Defining Our Terms: Having Clear Conversations

Having Effective Conversations

In this video, Tim Barnett makes a great point about the nature of God. He points out that God doesn’t need us for anything because He is completely self-sufficient. Objecting to God’s self-sufficient nature by saying He “requires” something from us is to equivocate a “requirement” from us, for our benefit, to a “need” that God has us to fulfill. These two meanings are very different; the question of who is in need is quite important. As such, the objection that God needs us, and therefore must not be God, does not stand.

This  distinction makes it clear that understanding the terms people use in conversation is very important. Even if we do our best to learn the meaning of the important terms in our worldview and in the worldviews of those around us, there are still many conversations in which people talk past each other because they misunderstand each other’s definitions.

There are a few words that are notorious for causing this kind of confusion in conversation. For example, what do people mean when they use the term evolution? If someone asks “Do you believe in evolution?” are they asking about microevolution, macroevolution, or theistic evolution? Is their concept of evolution guided or unguided? These questions are important to clarify before you can move the conversation forward.

“Why does God send people to Hell?” Well, are we talking about Hell as a fiery place of torture and punishment, or are we talking about eternal separation from God? If Hell is most simply the place where people who don’t want to be in God’s presence spend their eternity, the answer to this question is different. So, what do we mean by Hell?

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their definition of a term, even if you know the general meaning. This simple strategy of defining terms, as Tim’s response shows, can help you have clear, effective conversations that get straight to the core issue.

Tim says:

“It is not as if God needs something, but rather God is owed something… The lack isn’t in God, the lack is in us… But thanks be to God; what God requires, Christ provides.”