I don’t know about you, but have you ever found yourself in a conversation at work or just out and about where somebody uses a word you don’t know? Have you ever been watching a documentary or TV show about a subject which you know very little and find yourself feeling the need to google each newly encountered word? If you are like me, you are probably too proud to admit that you don’t know what the word means and just make do with something you made up in your head or just guess based upon context. One can usually do fairly well with this charade for a while, but eventually you have to grab your dictionary and just look up the word. I don’t know about you, but encountering new words can be intimidating.
Encountering new words can also be exhilarating. New words give us more ways to describe and label the world around us and communicate it with others in that world. More than that, new vocabulary and language often expands our ability to label and experience the world around us by making distinctions between the many minor variations we encounter everyday. Expanding one’s vocabulary can help to expand one’s vision. Have you ever tried to explain the difference between cardinal, maroon, burgundy, scarlet, and red to a child? No, that isn’t red, it’s burgundy (of course they may be able to notice the differences between the shades, but to them it is still just red). When you tell them it’s not red but burgundy, they look up at you with a befuddled look like you are crazy or color blind thinking, why is this person calling something that is clearly red by this complicated word burgundy?
This has often been my experience and that of many others who study theology. The language at times can seem ‘needlessly’ complex to us. It’s just red, isn’t it? Why use complex phrases like substitutionary atonement, eschatological conflation, dichotomous, and sublapsarianism? We often think that overly complicated language is used to describe what we see as simple. The vocabulary helps us expand our ability to see the nuances and make distinctions about the variations we encounter in theology. I of course want to iterate that knowing 20 cent terms doesn’t make you holier or get you on God’s A-Team; they aren’t necessary for you to have a dynamic and intimate relationship with God. What I do want to contend is that learning theological vocabulary is helpful and beneficial. I think it is important to put time and effort into the language we use to describe and understand our God and Savior.
For me, I found a helpful web resource that I wanted to share with you. It’s called … drum roll… Theological Word of the Day by Credo House Ministries. Each day they take a theological term and define it in a short paragraph. It’s a quick and easy way to grow, expand, and refresh your theological vocabulary. In addition to the theological word of the day, I have found this site to contain many helpful articles and resources.
What do you think? Ready to learn some new vocab for the day? Vocabulary isn’t just for those in elementary school.