Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them

Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them

As America rapidly becomes a pluralistic, postmodern society, many of us struggle to talk about faith. We can no longer assume our friends understand words such as grace or gospel. Others, like lost and sin, have become so negative they are nearly conversation-enders.Jonathan Merritt knows this frustration well. After Jonathan moved from the Bible Belt to New York City, he...

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Title:Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them
Author:Jonathan Merritt
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Edition Language:English

Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them Reviews

  • Jeff

    Merritt the Younger Again Proves He Is His Father's Equal. Jonathan Merritt and I grew up in roughly similar church traditions at roughly the same time in roughly the same geographic area. His father would eventually become President of the Southern Baptist Convention, my pastor would later become President of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Growing up, while not knowing of Jonathan specifically, his father was among *the* most respected men I had ever heard. As in, there was a deacon or two in

    Merritt the Younger Again Proves He Is His Father's Equal. Jonathan Merritt and I grew up in roughly similar church traditions at roughly the same time in roughly the same geographic area. His father would eventually become President of the Southern Baptist Convention, my pastor would later become President of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Growing up, while not knowing of Jonathan specifically, his father was among *the* most respected men I had ever heard. As in, there was a deacon or two in my own small church, there was Charles Stanley, and there was James Merritt.

    I began reading Jonathan's own work a few years ago with the release of A Faith of Our Own, and both it and the next book Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined were as though Jonathan was in my own head, even while speaking - as he does here - of lessons he has learned in his own life.

    In this particular book, Jonathan again teaches us using lessons he has observed over the last few years of his own life and winds up touching on many issues of our day even while speaking to eternal truth.

    At the end of the first part of the book, when he specifically tells more conservative thinkers that they may not like all that is to follow and brings up the Hebrew concept of midrash, my fears were raised. I just read another ARC of another contemporary that grew up a couple hundred miles away from our home region but in a similar background and time who had used the concept quite a bit in her new book, and let's just say I wasn't impressed with that effort.

    Jonathan quickly dispelled the fears though, and actively sought to explain his own new understanding of the various sacred words we use in religious speak, particularly among Christians. He never claims authority, he just claims conversation and what he has found the words mean for him, and invites the readers to consider for themselves. Yet again, it turns out that he largely sees them exactly as I have come to - even without me realizing I had been on my own similar journey over the years. In one particularly poignant moment, he speaks to a word he used around the time of the publication of his last book and what he now thinks of it. In another, he uses Fred Rogers to explain the concept of neighbor. And in another, he exposes a revolutionary concept for thinking about a word that Christians have used far too long as a divider between the "righteous few" and the "pagan hordes". (My words in quotes there, not his.)

    In the end, Merritt the Younger winds up finding a truth that I had tattooed on my own skin nearly a decade ago, and he exposes it in a new, fresh way for things that I had never considered.

    That truth?

    Jesus didn't define our words so much as redefine them in revolutionary ways. Ways that still speak to us 2000 years later, if only we will consider them anew.

    Won't you join us in unpacking, examining, and rediscovering the ancient sacred words all over again?

  • Seth

    Read this in one sitting. Easy to read through and thought the words chosen were great to explore. As Bob Dylan sings “The times, they are a-changin’” and as they change, so does the vernacular. If anything, this book should encourage those that read it how they would define Christian words when talking to non-Christians.

    I largely appreciated “Pain” and “Disappointment”

  • Cherie Lowe

    Finally, a thinking book for people of faith to open a dialogue about why we use the words we use when it comes to talking about what we believe. Well thought out and artfully written, Learning to Speak God from Scratch combines data driven research and memoir to trace the how and why sacred words are slipping from the lexicon or have lost their original meaning.

    If you are fearful about opening a conversation about God with a friend, coworker, acquaintance or neighbor, this book coaches you thr

    Finally, a thinking book for people of faith to open a dialogue about why we use the words we use when it comes to talking about what we believe. Well thought out and artfully written, Learning to Speak God from Scratch combines data driven research and memoir to trace the how and why sacred words are slipping from the lexicon or have lost their original meaning.

    If you are fearful about opening a conversation about God with a friend, coworker, acquaintance or neighbor, this book coaches you through understanding words often misused or rarely used at all. If you’re confounded and confused by words often associated with Christianity, Merritt traces their origins and original intent. If you’ve long spoken and sang words you didn’t understand, Learning to Speak God undergirds and refreshes what may not be fully understood.

