I read tons of books of all kinds; some academic, some study books, some theological books for the ‘average Joe’ and some general Christian life books. I listen to lots of sermons; some conference addresses, some seminary graduation addresses, but the majority probably in the church service context. So often I hear pastors, theologians and authors use language that no other human being would ever dream of using in real life. Why do I think that this is a problem? Here are a few reasons…
- It can cause a divide and make ‘theology’ only for the highly educated.
- It can make Christians apprehensive about studying because of the unnecessarily difficult language that is often used.
- It creates a culture where if you don’t use a certain lingo you don’t fit in.
- It’s just weird because you’d never use the same language in your everyday life and often it seems fake.
- It isn’t helpful!
Sure, if you’re preaching there may be times when you need to refer to the original languages (of either the Old or New Testament manuscripts), however, how often are those points actually helpful? Even if a distinction is helpful and brought out more in the original languages than it is in the English, phrase it in such a way that everyone understands. As a preacher you’re called to feed the flock which includes the person doing a doctorate in theology and the little kid sitting in the pew. Therefore, to feed the flock well, surely we should be using language, illustrations and applications in our sermons that keep everyone in mind and enables them all to grow in their love for and devotion to God.
If you’re a theologian, I get it (I really do) you’re an academic and you’re wanting to convey deep theological truths in such a way that it understandable and succinct. But if a student has to spend 5 minutes googling what a word means, then you’d be quicker just using simple language or (briefly!) explaining your terms to take people along with you. The study of theology is a wonderful privilege and I would love to see more Christians engage with theological courses, but I wonder how many of our seminaries, Bible colleges, etc. actually welcome those who don’t ‘fit the mould’?
I went to Bible College having never studied at university, I hated reading and every time a word was used that I didn’t understand I felt stupid. I have since graduated and am now drawing near the end of my theological degree. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of theological lingo, but how much of it is actually helpful to the average Christian? Is it really useful if we aren’t able to convey wonderful truths about God in such a simple and understandable way for ‘wee Timmy’ and ‘old Joan’?
Authors, you do a great job! You’re able to use your wisdom, insight and experience to reach numbers that most people wouldn’t be able to even dream of. But please see your books as tools to equip and serve the average Christian. I don’t mean that you need to ‘dumb down’ your message, or use baby language, but write in a normal way. There are too many books that say they’re written for every Christian and yet they are full of unnecessarily difficult words. Or authors spend so much time quoting dead people without making it readable or they go on for ages about the minute details of words and concepts. When I read I normally have google open on my phone or laptop because I know that in most books there will be words, concepts, worldviews or ideologies that are simply stated without unpacking, or are just unnecessarily difficult.
Everything that is published, or made available for the average Christian, should be for the average Christian. We shouldn’t be speaking over people’s heads but speaking to their very hearts and drawing them in to see the beauty of the gospel, the magnificence of God and the wonderful Saviour that we serve.
Obviously if this culture of writing (and speaking) continues there will be those who will adapt and start using the same language. However, there will be those (who will probably go unnoticed) who will not ‘follow suit’ and will be left feeling stupid, deflated and discouraged. I know plenty of unbelievably godly men and women who couldn’t parse a Greek word or speak to you about the minute details of their understanding of the Trinity, but they will spend hours telling you about how God has worked in their lives. We need to remember that all of the resources we make available, in print and digitally, should be accessible and build up the saints to serve and glorify God.
Dear Pastor, Theologian & Author, simple is generally better!