Big Words, Big Problem
Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Jun 02
I love words. Words are fun. I warn my students that a semester with me will either increase their vocabulary or their verbal frustration. Along the way they learn that there are actually words to describe just about every human emotion or trait imaginable.
Among my favorites is “pusillanimous.” In short, it means things that are less than masculine; weak; i.e., effeminate. While the modern English vocab has many slang terms for such a state of being, none are so eloquent and imminently usable in mixed company as “pusillanimous.”
Another word that my students love is “sycophant.” This words rolls off the tongue, sounding ever so sweet as it passes one’s lips. However, the meaning is meant to be anything but. The slang for this word is colorful and paints many unsightly word pictures. A “sycophant” is one who seeks to curry personal favor by being overly complimentary to the object of their false affection. Every class, company, and church has one.
An early favorite of mine was “pedantic.” To be “pedantic” is to use large words just to impress one’s audience. Some might accuse me of this but I prefer to think that I use polysyllabic words to educate rather than just obfuscate. Don’t know what I mean? Look it up.
A recent verbal discovery came in lecture preparation for a church history class. As I considered the tendency of denominations to slide into the theological morass in an effort to be ecumenical or as broadly inclusivistic as possible, I came across the word “latitudinarianism.” This term communicates the idea that in an effort to give all interested parties as much philosophical/theological room as possible – latitude – the results are less than desired. “Latitudinarianism” typically leads not to theological unity but to diversity and ultimately division. Being broad-minded isn’t always a good thing.
I’d like to add a new word to the plethora of fifteen cent words being bandied about today. I’d like to introduce “attitudinarianism” into the church vocabulary. “Attitudinarianism” is the idea that the individual in question believes himself or herself to be far more valuable to the whole than publicly acknowledged.
The symptoms of “attitudinarianism” commonly present themselves in Christian gathers:
Some pastors are guilty of “attitudinarianism.” They mistakenly believe that the authority invested in their position increases the importance of the person in the position. This is the pastor that feels that he is infallible, unquestionable, and irreplaceable. They expect to be high and lifted up. This is the attitude of altitude.
Many congregation members also suffer from “attitudinarianism.” These are the people that assume that they are the only person whose comfort in the sanctuary matters. They assume that their pleasure and satisfaction are the final arbiters of all things worthy in the local church. “I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.” Think of this as the self-gratitude attitude.
Others of us suffer from a more subtle version of “attitudinarianism.” We quietly volunteer our services. We do the little things that must get done. We do the things that no one else will do. We sometimes begin to think that we’re the only ones who can get it done. The final stage of this variant of “attitudinarianism” is marked by the secret hope that someone will notice our selfless efforts. This is the platitude attitude.
Bloggers are often guilty of "attitudinarianism" as well. We begin to think that people really care about what we have to say. Then we start reading the comments to find out just how many people really love us. The tell-tale sign of the "blogger attitudinarianism" is the writer who knows how many people read his posts and follow him on Twitter. If you're counting, you are your biggest fan.
So, setting aside the fun of verbosity, do you suffer from “attitudinarianism?” Or are you just a carrier, always stoking the fires of other’s egos while stroking your own? Is Jesus the center of your universe or are you the master of your universe. If it’s the latter, you suffer from “attitudinarianism” and it’s time you abdicate the throne.
For far too many of us it’s time for an attitude adjustment. You can do it or you can wait for God to do it. Take a word of advice from a former attitudinarian, you’ll be much easier on yourself that God will be.