Putting Down Those Dictionaries to Follow Him

words1While the transcendent nature of the Triune God causes a chasm between the divine and humanity, this aspect of God becomes reinforced through the pedantic use of theological terminology that distances the laity from the clergy and in doing so fails to embrace the reformation’s desire for the use of the vernacular in corporate worship which helps to emphasis the imminent nature of the Triune God as revealed in Jesus Christ….or in other words

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13   

My frequent companion in seminary was McKim’s Theological Dictionary.  What I found was that many of my classmates would stroke their goatees as they rattled of large, multisyllabic words.  I desperately flipped through the book trying to comprehend what practical impact these words had in our faith life.  Over the three years, I discovered that while many would theo-drop these terms they could not translate them for me, let alone normal church people.  In fact I once counted that 27 of these terms were used in a 15 minute sermon.

Big terms like justification, soteriology, hermeneutic (both Biblical and of suspicion), gnosticism, and sanctification punctuate the manuscripts.

I struggled to understand this appeal, then a professor explained to me why people would be drawn into this.  His point was some people need to hear the King James Version of scripture read, or the large theological terms so that it “feels” like they are in a sacred space.  It shows the bigness of God and separates Him from ordinary life.  They need a differentiation of language in order to “feel” spiritual.  They want to be around the sacred sounding, absorbing it–maybe not comprehending but at least it feels religious.

This approach to worship

  • seeks to bring the people of the streets into the church in order to teach them the language of the church.


  • seeks to translate the language of the church to take it onto the streets in order to show people where God is at work.

Unabashedly, the second approach is my desire in ministry.  This is what I see how Jesus’ teaching ministry was carried out.  While he would occasionally teach in the Temple, scripture is more fascinated with his informal, life-on-life instruction.

He used normal language to try and explain the Kingdom of God.  He said it was like

  • a mustard seed
  • a woman hiding leaven
  • treasure in a field
  • a merchant searching for fine pearls
  • a net thrown in the sea
  • a master paying his day laborers
  • a man going on a journey
  • a homebuilder

…to name a few.

For some reason we feel compelled to complicate what Jesus worked hard to make simple.

He spoke, trained and then sent “normal” men and women—without degrees, without theological dictionaries—to become Gospel bearers.

He did not examine potential disciples, but invited them simply to “follow.”

What strikes, excites and challenges me the most about Peter and James’ reputation is that these men were recognizable because of their time spent with Jesus.  It makes me wonder if I am adequately spending time in scripture and prayer so that when my feet hit the streets others might see an ordinary man who had spent time with his Lord.


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