Buzzwords and Definitions

by Harrison Stock   |    Faith & Heritage

The problem with discussion of important issues is that those involved too quickly resort to buzzwords. A buzzword is a word that has an immediate emotional impact, but has no agreed definition. In polite every-day conversation this does not present a problem. We all can talk about what time it is even though none of us can give a rigorous definition of time. But when talking about issues of great importance, buzzwords are a hindrance. Those of the Left employ undefined buzzwords rather than rational argument in order to silence their opposition. The Left constantly is talking about “justice” and “racism.” No one wishes to be seen as an advocate of “injustice” or a practitioner of “racism,” so very few wish to speak against the Left. As a result there is very little discussion of definitions. What is “justice”? What is “racism”? Even to ask these questions is tantamount to challenging the hegemony of the Left.

Of all people, Christians ought to be most bold in challenging the Left by pursuing definitions. But such Christians are all too rare. Theological liberalism is but a religious way of being Leftist. All they do is put a religious slant on the buzzwords. And don’t count on evangelicalism to mount any challenge. Evangelicals—for the most part—have been cowed into submission. The Reformed have been most adept at theological and philosophical definitions. The Reformed have been most biblical at pursuing a truly Christian social order. It is the Reformed who have the greatest potential to challenge the buzzwords of the Left. Instead we see so often the “Reformed” not only failing to do this, but actually joining in the Left’s buzzword campaign.

Derek Rishmawy is yet another “Reformed” blogger who rises no higher than buzzwords in his attempt to speak of the theology of race. In a recent post Rishmawy offers “a couple theological meditations on the practices of the church and the issue of race.” The church practices that Rishmawy considers are recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. How does the theology of these practices shape our idea of race? Rishmawy’s meditations are not especially helpful. Regarding the Lord’s Prayer he says, “To ask God for his kingdom to come is to pray for many things, but central among them is the gift of justice.” Enter buzzword number one. What is “justice,” and what does justice have to do with the issue of race? The closest Rishmawy comes to addressing these questions is to muse about the human effort involved in bringing about the justice of God:

Working for justice is not opposed to trusting in the Lord for justice. We do not bring the kingdom of God, but we work for it nonetheless, and trust God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3). And this is true of our work to oppose the works of darkness in our hearts and communities, including racism, and in this country, the lasting legacy of white supremacy.

Rishmawy seems to say that “justice” is the Kingdom of God. So far, so good. But since his main subject is the issue of race, he quickly comes to his point that working for “justice” means opposing “racism.” Enter buzzword number two. According to Rishmawy you can do all kinds of wonderful things and work very hard for God’s righteousness, but if you do not oppose “racism” then you cannot be for “justice.” Here the Reformed Christian is left puzzled. If we do not know what “racism” is, then we do not know what “justice” is. Perhaps Rishmawy will enlighten us as he moves on from the Lord’s Prayer to speak of the Lord’s Supper.

With the issue of race in mind, what Rishmawy gleans from the theology of the Lord’s Supper is the theme of oneness:

As one body we share one loaf and one cup with our one Lord through whom our one Father feeds us in the one Spirit we share. In it we hear the promises of the one Gospel. One Supper flows from one Gospel. This one Gospel is the good news of our one Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Son become man by taking on our one humanity, putting it to death, and raising it to new life again in his resurrection. And it is this one humanity that is made in the Image of our one God.

Rishmawy wishes to translate the oneness that all God’s people have in Christ into a socio-cultural oneness:

It is precisely this oneness that any doctrine of racial supremacy and superiority violates. For that reason, I do not think it wrong to speak of such teachings such as white supremacy, not merely as sin, but as damnable heresy. It violates so many doctrines in the faith and practice of the Church, there is simply no gospel left on the other side of it.

More buzzwords are added to the mix. It would seem that he employs “supremacy” and “superiority” merely as rhetorical devices, meant only to evoke an emotional response. This is evident in the fact that his own summary statement says merely, “A racially-divided Supper is no Supper at all.” Does Rishmawy seriously wish to suggest that any service of the Lord’s Supper attended only by those of common ethnicity necessarily implies an attitude of “racial supremacy and superiority”? One commenter took Rishmawy as possibly being serious about such foolishness. Josh asks, “Would you say spiritual unity, the likes of which you describe, also necessitates organizational unity? For example, are mono-ethnic churches sinful?” This is a simple yes-or-no question to which Rishmawy, because he is devoted to buzzwords instead of definitions, cannot give a simple yes-or-no answer. He rambles on for several paragraphs in attempt to provide a reply. Initially, he offers:

So long as they are not purposely excluding anyone from another region, ethnicity, etc. on the basis of some alleged superiority, regionally you can only have in your church whoever lives nearby. . . . I suppose I’d say a church should strive to be as ethnically or culturally diverse as its surrounding environs.

Things have come down a notch or two from “damnable heresy.” Now Rishmawy can only “suppose” that we should “strive” to associate with those who live “nearby.” How far is “nearby”? In what units can we measure “strive”? Who gets to decide whether we have tried hard enough to include those who reside just over the line from “nearby”? Who gets to decide whether it is on them to include us, or on us to include them? Rishmawy seems to feel the pressure of such questions weighing upon him, and so he attempts to explain where the real problem lies:

BUT, the problem comes with intentional institutional division for the sake of separation, keeping “pure”, hostility, etc. which would work to keep the make-up of the congregation from becoming diverse. That would be sinful. Especially when it comes with some doctrine of racial supremacy such as White supremacy.

We have come a long way from “a racially divided Supper is no Supper at all” to “intentional institutional division.” Now Rishmawy’s concern no longer is the fact of division, but the intent. Whether consciously or not, he has hung all definitions upon the intent of the heart. To be sure, the intent of the heart counts for a lot. But it does not determine orthodoxy vs. heresy. The matter of heresy is determined by definition. It is grievously irresponsible for anyone to start throwing the H-word around before he has defined his terms. Is it really true that “teachings such as white supremacy [are] damnable heresy”? What are those teachings, exactly? And who teaches them? Do these teachings (whatever they are) really “violate so many doctrines in the faith”? What doctrines, exactly? Many? Name three. Is it really true that “there is simply no gospel left on the other side of it [i.e. white supremacy]”? What is the gospel? How is it that those who defended the gospel against heresy for two thousand years never talked about the “heresy” that has Rishmawy all in a dither? There was a time when the Reformed were those who provided definitions. Today there are increasing numbers of “Reformed” who provide little beyond buzzwords. Lord, rescue us from the “Reformed.” Semper Reformanda.

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