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

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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 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 discovered that whenever conversations turned to spirituality, the words he'd used for decades didn't connect with listeners anymore. In a search for answers and understanding, Jonathan uncovered a spiritual crisis affecting tens of millions. In this groundbreaking book, one of America's premier religion writers revives ancient expressions through cultural commentary, vulnerable personal narratives, and surprising biblical insights. Both provocative and liberating, Learning to Speak God from Scratch will breathe new life into your spiritual conversations and lure you into the embrace of the God who inhabits them.


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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 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 discovered that whenever conversations turned to spirituality, the words he'd used for decades didn't connect with listeners anymore. In a search for answers and understanding, Jonathan uncovered a spiritual crisis affecting tens of millions. In this groundbreaking book, one of America's premier religion writers revives ancient expressions through cultural commentary, vulnerable personal narratives, and surprising biblical insights. Both provocative and liberating, Learning to Speak God from Scratch will breathe new life into your spiritual conversations and lure you into the embrace of the God who inhabits them.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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?

  3. 4 out of 5

    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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    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”

  7. 4 out of 5

    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.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elle Berry

    In 'Learning to Speak God from Scratch' Jonathan Merritt details what he notes as a disturbing decline in our use of spiritual words. He follows this by making a compelling case for why reviving these words matters, and then provides a kind of geography for how those of us who want to speak God can find our way forward. Far from a static definition of God-speak, the chapters that follow are part story and part essay. While I enjoyed all of these chapters, I was particularly moved by his chapters In 'Learning to Speak God from Scratch' Jonathan Merritt details what he notes as a disturbing decline in our use of spiritual words. He follows this by making a compelling case for why reviving these words matters, and then provides a kind of geography for how those of us who want to speak God can find our way forward. Far from a static definition of God-speak, the chapters that follow are part story and part essay. While I enjoyed all of these chapters, I was particularly moved by his chapters on disappointment, pain, and sin. His framing of these words is personal and compassionate, but most of all, these chapters have inspired me, and are leaving their mark on the stories I am telling myself about my own life. While the subjects and depth of the book are frequently weighty, the writing and presentation is as approachable as sitting down with a good friend for a cup of tea. 'Learning to speak God from Scratch' isn’t a dogmatic directional for how to speak God—it’s an appeal for each of us to revive how we engage with spiritual language, and an invitation for us to join in the important linguistic work of incarnating God-speak with our own stories and divine encounters. I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Terri Fullerton

    My husband and I read this aloud. It captured the place we are—not sure how to talk about our faith. Throughout this book I felt like some of the confusing and deflated sacred words were standing up again—in my own heart, like God used this book to blow fresh air to me. I have struggled to know how to talk about my faith, especially in the last couple of years. This book was exactly what we needed. Jonathan provides a way forward. His storytelling snags your soul, gives you hope, and equips you t My husband and I read this aloud. It captured the place we are—not sure how to talk about our faith. Throughout this book I felt like some of the confusing and deflated sacred words were standing up again—in my own heart, like God used this book to blow fresh air to me. I have struggled to know how to talk about my faith, especially in the last couple of years. This book was exactly what we needed. Jonathan provides a way forward. His storytelling snags your soul, gives you hope, and equips you to move forward. I think it’s his best book so far.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

    Words matter. Merritt provides us with space to remember to treat them kindly. In an age where proverbial babies are being constantly tossed with the bathwater this book is a great reminder of the treasures we have even if they’ve become tainted or tarnished. Speaking from Scratch provides countless avenues to start and continue conversations we need to be having with one another. Plus, the last chapter... worth every page leading up to it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I could relate to this book on multiple levels. Well researched, well written, well done! I can’t wait to dive into the bibliography. I received an advance reader copy of the book from the publisher for review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    I love language, words, humanity, and I love the world and the way we try to seek understanding...and I really wanted to love this book, too. Perhaps my hopes were too high? I did enjoy the history lessons and dissections of words, and I genuinely appreciated certain passages and observations, but I felt disappointed by the end. I'm glad I read it, but I wanted more than the text offered. I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Debra Anderson

