Monday, August 27, 2007

The Grammarian, VII


I think we need to adopt a new rule: After seven prominent uses, any shortcut you use to speak theologically must give way to another way of saying the same. Clichés are the cheap way out.

To be sure, sometimes slogans can be helpful, in other contexts. But in theology, clichés gloss over the word of the Living God. This is bad, and it must stop.

I might put up with your talk about law and Gospel once or twice. That's it. Now find a different way to say it, will you? And not like some less inventive minds who have already found a different way: they have even shortened the shortcut to law/gospel, which when spoken aloud sounds like they've developed a new word: lawgospel. They'll speak of lawgospel preaching, and lawgospel sermons. Uggh . . .

Or justification by faith. Oh, do you like that one? Fine, I believe in it too. Now go find another way to say it, if you please. Luther did, you know. Just where in the small catechism does he ever say justification by faith, even once?

Or word and sacrament. Or Bible and Confessions. Or Scripture alone.

Or catholicity.

Or catechesis.

Or incarnational (often badly misused).

Or orthodox.

Or priesthood of all believers.

Or confessional (this ought to be a reference to a room where confessions are heard).

Or how about this one, by no means a shortcut, but used as often: "by the power of God working through the Gospel." I have a particular distaste for this. It's as though some canon lawyer went through the lines of your sermon looking for places to plant that phrase, thinking it would keep the devil away.

Imagine what life would have been like had Jesus used clichés. Oh wait, don't imagine that, it'd be sacrilege. Speaking of Jesus' preaching, if you're a preacher who finds preaching a difficult chore, I recommend you spend more time immersed in the kind of speach He uses, and the language of the Psalter, and of all the Sacred Scriptures. And then go and read some of the Fathers. No clichés there either.

Just stop with them. The Bible has no use for clichés, and neither should your hearers.

6 comments:

Venkman said...

Bravo! I couldn't have said it better myself.

"Impressive. Most Impressive"
-Darth Vader

Anonymous said...

Having heard you speak on several occasions, and having read much of what you have written, I have noticed certain cliche's which regularly arise in both your speaking and writing. The cliche's to which I am referring repeatedly use the words "Gottesdienst" and "subscribe."

"Physician---heal thyself," I say.

Rev. Thomas Fast

Father Eckardt said...

Oh, surely you jest! Well, then, Shirley, I'm dishing it back at you: First, "Gottesdienst" and "subscribe" are not clichés, they're words. Second, put them together and you have something like "subscribe to Gottesdienst" which is not a cliché, but an exhortation. Third, how is this a reference to theological discourse? And fourth, don't go putting a possessive apostrophe on "cliché" when you merely mean to make it plural. Methinks you are all messed up. But here's an idea which will help you out, Shirley: Subscribe to Gottesdienst!

Anonymous said...

Daggummit! I knew I should have used the "preview" function.

I hate grammarians. Or is it grammarian's? Perhaps it is grammarians'? Did I mention my wife teaches grammar using the "Shurley," or is it "Shirley" method? Either way, it's been tough enough getting the treatment at home. Now I am being corrected on web-logs(please note that I didn't use the word "blog") as well? That's what I get for reading postings on the internet instead of doing Gottesdienst, to which I have been called.

Okay, that was a lame attempt to be humorous. I'll leave that to you professionals. I'd better keep my day job.

BTW, I also plan on keeping my subscription to Gottesdienst, the journal. It's always a good read.

Rev. Tom Fast

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Yo! Since when do grammarians have the authority to invent and appoint new rules? Ha!

Anytime anyone suggests adopting new rules, that is cause for being wary. That is especially true, regarding matters of theological concern.

I wholeheartedly understand the frustration that you express concerning the lackadaisical use of common terms and phrases that is often observed. I, too, am greatly annoyed by such misuses of the preaching office.

However, it is not the use of a word or phrase repeatedly that is at issue. It is the manner in which it is used that causes offence. It is when the word or phrase is used in a manner that displays no life or power in the use of the word or phrase that leads to it being counted as a cliche or worse. The liturgy suffers the same kind of abuse frequently.

Moreover, I must object to your misrepresentation of Dr. Luther, the Bible, and the Lord Jesus.

Beginning with the Lord Jesus, Matthew records in 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mark records similarly in 1:14-15, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

According to these inspired writers, Jesus said the same thing over and over again. How many actual sermons of the Lord Jesus are actually recorded, anyway? I suppose that His parables could be counted as sermons. In His parables and in His speaking, how many times does He say, “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .”? Also, how many times does He use the phrase, “the kingdom of God is . . .”? There are certainly other examples, but these make the point.

Regarding Luther in the Small Catechism, what about the phrase, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household”? Or how about the phrase, “We should fear and love God that”? Or how about the phrase/question, “What does this mean?” Also, regarding the use of “justification by faith”, while it may not be in the Small Catechism, he certainly uses it elsewhere.

As far as your claim that the Bible has no use for cliches, what about “I am the LORD your God,” or simply, “I am the LORD”?

I agree that the way that a word or phrase is used can be not only annoying, but actually counterproductive and even destructive and blasphemous. But the same words or phrases can be used frequently with great power and for great benefit when spoken with true conviction.

Perhaps you were trying to be funny. If so I completely missed the humor.

Father Eckardt said...

Ah! With this grammarian you get not merely the bare rules, but recommendations for the better usage of grammar and language. If you choose not to take them, fine! How is "kingdom of heaven" a cliché? Heavens, as far as that goes, you could say the same about Jesus' name, couldn't you. I suggest you go and learn the difference between a cliché and a word used to name something. Or, if you choose, go ahead, let your sermons be filled with your tired, banal clichés, and suppose you are emulating Jesus.