Back a few months ago, I sat among hundreds of students at a summer camp while listening to a widely-known speaker teaching theology. You could tell this guy had been doing this for quite some time – he had us on the edge of our seats as we were gripped by his stories, illustrations, and hand gestures. He was the full package, even using diagrams and object lessons in an attempt to teach us deep theological truths. I leaned in to listen and grow in my faith just like everyone else in the room. Eventually however, I was leaning in with one eyebrow raised. Most of what he was saying was helpful and biblically sound, but as he continued to speak I began to notice a pattern in his teaching – and it made me sick to my stomach.
Once he would come to a five-syllable theological term in the Scriptures such as justification or sanctification, he would immediately diminish its significance by describing the term as such: “This is a term that theologians use – oh ho ho ho (with a French accent).” Everyone laughed as you’d expect. He would then replace the word with something “simpler” and “easier to understand,” without giving a definition of the word or explaining its meaning. When it came to justification, he referred to it as something that only theologians talk about and then said what he preferred to call it. In an attempt to make the truth “easier” to understand, he avoided the use of the term altogether and sidestepped from defining and explaining the term.
There were students in this room that had never heard of justification or sanctification before, and now they will go back to their churches, schools, and families with the impression that big theological terms really amount to nothing. And sometimes, it is near impossible to undo first impressions.
This practice of avoiding the use of theological terms in preaching and teaching is theologically destructive. When this practice is followed, whether by speakers, Bible teachers, or even pastors, it is done so in hopes that their audiences will not be confused. But when they do this, it completely backfires and it creates a ticking time bomb ready to explode at the next hearing or reading of that theological term.
Those who do this really have good intentions, I truly believe that. They don’t want people to be frightened or confused by big terms. But avoiding the use and explanation of theological terms is fundamentally avoiding explanation of the Bible. Any person who teaches the Bible should use and explain theological terms because the Bible uses these terms. When we fail to do so, it’s a ticking spiritual bomb, waiting to explode within the Christian’s mind when he comes to the term the next time he reads it in the Bible. If we don’t use and explain the theological terms that the Bible uses, Christians will not know what they mean when they read them in the Scriptures. They will regard the terms as unimportant, run over them, and turn the page. It’s never a good thing when people consider terms in Scripture to be unimportant. This leaves them with a poor and unbiblical view of the Scriptures.
Bible teachers and expositors should use and explain terms such as justification, sanctification, glorification, propitiation, salvation, preeminence, redemption, substitution and a host of others because the Bible uses these terms. With that I want to encourage you, whether you are a parent, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, lead pastor, Bible teacher, or a widely known speaker – labor much in the use and explanation of the theological terms replete in the Scriptures. We need to know what they mean, and our people need to know what they mean. We need resources like Bible dictionaries to help us understand and grasp the meaning of these terms. We need to labor much to explain the meaning of theological terms to our people. If we want to be faithful teachers of the Scriptures, we must explain all the Scriptures – every term included.