Marva Dawn, a prolific author, is currently a teaching fellow in spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver. In this work she addresses a linguistic concern, which she calls a “crisis in the churches—the frequent corruption or rejection of key words in biblical faith for reasons that often seem merely to be ‘quick fixes’ of, instead of genuine solutions to, deeper problems” (p. 9). She gives several examples: “Some words like Father, Lord, or Creed have gotten a bad reputation these days. Some words, like Hell, are corrupted by being ignored; some, like awesome, by being overused; some, like Heaven, by being dismissed as irrelevant in (post)modern times” (ibid.). Her aim is simply stated, though not simply achieved: “My goal is simply to ask what might be good about the original words, perhaps ‘to rectify the names’ ” (ibid.). Later she observes, “Isn’t it funny that a religion centered in One who is named ‘Word’ has become so sloppy with its words? . . . You’d think that if we really believed that Jesus is God’s Word, who is both God and with-God for us, we’d spend more time listening to the Word, more attention to living it, and more concern for what we say and how we say it” (p. 44). Precision in language has never been more important than today, and this excellent little book is a helpful resource that is worthy of repeated readings.
The book is divided into three parts, “God,” “Why Do Human Beings and the World Need God?” and “Actions of God.” In each part a series of brief essays treats words or concepts within those categories. It would be easy to find fault with her selections and omissions, but that would not be fair. This book is not a biblical or theological dictionary. The author does not intend to cover every word nor even the most important words. Thus the book needs to be read for what it is, an attempt to rescue certain words from misuse or disuse, and the reader is encouraged to contemplate her reflections on the meaning of these terms, to use her work as an opportunity to remind the reader of the mystery of the Christian story and the message of hope it tells and brings. Of interest is her essay on “Behold!” which she calls a “ ‘grab you by the shirt collar and shake you up a little’ word” (p. 31). Three essays are devoted to “Creation,” since “two entries on creation aren’t enough” (p. 119). In the essay on “The Scandal (Of Christ’s Work),” Dawn’s autobiographical story shows how her “physical setbacks” have increased her hope. Appropriately the book concludes with meditations on “Resurrection,” “Ascension,” “Pentecost,” and “Parousia.”
Dawn concludes the introduction with these words: “So let this little book offer the claim that some essential words should be retained in all their customary truth and eternal mystery. May it be, in its own tiny way, a prod to all of us to keep thinking deeply about words. Most of all, I pray that this book will glorify God and not dishonor the Triune One. May it enhearten us all a bit and stir us towards deeper love for God and our neighbors” (p. 14). This reviewer has returned to these essays, rereading them, and reflecting on her poignant and worshipful thoughts on these theological ideas. This book is worth adding to any Christian’s library, as both a resource and a source of devotional nuggets. There are enough essays to provide nearly three months of daily readings, one chapter a day to begin or end the day with contemplation on one of the great words of the Christian faith. Dawn helps readers talk the walk accurately, which should result in a more faithful walk of the talk.
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