Bigger is Bigger

The appeal of Roman Catholicism is size. It has 1.2 BILLION members. It has 2000 years of history. It has oh so many paintings, galleries, cathedrals, yada yada. Size matters.

Redeemer Big Apple’s appeal is also to size — but it is the big city, and being connected to churches in other big cities, in following a pastor who has enough celebrity even for New York City editors. It’s size has almost nothing to do with the past, at least if Kathy Keller is to be believed:

I’ve saved my most important value for last: carefully screening our language is the most critical thing we can do.

I can’t find enough words to stress how important this is. We must have a care for how we choose our words, our images, and our ideas when we communicate, no matter what we’re communicating — whether it’s donor updates, lectures, or emails about events that are coming up. You absolutely must comb out all of the Christian subcultural phrases that clutter up so much of the Christian church. This is vitally important, and perhaps it’s even more important today than it was 30 years ago, because the cultural moment that we’re in now loathes evangelical Christians, and we don’t need to give them any more reasons to disrespect and dislike us.

Redeemer has been pretty good at this, partly because it was actually one of the major parts of my job description to search and destroy any piousbabble. That’s the word I coined to describe the-language-that-must-not-be-spoken. You’ve heard of psychobabble? That’s pop psychology drawn from catchphrases, media, podcast pontification and other non-academic sources.

Piousbabble are those phrases and those words that creep into your prayers and into your language.. Lord, we just, we just, Lord … We want traveling mercies, we want to bathe it in prayer, and we need prayer warriors, and we need a hedge of protection. All that sounds kind of normal-ish to most Christians. But it’s like Swahili to the nonbelievers and the seekers who are coming.

Does pious babble extend to words like Presbyterian, justification, Holy Spirit (Ghost is even more alarming, I guess), eschatology, ministry, or vocation?

That may explain why Tim Keller thought he needed a catechism other than the one his own communion uses.

But isn’t this piousbabble?

Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love. Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit.

Even so, if I can count on Kathy Keller to renounce the use of such pious phrases as “dead orthodoxy,” I’m on board.

14 thoughts on “Bigger is Bigger

  1. This is big in Redeemer franchises. All theological language is out. The confession is out. It’s all big funnel with the promise that particularity will be introduced later. We all know the story by now about whatever you use to get them in, you have to keep using to keep them in, especially when the building and budget and staff has grown to accommodate their being there.


  2. Speaking of in- and out-lingo and updated catechisms, how did Redeemer let their new one out with that kind of a name? Don’t they rub shoulders with sufficiently salty folk to have foreseen how easy it would be to make fun of the “new, s**tty catechism”?


  3. I think D.G. fails to observe a common trait in the Piousbabble. That trait is the self-exaltation of the believer, the proclamations of one’s own piety. At least that is what Keller’s examples seem to indicate.


  4. Curt, you left out the pious babble that regards Keller as the greatest pastor since Billy Graham and that hypes how great and unique Redeemer big apple is (see Kathy Keller promoting herself).


  5. D.G.,
    I regard the hype of Keller to be marketing, not piousbabble. And noting one or two strengths of one’s own church, provided that what is being noted is true, is no necessarily piousbabble. But more than that legitimizes an investigation as to whether one is engaging in piousbabble.

    IMO, people who hype Keller and others like him are displaying signs of an authoritarian personality type more than piousbabble. Though there is no exclusive-or choice between the two.


  6. Do you have to say “dead orthodoxy” in order to tell people that Arminians are also Christians but with a “hollow orthodoxy”? But what Is Orthodox about saying that Jesus died for a sinner who will ultimately perish under God’s wrath? Is the gospel about thanking God that we are not anti-legalistic in the way “others” are?

    John Fesko—Machen’s engagement, however, was not the rant of fundamentalism, but a cogent exegetical and theological confrontation of the best that the liberal academy had to offer. Moreover, his orthodoxy was no dead orthodoxy. He wrote, “In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love”

    As a seminarian, Machen wrote: “The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.”

    John Fesko– People will often affirm that we are freed from the demands of the law in Christ, only to throw a new yoke of demands and prohibitions upon others, about which the Scripture says nothing. Such a commitment to Christian liberty showed me that the gospel was central to Machen—

    John Feskso–Some believe that the gospel of Jesus must be accompanied by certain behavior of which Scripture has said nothing. No matter how well intended, such a mind-set can lead to legalism, forsaking the gospel of Jesus Christ. Others believe that if certain peripheral doctrines can be maintained, orthodoxy can be preserved. Fundamentalism, whether in doctrine or in practice…only leads to legalism or a hollow orthodoxy


  7. D.G.,
    That’s a good way to describe our differences here. I would just point how an authoritarian personality is defined and see if that better describes what we witness with followers of Keller.

    Keller, like all of us, has mixed record of saying good things and bad things and doing good things and bad things. I think you focus on him way too much. But some of his followers are the ones who present problems. Those who quote him without questioning what he says because they have put him on too high a pedestal are the ones who need to be challenged, but not by criticizing Keller without acknowledging his contributions. Such criticism is the flip side of the coin of the praise from those who put him on too high a pedestal.


  8. Yes, nothing is harder for pagan city folk than accommodating to such oppressive and offensive language like “traveling mercies”. We should definitely keep that whole bloody cross thing as cleaned up as possible as well, lest those city-folk find us unlikeable and disrespectful.


  9. Craft brew & neo-pious babble vs miller highlife pious-babble? Ain’t the reformed faith grand? I
    Can make my own hard cider clothed in Christ and babble to myself. if I please. Culture does not save.


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