Oh My, You can’t say that!

Photo Credit: /Sizemore/ via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: /Sizemore/ via Compfight cc

There’s been a ferocious discussion going on about the latest hymnal being put out by the Presbyterian Church in the US. They have dropped the Hymn “In Christ Alone” because of the line in the original lyrics which say “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”

Some believe that this indicates an erosion in the quality of our understanding of the depths of brokenness that we are living in at least as it pertains to our relationship with God on high. I can’t speak for those who made the decision regarding the hymnal. However, I don’t see this as an issue of theological relativism, so much as one of language.

All groups develop a vocabulary that they use as shorthand communication. At its simplest much of language works this way. I say “I blew a tire on my bike” and you likely have some idea what I’m complaining about. I don’t have to explain that I ride a self-propelled device which has rotating discs front and back, etc, etc. That’s ridiculous, but only because you know what the words tire and bike mean and you recognize the word ‘blew’ in this context as an english idiom.

Sadly, in the culture of most North Americans, the vocabulary of the evangelical church is not well known. Thus the use of common words and concepts in the evangelical culture are almost universally misunderstood and misconstrued by those outside of that culture. So telling someone that the “wrath of God was satisfied” in the same breath as telling them that God is a loving, caring ‘father’ creates confusion at best and scornful derision at worst.

In order to introduce someone to Jesus we need to start where they are at and do the hard work of explaining the qualities of Christ without the shorthand. It’s not simple, but it’s the kind of gracious act that our loving Heavenly Father would have us do when helping those who are searching for Him.


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