    Jonathan Merritt does in this book what he's been teaching us to do for years through his RNS and Atlantic writing -- to be thoughtful speakers and generous thinkers. Part I is a robust, researched look at spiritual language and it's contemporary use. This is not a one-track thesis, but a six-lane highway toward understanding language and obtaining the courage to employ it for human flourishing. He's included a profusion of endnoted citations to tempt you to load up your Amazon wish list -- whic Jonathan Merritt does in this book what he's been teaching us to do for years through his RNS and Atlantic writing -- to be thoughtful speakers and generous thinkers. Part I is a robust, researched look at spiritual language and it's contemporary use. This is not a one-track thesis, but a six-lane highway toward understanding language and obtaining the courage to employ it for human flourishing. He's included a profusion of endnoted citations to tempt you to load up your Amazon wish list -- which is a definite plus for any book I enjoy. I wished for more optimism in the chapter on the Possibilty of Revival and for more implications on transformation in chapter 5. Both of these chapters seem to end just as I was enjoying their main point. But there is plenty of other information and application in this book that I wasn't expecting. A discussion on Jewish midrash? It's in there. A fresh look at imago dei? See Chapter 3. Part II allows your brain to play a bit. Sit with each short section and see how your desire to make sense of spiritual words begins to break forth into possibility. Would I come to all the same conclusions? No. But am I grateful that someone has guided me out of rutted thinking and usage? Absolutely! Language is a tool of abundance rather than scarcity and Merritt helps us take the shackles off.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    3.5 stars. This is a tough book to rate, partly because I highly value Jonathan Merritt's writing and observations even when I don't always agree with him theologically, and partly because I think his purpose would have been better served by stating some of his assumptions up front. For lovers of language and Jesus, this is an insightful work about the words we use to talk about faith and what they mean. It challenges believers to hone the words we use to "speak God" into more truthful and meani 3.5 stars. This is a tough book to rate, partly because I highly value Jonathan Merritt's writing and observations even when I don't always agree with him theologically, and partly because I think his purpose would have been better served by stating some of his assumptions up front. For lovers of language and Jesus, this is an insightful work about the words we use to talk about faith and what they mean. It challenges believers to hone the words we use to "speak God" into more truthful and meaningful terms that will deepen our faith conversations within our faith communities, and allow us to communicate more effectively about faith matters with people outside our communities. It's well written, it's highly engaging, and it's thought-provoking. I think it's an excellent starting point for group discussions. Merritt isn't a linguist, a Biblical scholar, or a foolproof theologian, and it shows in his occasional falterings while writing about these topics. But he is an ordinary Christian with a gift for words and a love of God, struggling to make sense of his faith in today's world while rejecting some of the extremist fallacies held by both conservative and progressive evangelical Christian camps. He is clearly a man committed to his faith against all odds, who isn't afraid to speak unpopular truths, and who wants to seek the truth. Part 1 draws on a sociolinguistic framework to examine "God talk" as a language group, specifically as an isolated linguistic community that is, in many ways, dying out in contemporary America as religion and spirituality become less commonly spoken of in the public sphere. He identifies some of the effects of this cultural shift, describes various responses from believers to this shift, and proposes a framework for Christians to examine and hone the language we use. Part 2 is a series of essays centered around various faith-related words, meditations based on the author's life experiences and his process of spiritual maturation. Many are based on his gradual exposure to Christian traditions outside his Southern Baptist upbringing. (Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians will probably grin a bit at his sudden embrace of creeds, liturgy, and prayer traditions like lectio divina that his alma mater, Liberty University, dismissed as pagan and unspiritual. Welcome to the dark side, Jonathan!) Many of these are deeply thought-provoking and devotional, inspired by and grounded in the Bible. Others are more journalistic in nature, based on personal experience, interviews with contemporary writers, and drawing on modern scientific understandings of human nature. While I don't always agree with the meanings Merritt has reinterpreted for these sacred words, I do appreciate his perspective and his willingness to start the conversation by sharing his process of growth and challenging other Christians to do the same. Overall, this is a great book, but throughout, I had one major quibble, namely the way he left out a critical detail in Part 1. Merritt proposes a framework for "transforming language" so that our religious vocabulary can survive and be passed on to future generations. This framework contains three steps: 1. Start with the terms we know and accept (Merritt rightly points out that many Christians, especially from conservative Protestant backgrounds, get stuck here and never fully examine the meanings of faith-related terms) 2. Unpack these familiar terms, break down their meanings, and challenge our preconceptions about what they mean (Merritt also rightly points out that many progressive Christians get stuck at this stage and embrace a deconstructed Christianity where religious terms no longer have an authoritative meaning) 3. Rebuild these terms into more thoughtful, richer, more helpful terms I fully agree with Merritt that Christianese needs to be examined and our understanding of these terms - as signs representing our beliefs - should be clarified, but his framework leaves out one crucial point: as Christians seeking to grow closer to a living God who has revealed Himself to us through the Scriptures, we are not simply free to reinvent religious language in ways that make us comfortable. In approaching theological concepts and the words we use to describe them, our measuring stick must always be the Word of God. Language does change, and words as used in our contemporary American setting, such as "judge," "blessing," "sin," and "love" do not mean the same thing to us that they meant to ancient writers working in the languages of Greek and Hebrew. However, to be authentic seekers of the truth, our task is to uncover the intent of the Scriptures by digging into the world of the Bible, its languages, its cultures, and what these words meant to them. From there we can let these fresh understandings of religious language inform our understanding and bring new meaning to our faith and how we speak about it. Without this commitment, any attempt to "speak God from scratch" is doomed to fall prey to the idolatry of our own priorities, cultural lenses, and personal feelings. I was ready to roll my eyes and toss aside this book entirely based on Merritt's omission of this crucial aspect, especially since he repeatedly criticizes progressive Christianity for a similar lack of commitment to the authority of the Bible. But in reading further, this principle does in fact appear, albeit buried in individual essays about particular words. In Chapter 11, on disillusionment, he finally brings up "the exchange of falsehood for fact" (p. 123) and writes that we must "take a lie - about the world, about yourself, about those you love, about God - and replace it with the truth" (p. 121) The concluding chapter of this book, a "How-To Guide for Seekers and Speakers," also contains this crucial step as part of his 5-step process of reimagining words, as he recommends that exploring the meanings of words "should not be a process of ex nihilo creation but rather a process of growth or maturation. Take time to explore early meanings of the word in history, in your religious tradition, and in the sacred Scriptures. It may be helpful to search online for the etymology of the words or search a concordance to survey its usage in Scripture. Root yourself here as you explore fresh meanings." (p. 207) This really should have been clarified and emphasized up front, rather than hidden in the back of the book. Perhaps he didn't want to alienate progressive or non-religious readers by stating a commitment to the authority of Scripture too early? At any rate, the lack of clarification on this point left a shadowy question mark over much of the book. Overall, though, this book is well worth reading and discussing with some good friends over coffee.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stefanie Kellum

