Conversations About Theology

He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 WEB)

At one time, I waded through the massive work, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Considering the details, he placed on each verbal interchange, physical action and precise emotional situation the story doesn’t move at a strikingly swift pace. But, I enjoyed it. One weekend I read a long discourse on theology and this passing comment by Ivan captured my attention.

The stupider, the clearer. Stupidity is brief and guileless, while reason hedges and hides. Reason is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.

After years of theological study, sermons, lectures, and tomes of exposition and interpretation, mired down with the sludge of obese vocabulary and obtuse explanations, I found this quotation a refreshing and uplifting approach to the colloquy often infecting our homilies and interlocution about God and His divine intervention in the entanglements of mankind.

2010_07_03-vm-upgrade-005I don’t usually talk or write quite so verbosely as a matter of course. I do enjoy careful composition of a well-turned phrase using the appropriate application of language and vocabulary. However, in normal life, it doesn’t work. Not only am I at a loss for that perfect idiom, to demonstrate concisely the depth of the subject matter, but I don’t think that fast on my feet. (My wife says my sermons, which are usually written in their entirety before delivered, often contain such succinct statements to cause confusion while preaching in a multi-language environment. So, she reads them, before I preach, and changes things to compensate for the lack of direct one-to-one translation of various creedal sentences and theological confabulations.)

What’s my point? Consider my earlier statements. Do they leave room for misinterpretation of my disposition on the matter of simplicity versus complexity in theological discussions? Probably. Even though I carefully composed those sentences their interpretation is subject to the readers understanding or misunderstanding of each word. Using complex vocabulary to carefully divulge the intricacies of a subject only works when the person who is reading also lives and works with that same vocabulary.

On the other hand, there is a collection of basic English (or any other language) words which predominate day to day speech and interaction. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t use the highfalutin’ words of His day. Instead he spoke, and the Apostles wrote, in the common languages of the day, using common terms clearly understandable by the people. A parable’s meaning might not be crystal clear to the listener but the language embodied within the parable was simple and common.

So why do I, and others I know, chose to occasionally punctuate our writing, or speech, with some of these 10 dollar words and phrases? Am I trying to be vague, to hedge and hide behind the ambiguity of less than common words? Not usually. In fact, I’m often trying to clarify something by a precise selection of terms. It doesn’t always work. On the other hand, sometimes I am trying to squirm out of a ticklish situation, a discourse which makes me cringe in uncertainty, by cloaking my expostulation in language open for a variety of interpretations.

Regardless, when it comes to sharing the message of salvation, a simple and clear message, I try to discard all the trappings of the etymology of words and use simple, concise, and succinct language. Paul was clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” It can’t be much simpler than that.

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