The point of this post is to demonstrate that this blog, Tosin’s Bible Blog, is in no way a theological treatise, at least not in the sense that most people understand theology. Rather it is much better than “theology” – at least the man-made pseudo-theology I discuss in the post – because this blog is a tool to explain how to have a real, breathing, relationship with a real God who is genuinely alive.
I’d like to start this post with my little tongue-in-cheek definition of “theology”. Please be aware that this may reasonably be conceived as being a little rude – it’s supposed to be humorous, I hope you will bear with me!
Tosin’s tongue-in-cheek definition of “theology”:
The mistaken belief, prevalent in some Christian quarters, that a thought, concept or idea, is big enough to outweigh the Bible, because it happens to be expressed in “big words” or sophisticated language.
Obviously this is not the real definition of theology. “Theology” is actually the thoughts and concepts themselves about God. However I have chosen to focus on the belief because in my experience, when Christians start talking about “theology”, they start to go into “big word” overdrive. In a way I’ve noticed that people who talk a lot about this are driven more by a “big word” mindset than by the ideas themselves.
“Big word” mindset
Let’s talk now about what this “big word” mindset might be. Many times I have come across concerns from people who say that “Christianity should not be dumbed down”. Other people might emphasise that as Christians we should embrace our brains and our thinking faculties. I completely agree with all of this. However the “big word” mindset sometimes tries to masquerade as intellectual understanding when it is nothing of the sort.
The “big word” mindset is when people go out of their way to express ideas in words that are as unnecessarily long, unusual, or hard to understand as possible. It is when people deliberately look for words that are as far from common use as possible to create elaborate waffling sentences that usually don’t actually mean anything. I remember so clearly when I was in Uni, and someone spoke of God as being “ineffably sublime”. That is just a posh way of saying that God is unspeakably (ineffably) high, or elevated or excellent (sublime). I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard and from that time I have been clear that this theology thing is often just a load of pretentious twaddle.*
As it happens, words are my “thing” – I hope I can safely say that. Furthermore I’ve studied at considerable depth both Greek and Latin, which are often the root of many of these obscure, theological words (although I’m forever coming across new terms, courtesy of my theologian friends, where I can barely even guess at their meaning – mono-neo-gnostic-i-what?!) So on the whole I hope it would be fair to say that I would be capable of understanding these sophisticated expositions, and even possibly writing them myself, if I were that way inclined. However you are going to have to take my word for that, because I deliberately choose not to do it. And the reason I don’t do it is because being able to write like that is no reflection whatsoever of your relationship with God, and in no way indicates the strength of your intimacy with God.
I write this blog in language which I hope that most people can understand for the sake of talking of a real relationship with God, real issues that I face, real challenges, as well as real triumphs. Yes I must confess that I often use big words. However this is not for the sake of showing off. It is primarily because this is the way I naturally speak. I also like to use words for precision, and sometimes only a specific word will “suffice” – ha ha – being deliberately ironic there!
A reason that people seem to adopt the “big word” mindset is so that they can come across as being more clever than other people, that is, the people who would try to read and understand their speeches or their writings. So the “big word” mindset almost deliberately shuts off so many people who do not understand. It is like people are trying to create an exclusive club of people who are clever enough or educated enough to “get it”.
None of this is what God, or the Bible is about. God extends His offer of relationship to all of us, no matter what our standard of education might be. This is true even of people who cannot read even to read this blog, or even to read a Bible. This I believe is part of the reason why the New Testament was not originally written in the classical elevated Greek of the scholars like Aristotle and Plato, but rather in the colloquial easy Greek of the market place and tavern, koine Greek – because God intends His word to be understood and accessible to normal, everyday people, because God Almighty, the incomparable star of the universe, the central personality in history, the only Person who can rightly think that the whole world revolves around Him – this same God wants to have a relationship with normal, everyday people.
If you think that being able to use a big word like “ineffably” somehow makes you holier, then you have completely missed the heart of God. It is not that being educated is a bad thing. However what God wants most of all from each of us is a heart that is truly given over to Him, and that is submitted to His truth. If you have a heart like this, then God can and will use you, no matter what age you left school, or whether or not you have been to university. If you don’t have this, then you can spout all the big words in the universe. God will not be impressed and the only people you will be deceiving will be people like you who also fail to cultivate any true relationship with God. Holiness is not about the level of education that we can display. Someone can be at the cutting edge of holiness and intimacy with God even if they have never been to school a single day in their life. However it seems to be human nature to rank ourselves as “better” or “worse” than others according to the level of our education. So it is not surprising that this kind of thinking will spring up in the Church, even though it goes against the Bible, or at least the New Testament. We always want to look down on other people and promote our own superiority, and education seems to be one consistent way of establishing superiority.
