Thursday, April 16, 2009

Language and Culture

In my undergraduate days I was a double major studying Classics and and History. My focus in Classics was the Greek Language. My focus in History was Japanese History. Both of these fields really dealt with studying and understanding foreign cultures. My conclusion was that language was vital to this - what a culture is and does is shaped by its language. The better examples I am thinking of at the moment come from Japanese. The word "Dekimasu" is the verb meaning "complete." Saying a woman is dekimasu (or dekimashita, the past tense) is a way of saying that she is pregnant (hence the gals were warned not to use this word about themselves lest they give the wrong implication). This conveys a cultural idea.

In studying Greek, I studied everything from Homeric Greek (~800 B.C.) to Koine (~200 A.D.). One could see language changes - words that are introduced, words that fall out - and that shows changes in how the culture operates.

Why do we then have this strange idea in the Church that (and by "we" I mean some segments of the LCMS community) we can tinker and play with our language and not change our cultural ideas? If you change what you say, it changes how you understand things. If your words don't center around the same things, your culture, your theology won't center around the same thing.

Or as Paul would say, if you aren't determined to know Christ and Him Crucified, you have changed the Gospel. The Central Focus of the Christian Church has to be the death and resurrection of Christ -- if you've moved your focus away from this -- be it to the Almightiness of the Father, or the Wonders of Earthly Blessings, or the Living as Good Christians -- if these become central, then the focus and language will change.

Things that are true aren't necessarily the central point. Having a good, fit trim body is a good thing for a football player - but if you aren't a good player, it doesn't matter how buff you are. It doesn't matter if you merely say true things about God - do your Words, does your language focus upon Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.


Tor Hershman said...

Hay Zeus!!!

Jay Hobson said...

Well said Pastor. I especially enjoyed your tactful approach to presenting other positions for what they are rather than giving them a broad generalizing name.