    Jonathan Merritt has a knack for taking the observations, struggles, and joys I’ve had about being a Christian in today’s world and eloquently expressing them on paper. As someone who finds it difficult to speak about her faith in love and truth in an increasingly polarized society, this was a helpful guide for how we tongue-tied Christians can re-imbrace and reimagine sacred words of Christian faith in a way that brings glory to God and shows love to those around us. I practically used up an en Jonathan Merritt has a knack for taking the observations, struggles, and joys I’ve had about being a Christian in today’s world and eloquently expressing them on paper. As someone who finds it difficult to speak about her faith in love and truth in an increasingly polarized society, this was a helpful guide for how we tongue-tied Christians can re-imbrace and reimagine sacred words of Christian faith in a way that brings glory to God and shows love to those around us. I practically used up an entire highlighter on this book there were so many thought provoking insights, but the concept of Jesus as The Word and also as The Divine Conversation rocked my world, and the chapter on disillusionment was soul wrenching and cathartic. We have a divine calling to speak God with others who need His love and wisdom and healing, and this book shows us how to do just that and grow His kingdom through our conversations. Another fantastic book from a favorite writer who always seems to perfectly encapsulate a “purple” (as he has called it) way to live out Christianity in a red and blue America. *A huge thanks to the publisher and Jonathan Merritt for giving me an ARC of this title as part of the launch team!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    3.5/5 Every subculture has its own jargon. Christianity is no exception. There is “Christian-ese,” those in-culture words that evangelicals tend to throw around (“blessing,” “love offering,” “supplication, “born again,” etc.), and then there are those weightier, sacred words (grace, sin, saint, spirit, mystery, etc.). As religion journalist Jonathan Meritt moved from the Bible to NYC, he came to realize that these sacred words had different meanings or no meanings outside of his "bubble" (he give 3.5/5 Every subculture has its own jargon. Christianity is no exception. There is “Christian-ese,” those in-culture words that evangelicals tend to throw around (“blessing,” “love offering,” “supplication, “born again,” etc.), and then there are those weightier, sacred words (grace, sin, saint, spirit, mystery, etc.). As religion journalist Jonathan Meritt moved from the Bible to NYC, he came to realize that these sacred words had different meanings or no meanings outside of his "bubble" (he gives an example of a time when he told someone that he was attending a "worship service" and received a puzzled look). In his new book “Learning to Speak God from Scratch,” Merritt examines how and why many of these sacred words are fading from the vernacular, how Christians ought to respond, and then several case studies of sacred words ("yes," "creed," "prayer," "pain," "disappointment," "mystery," "God," "fall," "sin," "grace," "brokenness," "blessed," "neighbor," "pride," "saint," "confession," "spirit," "family," and "lost"). The book is divided into two halves. The first half of the book is fantastic. Merritt explains the nature of languages. Languages live, languages die, and, sometimes, languages live again. English has become the "lingua franca" and swallowed up many native languages (just as other lingua franca have done throughout history). Some languages only survive in professional or academic sectors, like Latin. Some languages are used only for cultic purposes, like Coptic. Irish/Gaelic was fading away but is now being revived. After disappearing for centuries, Hebrew is more prominent now than it was in ancient times. Merritt argues that sacred Christian language is also fading away but, like modern Hebrew, can live again. So how do Christians (especially Christian leaders) respond to the disappearance of sacred words? Merritt argues that there are two basic ways: (1) Fossilization - Words are fenced in and protected. Ultimately, this will fail because languages breathe and grow. (2) Substitution - Words that are too uncomfortable or rigid are replaced with more appealing words. Merritt quotes Rob Bell as a prime example of this: "When a word becomes too toxic and too abused and too associated with ideas and understands that aren't true to the mystery behind the mystery . . . it's important to set it aside and search for new and better ways to talk about it." Of course, this is a "throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water" situation. Riffing on prescriptions from Walter Bruggemann (Orientation > Disorientation > Reorientation), N.T. Wright (Packing > Unpacking > Repacking), and Richard Rohr (Order > Disorder > Reorder), Merritt's solution is as follows: "In order to speak God from scratch, we begin with what we have accepted. Then, we break it down, challenging