On Using Words Carelessly
As a communicator, there’s sometimes a fine line between using strong language to make a point, on the one hand, and throwing words around carelessly and irresponsibly. I’d like to report that I’ve never crossed that line…but while I might like to report that, it wouldn’t be true. As I wrote a couple weeks back, I’m trying to redouble my efforts to check my wording on some things more carefully before I go public.
There is a “controversy” of sorts that has brewed in the evangelical world over the course of the last few weeks, ever since John Piper, darling of the conservative and Reformed branch of evangelicalism, invited Rick Warren to appear at his Desiring God conference this fall. Warren is viewed with downright scorn by at least a certain vocal segment of this movement, and predictably, many were up in arms, reacting with horror to Piper’s invitation extended to this man they view as a pragmatist who waters down the gospel, who represents so much of what they abhor about the contemporary evangelical movement.
An aside: though I have benefited from some of Warren’s writing, I have increasingly viewed a lot of what he says and does with skepticism myself. I understand a lot of where these folks are coming from, and I sympathize with it. Some of the positions Warren takes have a level of, I believe, danger inherent in them.
But one of the things that has been thrown around is the word “heretic” to describe Rick Warren. Seriously. Folks, say what you will about Mr. Warren, and there are some things to say, to be sure, but Rick Warren is no “heretic”. And I wrote all this to make a point that Trevin Wax makes in this article about the controversy:
When you use the word “heretic” to refer to anyone who disagrees with you, you don’t have a good word to use to refer to someone who actually fits the bill.
Couldn’t said that better myself. Wax references Jerry Falwell, who a few years back used the “H word” to refer to folks who believe in the Calvinist doctrine of “limited atonement”. Do I disagree with “limited atonement”? Absolutely. Are people who hold to it “heretics”? Please. Spare me.
We’d all do well to remember—particularly if we “c0mmunicate for a living”—that words mean things, and we do no service to anyone when we cheapen those words by over-speaking.