    Humorous and touching storytelling mark every page of this book. What could be a stale or boring topic springs to life in Merritt’s hallmark style of crafting narratives.

    I received an advanced copy of this book. However, I ordered one for myself after reading it because I know I’ll want to revisit its concepts.

  • McKay Hubbell

    This is the kind of book we need right now. Jonathan Merritt delivers a thought-provoking and yet incredibly practical work that any person of faith would benefit from reading. I loved the organization of the book, exploring each religious term in its own chapter. By doing this, he proves that a simple definition fails to capture what religious words really mean. Instead, he explores them with stories, illustrations, and metaphors, which bring so much color to the conversation. I absolutely love

    This is the kind of book we need right now. Jonathan Merritt delivers a thought-provoking and yet incredibly practical work that any person of faith would benefit from reading. I loved the organization of the book, exploring each religious term in its own chapter. By doing this, he proves that a simple definition fails to capture what religious words really mean. Instead, he explores them with stories, illustrations, and metaphors, which bring so much color to the conversation. I absolutely loved this book and I know that Jonathan’s thoughtful writing will offer readers a lifeline to reconnect to the practice of speaking God. Plus, I believe the chapters on The Fall and Sin are worth the price of the book. A great read through and through! (I was given an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher.)

  • Cara Meredith

    I can’t get enough of Jonathan Merritt’s thoughts, mostly because I find myself on the same page with him, 1000%. If you find yourself needing to redefine certain sacred words, his book is a must-read. Loved, loved, loved it.

  • Shelby Spear

    Why Words Are a Holy Gift We’re Called to Steward

    Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the depth and wonder of vocabulary? Or imagined what life would be like without words? As humans, we have the power to wield elements of speech for both destruction and encouragement, education and deceit, praise and desecration. Quite a supernatural superpower; one that sets us apart from all other living things.

    God spoke us into being and then passed the torch of language, entrusting us with its care.

    Why Words Are a Holy Gift We’re Called to Steward

    Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the depth and wonder of vocabulary? Or imagined what life would be like without words? As humans, we have the power to wield elements of speech for both destruction and encouragement, education and deceit, praise and desecration. Quite a supernatural superpower; one that sets us apart from all other living things.

    God spoke us into being and then passed the torch of language, entrusting us with its care. In doing so, the gift of words became an unseen force pushing, pulling, and shaping the shores of humanity like lingual gravity. Jonathan Merritt’s new book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, reminds us that our responsibility to steward such an inheritance is profound and sacred, and challenges us to self-reflect on whether we understand our role. Which begins with understanding the genesis of words in the first place, Godspeak in particular.

    The realm of possibility when it comes to interpreting and extracting meaning from sacred language can be an infinite pursuit—which Jonathan points out is a blessing. He shares a quote from Sally McFague who says, “The figurative language of the Bible beckons us into a larger conversation. It forces us to stop and pause—to engage our imaginations, not just our brains.”

    Like nature—varied, expanding, life-giving, creative, words offer us a glimpse into the all-encompassing wonder and complexity of God. They have buoyed us for millennia as a medium for exchanging information via storytelling, parables, recorded history, etc. The evolution of mankind and the passing on of all things Divine would be impossible without human language. Words are how we define our existence and make sense of the world around us.

    Jonathan begins Learning to Speak God from Scratch by sharing statistics on how and why faith talk is on the decline in our country, while stressing the urgency for a revival of Godspeak if we want the Good News to continue filtering down to future generations.

    Much of our problem when it comes to the language of faith is misuse and misunderstanding of certain words. We’ve also allowed many sacred terms to remain static, thus preventing deeper insight into what God may be trying to communicate. So, Jonathan pulls several from our sacred vocabulary and invites us to ponder new and imaginative connotations. He helps us along by weaving Biblical narratives and vulnerable personal stories which help draw out the richness and beauty of our spiritual vernacular.

    We all love to talk and yammer away—often without second thought about what we’re transmitting from our mouths. But Jonathan points out that when it comes to how we speak about our spiritual heritage, the words we use and intention behind them matters.

    Slung around improperly, sacred words can destroy a person. Uttered carelessly, the gift of speech can send a neighbor down a wayward path. Maybe the most damaging of all is choosing to stifle our Godpseak altogether. Choosing not to talk about faith and spirituality out of fear, ignorance, or worry over rocking the Titanic isn’t healthy for humanity. The risk is allowing all things sacred to become obsolete or ordinary, which diminishes the luster of the miraculous and extraordinary.

