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Opinion: Language and Interpretation Matter

The question we should be asking ourselves at PLNU is: Are we following the commandment of Jesus, which is to love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40)? 

Scripture is constantly being translated and interpreted in different ways every time we read it. Our interpretations of the Bible are always subject to error because we are human and read Scripture through different lenses.

Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.), an early Christian theologian whose writings influenced the development of the Church, warned against the dangers of fixing God into an idol through doctrine, Scripture or tradition, then worshipping doctrine or Scripture rather than God. 

Insisting on only using masculine pronouns for God is a way of conforming God into language and making an idol of that. Using gender neutral language for God is a way of confessing that we, as humans, ultimately can’t speak adequately about God, and our language about God must be non-grasping and inclusive.

Augustine writes in “On Christian Doctrine” that Scripture exists to aid us in loving our neighbors — for the love of God and neighbor is the true end of Scripture. If we read Scripture through a deformed lens that causes us to not love our neighbors, we should not be reading Scripture at all, Augustine argues.

Holiness is sometimes described as being “set apart.” True holiness has justice implications that Christians, by their living Jesus’ commands to love God and love neighbor, must be concerned about, if they are to be “set apart” — demanding that all people, especially the marginalized, are welcomed to the table as the Body of Christ. 

This is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition itself, which teaches love in a world of injustice, dehumanization and exclusion. Jesus lived a different way — a way of radical neighborly love that is self-sacrificing and inclusive (and counter to the world). 

If we at PLNU are doing all we can to love the way Jesus did (we have a ways to go, but we must constantly work toward this), I don’t think we are in danger of “conforming to the world.” We are, however, in danger of conforming to the world when our faith only consists of singing worship songs in chapel and having a “personal relationship with Jesus” but ignoring those who suffer in our own city. 

I think a good place for us to start is creating spaces for marginalized people to have their voices heard on our campus, which, for others of us, may mean shutting up and listening.

Our language is deeply inadequate to describe or name God, and the ways in which we try to speak of God can be harmful if we use and interpret Scripture for some other end rather than love.