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Threadbare Christian words

The following from Buechner makes the distinction between Christian words and the concepts behind them. Many of us who follow Jesus need to examine the exclusivist language we use that for many non-Christians forms a barrier to their inquiry into what it means to follow Jesus. …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

The following from Buechner makes the distinction between Christian words and the concepts behind them. Many of us who follow Jesus need to examine the exclusivist language we use that for many non-Christians forms a barrier to their inquiry into what it means to follow Jesus.

“I shall go to my grave,” a friend of mine once wrote me,
“feeling that Christian thought is a dead language – one that feeds many living
ones to be sure, one that still sets these vibrating with echoes and
undertones, but which I would no more use overtly than I would speak
Latin.” If the language that clothes Christianity is not dead, it is at
least, for many, dying.

Take any English word, even the most commonplace, and try
repeating it twenty times in a row –

umbrella, let us say,

umbrella,

umbrella,

umbrella – and by the time we have finished,

umbrella will not be a word any more.
It will be a noise only, an absurdity, stripped of all meaning. And
when we take even the greatest and most meaningful words that the Christian
faith has and repeat them over and over again for 2000 years, much the same
thing happens.

There was a time when such words as

faith,

sin,

redemption
and

atonement had great depth of meaning, great reality; but through centuries of
handling and mishandling, they have tended to become such empty banalities that
just the mention of them is apt to turn people’s minds off like a switch.

But I keep on using them. I do not know any other
language that for me points to the realities that underlie them so well.
Certain branches of psychology point to them, certain kinds of poetry and
music, some of the scriptures of Buddhism and other religions. But
for me, threadbare and exhausted as the Christian language often is, it remains
the richest one.

Comments (3)

  • Nice post, Seth!

    I can think of one word that hasn’t lost it’s meaning (or effect) over time: Love

    It is certainly different, however, depending on where it comes from. A Godly love is unconditional, a worldly love usually carries conditions.

    Jesus said: “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

    Thanks, Seth, for your continual drive to promote the Kingdom! I love you!

  • Here’s another one: “awesome.” Awesome dude! Awesome pizza! Saying “awesome” to describe a person. Please, stop! I have found myself correcting believers to please reserve the word exclusively for God and His works. Otherwise, what words are left…?

  • the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever. these words were not composed by any man, but were breathed by God Himself and as such they are spirit and they life and they are power! they never grow old or wearisome but are timely and ever effective.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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