Once again, this is why Tosin’s Bible blog is not like this. On this blog I want to express the true heart of God – God’s word for all people in a way that everyone will understand. I do not want or need to demonstrate that I belong to an exclusive club of people who speak in that way, because I do not want to belong to that club.
Big words versus the Bible.
As if all that was not bad enough, many people seem to think, perhaps unconsciously, that wallowing in all of this pretension is the same as being intellectual. It is not, because being genuinely intellectual is about being able to break down or understand complex ideas. However this “big word” mindset is often just about dressing up small ideas, simple thoughts in flowery language, or even worse, just tying together big strings of long words into meaningless mumbo-jumbo.
And then they also seem to think that intellectual thinking is necessary to understand the Bible. To be honest, Bible ideas can indeed often be complex and hard to understand, so it is true that intellectual thinking often is needed. However once again you don’t actually need to be educated to have that understanding – the Bible teaches that understanding about God comes from the Holy Spirit, not from a university degree – it is the Holy Spirit that will guide us into all truth – John 16v13. However, there is always a danger when trying to understand the Bible, that what we use to understand the Bible will go beyond simply explaining the Bible, to actually changing what the Bible says. And then, if we highly respect the education demonstrated by the explanation, we can start to put more emphasis on the explanation than on the Bible itself.
What this means in practice is that some theological explanations, some writings are given more weight than the Bible, or considered to be more important than the Bible – even though no-one might explicitly say this.
And then subconsciously, it can be easy for people to think that all they have to do to “clarify” the Bible – that is, promote their own viewpoint, or change the meaning of the Bible to fit within their viewpoint – is to produce a piece of this “big word” writing. And this is possibly why you get some Christians arguing the very opposite of what the Bible teaches. And they think that they will be able to force their point through just because they use big sophisticated words. All of this is nonsense. The Bible is the word of God. No other writing has this status! No-one else’s words have God’s own authority pulsating through them. The Bible says of itself: “All Scripture is breathed by God” 2 Timothy 3v16. The Book of Hebrews says “The word of God is living and active.” Hebrews 4v12. All the big words in the world cannot dream of overriding God’s own authority.
One big reason why many people automatically speak like this when discussing theology is because they are emulating theologians from bygone days like Charles Spurgeon and such people who spoke like this. The difference though is that that is how most people, at least educated people, spoke quite naturally in those days. So when people like Spurgeon etc spoke like this, it is not like they were trying to put on an elaborate act. It is the same with the writers of the great literary classics, people like George Eliot (a woman, despite the masculine name), Jane Austen (also a woman!), Charles Dickens (surely you know of Charles Dickens?!), Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (both male from Russia) – these people from hundreds of years ago used “ineffably” more sophisticated language than we do. That is just a plain fact ( I wonder what “evolution” says about that! Actually I think I know, but I am just making a cheeky point!) It was natural for them to speak like that, and what they said actually made sense, they knew what they were talking about, they were not using language as a tool to exclude people.
So yeah, on the whole I must admit that I have not been immensely impressed with most expressions of “theology” that I have encountered. First and foremost, our call as Christians is to know God. When we share our faith, I believe that our primary aim should be to share what we know of God, and how other people can know Him too, rather than how clever we are, and how much better we are than others who are not as educated as we are. I hope anyone reading this will agree that this is what Tosin’s Bible blog is about, and I hope that regular readers will recognise that if there is anything special or powerful about this blog, it is the intimacy that I Tosin, the writer of this blog, cultivate with my God, that comes across in the way I write.
UPDATE: Added 29th June 2014:
*I realised/remembered quite a few months ago (but obviously after writing the post) where the phrase “ineffably sublime” actually comes from: it is from a hymn, of which the first line is “Crown Him with many Crowns” . As it happens, I love hymns in general, and I adore this hymn in particular – actually, I adore them all! – perhaps that was a bad example to have chosen! However, the general point still stands! (Big words are acceptable and good in hymns for the same reason they are good in classic works of literature – because they were the natural words available at the time when the hymns and novels were written – originally chosen perhaps to demonstrate education, but not that level of pretension often seen today).
2 Timothy 3v16
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Photo of Lake by Lisa Runnels at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net