There are words that Christians have used for so long that they’ve become part of the community’s theological buzz words but, I think, have shifted in meaning. So whereas they may have had some specific usage in the past, now they’re used with wild abandon, rampant impunity and magical intent.
- Dispensation. I use this word but I use it in one sense. But people sometimes use to mean “a time period where God acts one way and only one way.” I don’t get that. If Lewis’ Aslan was not tame, what makes us think Yahweh is? Just use Dispensation to mean “a time of responsibility” and we’ll get a lot of problems out of the way.
- Grace. In Greek, the word is charis carrying the meaning of kindness, blessedness, and even favor. Once one looks at the similar Hebrew word hessid one discovers that the early usage might also have implied faithfulness, loving-kindness and mercy. But the word has been used for everything from praying for a meal to meetings of the church, so much so that I’m not sure what people mean when they use it. “We take the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace.” A means of mercy? Of kindness? Of blessedness? I really don’t know any more, but it sounds awesome. So when people use it, I find myself wondering what they’re really saying.
- Covenant. There was a time when covenant meant promises or a contract with a constitution. In the Ancient Near East would strike up covenants for the forming of new relationships between countries, solidifying these relationships with a slain animal and oaths (Marriages, on the other hand, were not solidified in this way). But today the word covenant seems to mean Relationship or Relational. Sometimes it means something that hovers over whatever is being said, but is supposed to add some serious weight to the words beneath. “God is a Covenant God” means little to me. I understand “God is the God of the Covenant” or “God is a God who makes Covenants” or even “God covenants with man” but the Covenant God? And if you think that’s heavy, imagine the theological weight when someone says “are you denying the covenant of grace?” When you put it like that, I don’t want to deny anything!
- Faith. The word can mean trust, it can mean dependence, it can mean belief and, if you’re looking at pistis, it can even mean a pledge or proof. But now it seems to be used to mean some sort of spiritual power and work that generates Amazing Things. So whereas Jesus can say that a dependence on God the size of a mustard seed can result in the removal of mountains, people seem to take it as if there’s an actual substance called Faith (potent stuff) that if you have it you can be like Superman.
- Love. See, this one goes with Faith. I understand its normal uses in society but once I pass through those arched chapel doors (well, my chapel has no arches) of Christian Speak, I start getting weird phrases like “God, give us more love; more of you in our life!” as if we can get more of the love of the eternal, Omni-benevolent God than what He’s already given.
- Blessed. Yeah, this one is used all the time to mean something more than lucky—more like “One to whom God has shown a considerable amount of favor by unlocking doors and making one an example to all so that one should be venerated accordingly.” I marginally understand (but don’t justify) it when It’s done to departed Christians, but then people apply it to themselves.
How about you, do you have any specific theological words that are buckling under the weight that people have placed on them?