Back in the days when things weren’t so hyper-regulated, my siblings and I used to take turns spending the night with my dad while he worked at the hospital. We’d hob-nob with the various docs and nurses and learn all sorts of interesting and disgusting things about the medical emergencies people find themselves in. I’m glad I had that opportunity for a lot of reasons but one of the chief among them is that I got to see my dad in action with his patients. One of the things that always amazed me is that he would go to see a patient with an empty chart in his hand, have a seemingly “normal” conversation, and come back with a complete and accurate history. Somehow he had learned how to get the answers he needed without using “doctor speak”. In so doing, he not only filled his chart, he also was able to built rapport with a total stranger.
During seminary I was aware that even as I was becoming adept at my new theological language, I would someday need to translate all that specialized language into everyday speech in order to harness it for good use. The fact is, people are thinking about theology and making theologically informed decisions all the time, even if they don’t identify what they are doing as theologizing. But as with medicine, a theological language has evolved that allows a small population of specialists to locate themselves in a conversation quickly and precisely without having to do a lot of round-about explaining. A theologian isn’t necessarily thinking differently than your average Joe or Jane asking questions about God. The difference is largely in the vocabulary we use and the access that vocabulary gives us to more precise conversations. The trick in all this is for a theologically informed person to ask, hear and communicate all the same content in a way that is appropriate in any given context.
How do we communicate important and sometimes complicated or precise theological ideas without getting derailed by our vocabulary? We need practice. So take a second to stretch while I “wind up”.
Recently a 5-year old named Connor delivered a sermon doodle to his pastor along with this note: “Dear Pastor, how did God create himself?” Clearly a wise man, the pastor handed the question off to his “resident theologian” Eric Meyer, a good friend of mine from Regent College. Also a wise man, Eric subsequently challenged his blog readers to give a one-sentence, age appropriate answer.