July 11, 2018
Quite a number of contemporary theologians have made the observation that J. Gesham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was first released in 1923. Machen explained that he had written this work in order "to show that Christianity is not a 'life,' as distinguished from a doctrine. It is not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression. It is the other way around. It is a life founded on a doctrine." In the introductory section, Machen asserted that many of the modernist theologians "preferred to fight their intellectual battles in...a condition of low visibility." Explaining the dire need we have for clarity in definition, Machen wrote:
"The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a 'condition of low visibility.' Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding."
There is no more pressing need that we have at present than the need to define our terms. As clarity is the vehicle of truth, so ambiguity is the vehicle of heresy. When someone plays fast and loose with theological terminology, the Gospel is lost or perverted. When individuals level charges against others on the basis of social constructs and accepted terminology--rather than on the basis of fact and clear-cut definition of terms--polarization and power structures abound.
While modernism has morphed into postmodernity and postmodernity has provided a platform for intersectionality, the failure of so many--in both the world and the church--to clearly define terms has resulted in the widespread propagation of error. As a result of the cultural redefinition of terms and socially constructed agendas comes the need to defend and protect whatever narrative is being bandied about. Erica Jong takes all of these control structures back to their origin, namely, controlling words in order to control conversations. She writes:
"Language matters because whoever controls the words controls the conversation, because whoever controls the conversation controls its outcome, because whoever frames the debate has already won it, because telling the truth has become harder and harder to achieve in an America drowning in Orwellian Newspeak."
Therefore, as we seek to navigate the waters of our often-times volatile cultural climate--desirous of seeking to advance the truth--we must be as clear as possible with our words. Let's make it our aim to clearly define what we mean when we use terms like "Gospel issue," "reparations," "rights," "love," "hate," "racist," "bigot," "homophobe," "nationalism," "patriarchalism," "white supremacist," "chauvinism," feminism," "cultural Marxism," "Social Justice Warriors," "Gay Christians," etc. Not to do so leaves us open to the criticism that we are merely seeking to "fight our intellectual battles in a condition of low visibility."