Theology as taking the Lord’s name in vain

I am fully conscious of the hollowness of these remarks [about the Christian Creed] for many good people who have no notions of God. To tell them that Jesus has divinity conveys little. They would first have to realize who God is, by starting with some experience of the Spirit who triumphs over their prejudices. It is the third article of the Creed [the Holy Spirit] which will have to form the basis of experience without which no reflection on the dogma is of any use. After all, the Creed reflects active participation in some prayer to God the Father or some sacrifice in the love of the Son. All the Scholastics who reasoned out God were priests or monks who prayed day and night. Their reflections on the trinity came as afterthought to real action and a way of life.

One of my students, on the other hand, frankly told me in his examination paper: “I have never prayed and I do not know what prayer is or is intended to do.” It is forbidden and would be blasphemous to discuss with this boy the divinity of Christ. He must be plunged into some communal experience of inspired living before we may mention to him the spirit behind all inspirations. I am afraid that we are prone, in our discussions of the Divinity, to gloss over the second commandment not to use God’s name in vain. Alas, it is applicable to our vain attempts of “discussing” God with people before they have experienced Him in one of the tree ways in which God overwhelms us, as our Maker, as our Victim, and as our Vivifier.

-Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, The Christian Future, p.105

This passage makes a penetrating statement regarding something I’ve long felt (from my teenage years), but have been unable to articulate – something wrong about some modern evangelism and Christian interaction with the secular public square. Check out what Rosenstock Huessy is saying here about interacting with the young agnostic man. “It is forbidden and would be blasphemous to discuss with this boy the divinity of Christ.” To geek out on the finer points of theology around this guy would be to take the Lord’s name in vain. To try to tell him of the glories of the Trinity might be a great wrong. We probably do this every day with our public spats on the internet about doctrine and ecclesial inside baseball. I also think this is a major shortcoming or at least danger of presuppositional apologetics. They are worse then nothing to the listener who has not been “plunged into communal experience” or been “overwhelmed by God”. In some fashion, the “seeker-sensitive” church recognizes this and attempts to make amends, but ends up breaking more things than it fixes in the process.

The chief pillar of good communication is understanding who you are speaking to – knowing your audience. It would seem that the most important element when preaching the gospel or teaching the Word would be discerning the activity of the Holy Spirit, how much and in what manner, in the lives of the listeners. As this is virtually impossible at a distance, the healthiest context is probably a relatively small congregation – not an unknowable number of listeners.