preconceptions. Finally, we build it back up in a way that is more helpful, richer, and beautiful." In the second half, Merritt attempts to take these dying sacred words and reevaluate them. Unfortunately, this second half was underwhelming. Part of the problem is his word choices (particularly, I'm thinking of "yes" and "pain," which are not particularly sacred words). The other problem is that he doesn't seem to really be truly investigating each word. Rather, he gives preachy anecdotes on each one. Some of these are pretty good and have some teeth (for example, "Maybe we should stop hashtagging blessings and start handing out blessings" [paraphrase]). Sometimes he seems to go far afield of his goal. For example, he spends several pages weighing in on the gender of God and several more pages telling his chronic pain story. Again, most of these reevaluations of words are underwhelming.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Learning to do anything is filled with starts and stops; like a toddler moving from crawling to walking. Yet when we have developed a way of doing something, it’s even more of a challenge to re-learn or to start from scratch. Even that saying is something that has become nearly outmoded; most kitchens are filled with pre-packaged meal ingredients, not the way my grandmothers fed the family in the middle of the previous century. The way they spoke of God was different then, too. Maybe it’s time t Learning to do anything is filled with starts and stops; like a toddler moving from crawling to walking. Yet when we have developed a way of doing something, it’s even more of a challenge to re-learn or to start from scratch. Even that saying is something that has become nearly outmoded; most kitchens are filled with pre-packaged meal ingredients, not the way my grandmothers fed the family in the middle of the previous century. The way they spoke of God was different then, too. Maybe it’s time to re-think not only too familiar sayings without the proper context; maybe in this era of history we need to take time to re-learn how we speak about God. Jonathan Merritt’s new book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch, helps me move further on my spiritual journey. The premise of the book is right up front in his well-crafted subtitle: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them. One by one, words that have been overused are taken out of their worn context, polished up and seen anew. Story by story, Jonathan unpacks why this change of use, this change of understanding has happened, and suggests how you and I can make intentional choices to become more aware of God-speak and learn to use well the sacred words he shows us. The first third of the book is filled with Jonathan’s setting the stage: helping us capture the sense of urgency, seeing the problems of current use of sacred language, and shedding light on a Way Forward. These six chapters give compelling evidence for the purpose, for the need to learn to speak God from scratch. Jonathan takes a hard look at words that are familiar to those who speak God regularly, words that are sometimes so familiar we’ve forgotten their weight. He points out that to those who aren’t in regular God conversations, many sacred words have no power, no context and thus little impact in this era. In Jonathan’s words: But in the midst of our struggles to speak God—struggles that are not unique to our generation—somehow God always finds a way to break through and keep God’s people talking. If God’s people have revived their vocabulary in past eras, surely there is a way to stoke these fires yet again. (Our Divine Linguaphile p. 38) Reading each chapter led me deeper into recognizing the prevalence in my vocabulary of the ways I use words without context. This growing awareness was like pre-dawn light; noticing, acknowledging and then suddenly the sun itself appears illuminating the sky. Half-way through the book, Jonathan’s chapter titled Disappointment: Dopamine Roller-Coasters and Palm Branches served as the sunlight exposing a root struggle for me. His words: Disillusionment is, well, the loss of an illusion. It is what happens when you take a lie--about the world, about yourself, about those you love, about God--and replace it with the truth. Disillusionment occurs when God shatters our fantasies, tears down our idols, dismantles our cardboard cut outs.it is the result of discovering that God does not conform to our expectations but rather exists as a mystery beyond those expectations. (Disappointment: Dopamine Roller-Coasters and Palm Branches. P 109) Learning to Speak God from Scratch was a gift to me this year. It’s an informative, well-researched book written in an accessible, journalistic style; you can hear Jonathan sharing not only what he learned but also his heart. The combination to learn, grow and feel is powerful and effective. As a Christ-follower, I highly recommend you read Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them. Your faith practice will be deepened as a result.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Steward

