Thinking Out Loud

March 5, 2011

Hell? – Depends What you Mean by That

This extremely timely item first appeared here three years ago and actually originates with Dan Kimball back in January, 2008:

The Importance of Definitions

This week the Doctor of Ministry co-hort I am part of…has had some on-line discussion on definitions. This morning I had a breakfast meeting with two friends… and the same topic came up about defining the terms we use.

It seems that sometimes different people have different definitions of those words. Or the original definition of a term may have changed through time and one person is still are using it in the original way, while others are using it a different way. So you are having a conversation and assuming the other person believes the same thing you do about whatever term is being used, but you are actually talking about different things when asked to specifically define it.

This comes up a lot with such things like the word “evangelical”. Originally it had one meaning, but through time it has become more equated with a certain brand of political conservative right-wing Christians. The word “fundamentalist” in its beginning also had a much different meaning than it has today.

There is often the confusion of what the definition of “the emerging church” is.  I can say at least for how I was originally using it, it has changed to a much broader definition. There is the whole “emerging church” and “emergent church” definitions and comparisons which only confusing things. But the definitions of certain words and terms can change.

…We were talking about theological and biblical terms and their definitions…how someone can say “I believe…” about something. But when asked to define what they believe or mean by a word specifically, it may differ from what the other person would define it as.

For example (and these all come from real discussions) – someone may say they believe in….

“the church“ – but is their definition of church is more of a building and a place. People who say they “go to church” theologically really can’t do that since we are the church. It normally means a building when you say you go to church. So you may hear someone say “church” but they are more defining it by the worship gathering that happens in a building vs. the people wherever they may be.

“the Gospel” –  someone may say they believe in the Gospel, but what is their specific definition of the Gospel? There may be very significant differences in how one defines that.

“missional” – someone may say they are missional, but to them it means focusing most of their time on serving the poor and needy or getting involved in service projects in their community. To another it may mean putting on a large evangelistic event with Christian pop bands and lights and having an altar call where you raise your hand and pray. (In this case, I guess it sort of could be both, but I wouldn’t necessarily think these are holistic ways of defining missional or emerging-missional).

“Virgin Birth of Jesus” – someone may say they believe in the Virgin Birth. But is the Virgin Birth they believe in a parable or allegorical understanding of it, or a literal, it really happened understanding of it?

“hell” – someone may say they believe in hell, but it is an eternal punishment/separation hell or is it referring to more of the hell on earth people may go to in this life?

“inspired Scriptures“ – someone may say they believe in the inspired Scriptures, but it is the inspiration as in the Holy Spirit guiding the human authors so that exactly what God wanted in the Scriptures are there – or is it more of inspiration as in human beings writing out their own best thoughts and efforts to write about God, more like a person is “inspired” to write a song today or write a novel?

“Jesus” – someone may say they believe in “Jesus”, but as I know fully well from writing the They Like Jesus but not the Church book – someone can believe in the Jesus who is more like a Buddha or a Gandhi and follow their teachings, but it is a different Jesus than the Jesus who is the Son of God, died, came back to life,  divine, Judge, Savior, coming back bodily one day etc.

…It is so easy to assume we are saying the same thing, when we may have drastically different definitions of the words. I try now to actually ask for specific definitions from people. It really helps me understand what others mean by certain terms where I am have assumed we had the same definition until I asked.

I am trying my best as I teach in our church to be defining words as I am using the word, in particular with terms like the ones above.

~Dan Kimball

Lost posts:  Do you have a classic blog post that you once read on someone’s blog that you find to be even more relevant today than the day it was posted? We’re looking for the lost blog posts from more than 2 years ago that we can revive here or at Christianity 201.  Add the URL as a comment to this one.

Comments: I’ll be mostly offline over the weekend if moderation is needed it might take longer than normal.

January 20, 2010


This is, without doubt, the most amazing link list I’ve ever posted this week:

  • Phil Johnson wonders what Mosaic teaching pastor Erwin McManus is thinking with his production of “Casket” — wherein a guy stages his own funeral — as the play appears, in Phil’s opinion, relatively devoid of anything close to a proclamation of the gospel.    Read the piece and its comments at Pyromaniacs.
  • All the money being donated for Haiti is being ‘parked’ in a contingency account for the next emergency?   That’s the suggestion of an anonymous disaster relief worker at this “Stop Donating!” post on the blog Solar Crash.
  • Tony Campolo explains why he’d like to add “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from Les Mis and “The Impossible Dream” from The Man of La Mancha to the repertoire of your church’s worship team (!) at this interview on Christians and the Arts at the blog The Virtual Pew Daily.
  • Randy Alcorn re-examines the notion that our charitable giving should always be done in secret.   Yes, he knows that it was Jesus that suggested that, but he offers a fresh look at that passage, and a few others at Eternal Perspective Ministries.
  • Ever feel like you’re invisible?   Jeff Leake embedded this six-minute YouTube video featuring Nicole Johnson, which he says he also used at last weekend’s services at his church.   Check out his blog, The Launch Pad.
  • Darryl Dash doesn’t think it was intentional, but somewhere along the line, the “invocation” or “call to worship” which once started most Evangelical worship services, became the “welcome,” which isn’t really the same thing.   Check out this short but important post at DashHouse.
  • The Post is titled, “How Much Weight Do We Grant To Experience?” though a better, albeit somewhat longer title might be, “What are the Advantages of Aligning Oneself with Groups That Have Frequently Encountered Opposition?”   Okay, maybe the short title works just as well.   This interesting topic over at Pastor Matt‘s blog is begging for more of you to jump in.
  • Horror of Horrors!  Here’s a blog post is devoted to eight things Paul Clark enjoyed about “the little church” he visited last weekend; but it begins with describing the place as “the small church we are acquiring as a future satellite.”   It’s like the head of Starbucks saying how much he enjoyed having a coffee at the little neighborhood shop they’re about to demolish.   Well, actually there’s more to it than that.   Check out, “What I Liked.”
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi summons all the courage he has to go inside a…  wait for it … Christian bookstore.   Apparently these places frighten him.   Read part one of the hair-raising account.
  • David Fitch suggests that if the church you’re visiting next Sunday is truly missional, there are eight things you should notice right away.    Actually, we think these eight things should be present regardless of other considerations.  Check it out at Reclaiming The Mission.   Excellent article.
  • Reformed blogger Kevin DeYoung suggests that if we’re going to toss around the phrase “social justice” we would do well to define it first.   Read his “Modest Proposal” at DeYoung, Restless and Reformed.
  • This one takes us back to December 21st (that’s light years ago in blogging terms) and a refreshing list of “redefinitions” of commonly used religious terms at the blog Kingdom Grace.
  • Pastor Mark Driscoll approaches the 14-year anniversary of Mars Hill Seattle with some things he would do differently he could.
  • Not enough links here?   How about a list of the Top 55 Pastor Bloggers.   That’s what it’s called.   Some of them are really links for pastors.     Check it out at the Online Christian Colleges site.
  • Our cartoons this week are from A Time to Laugh drawn by Aussie comic artist John Cook.

Here’s another one:

December 3, 2008

A Lesson in Synonyms

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 pm

Postmodern does not equal relativist.

Modern does not equal christian.

Truth does not equal certainty.

Mystery does not equal doubt.

Inerrant does not equal exact.

Narrative does not equal fable.

Missional does not equal social gospel.

Inclusion does not equal pluralism.

Justice does not equal democrat.

Christian does not equal republican.

~as posted by Grace at Kingdom Grace

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