Words and Their Meanings

I got thinking about some of the words which used to be really powerful and positive to me even a few years ago and which now have a completely different connotation. Then I got to thinking about words that switched in the other direction. Many of these shifts have been only within the past five years or so.

    • Mennonites were quaint separationists who had no grip on reality. I hadn’t even heard the term Anabaptist.
    • Emerging was used to mean borderline-heretical, those who didn’t care about their religious past. Now I see the label as identifying those who care so deeply about their history that we are willing to do the hard work of seeing how to continue to develop that beautiful faith into the next era of human history.
    • I used to see the word grace as essentially a loophole in the legal system of the legal God. Now I see it as this mind-blowing destruction of the entire law system. Similarly, sin was the inevitable failure to abide by every precise detail of God’s law, salvation was being given a get-out-of-Hell-free card, and atonement was the placating of an angry God so he didn’t have to torture me forever.

  • I used to associate the word feminism with an attitude that women are better than men. I was quite happy with “egalitarian” or “mutual” but I was most definitely not a “feminist.”
  • Biblical used to simply mean for me something that had a basis in Scripture. Now I immediately am on guard knowing that it is probably being used as a weapon to show how my view is wrong and yours is right and I shouldn’t even bother trying to discuss it as family.
  • I used to see pro-life as describing valiant defenders of the sanctity of life. Now I see it primarily as a political slogan to demonize their opponents (just as “pro-choice” demonizes their opponents).
  • Purity meant a striving to live as much without sin as possible. Now it unfortunately is associated primarily with publicly shaming of those who sin differently, usually in sexuality, in order to make sure they feel that they are less-loved than those who don’t commit that sin.
  • The Word of God was very clearly the Bible. Now, like the New Testament authors, I believe in a much more powerful Word, Jesus.
  • Omnipotence was the greatest virtue in and of itself, God was interested primarily in achieving glory through flexing this omnipotence, and when we called God King we were saying he was like Caesar. Now I see omnipotence as a virtue worthy of glory precisely because God is a very different kind of King than Caesar in that he gave it all up for us.


I feel like I could probably list quite a few, but the examples aren’t the point. My main point is this: what changed within the last 5 years is primarily that I have listened to a wider range of voices. A fairly black and white faith has largely been torn down and replaced with a faith filled with the many beautiful colours contributed by a wide range of people. I’ve forced myself – sometimes painfully – to listen to how others have interacted with this faith and most importantly this God fully present in Jesus. That includes people of other genders, of other sexual orientations, of other races, of other socio-economic classes, of other denominational histories, and of other nationalities. It isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.

This post, then, is primarily to say thank you. Thank you to those who have given me new voices, even when I was stubborn. I even want to thank those who lovingly bring forth disagreement and I want to apologize when I wasn’t always loving to those who I disagreed with. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.