Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't use rhetoric to obscure meaning!

My posting earlier this week about Rob Bell's book Love Wins generated a lot of discussion on Facebook. Among the replies was a link to this article from one of Bell's defenders, written by a friend of a friend. I read the thing at the time and moved on, but one phrase from the article has been bothering me constantly since that time.

Speaking to his Mars Hill congregation this past Sunday, Bell also pointed out that the word "radical" comes from the same word as "radish," meaning "root." In the 17th century, "radical" came to mean, "returning to the origin" or "essential." A radical, therefore, is someone who is returning to the roots, the original, and the essence.
It is exactly this kind of beside-the-point thinking that really bothers me about many of Pastor Bell's supporters. (Again, I have not read the book, not have I met him, so I am withholding judgement on the author himself.) This point is presented as a major bit of wisdom, attempting to legitimize a position by showing etymology proves a "radical" is more true to original intent than a "conservative" or "orthodox" thinker.

But language changes over time, and meanings do not always stay true to original intent. For instance, consider the case of hobo, as investigated by THE STRAIGHT DOPE. The two strongest sources for the word are "Hoe Boy" - i.e. migrant worker - and "Hey, beaux" - i.e. A french dandy. Yet no one would claim that a modern hobo is either inherently a migrant farmer nor a Frenchman.

It is fine to argue for a theological point of view from logic and scripture. But it is deceptive to use rhetorical flourishes like this which obscure truth with facts that sound interesting, but are irrelevant. These kinds of references from Pastor Bell's supporters only serve to further discredit him in the eyes of his critics. And to leave a bad taste in the mouth of those - like me - trying to keep an open mind.

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