Jonathan Merritt Wants to Reboot Religious Language for the 21st Century

"But his method of restoring 'sacred words' to our common vocabulary runs the risk of redefining them." -CToday

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Bert Perry's picture

....please call your office.  A Mr. Merritt would like to speak to you about licensing "Newspeak."

Seriously, good article, but the author is right to point out that even if some of our usage of spiritual words is flawed, Merritt probably would push an overreaction in the opposite direction, and the article gives a few examples. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

From the article:

The key to “speaking God from scratch,” he writes, is to take common religious vernacular and “break it down, challenging our preconceptions.” Once the word has been broken in this fashion, it can be rebuilt in a form that is “more helpful, richer, and beautiful.”

This kind of approach could be helpful, if you're searching for synonyms which convey the same contextual meaning as the original language words and concepts (e.g. sinner = criminal, etc.). But, alas, that isn't what Merritt is doing. Behold:

Sin. Merritt has come to associate this word with vitriolic expression and a judgmental spirit. For many Christians, he writes, sin is “a word shouted and screamed and fashioned into a bludgeon to beat down and beat up.” After tracing earlier conceptions of sin as a stain, weight, or debt—all of which have biblical warrant—Merritt explores the possibility of a revised understanding “roomy enough for all these metaphors and more.” What if sin is reconceptualized in light of the abundant life of flourishing that Jesus promises to all who submit to his loving Lordship (John 10:10)? Sin, in this telling, is “whatever contributes to life something other than what God intends.” Viewing sin as anti-flourishing affirms that God hates sin not because he is an “angry rule-maker” but because wants us to live under divine shalom.

No. The word has meaning, and it exists in a particular context, it was written in a particular context by a biblical writer, and it must be understood and preached with that context and the original author's intent in mind. As Erickson mentioned in his systematic, our job is to accurately translate the biblical concepts across temporal and cultural boundaries, not transform them. 

This is basically (1) redefinition to escape alleged stereotypes from allegedly bad preaching and teaching Merritt has heard, and (2) a conscious re-definition of the Christian faith, an attempt to round the "rough edges" off the more objectionable realities of the Christian message.

  • You are born a sinner, which means you're born a criminal who's in rebellion against God and His Christ (see Psalm 2). You can't round that edge off.
  • Everyone is born being intrinsically worthless to God, in the sense that there is nothing profitable or worthy about you (see Roman 3:13 and Psalm 14).
  • In short, you're a terrorist in God's universe unless and until you repent and believe in Christ. Now, of course, you should follow this up with the message of hope, perfect forgiveness and reconciliation (etc.), but you need to lay that foundation!

Merritt appears to be another in a long line of people who seek to re-define Christianity for his own ends. He appears to seek meaning in his own understanding, not in what the text says. I say, bite me. In 10 years, copies of his silly book will haunt Goodwills across our country, right next to all the copies of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life that are already there ....

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?