    Jonathan will wow you with his extensive research about language. He will challenge you to lean into words like family, blessed, creed, pain, grace, sin, and neighbor with an open heart and spacious mind. As C.S. Lewis said, “As everyone knows, words constantly take on new meanings.”

    Truth be told, I wasn’t a legit member of the “everyone knows” group until reading this book. Jonathan encouraged me to consider words as living elements and to give these God-given gifts the attention and respect they deserve.

    Learning to Speak God from Scratch opened my eyes, stretched my heart, and renewed my passion for Godspeak. I’m confident this book will do the same for you.

  • Janna Northrup

    With clear and thoughtful language, Jonathan Merritt tackles a deeply personal subject…belief in God and how we communicate about that. His premise is that our language about God has become distant, stilted and full of what feels like ticking time bombs and it is time for us to rethink hope-fully how we can reengage with authentic words about God and thus invite anyone into the conversation. What resonated with me was his discomfort with the language of evangelicalism from his childhood. (charge

    With clear and thoughtful language, Jonathan Merritt tackles a deeply personal subject…belief in God and how we communicate about that. His premise is that our language about God has become distant, stilted and full of what feels like ticking time bombs and it is time for us to rethink hope-fully how we can reengage with authentic words about God and thus invite anyone into the conversation. What resonated with me was his discomfort with the language of evangelicalism from his childhood. (charged words like "blessed," "mystery," "grace" and "brokenness.") Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, he thoughtfully examines different ways to look at the language of Christianity and thus invites all of us into the conversation about a God who has withstood the test of time, who is trustworthy and about whom we don't have all the answers. I especially loved the stance he took regarding openness and bringing the language about faith under a bright light of examination finding joyfully, that God is bigger than our questions about him. Our past hurts over the language of faith that may have left us hurting and confused can withstand examination and growth until we find a "way through" leaving us with a deeper, richer view of God and not a fear-based distance. Well thought out book and I really hope many read it and the conversation begins! I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book.

  • Rebecca Einstein

    Do you love language? Do you love learning about faith? This book will check both those boxes. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is for anyone interested in religious dialogue in these secular times. Though the author is a product of an Evangelical home, the issues he raises are not specific to one faith community. As a rabbi, I am always looking for ways to engage others in meaningful conversations about God and other faith topics. Jonathan Merritt provides, in his warm and engaging voice, way

    Do you love language? Do you love learning about faith? This book will check both those boxes. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is for anyone interested in religious dialogue in these secular times. Though the author is a product of an Evangelical home, the issues he raises are not specific to one faith community. As a rabbi, I am always looking for ways to engage others in meaningful conversations about God and other faith topics. Jonathan Merritt provides, in his warm and engaging voice, ways to encourage others (and one's self) to become comfortable with sacred language. I found the book compelling while being inviting at the same time. The only reason it took me so long to complete it is that I wanted to savour every bit of wisdom.

  • Adrienne

    Jonathan is stellar in his ability to bring questions, truth, and myths to the table in a way that invites rich conversation rather than polarity and excommunication. This book is beautifully written with thoughtful and thorough research, insightful interviews, and authentic personal stories to show the reader the book was written with the reader's heart in mind.

    As a theologian, lover of language and nuance, and one who has been studying semantics and the positive or negative impact culture can

    Jonathan is stellar in his ability to bring questions, truth, and myths to the table in a way that invites rich conversation rather than polarity and excommunication. This book is beautifully written with thoughtful and thorough research, insightful interviews, and authentic personal stories to show the reader the book was written with the reader's heart in mind.

    As a theologian, lover of language and nuance, and one who has been studying semantics and the positive or negative impact culture can leave on our words, I loved this book and am grateful it was written at this point in history. This is a must-read for anyone who has been looking for a way to embark on meaningful conversation with strangers, neighbors, friends, and so-called enemies.

    Jonathan's bravery in exploring and excavating some of the sacred words of belief is much needed. With fear and siloing driving our culture and so much shouting, and silence, in America's landscape right now, "Learning to Speak God from Scratch," is a white flag invitation to an inclusive table where engaging and sacred conversation is allowed to unfurl.

    His words offer oxygen to people who have been suffocated in their American Churchianity but have never lost hope that a good and loving God exists in spite of our cultural context.

    I'm looking forward to gathering several groups this fall at my own table, in person and on-line, to read and engage and excavate this book together. This book will also be one I give to friends as a gift, knowing how the words within the pages rekindled some hope I had lost in our polarized state.

    I received an advanced reader copy of this book.

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