me), "Go look it up." We need to do that from time to time with our own people in our churches and our readers on the blogs, for their good. Let us not cultivate a generation (as lamented by the writer of Hebrews) that "should be teachers but are still drinking milk" (paraphrased).

So, here's a suggestion. The next time you deliver a Sunday School lesson or teach on a Wednesday or Sunday night (since these are smaller, more manageable groups for most of us) give your class or congregation some homework. Tell them to look something up in the week between and then come back to discuss it/teach it the following week. It's high time we put the "school" back into "Sunday School," and that's also a creative way to give an invitation @ the end of your services to get away from the "walk the aisle and make a decision" style of invitation, yet keep the tradition alive, but refocused.

Robert N. Landrum said...

"A cat with a silver collar is none the better mouser."

"Fine dress, learned degrees, high titles, and grand offices do not give ability. We have heard of doctors of divinity who were duller preachers than the generality of the clergy" (Spurgeon, Salt Cellars).

FX Turk said...


You know, that link still makes me mad. I can't believe that your first blog-endorsement was for Steve Hays and not me.

Steve Hays? STEVE Hays? Dude. The pain I feel in my chest is that cut from a friend I have read about in Scripture ...

FX Turk said...

Gene --

Let me give you a tale of woe concerning this practice of handing out homework.

I'm teaching the book of Titus in Sunday school for adults this summer (we're going to 1+2 Timothy after Titus), and I assign 3 questions each week to go with next week's passage.

If we exclude my wife, how many do you think are doing the homework? Hint: I'm not going to tell you how many are in the class.

This is a great idea which our sick, sad church can't grasp -- even when we're studying a book which makes a lot of hay on the matter that Elders should both teach and rebuke.

GeneMBridges said...



Tell you what, email me on that. Our little church does a pretty good job on "homework" IMO. Maybe I can put you in touch with Sterling and Dustin for some information exchange.

brentjthomas said...

I doubt that Spurgeon was even thinking at all about stock theological Latin terms when he wrote this sermon. His concern seems to be about matters other than useful and solid standard Latin terminology. He was living in a time when germanic romanticist ideas were permeating Western culture, particularly among the artists and intelligentsia.

brentjthomas said...

Goethe, Novalis, Beethoven, Wagner, etc. "Sturm und drang" (storm and stress). This movement stressed strong emotion. "Feeling" stressed above all else, even in the direction of irrationality become a dominant aesthetic. Modernism is probably an extension of Romanticism (I think the critic Robert Hughes said that Modernism is Romanticism's very pre-hensile tail).