This time though, I want to take a bit of a different tack on my writing regarding this book. You see, I was recently reminded of a quote from Jonathan’s dad, former Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. James Merritt, that I had heard about a year ish before I found how awesome Jonathan himself was when I read his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own. This particular line actually speaks to the discussion Jonathan has in Learning to Speak God From Scratch, and is:
The Church can influence the nation more through supplication than the Congress can through legislation.
Now, Jonathan doesn’t discuss the word “supplication” in this book. But this is where it gets interesting… because he *does* discuss “prayer“, and Merriam-Webster defines “supplication” as “to make a humble entreaty; especially : to pray to God“. So “supplication” is just fancy Christian speak for… prayer.
Another term Dr. Merritt likes to use in his sermons is “justification“. Again, Jonathan never has a chapter devoted to that particular word. But “justification” means “the act, process, or state of being justified by God“, and Jonathan *does* devote chapters to words like “God“, “Sin“, “Lost“, and “Confession“.
Still another term you’ll often hear Jonathan’s dad use is “sanctification“. And yet again, Jonathan never uses that word as the basis of a chapter in this book. But it means “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion“, and Jonathan devotes chapters to words like “Grace“, “Mystery“, “Brokenness“, and “Neighbor“.
Indeed, the entire point of this experiment in learning to speak God from scratch is to take the everyday Christian terms like “lost” and “creed” and “pride” and use them to unpack their truths and help us understand better both these words themselves and the more theologically-oriented “cation” words. And in so doing, Jonathan has created quite possibly one of the defining works in seeking to bridge the conversation gap between Christians and non-Christians.
Here’s a few samples of Jonathan’s words on a few select words, and then we’ll close with what some friends are also saying about this book:
On Prayer: “The [new way of thinking about prayer] was relational, rather than transactional, which is how it becomes transformational.”
On God: “When we use our words to speak about a terribly angry God, we often become terribly angry people. If we speak about a God who rules by fear, we become people who live in fear.”
On Sin: “We run off the tracks when we overemphasize one of the many ways of talking about sin to the exclusion of others.”
On Brokenness: “In a world where sin has become a dirty word, brokenness has become all the rage. We use it to describe circumstances we don’t like, and often, to label people who don’t fit our notions of the good Christian life.”
On Blessed: “One glaring difference is that the ancient Jewish understanding of this word is rooted in humility. Today, it is often tethered to pride. We don’t just receive blessings with bended knee; we declare them to the world. This not only potentially stirs up the worst parts of ourselves, but it also can inflict pain on those who don’t experience the same kinds of blessings we do.”
On Lost: “Few words are as seemingly harmless in the hands of religious people as lost. What infliction could be loaded into such a miniscule word? We lose socks, our keys, sometimes our minds. Yet Christians often use this term to refer to people who aren’t part of their religious tribe. And this is when the unassuming word lost shape-shifts into something else.”
On Neighbor: “In many American communities, it’s easy to avoid knowing or being known by one’s neighbors. We have forgotten how to love and prioritize the people who live alongside us.”
Closing, let’s look at what some friends are saying about Learning to Speak God from Scratch:
Over at LearningAlongTheWay.com, Lisa Lewis writes “Story by story, Jonathan unpacks why this change of use, this change of understanding has happened, and suggests how you and I can make intentional choices to become more aware of God-speak and learn to use well the sacred words he shows us.”
At TheSycamoreProject, Mark Youngkin says “I’ve often wondered how much of a barrier church language might be for people we are trying to win to Jesus, and Merritt’s study of words suggests it’s a significant problem there and in other contexts, as well.”
At FaithInRealTime.com, Tonya Schrougham writes “I discovered as I explored the handful of words that were singled out in this book that I have a tendency to abandon the words that tend to be misused. Rather than rescuing them and giving them new life, purpose, and meaning, I toss them in the trash. I promote recycling in our family lifestyle, but I don’t exactly let that concept completely permeate my life.”
At AMysteriousWay.org, Alex Steward says “Many of the words have been co-opted to serve our own purposes over time. Or simply, in our more secular society, we have chose to overlook words and disregard their meanings. There is a language barrier that has developed over time. Merritt is attempting to break down this wall.”
Finally, at JDanaTrent.com, J. Dana Trent herself says “How can we talk religion in the 21st century without everyone running from the room? Merritt gives us plenty of tools. In this book, he walks us through a thorough process of awareness, wonder, exploration, and application (193-195). It’s the very same journey he embarked on as a Southern Christian transplant to the big city. This is what makes Learning to Speak God from Scratch so compelling—it’s a memoir and linguistic ethnography of a man and a language mid-transformation.”