This article first appeared in the From the President column in the Christian Research Journal, volume 43, number 1 (2020). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Ever wonder how the cover article for the Christian Research Journal is chosen? I’ll spare you the details. But what I will tell you is that it is rarely easy! Even as I write, the tune of John Sebastian’s 1965 pop hit, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” is running through my head. Topping the list of finalists for the current issue of the Journal are “Faithful Living Through COVID-19” and “The Beauty of Worship.” In the end, however, the consensus winner was “Seduced? The Crisis of Word and the Fragmentation of Civilization.” Alongside the coronavirus crisis, the semantic crisis highlighted by D. K. Matthews demands its rightful place in the contemporary spotlight.
Carl F. H. Henry rightly defined this time of trouble as a “crisis of word.” A linguistic crisis that “has flowered into fragmentation, outrage and semantic terrorism” (click here for this specific issue, click here to subscribe and receive as your first issue [in fall of 2020]). A crisis in which Christians find themselves in the crosshairs of a virulent pandemic. Post-truth critics — including candidates for the highest office in the land — routinely castigate those who stand in opposition to their redefinition of words. They are labeled intolerant, hateful, ignorant, xenophobic, and an “imminent and existential threat to the noble quest for a progressive future” (see links above).
Consider, for example, the redefinition of the word marriage. In Same-Sex Marriage, the authors correctly forward the notion that “marriage has at all times and in all societies been a relationship between men and women.” That “marriage exists because of the dual, gender-distinct nature of humanity.” And that “the connection between marriage and procreation is more than just incidental.”1 They note that in a contrary opinion, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy holds that marriage, as historically defined, fosters ill will and animosity. In his considered opinion, anyone who embraces the historical definition of marriage — thus excluding same-sex couples — “does so out of hate and animus.”2
Justice Kennedy’s opinion highlights the danger of redefining words. What must surely have been self-evident to this supremely erudite arbiter of justice is that virtually every redefinition of marriage, including his own, excludes someone (siblings, the polygamous, those underage, etc.). But is this due to hate or to common sense? If marriage means everything, in the end, it may well mean nothing at all.
As Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, rightly notes, “Social institutions like marriage are created, sustained, and transmitted by words, and the images, symbols, and feelings that surround words. Change the meaning of the word, and you change the thing itself.” If you redefine the word “cat” to mean “furry, domestic animal with four legs and a tail,” it becomes quite difficult to know whether you are talking about a cat, a dog, or something else. “If we want to speak to each other about cats, we will either have to invent a new term, and hope it will still communicate the full valence of the old word (rich with historic associations and symbolic overtones), or we will have to do without a word for ‘cat’ at all. One might reasonably foresee, without charting all the particular specific mechanisms, that it might become harder to communicate an idea for which we no longer have any word.”3
The redefinition of the word “marriage” is hardly a trifling matter. It is emblematic of “the twilight of a [once Logocentric and] great civilization” (see links above). Consider just three of the redefinition examples cited by Matthews in “Seduced?”
- Madonna’s desire to convince Pope Francis of a “Prochoice Jesus.” Another Jesus. A Jesus leading pro-abortion advocacy in the twenty-first century
- “San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ attempt to redefine ‘convict,’ ‘felon,’ ‘prisoner,’ and ‘juvenile delinquent’ as a virulent ‘racism’ that targets ‘justice involved’ persons”
- “A historic ‘Christian’ seminary’s redefinition of God, prayer, repentance, and chapel inclusive of neo-pantheistic worship, prayer, and repentance directed toward plants” (see links above)
Says Matthews, as with “objective morality and truth, words are now pervasively and opportunistically defined, re-defined, and used in relativistic, and sometimes weaponized, fashion.” While “sematic equivocation, verbal seduction, and manipulative word games” are hardly original, seldom have they been employed with such enthusiasm as in the present (see links above).
Even Bible translators have left a mark on the toxic word redefinition crisis. No clearer example could be given than Eugene Peterson. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 of The Message, Peterson refrains from using the word “homosexuals,” opting instead to insert the politically correct phrase “use and abuse each other — use and abuse sex.”4 Of course, not even practicing homosexuals can find fault with Peterson’s reframing of the biblical text. Why? Because they quite obviously do not consider homosexuality an “abuse of sex.” From their perspective, it is simply an alternative lifestyle.
Make no mistake. As the article “Seduced?” underscores, we are in the midst of a virulent linguistic crisis. Long after the COVID-19 crisis has receded from our memories, this battle will continue to ravage our futures.
Thus, as I so often put it, we can curse the darkness, or we can build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm. Articles such as “Seduced?” along with other timely articles in this issue of the Christian Research Journal, do just that. As such, reading this issue cover to cover is bound to equip you with new heights of perspective and new depths of understanding. Providing you with new insights as well as new ways of seeing. Enjoy! And thanks for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Christian Research Institute — because truth matters, life matters more. —Hank Hanegraaff
- Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 32, 57.
- McDowell and Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage, 43. See United States Windsor, 570 U. S. 744 (2013), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_6j37.pdf.
- Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution: A Reply to Andrew Koppelman,” University of St. Thomas Law Journal 2, no. 1 (2004): 53, https://ir.stthomas.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1047&context=ustlj. See also McDowell and Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage, 57–58. Material in previous three paragraphs adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life (Nashville: W Publishing, 2019), 163–64.
- Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 2072.