The decline of the Church in the West is closely paralleled by a decline in biblical literacy and vocabulary. In this article, Timothy Tennent offers 11 examples of how popular culture has strikingly different meanings from the biblical meanings of common Christian words.
Over the last fifty years, the Western church across Europe and North America has been losing between 7,500 and 11,000 members per day. It is a collective loss of over 100 million Christians. These staggering losses have been offset some by the dramatic growth of the immigrant churches in the West. But, we are clearly entering into a period known as the “post-Christian west.” Over time this has resulted in the steady loss of a Christian consciousness in Western culture.
One of the ways this can be observed has been the precipitous decline in biblical vocabulary. Oh, don’t get me wrong, many of the words are still being used, but the meaning of the words has taken a sharp departure from the actual biblical meaning. The Church has been particularly susceptible to this. Thus, I thought it would be interesting to devote a piece to posting the “current” understanding of a few words and placing them side by side with the “biblical” understanding of the same word.
Here are a few examples:
1) Love (pop culture) – An emotive feeling someone has towards another person or towards God.
Love (biblical) – A covenantal commitment to live and act in fidelity, loyalty and faithfulness.
2) Judgment (pop culture) – An “out of control” act caused by anger and usually fueled by partisan ideas. (This is closely related to the use of the word “judgmental” which has taken on a universally negative association as one who has a bad attitude towards someone.)
Judgment (biblical) – God acting in holy-love to set things right, restore justice and establish peace in conformity with His reign and rule.
3) Marriage (pop culture) – A relationship of convenience between any two people for the sake of personal happiness and sexual fulfillment.
Marriage (biblical) – A divinely ordained life-time relationship between one man and one woman of covenantal, self-donating love, which overflows in becoming co-creators with God through the fruitfulness of child bearing, reflecting the beauty of the Triune God.
4) Revelation (pop culture) – Surprising ideas which are made known in a dramatic fashion.
Revelation (biblical) – The record of God’s own self-disclosure regarding himself, ourselves and the world.
5) Inspiration (pop culture) – Mental awakening which produces certain feelings, or causes us to do something creative.
Inspiration (biblical) – Process whereby God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit spoke through ordinary men and women, restraining them from error, and communicating His revelation to the world.
6) Awesome (pop culture) – A word used for anything one likes, whether a well-cooked hamburger, a sunset, or a worship service.
Awesome (biblical) – A description which is used of God alone, due to His exalted holiness and Lordship over all creation.
7) Fear of God (pop culture) – A destructive idea instilled in people in a manipulative way and often caused by inordinate anxiety about sin, guilt and divine judgment.
Fear of God (biblical) – A holy reverence for God which is the result of the realization of the God’s absolute sovereignty. This realization is the beginning of all knowledge.
Here are a few additional examples where Christians use language which is at variance with the original meaning of the word of phrase…
8) “good worship” (pop “church culture”) – The feeling we get when our emotions are aroused in the presence of one another and God.
“good worship” (biblical) – The individual and corporate response to the revelation of God.
9) “moral conviction” (pop church culture) – A personal preference for a particular course of action, but is a moral equivalent of all other preferences which are all viewed as equally valid.
“moral conviction” (biblical) – A truth revealed in God’s word which the church is called to joyfully proclaim, embody and extend into the world.
10) “think and let think” (contemporary Methodism) – A standard phrase quoted from Wesley which is frequently used as a blank check to support and justify a wide range of departures from historic Christian faith and Wesleyan practice.
“think and let think” (historic Methodism) – Methodists are ecumenical Christians, embracing all Christians around the world. We remain “steadfast as the sun” on the essentials of the faith, but we encourage flexibility on matters where Christians have historically disagreed.
11) “warm heart give me thine hand” (contemporary Methodism) – A standard phrase quoted from Wesley which is often used to bypass serious theological conversation as long as we have good feelings towards one another.
“warm heart give me thine hand” (historic Methodism) – Wesley’s commitment to Christian unity within the context of shared historic faith.
Perhaps you could continue the lexicon by offering your own examples of words or phrases both in and out of the church which have taken on a decidedly different meaning.