Do Americans still use biblical terminology accurately? Do we even understand basic faith-related terms anymore? Jonathan Merritt, a writer for The Atlantic, The Weekly, and Religion News Services (RNS), contends that our pluralistic society less and less comprehends common spiritual language.
Why does this matter? If we can’t communicate about sacred terminology, the legacy of faith communities themselves is threatened.
My Dallas-area buckle-of-the-Bible-belt friends will probably raise their eyebrows in surprise to hear a suggestion that sacred words are out of style. But we may be the exception to the new rule across the country, especially in large, pluralistic, multicultural cities like New York and L.A.
Grace, faith, joy, believe, gospel … many people understand them differently than the traditional definitions we may find in a dictionary. And what about sin, judgment, forgiveness? Hard words, if not understood accurately, are either ignored or denied.
Merritt, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, discovered this trend when he moved to NYC and realized through conversations with neighbors, coworkers, and friends that they didn’t speak the same faith language. Terms he had taken for granted were met with confusion or completely different connotations. He discovered that, sometimes, they caused rifts between people. Sometimes, a robust faith community split apart where people used terminology differently. So Merritt set out to explore the phenomenon.