In 1828 Noah Webster published his crowning achievement The American Dictionary of the English Language. The book was the culmination of his life’s work and contained 70k words, of which 12k had never appeared in a dictionary before. Webster learned 26 languages to help in his work and introduced American spellings of words like color and labor.
A good dictionary helps us understand the origin of words, the meaning of words, and gives examples of them in sentences. Dictionaries give us a standard set of meanings for words, ensuring that when we use a word, everyone can understand what we mean.
I think Southern Baptists are in need of a good dictionary. During the conservative resurgence part of the conflict was the two sides used the same words but meant different things. In a conversation, Jerry Vines quipped that liberalism is basically “neo-orthodoxy which uses our vocabulary but not our dictionary.”
As was pointed out ably in an earlier Voices column, some words like woke have become little more than code words, mean to insult and demean. (For whatever it’s worth I had this idea weeks before but William beat me to the punch with his piece.) In our increasingly divided world and convention, a good Southern Baptist Dictionary could help us all make sure that we are using the same vocabulary and dictionary.
There are undoubtedly words we can all agree on, like potluck or sweet tea. But other words can mean different things when used by different people. Even a word like worship conjures up wildly different images for different people. Words like woke are even more problematic.
So I propose a Southern Baptist Dictionary. There are many words that need clear definitions, but a few come to mind right away.
- Social Justice
- Cultural Marxist
- Southern Baptist
Of course, there won’t be a real and in print SBC dictionary, but the truth is we all need to decide on what we mean when we use a word. In many ways, we are trying to re-fight the wars of the Conservative Resurgence, but many of the definitions have changed. The way that we use words helps signify to others that we are on a certain side, and in many cases the very sight of those words causes us to tune out the rest of the argument.
I don’t profess to know who gets to decide how these words are defined or who should be the keeper of the dictionary. But I do think that having an agreed-upon set of definitions will enable us to make sure our conversations are not just meaningless babel. What’s the point of trying to engage someone if you are not even using the same dictionary?
Take a shot and define the words above, or list your own words that you think need a clear definition. Clear communication won’t solve all the problems that Baptists face, but it sure won’t hurt us either.