    The language that we use to speak of God has evolved over time and Jonathan Merritt puts out the call for us to reestablish our foundation. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a way to examine our beliefs and reach out to generations that did not grow up knowing God in a religious setting. We must remember that the Bible as we have it today has been passed down through numerous generations with many additions and subtractions and what we find ourselves reading today is the best rendition of the The language that we use to speak of God has evolved over time and Jonathan Merritt puts out the call for us to reestablish our foundation. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a way to examine our beliefs and reach out to generations that did not grow up knowing God in a religious setting. We must remember that the Bible as we have it today has been passed down through numerous generations with many additions and subtractions and what we find ourselves reading today is the best rendition of the original intent, hopefully, inspired by God. Our Israelite ancestors did not originally share their faith through written word. It was an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation which was finally put to animal hide, papyrus, or paper. The writers did the best they could to get their thoughts down. Yet, even from oral to written text, there is a loss of the intention of the original meaning. This evolution has never ended as we can walk into any book store and find numerous translations of the Bible, with each claiming to be better to reach a certain segment of society. This is the visible reality of our faith today. This boils down to the point that the majority of people do not know how to share their faith so that others can understand. As a pastor, I am no stranger to this and just when I think I have a great sermon, I am reminded by those listening that it either went over their heads or they did not pick up what I was laying down. Merritt calls us to reexamine those words that we utilize to share our faith and realize that their meanings too have evolved over time. Many times, we make the definitions fit into our way of thinking that makes us comfortable. For example, in our current immigration battles in the United States, we look over what Jesus meant by neighbor. We do not truly welcome in the neighbor as Jesus would have when we refuse to support and welcome refugees and those seeking a better life. Instead, we lock up our neighbors and separate their children from them. Merritt explores and attempts to build a definition for many others words and ideas as well, including Yes, Creeed, Mystery, Grace, Brokenness, Saint, and Family, just to name a few. These discussions bear some personal stories as well as getting to the root of the biblical foundation of the words. Many of the words have been co-opted to serve our own purposes over time. Or simply, in our more secular society, we have chose to overlook words and disregard their meanings. There is a language barrier that has developed over time. Merritt is attempting to break down this wall. By learning to speak God from scratch, the hope is that we will be able to reach out with a new profound proclamation. It is not a new message, just a renewed way of saying it. This is a good start on the journey to listening to God in our lives and therefore sharing that story with others. Thanks to the publisher for an uncorrected proof copy to review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    I was eager to read Learning to Speak God from Scratch. I had recently become aware of the writer, Jonathan Merritt, after he left Religious News Service in June, and I was very interested in learning to re-examine and reclaim some of the religious words that have become jargon we Christians often spew without thinking. As a writer, Merritt is passionate about words, and as a Christian, he is passionate about the gospel, and his argument here is that both are losing their power and truth as we u I was eager to read Learning to Speak God from Scratch. I had recently become aware of the writer, Jonathan Merritt, after he left Religious News Service in June, and I was very interested in learning to re-examine and reclaim some of the religious words that have become jargon we Christians often spew without thinking. As a writer, Merritt is passionate about words, and as a Christian, he is passionate about the gospel, and his argument here is that both are losing their power and truth as we use our words of faith less and less in the conversations we have every day. In a world that's becoming more secular, how do we keep speaking our faith language in a way that people can hear? Especially given the loaded meanings and hurtful baggage so many of those words have inflicted? Merritt first describes his experiences on moving to New York City from the Bible Belt a few years ago, and the isolation, dislocation, and wonder he felt. He also describes a mysterious illness that befell him around the same time. in this time of confusion and pain, he saw that much of the language Christians use when they reach out in conversation or comfort hurts more than it helps. Merritt argues that if we look at Biblical ideas in less literal and more searching ways (using methods like lectio divina and midrash), our faith can open up and reveal a God who is still talking to us, whose words didn't end with the book of