It seems like every four or five years I once again head back to Middle Earth and join Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and the rest of the Company on their epic adventure. So late last week I decided it was time again to take a short break from some of the heavier reading I’ve been working on, and go back to an old friend. Not that 1,008 pages of Tolkien is necessarily “light” reading, but it is literature as opposed to “academic” writing.
Part of what spurred me on this time was two articles on the Desiring God website. One is called “What are some books that DG recommends?” and Lord of the Rings is listed in their recommended literature section. The second article is “The Poverty of Theological Vocabulary” written by John Piper in 1970 while, I’m guessing, he was still at seminary. In this short article he begins,
The poverty of theological vocabulary results from the fact that most theologians are not full-fledged citizens of what Wordsworth called “the mighty world of eye and ear.” They do not speak a “language of the sense.” Theological vocabulary is the vocabulary of conception not perception.
Take from your shelf any commentary, introduction, history or systematic theology and look for words with some tactile, olfactory, visual, sonorous or saporous quality. They just aren’t there. Theological vocabulary does not include honeysuckle, orange, shady, giggle, juicy, willow, brine, mud, clover, concrete, feathery, pudding, chimney and the like.
Let me add that he’s not condemning theology or saying that it should not be written or read. I think he’d be the last person to say anything like that. What he is saying, and how he finishes the article, is this,
The fastest and easiest way to obliterate the language of the sense and the power of the senses is to read only poverty-stricken theology. If we in seminary do not stretch ourselves beyond the pages of our dogmatics we shall all be dead by graduation day. And that evening, diploma in hand, we may lament with Samuel Coleridge,
All this long eve so balmy and serene
Have I been gazing on the Western Sky
And its peculiar tint of yellow green
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!
So what are you reading these days?