Sponsored: It's time to rethink our fractured religious vocabulary


The Bible translator William Tyndale wrote, Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him to sing, dance, and leap for joy. Yet in our interactions with Saints throughout the world, we have found many hurting members asking the same questions: If God weeps over our misery, why does Christ need to allay God’s wrath? If Christ promises to “wipe away all tears,” why do we anticipate sorrows to come in the next world? Too many of the wounded and struggling are wondering why a restored Church that heralds joy here and hereafter seems at time to inflict or add injury rather than proffer the balm of Gilead.

Tracking the history of our Christian past, and noting how frequently we Saints are using words and terms that we have inherited from “the traditions of the fathers,” we have been struck by the powerful insight of Robert McFarlane: “Language does not just register experience, it produces it.” And so our inherited language carries with it tremendous baggage we are unaware of, a language that is infiltrated with connotations of a wrathful God, of terrible judgment, of bondage to sin, of retributive punishment, and of the obstacles between us and God’s love. Far too often, we do not realize that the source of much of our sadness, our anxiety, and our feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness derive from an everyday language that the Restoration was intended to correct, to reform, and to purify. 

Our language needs an overhaul; we need a vocabulary adequate to the healing potential of a Gospel Restored. One insightful friend recounted how before her spiritual journey could begin in earnest, before she could open her heart and mind to the beauties of the gospel, she had to “unlearn things about God—unhealthy, incorrect, culturally informed principles about God, which have in fact distanced me from God.” 

Because we recognize how much language shapes our view of the world, of God, and of ourselves, and because we believe the Restoration should make “all things new,” we wrote a book with that title and with the aim of illuminating how gloriously, radically, and liberatingly different our understanding of “sin, salvation, and everything in between” should be. 

The Restoration relates an utterly unique human story. The narrative presents us with unprecedented Acts 1, 2 and 3. The characters are new, and the plotline remade accordingly. When we say God, we refer to loving parental tutors of both genders, not a remote sovereign deity. In describing the events of Eden, we find upward ascent, rather than downward fall, is the direction of the action. Woundedness, rather than sin, becomes our earthly inheritance.  Training in the school of love, rather than penance in the shadow of death, is our purpose. Understanding the necessary path through the bitter that we may learn to savor the sweet, and reorienting ourselves to the inevitability of collateral damage along the way, we find guilt has less of a tenacious grip on our minds; and we come to understand remorse as the appropriate pain we share with—and for—those we have injured. Repentance is more fruitfully seen as the process of heart-reshaping, forgiveness as God’s tender regard that precedes our fault, and judgment as a process of self-recognition that is a necessary prelude to further progress and change. 

Our relations with others can be made more healthy and holy as well, when we register the collaborative dimensions of church, Zion, and heaven. Though the Restoration has an institutional form with membership records and church buildings, Joseph also revealed the Church’s identity across time and culture—consisting of all those who labor to serve others and to love God. Zion is the prototype for a heavenly community, one in which we participate jointly with the good men and women throughout the earth who engage in works of service and righteousness. And the end of all our striving is not to earn or deserve heaven, but to lay its actual foundations in those sanctified relationships that we are building at this very hour.

Well over a thousand years ago, in words that foreshadow a more familiar formulation, Irenaeus referred to Christianity as the “only true and life-giving faith.” We love this expression, because it puts front and center the impact that our faith can—and should—have on our lived experience of the Restoration. The earliest Christians believed that the abundant life to which Christ invited us—indeed, the Resurrection itself—could begin in that moment when we truly beheld what Thomas Traherne called “the beauty of God’s face.” 

Language is that medium through which our experience is shaped and registered and enhanced. We wrote All Things New: Rethinking Sin, Salvation and Everything in Between with the desire to illustrate how much work is yet to be done in finding a vocabulary adequate to a gospel of unimaginable power and scope. And to exemplify how much healing work all of our efforts in that direction may bring about.

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