Getting the vocabulary right

Faith & Inspiration

They say, “Vocabulary is half of mastery,” and I never know that better than when I am trying to explain computer problems to a tech guy on the phone.

But there is a more consequential vocabulary issue. The Lord exhorts, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The more I grapple with that mandate, the more it seems to expand. On the basic level, it calls for committing myself to such doctrines as God’s sovereignty, man’s need of salvation, and Jesus’ atonement.

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But that’s just for openers. I may do all this and still be using many thought forms dictated by the surrounding culture rather than the Word of God. It is the subtlest of snares, and I suppose that every generation tends to recast Scripture into colloquial thought forms rather than making deliberate efforts to reevaluate worldly thought forms by the plumb line of the Word.

These days I am making an effort to become more conscious of the words I choose in reasoning and describing (to myself as well as to others) matters that come up in quotidian living. For example, I don’t see the word “relationship” in the Bible. It isn’t a bad word. But why not opt for a biblical word? Why not say (like the Apostle John) that I have “fellowship” with God, rather than “relationship”? And if I cannot use the word “fellowship” without squirming, let the word challenge me to pursue fellowship.

There is potential for veering off course when we veer from the biblical vocabulary in our Christian discussions and thinking. I sat in a four-week Sunday school class on “Legalism”—which is a word not even in the Bible! “Well,” you might say, “it may not be in the Bible but it is a reasonable inference from many passages in the Bible.” Perhaps. But why not begin with the biblical data itself rather than a manmade inference, in the interest of safeguarding the tendency to skew?

Consider the word “addiction.” Nowhere in the Bible. But what we do find in the Bible are the words “sin,” “stronghold,” “bondage,” “slavery.” Why not start with these to stay on course? The word “addiction” would be very comfortable in a secular psychiatrist’s office, and he could talk for hours about his client’s addiction to alcohol or pornography without it even occurring to either that there is a moral element.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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