by Robert Brow     January 2000

The most fruitful legacy of the philosopher Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was the use of language games (Philosophical Investigations, 1967, sections 7, 21-24). The language games for soccer are very different from American football. In chess the word king has no meaning till we learn the language game for checkmate. When a child on a beach says "I am the king of the castle" you don't ask about his genealogy or why he doesn't have a crown.

A language game can be taught by examples. In chess we can show "This is the way the knight moves." It is also possible to show others by example what love is. But in any case people need to see how our Christian language game for love is radically different from the way the word 'love' is used in many people's daily conversation. This is particularly important for theology. Most heresies are due to people using different language games for the point at issue..

What do we mean when we say "God created the world"? Here we are not talking about an imaginary world as in Alice in Wonderland, or C. S. Lewis' Narnia, or in our dreams. We mean the ordinary world around us of trees and mountains, animals and humans.

The language game for the word 'created' is not as obvious as it seems. If we say "our car splashed through the muddy water and created a beautiful pattern on that white wall" we are using the idea of a chance creation. That would suit an atheist who says there is no personal Creator. But in the first chapter of Genesis, like any artist, the Artist steps back and personally evaluates the effect He has produced. "And God saw that it was good" (six time in verses 1, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And finally when He has created image of God humans our very personal "God saw that it was very good" (Genesis 1:26-27 & 21).

In our statement "God created the world" we have defined what the 'world' means, and what distinguishes creation from chance. It now becomes clear that the word God is a name given to the personal Artist who brought our world into being.. It makes no difference if the name we give is God, or Dieu, Allah, or Aslan. God or one of its alternatives is the name our language invents for the very personal Creator of our world.

But the name we give to the Creator tells us nothing about character. Is he playing with us, cruel, indifferent, impassive, or does He really care for us as individuals? In our language game for the word God Christians therefore include words like love, grace, and Father. And the filling out of those terms is a large part of good preaching.

Children mostly learn their language games for the important words of life by hearing stories and asking questions. This is why Jesus told parables. The parable of the good Samaritan clarifies what a neighbor is. The parable of the prodigal son is really about the prodigal Father. The parable fills out the language game for a love that is incredibly giving and forgiving. John's Gospel tells us that faith is like a branch connected to a vine to produce much fruit. This is very different from a faith that consists of believing every item of a statement of faith

This is why preaching is deadly boring if it consists merely of a string of true statements such as God created the world, Jesus is the Son of God (Messiah, Lamb, Shepherd, Rock, Vine, etc.), He died for us, and rose from the dead. Those who listen need to have the language game of each of these terms illuminated for them by simple examples. A good preacher will enable the hearers to picture and put themselves into the outworking of the language games the Bible gives us to enjoy eternal life. Preachers who can do that are appreciated, and it is easy to invite one's doubting friends to come and enjoy the sermon.

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