Seven words to watch & reclaim in 2017
Words and images can be intentionally co-opted by those seeking to advance particular ideological agendas— without even knowing it. If we don’t know what a boy is then groups like the Boy Scouts and leagues for boys and girls sports lose all meaning. Consider the way in which the image of the rainbow now communicates capitulation to and celebration of a sexual revolution that runs totally afoul the original bow set in the sky by God in Genesis 9.
So in 2017, here is a new call: be watchful about how words and images transform before our very eyes and take on new meaning.
In a time when many groups are defending culturally distinctive ideas and words, Christians need to reclaim a few of our own. Here’s my list of misunderstood and misused words to be reclaimed in 2017:
- Identity — Self-identified (fill-in-the-blank) has become the order of the day. The words boy, girl, man and woman now come with modifiers like transgender. Individuals declare themselves to be whatever they imagine and culture supports the delusion. Whatever a person claims as their own “I am” the rest of us are expected to respect. The problem is that there is only One “I Am” and it is neither you nor me. “I Am” is powerful Biblical language indicating the revelation of the self-disclosed name of the God who Is. Our identity is always in relationship to His. We identify as creatures because God is Creator. We identify as children because God is Father. We identify as Christian because Jesus is Christ. For the Christian, there is no modifying adjective. Christ now defines us from beginning to end.
- Religion — What is religion? What is your religion? Who are we as a religious people or a nation? We hear that the people of the United States are losing their religion and yet we continue to be characterized around the world as a Christian nation. Are we? What does that mean? There are distinctively Muslim nations and Muslim majority countries as well as those who declare themselves to be The Islamic State. Israel continues to seek to assert itself as the only Jewish nation in the world against fierce Muslim opposition. America is known to be a melting pot of pluralism where people of all faiths are free to exercise their chosen faith (or lack thereof). But how does a religion differ from a faith system that guides life or a worldview through which a person views reality? Is Islam a religion or an ideology? What about Christianity? It is a religion or a worldview? How about Judaism? Is it an ethnicity or a faith system or a religion or all three? Who gets to define what is and isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jewish? And who gets to define WHO is? For evangelical Christians in the United States this question has yet another layer that brings us to another word that needs reclamation: authority, and its counterpart, submission.
- Law, justice and mercy — From Dylan Roof’s trial in Charleston to Chicago’s homicide epidemic, the ideas of law, justice and mercy are all at play. The image of Lady Justice, blindfolded to administer objective application of the law is still a concept completely unattainable to many in our population. Our discourse about crime and punishment is certain to continue. The need for criminal justice reform in America includes conversations about restoration, redemption, forgiveness and yes, capital punishment. As Christians we need to be leading these conversations going forward.
- Persecution— This is a word that gets thrown around a lot when when what we are actually talking about is peer pressure, disagreement, or discomfort. We also have a very self-focused definition of the word. We tend to be most interested in persecution perpetrated against people “like me.” In this country, we need to have a global, history-wide view about the word. What is it? Who is perpetrating it against whom? What are we called to do about it?
- Sanctuary — This is a word we will hear a lot in the debate about illegal immigration and cities in the US who want to see themselves as sanctuaries against deportation. It has become a political football, far removed from the original intent. We need to reclaim not only the language of sanctuary but the spirit of what the word intends. How can we remind people, within the context of the political debate of the origin? God is our refuge and our strength; we find our shelter and our security in Him.
- Love— The world’s view and vision of love fails to reflect the fullness of the reality of the God who is love, commands us to love, and gives us love as a gift of His grace. Love is the first fruit of a Spirit-filled life and as Christians we are called to be living demonstrations of the Gospel which is self-sacrificial, incarnate and everlasting. Purity and holiness are necessary parts of the restoration of this term in our cultural lexicon. This is not a term we can teach without living it ourselves. As God has said, “they will know we are Christians by our love” (and we bear witness against God when we are unloving or misrepresent love as something less than Christ).
- Life— Often characterized as the dash that comes between the dates of birth of death, life is so much more than the world understands! When Jesus says that He came that we might have life and have it to the full, what does He mean? Certainly life spans from conception to natural death, but life is also an eternal reality. As Christians we need to reclaim the life conversation in all its fullness. “Life issues” include giving voice and witness to the life of the pre-born, and life issues include issues of dignity and work and health; adoption and concern for people everywhere who are just as equally created in the image of God as you and me.
Words matter and no words matter more than the Word of God. So, as we’re reclaiming words let us reclaim first the Word of God and allow God to speak what He has spoken into us so that we might in turn speak the Truth of the Kingdom amidst the kingdoms of this world.