The Power of the word

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."

I have been amused to see two blog posts in the past few days, written by two of my favourite prominent presbyterians, both discussing John Piper and both asking the question, "Is John Piper really reformed?"

Kevin De Young's blog post is entitled "Is John Piper Really Reformed?" and it can be read here.

R. Scott Clark's blog post is entitled "Is John Piper Reformed? Or Holding The Coalition Together (Updated)" and it can be read here.

That two prominent presbyterians differ ought not to surprise us, especially in the USA. In Wales the waves of revival and gospel blessing brought a rich miscellany of churches whose buildings remain as testimony to the diversity that flourishes when vibrant Bible Christianity flourishes. In the USA the Three Forms of Unity and, I suppose, the different countries of origin of immigrants, have given rise to a wonderful kaleidoscope of presbyterian denominations.

This came home to me in a different way over the past few days in trying to research the different worldwide groups of presbyterian churches. So far I have found three but I am sure there are others. We have the Worldwide Communion of Reformed Churches, the International Conference of Reformed Churches and the World Reformed Fellowship. If I ever do my doctorate it will be a historical theological comparison of the three groups trying to explain who belongs where and why and noting any anomalies. You can get the man out of taxonomy studies, but you can't get taxonomy studies out of the man.

Anyway, leaving aside John Piper and the fascinating question of whether he is reformed, Reformed, Really Reformed and whether he cares tuppence what anyone thinks, what interests me as a Welshman living in France is the Power of the word.

What does reformed mean? Is that different from Reformed?
What does evangelical mean?
Also what does baptist mean? And Baptist? 
And is reformed baptist a contradiction in terms ? 
What about Reformed Baptist? reformed Baptist? Reformed baptist? 


In the end to argue about words like this is futile. People blindly follow Humpty Dumpty anyway, whatever we say about confessions, definitions, etc. We use words in contexts to mean quite different things. This battery is dead. Communism is dead. My child is dead.

We may, like Humpty, want to be master of the word, but we can't. The word evangelical doesn't belong to me, or to the gospel coalition, the evangelical alliance, the council of evangelicals or to anyone else who might claim the authority to give the word it's final and restrictive definition. The word reformed will mean one thing when linked to baptist, another thing when linked to Church of Hungary and quite another when linked to bank robber.

So who will have the last word over whether John Piper is (Really) Reformed?
Scott Clark? De Young?

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."

Sorry, Humpty. When it's you against the power of a word, it's the word that wins.

That's what words are like.



Emmanuel said…
Do you mean we can't trust words? Or did I misunderstand?
Alan said…
No. That isn't what I mean.
Emmanuel said…
I think I am getting it. You actually mean that words have a meaning, and that we shouldn't play around with them.
Alan said…
I think I mean that words have a range of meaning, that sometimes people don't like that
and so they try to restrict the meaning to something that suits them,
but they can not,
because words belong to everyone
and can be controlled by no one.
Alan said…
Paul Helm says it so well :

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