Clear Terminology

The Preface to The Christian Confession of Faith (CCF) states:

“You will find in the CCF the highest reverence for Scripture as the final authority. All the doctrines contained therein have solid bases in Scripture. You will not find extraneous material or conjecture. We hope that the reader will find it very easy to understand, as one of our goals was to use understandable terminology” (CCF Preface).

This post focuses on the CCF phrases “very easy to understand” and “understandable terminology.”

Keeping language clear and easy to understand may involve several things (so I’ve read).  Two concepts that come to mind — because I read them — are diffuseness and compactness.  Some may say a balance is to be maintained here.  For if one is too compact in their language people may fail to adequately understand them.  And if one is diffuse or too wordy people may not only fail to sufficiently understand them, but also find themselves lost in all the excess verbiage.

The following quotes are my attempt at relating and connecting the sentiment expressed in the CCF Preface to use clear terminology in essential theological matters.  It might be somewhat of a tangential stretch, but work with me.

“Anglo-Saxon words are often more forcible than the corresponding words of Latin origin. In some cases they are more specific, the Latin having furnished the general term. In other cases they have the power of association, having been connected in our minds from childhood with real objects and actions, while the Latin term represents only ideas. Others are more forcible because shorter, so as to strike a quicker blow” (John Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 362).

I am not endorsing or promoting John Broadus as a true Christian when I quote from him.  I just thought this was interesting and important subject matter on language and how we express thought (especially in essential life-and-death theological matters).

Barrett Wendell writes about diffuseness and brevity in his Lectures on English Composition.

“At various times I have taken up a great many college themes, and criticised them with this point in view. On an average, I venture to assert, one half of the words in any such composition can be stricken out without the loss of a shade of meaning. What is more, the process of excision is apt to result in a surprisingly idiomatic precision of style. A great many people whom few would suspect of writing well use very good words indeed, and conceal the fact only by persistent dilution of style with unnecessary words.

For various reasons, not the least of which is the obvious economy of time and attention — at least for readers — a compact style is undoubtedly worth taking trouble for; but compactness is not always a positive merit, any more than is the use of strong Saxon English. In the one case as in the other, the real question is what effect we wish to produce. The effect secured by compactness is extremely useful; but the effects secured by diffuseness are not for that reason, or for any other, to be disregarded” (Wendell).

And one more paragraph from Barrett Wendell:

“Be brief, we can see by this time is an excellent commonplace, provided that our purpose is one which can properly be expressed by brevity. It is an admirable rule of conduct; it suggests a habit of thought which under another guise — Be specific — we have already seen to be highly worth cultivating. At the same time, for very many reasons, a writer may very properly wish to express something which can be expressed by nothing short of diffuseness. As a positive rule, we cannot phrase the warning more rigidly than by charging people to use no more words than they need. The real question before any writer is what effect he wishes to produce” (Wendell).

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