Book Club Discussion: Words Worth Talking About

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As we continue our discussion of David Dark’s excellent book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (Zondervan, 2009), I’d like to focus on the author’s thoughts regarding language and interpretation.

I like Dark’s observation in Chapter 6 (“Questioning Our Language”) that “semantics might be all that we have to talk about...The question of what our words mean, what we didn’t mean, or what we didn’t mean to mean, as tiresome as it all feels, is really all we’ve got...If we’re unwilling to reexamine or revisit the meaning of our words, if it wounds our pride to receive a talking-to concerning our ill-suited talk, what’s left?” (p. 130)

Instead, Dark advocates “keeping everything talkaboutable”—a phrase I love, and a phrase I hope describes the nature of our conversations on this blog. Such an approach requires humility and a willingness to think critically. It requires that we remain open to the perspectives of others.  It requires that we listen better and, ultimately, love better.

In Chapter 7 (“Questioning Our Interpretation”), Dark applies the same approach to how we read and interpret (among other things) the Bible.

Writes Dark, “...we have to resist the temptation to read the scriptures flatly, as if any verse can be extracted and deployed to say ‘what God says,’ as if there is no ethical progression or moral development or widening eschatology within the collection. “ (p. 156) Dark goes on to rightly note that Scripture will not interpret itself and that “this work of reading the words well—of trying to do them justice—is never done.” (p. 156)

In mulling over these chapters, I started making a list of certain words I think are worth talking about more, words that are worth reexamining within Christian dialog. These are words that are often thrown about without much thought or are lifted from the Bible with little regard to their context.  Here are my top five:

  1. Inerrancy:  Why do so many insist on passionately defending the use of this word to describe the Bible when the word itself never appears in the Bible? Where did this word come from? Is inerrancy irrelevant when the Bible must always be interpreted by errant readers, when we have no actual access to an inerrant text? Might we benefit by using words like authoritative, or trustworthy, or truthful instead? (
  2. Salvation: Saved from what? Does the word salvation refer to the eternal ramifications of our sins (saved from hell) or to the day-to-day ramifications of our sins (saved from gossip and greed), or does it refer to both? Does salvation happen corporately or individually?
  3. Justification: Check out a great conversation on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog about N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.  Clearly, this discussion goes beyond “mere semantics.”
  4. Blessing:  Should material abundance always be considered a blessing?  How do we know when something is really a gift from God?Should we use this word more sparingly? 
  5. Truth: Oh, where to begin?

Question For YOU: What are some words that you think are worth talking about?

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