Podcast S2E2 - Jonathan Merritt

It is all too easy to fall into the myopic assumption that our faith words are universal, that everyone has a shared understanding of what these words mean. But often this is not the case. Many times our sacred words—words like grace, mercy, wisdom—are painted with different hues on other peoples’ interpretive palates. Author Jonathan Merritt joins Jim on this episode of Language of God to discuss this decay of common meaning—and how to revive it.

What are the words you think are most important to revive and hope to keep discussing with those around you?

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Looking forward to listening. Thanks.

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Among some of the spiritual gifts, I would nominate “gentleness” as a word - and more importantly as a lived attribute - to be more celebrated in our culture. I’m not sure that word has ever been lost or suffered too much change, but it’s just not given much notice either. Or it is shuffled off as being more appropriate to a particular gender or certain subset of people rather than being celebrated as a spiritual gift for everyone to cultivate.

On the flip side of this question, is it possible that some words have been rendered so toxic in a particular culture that they need to be dropped, perhaps forever, or at least until such time as to have been cleansed of particular toxicities? I hesitate to nominate anything out loud since one person’s “toxin” is probably another’s anthem in any divided culture.

I enjoyed this podcast very much and will recommend it to others. One other thing I would add into his conversation where he discusses having an attitude of “yes”, is that as good as that is (I’m not disagreeing with him), I would nonetheless add that it needs to be more than “just” a word. And I’m sure Mr. Merritt would agree. Jesus contrasts two sons, one who told his father “no” and the other who told his father “yes”. But in Jesus’ story, while both of them did not end up following through as their initial language indicated, the one who did as asked, nonetheless receives the father’s commendation. So I think I would broaden the conceptual import here to include the lives so lived by the speakers of words.

I am a bit concerned with Merritt’s concept of “fossilization” here. If he is speaking strictly of vocabulary, then I would wholeheartedly agree. Language is fluid, as any reader of Shakespeare can readily attest. I am very reluctant and cautious of arbitrarily redefining words, but it is nonetheless a reality that language evolves, words take on different nuance and meaning.

However, I got the impression he was smuggling in the idea of allowing fluidity in ideas or concepts under the guise of changing language.

And even there I agree to a certain extent, that we should never think that our particular current formations are the final, complete and perfect formations of any idea or concept. But something was still unsettling to me. It is one thing to deepen, grow, expand, and further nuance our understanding of spiritual concepts. It is another to reject them in order to embrace an entirely new definition.

He used the example of trying to change the definition of “salvation” in a church setting (and used my “tribe” as his example). I for one would take no issue with discussing the expansion, nuance, or multifaceted nature of the word or its corresponding idea(s). But the reaction he described by people like me (of essentially disciplining him by said church) is what would happen only if someone was rejecting the established orthodox teaching about salvation. It sounded like this is what he was actually supporting, completely rejecting previous, established, orthodox understanding of salvation, under the guise of avoiding fossilized language.

I will discuss with someone all day if they want to expand, deepen, further, or nuance my concepts or definitions of any traditional Christian word or concept. But Merritt seemed to be advocating an evolving language to the degree that would result in rejection of long held Christian beliefs, and seems to suggest that my reticence to participate is because of my adherence to fossilized language. If that was his intent, I categorically reject this characterization.

Sorry I forgot the link!

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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