I’ve been reading through R. B. Thieme’s Reversionism. (I’ve been reading through Thieme’s booklets for the last couple of months, which are available for free from his ministry’s website, rbthieme.org.) It’s too soon to say whether it is good or not, but I will say the opening paragraph, where he describes the possibility of a regenerate person can become perpetually carnal, is excellent.
But for this blog, I’d like to concentrate on the following quote, which helps clarify what Thieme was trying to achieve in his theology. Basically, he wanted to create a new vocabulary to replace the Reformers’s terminology:
“Vocabulary is essential to all thought…Every occupational, academic, or professional sphere of life…requires its own technical vocabulary…The same principle is true in the categorical study of Bible doctrine. It is impossible for a believer to advance in the knowledge of the Word of God without a technical vocabulary. Yet when confronted with unfamiliar technical nomenclature, many believers criticize or reject this terminology, either because it is new to them or because they do not understand its biblical significance. Today, much of the expository terminology still reflects the vocabulary developed in the post-Reformation rise of Covenant Theology in the sixteenth century…One of the goals of my ministry has been to develop an illustrative vocabulary that conveys the truth of God’s Word and expedites doctrinal teaching” (Reversionism, p. 3).
I admire Thieme’s ambition. He was attempting something huge. He was taking on the whole system of theological language—not just from the Reformers mind you, but also inherited from the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians— and trying to create a new theological language! The man had guts! And vision!
Thieme names two reasons why someone would reject a new terminology. First, because it is new. Second, because it is unfamiliar. Neither of those are very strong reasons.
Third, a new vocabulary can be unnecessarily confusing.
Fourth, you risk replacing one unbiblical terminology with another.
Fifth, if you invent a technical vocabulary to explain the Bible, you risk spending all your time explaining that vocabulary, instead of explaining the Bible’s own vocabulary. It seems like it would be easier to just stick with the Bible’s language and explain that.
Personally, my attitude, up until how, has been different than Thieme’s. Practically, the opposite.
I agree with him that the theological vocabulary we’ve inherited is often misleading and wrong. But rather than try to invent a new one, I’ve been more inclined to pare down the theological words I use, and try to stick to the Biblical language itself.
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13).
Retain the standard of sound words. Paul is talking about both doctrine, and, more literally, the words to communicate that doctrine.
The Christian world is full of unsound words. It’s full of people trying to improve on the Bible.
For example, I have a Catholic friend who, for the last few months, has sent me Catholic devotionals every week. The devotionals are typically horrible. They usually mangle the Biblical texts (e.g., they took the rich young ruler as an evangelistic verse!), are filled with mystical language, and the application always amounts to works salvation. The last one he sent was trying to communicate the way of salvation, but it presented the condition as mystical “yielding.” That is not a NT way of presenting the condition of eternal salvation.
In return, every week I point out to my friend how that devotion teaches works salvation and I ask, “What’s wrong with the way Jesus evangelized? He told people that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life. Why can’t we just stick to what Jesus said? Why can’t we just believe what Jesus promised? Shouldn’t we speak as He spoke? Shouldn’t we evangelize as He evangelized? All this other religious mumbo jumbo might sound elegant and wise and spiritual, but Jesus had the words of eternal life, and what can be more beautiful than Jesus’ own language?”
So my inclination has been to clean up my speech. I’ve tried to pare down my vocabulary. I’ve tried, when speaking about theological topics, to actually use the Bible’s own terminology. It’s slow going. It will take years, I’m sure. And frankly, I haven’t been entirely successful.
But maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe Thieme was right. Maybe we do need a new technical vocabulary—terms like “Free Grace” or “zero pointer” or “reversionism” or “once saved, always saved”—in order to clean up our thinking, get a clearer perspective on what the Bible is teaching, and to make it easier for people to learn doctrine.
Or, maybe, the best way is to stick to the Biblical text as closely as possible and only occasionally—very occasionally—invent some key terms to describe a “big idea” that the major theological traditions missed, lost, or misrepresented (e.g., “the promise of everlasting life.”)
I think we do need a new vocabulary. But we should get rid of the Christianese and stick to the Bible’s own sound words.