Revelation 2,000 years ago. Merritt than spends a few pages on some of these faith words: "creed," " prayer," "mystery," "fall" (as in THE fall of Adam and Eve), "sin," "grace," "confession," "spirit." Some of these meditations will resonate with each specific reader more than others. I was especially struck by "love," "spirit,"--and "neighbor," in which Merritt praises Fred Rogers, who brought that word to children in a very real way. Merritt brings a lot of anecdotes and statistics to his arguments, which I think helps a casual reader, but which I tend to skim over. Where Merritt shines is where he gets passionate, particularly towards the end of the book, as the words he's parsing get deeper and more profound. Merritt closes by arguing that God longs to have a conversation with us, and that the Word he sent us is really an eternal conversation. I loved this idea, and Merritt presented it it eloquently. I think this book is specifically aimed at young Christians like Merritt who are edging their way out of evangelical backgrounds and toward a more progressive Christianity, but it has something to say to most of us, whatever our faith backgrounds. There are several chapters I know I will come back to and mull over again. I look forward to reading more from Merritt; he is a thoughtful and talented writer. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    4.5 Stars “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Baloney! Words are powerful. We all know this. We were created with this knowledge. We were created by words. By ‘The Word.’ The Word was with God. The Word was God. The Word took on flesh and lived and taught us love and faith and grace and sacrifice and blessing and truth. But what happens when these ideas, these words, get lost in translation? What happens when I say, “Faith,” but you hear, “Naïve?” When I say, “Blessi 4.5 Stars “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Baloney! Words are powerful. We all know this. We were created with this knowledge. We were created by words. By ‘The Word.’ The Word was with God. The Word was God. The Word took on flesh and lived and taught us love and faith and grace and sacrifice and blessing and truth. But what happens when these ideas, these words, get lost in translation? What happens when I say, “Faith,” but you hear, “Naïve?” When I say, “Blessing,” but you hear, “Privilege?” When I say, “Love,” but you hear, “Manipulate?” These are the types of questions Jonathan Merritt found himself asking when he moved from the Christianese-fluent Bible Belt to the more Babelesque lingual landscape of Brooklyn, NY. He was still speaking English, but he was no longer “speaking God.” From the introduction: “In New York, religious fluency is not assumed. The majority of residents don’t attend church on a given Sunday, and only about three percent of the population is evangelical Protestant like I was raised. I soon discovered people who had never heard the sacred words I’d long taken for granted – and others who used them with wildly different meanings.” In ‘Learning To Speak God From Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing – And How We Can Revive Them,’ Jonathan Merritt brings us alongside in his journey to uncover the history of God-speak in America and why it is on the decline (chapters 1-6) and then invites us to re-discover the language of God and faith with him (chapters 7-25). The first section (‘The Lost Language Of Faith’) is where Jonathan puts numbers and charts to the decline of God-speak that those of us in the Church in America have been experiencing for at least a decade now. He goes into not just the fact that people are speaking God less but also goes into the why. It is in the second part of the book (‘Finding Our Voices Again’), however, where the book really shines. Each chapter in this section focuses on one word in the vocabulary of faith: love, sin, lost, yes, and neighbor to name a few. Here, Jonathan opens his heart alongside his mind and shows us that as he was being confronted with the different understandings of “God speak” by those around him, it was also opening his awareness that he had less of an understanding of the meanings of these words himself. He knew what he had been taught they meant. He had the general idea of what “born again” or “love” meant, but he couldn’t always nail down what he meant when he used these words, either. Speaking them was more of a habit than anything else. “Sacred terms are signposts pointing to sacred ideas.” Is there value in being able to read the sign if you never visit the destination? And what if you get there and realize the image you had of the place doesn’t match up to the place itself? This is the experience Jonathan details in this second part of the book – taking the experience of being a neighbor then re-examining the term “neighbor,” for example, while looking at the Bible and trying to see how Jesus used the term without the cloud of our cultural preconceptions. This is a difficult (probably nearly impossible) task but there is value in the exercise itself. What does “neighbor” mean to me? What does “neighbor” mean to my neighbor? My grandmother? Jesus? Why is such an intimate, honest, vulnerable understanding of our vocabulary so important? Jonathan explains: “We must learn to live our lexicons. But we can’t embody a vocabulary we do not know, understand, or use.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jen Bradbury

