The use of simplicity during the Reformation, how theology should be both simple and complex, and the quest to communicate effectively.
Because simple words quickly communicate complex information in the fewest, understandable words. And the message gets carried further.
Simple is how Apple products (after the iPod) took off while tech companies struggled to survive. Apple products were just easier to use.
Simple is how politicians get elected: with short, simple phrases that resonate with more people. Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was simple. His opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan “I’m With Her.” was also simple. Few people would vote for a candidate with a paragraph-length slogan.
Simple says things best, because it says things that more people can quickly understand. That’s why I want to strive to make complex theology easy to understand. There’s no better way to effectively communicate. John Piper once quipped: “Books don’t change people. Paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.”
In this post, I aim to recount the use of simplicity during the Reformation, how theology should be both simple and complex, and show why it’s important to communicate effectively.
The Reformation & Simplicity
Since the Reformation, the Evangelical wing of the church has been placing the theological cookies on the bottom shelf. That was the driving force behind getting the Bible into languages people actually spoke. And that was a driving reason the Reformation had the enormous impact on the church.
“I defy the Pope and all his laws! In fact, if God spares my life, I intend to make it possible for a common farmer, a plowman, to know more of the Scripture than you do!” – William Tyndale
The same spirit that helped Tyndale disseminate Christian knowledge to the everyday “farmer” and “plowman” is the same force that drives me. I want every person with an interest to understand how God’s revelation addresses every area of knowledge.
Unfortunately, theology communication has not always been driven by simplicity.
Theology Can Be Too Complicated
In church history, theologians have sometimes struggled to make things understandable for the people. In one of the more egregious examples of making things too complex, the Catholic Church hid doctrine from most parishioners through a Latin Mass until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Most people couldn’t understand Latin – even during Medieval times. The Catholic Church held a monopoly on education and religion and kept it’s doctrines obscured through the language of the Church.
The Catholic Church did not employ simplicity before Vatican II.
The same trend can be present in all theology. Students of theology tend to make things more complicated than necessary. You may notice this whenever a new Christian tries using some arcane theological term or a Bible study attendee talks about an esoteric truth they’re learning. We can all fall into pride and “show off” when we learn something new. Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 1:8). But that is not the direction I want to head.
A Place for Theological Complexity
Don’t get me wrong: complexity has its place.
The more someone learns about a subject, the more complex it becomes. There’s nothing wrong with digging deep into any subject. Personally, I want my brain surgeon to understand the latest in medical advances and use 5-syllable words I can barely understand when communicating with colleagues. I’ll feel more comfortable when he starts cutting. There is a place for deep learning.
Theology is no different. Theologians should understand various aspects of their craft and express those aspects with vocabulary beyond the experience of mere mortals. Philosophy and theology can be complicated and that’s okay. Every discipline is complicated to the uninitiated.
Striving To Make Things Easy To Understand…But Not Too Easy
My goal isn’t for everyone to become seminary professors.
Instead, I want to take these often-ethereal concepts and translate them into common English. I want to untangle the often jumbled cables of theological parlance and fit them into the right sockets of your head. In a phrase: to simplify concepts whenever possible. Or as Albert Einstein (probably) once said…
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
How Simplicity Works with Truth Story
Simplicity can actually be quite difficult.
Have you ever tried to teach 5-year olds? You think you know a topic until you have to explain it to preschoolers. Your brain isn’t accustomed with that level of vocabulary and grammar. At least that’s true for me.
But that doesn’t change the goal: to make things “as simple as possible, but not simpler”. For the purposes of this project, there are three areas where I plan to practice simplicity…
- Definitions: First, whenever it seems appropriate I will provide definitions to obscure terms. This doesn’t mean you’ll never need to Google anything, but I will try to keep those times to a minimum.
- Clarifications: Second, we will ask for and provide clarifications whenever possible. For instance, my goal is to chat with experts in particular areas of theology on some form of a podcast. At some point, they may throw out an enigmatic phrase. If I’m not familiar with it, no doubt other listeners will be just as confused. In that instance, I will seek more clarification.
- Growing In Simplicity (but not too much simplicity): Third, I want to grow in my ability to explain theological concepts to almost everyone. I may not be able to fully explain the Trinity, but I hope to be better in 5 years than when I first start. So long as it’s not too simple to make it incorrect.
“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Wrapping Up: Why Be Simple?
In this series of posts about the core values of the Truth Story project, we’ve covered several principles that are important. Being ‘simple’ may seem like an unnecessary value, but simplicity is the essence of effective communication.
If we want the Word of God to address every one of the enemies lies, the argument should simple enough to understand for most people. If that happens, it will have the most impact of exposing the lies in more people’s minds and promoting the knowledge of God.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5)