Friday, 20 August 2010

Getting Our Language Right

This article from Hauerwas is good on the importance of learning to speak Christian. It includes the importance of learning when to stop speaking, and the way in which we have been co-opted in other political and social languages by a need to separate ourselves from extremism. An example of the former is not giving solace to the bereaved by saying of a loved one, "They have gone to a better place." That smells of the immortal soul. And he cites the use of 'God' instead of Jesus as an example of the latter. Using Cavanaugh, Hauerwas mentions the way in which the secular state has smoothed out the differences between different faiths for its own political stabilization and control through the universalism of  the words 'religion' and 'God'.


  1. Hi Warren. Some of Hauerwas' article reminds me of Eugene Peterson's more recent writing (e.g. 'Eat This Book' and 'Tell it Slant'/'The Word Made Flesh'). Being genuinely 'Christian' in language without resorting to cliché is a trait worth developing. Allowing the words of psalmist, writer and prophet, inspired by the Spirit, to mould us and our language so we are salt and light in our communities, truly comforting the afflicted yet willing to afflict the comfortable when necessary ;-)

    Enjoying your blog for a few months now since your visit to the UK.



  2. I agree with the general sentiment. There is such a tendency to make the Gospel more 'palatable'.
    This so often becomes denuding the Gospel of any cutting edge at all. I well remember an angry young priest who is well known to you telling me how his homily about Jesus's teaching about the danger of the pursuit of wealth was corrected by his supervising rector the following week.
    You know Christians don't say " money is the root of all evil. We actually say the love of money is the root of all evil."
    It seems to me that Jesus says both!
    I also became quite concerned some years ago about how pervasive reincarnation was becoming as an 'explanation' of what our relationship might be with the divine after we die.
    The solution? To affirm the Gospel. The resurrection of the body! And to grapple with what that really means, and not to discount it.

  3. Hi Victor,

    Thanks for reading the blog. I enjoyed meeting and talking and I am sad you live on the other side of the world. My movement away from using the language and some perspectives that are not Christian has been going on now since i did my PhD. I remember starting my PhD intent on showing the inadequacies of the doctrine of the Incarnation and it ended up converting me!



  4. Thanks Stephen, and absolutely correct. And the supervising rector got up right then and there and corrected him by preaching a second sermon!

    The popularity of reincarnation is intriguing. it smells to me of the false humility of the salvation by works. The whole acceptance of an 'eastern' perspective is also interesting. The rise of the new spiritualities like theosophy etc in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which find heirs in the new age now, is really a little crass. Picking this or that without doing the hard work of the particular tradition. There is also prejudice at work here. We all know Jesus went to India before his public ministry (nothing good can come out of the Jews!) and he brought this Eastern teaching to western Europe when he and the Magdalene went to France to have babies and establish the French royal line. Yeah, right. Many people believe stuff almost as unbelievable!

  5. i think you are right to name this as a problem of humility. Catholicism has always had about it the need for 'submission'. Unfortunately such dogmas are wide open to abuse and have indeed been abused by the power crazed. Is it fair(or wise) to ask the 'ordinary believer' to submit to orthodoxy when the guardians of same are often abusive in their use of power.
    There is also a dynamic which concerns me in the mind of the liberal or libertarian which is that in the face of an inability to understand complexity we begin to make up alternatives for ourselves,
    Most of us lack the intellect and/or depth of learning to be able to do this.
    I cite for example the number of people who declare themselves to be 'Buddhists'...when what they really mean is that they know a little about one or two ideas... compasssion and perhaps reincarnation ; have probably never read anything in depth (I was struck about my own shallowness when reading a fairly thick tome whilst on holiday in Thailand....I thought I don't really have any idea about subtlety and nuance and why should I?
    It seems to me that the 'conservative' position such as I adopt says accept what is taught until such time as you can legitimately reject it or accept it.
    This, I think, honours the tradition and does not just dismiss it out of hand, as so many are wont to do.

    Bit of a rant...sorry

  6. Yes, the kind of humility that says we don't have to remake the wheel should be easy, but comes hard. I remember realising that the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation was right, just so profound, compared to the concocted christologies I had been previously pulled toward.