Theological Sesquipedalian

11 Apr

Every area of specialisation has its own vocabulary; most areas even have some big words. Theology is no exception.

I am sure this same phenomenon occurs in other areas of life too, but I am going to address what I see, on occasion, within the church which is a concern.

A friend once told me, “Joe, it isn’t hard to make something complicated sound complicated, some people seem to have a gift at making simple things complicated, but it is hard work taking the complex/complicated and communicating that simply.”

Another friend, many years ago told me, “Joe, if you cannot communicate the Scriptures/sound doctrine to a six year old, you really don’t understand it yourself.”

So, I ask myself when do I generally find myself resorting to the use of big words, technical theological language, or Greek & Hebrew as opposed to communicating the same truth simply.

  • When I am speaking or writing for a scholarly audience.

This is a time when using technical theological language is appropriate. Due to the nature of the audience and/or the requirement of the writing project I will use vocabulary which may not be suitable for another setting.

Yet, let’s be honest, for most of us, this isn’t where we live and breathe most days of the week.

  • When I am trying to impress someone.

This is pride. Either a fear of man (not wanting to be perceived as “unlearned”) or an arrogance (wanting to silence someone by the use of words they cannot grasp). Either way it is sin. I am not saying the use of technical theological jargon is sin, I am saying the pride of my heart that is driving me to such a use in this setting is sin.

  • When I really don’t understand the concept.

This happens a lot. I think I have a grasp on something because I have read a few articles/blogs or books on the topic. The items I have read have been technical in nature and use big theological words. The next time I am in a conversation with someone and a subject comes up which I have been reading on, I start using the same vocabulary.

The truth is, I really don’t understand the concept fully. I may have a basic grasp on the key ideas, but I have not thought carefully or long enough on the subject to be able to communicate on the topic, expressing the meaning, but without the technical jargon.

In some cases, it is simply that I don’t realise this is what is happening and once it is pointed out to me by the person I am communicating with, I quickly acknowledge I need to think on this a bit more. In other cases, I don’t want to admit that I really don’t understand the subject fully – this is pride!

Here is what I am continuing to learn…

The study of God’s Word, though a joy and privilege, is hard work. There is no shortcut from the hard work necessary to understand the nature and character of God revealed in His Word and magnified in the person and work of His Son.

However, it is even more challenging to take what I have begun to grasp and begin thinking carefully how to communicate that to others, not so that they now know all the cool theological jargon, but so that they come to know & love God through Christ with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

This is one reason why I think anyone who aspires to teach others God’s Word ought to spend time teaching Children’s Sunday School!

Related: “Plainness in preaching” by Jeremy Walker


7 responses to “Theological Sesquipedalian

  1. William Chong

    11/04/2013 at 9:52 am

    In a similar vein, maybe as worship leaders we would benefit from leading kids in singing too. What does “sesquipedalian” mean?

  2. couragetotremble

    11/04/2013 at 12:37 pm

    This is very well put. An application of these thoughts is what we do in my profession as a technical communicator. But when it comes to matters concerning Almighty God, how much more careful we must be, especially teachers of the word. Scary.

  3. Josh Powell

    11/04/2013 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for this post Joe.
    A great reminder and encouragement to be doing the hard work of understanding God’s word so I can communicate it clearly (not to mention apply it correctly to my own life!)


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