Language as Radical Discipleship

“There is a faith that is willing to wait… without idols.” – Walter Brueggemann

Our words are not meaningless. Our speech is not inconsequential. Our language is a matter of faithfulness… or faithlessness.

On many levels and in many dimensions, we live in a richly diverse culture. The American people in 2010 find themselves deeply embedded in a pluralistic society. It’s not so much that there are many religions – that’s just the surface. It’s that there are many gods, many idols. Most of these idols play to our individual desires, promising to fulfill our every want or need. The gods are many, and play in many markets of consumption. Some play on our fears, offering us false security and pretense at control. Some play on our weaknesses, promising to remake us in the image of our gods. Some play on our pride and greed, convincing us that our worth is measured in units of pleasure and materials.

And all of this idol-worship, all of this nihilistic and pluralistic self-indulgence forms us as a people – whether you like it or not. But the slickest of all of Satan’s schemes has been to entrench us in a “way of life” that is supposed to be a given – to place us so squarely in an image-laden world that it drowns out the Image above all images.

Whatever reflection or contemplation about such a society leads you to (and the implications are too numerous to list), reflect with me about what it means to speak to and within such a world, as Christians.

I have been told the best way (and perhaps only way) for monolingual adults to learn a new language is to “completely immerse yourself in the language and culture you desire to learn.” Interesting thought. And the reason this is the best way is because it is precisely how we learned our own language. We are deeply immersed in a culture, and cultures have a language – language that is formed from habits. And the language formed by the habits of the host culture, testifies to the goodness of that society, because that is what it is trained to do.

Enter the Holy Word. When thrust into the word of God, we immediately are confronted with deep conflict. Because God’s word creates and re-creates (see Psalm 33). God’s word imagines a new world – a “New Creation” inaugurated on Resurrection Sunday when all things were made new, and life in the new age was possible… now! And whats more, God’s word calls us to participate in this New Creation, this New Aeon, this New Age, now.

Sound good? It is indeed good! But no one ever said anything about safe. Good does not equal safe. Because the new world that God’s word speaks to, the new age that God’s word is creating and re-creating, even now, is in deep conflict with the Old Age, the Old Aeon, the creation in rebellion to God’s good purposes for it.

And to whatever degree we collude with the kingdom of the Old, we cannot imagine the “with-God life” in the new. When we speak, we still give testimony to the goodness of what is perishing. When we open our lips we do not bear witness to this new world, we bear witness to the old. Because we learned a language – we were immersed in it deeply. We bear witness to the perceived goodness of hatred, violence, despair, sin, corruption, oppression, captivity, slavery and bondage that the Old Age promotes – even thrives on.

This culture plays it fast and loose with words. Words, like anything else, are available to us to promote our own will. They are free products in an open-market that serve our every whim. In a rebellious society, we become convinced by the Deceiver that words are idle – we are trained to dismiss careful attention to our language, to be disciplined in our speech, to give thought to the habits that our words come from. “Words are not powerful. Words do not create or re-create. Words are just words. Language is just language. Speech is just speech.”

This is a lie. And not just a lie for the sake of telling a lie, but a lie with a purpose, carefully plotted by Satan. The purpose is the formation of a people in the image of the Old Age. The Old Aeon, the Old Age, the Old World is marked with death. And in the Old Age words are dead, and testify to that death that the Old Age depends on and works toward.

The truth is that words hold power. And when we speak them we are accessing that power. The question is, “To whom will we wield our power for? For life or death? For the New Creation or the Old Aeon? For the building up of what is everlasting or for the building up of what is being done away with? For YHWH or Satan?”

It is time, time that we dare to enter the Kingdom of God, with all it’s strange words and language foreign to us. Citizens of the Kingdom of God are aliens in a strange land, and the language of their host culture is altogether foreign to them. We have another language, we speak to another reality. It is time we become immersed in the language of faithfulness – in Trinitarian language.

When Jesus was in the desert being tempted by the Deceiver, the first temptation was a practical one. “Turn these stones into bread!” declares Satan. “No!” replies Jesus. And in the language of the New Creation he gives his reason. With speech reigned in under faithfulness to YHWH, he speaks to another reality, saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” What? What did he just say? “Man does not live by bread alone…”? What does that mean? He must be crazy! Of course food is what sustains us! It’s practical. It’s fact. It’s what is real… that is, in the Old Aeon, in the Old Empire, in the Old Kingdom, in the Old Order of Things. But in the new world, the world the bible imagines, it is not so. God’s word is what sustains us.

That is faithful speech. That is the language of radical discipleship.

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