    How and what we say affects what we believe. I saw this in my research for The Jesus Gap, which found that 73% of the language used by high school students to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” was creedal in origin. I was further convinced of this through Amanda Drury’s fantastic book, Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development. Because of this, I was excited to read Jonathan Merritt’s new book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are V How and what we say affects what we believe. I saw this in my research for The Jesus Gap, which found that 73% of the language used by high school students to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” was creedal in origin. I was further convinced of this through Amanda Drury’s fantastic book, Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development. Because of this, I was excited to read Jonathan Merritt’s new book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing and How We Can Revive Them. The first part of Learning to Speak God from Scratch introduces readers to some current research that suggests, for example, that the “older you are, the less likely it is that you will have a spiritual conversation.” It then serves as a linguistics primer. According to Jonathan, “The language of faith – like any language and perhaps more than any language – provides the glue that binds a community together… The Christian faith would not exist – it cannot exist – without words. They are the way the religion produces progeny.” The second section of Learning to Speak God from Scratch explores the meaning of several key sacred words, including what they’ve meant historically, what they mean currently, and what Jonathan hopes they will come to mean in the future as we rediscover them. Jonathan explores these words because “the only way to revive the lexicon of faith is to revisit our most sacred terms, asking which ones need pruning, which ones need new life, which ones need space for fresh shoots to emerge.” As a result of my own Christology research, I was particularly intrigued by Jonathan’s chapter on Creed: Heresy Hunters and Twitter Farewells. As someone who works in a denomination that relies heavily on the creeds, I appreciated Jonathan’s insight that “The creeds anchor us in the historic faith, guarding against the temptation to move the goalposts based on which direction culture seems to be advancing. In this way, the creeds provide a time-tested method of discipleship and a historic guardrail.” Another one of my favorite chapters in Learning to Speak God from Scratch was Lost: Microaggressions and Our Common Condition. In this chapter, Jonathan explores the “lost parables” found in Luke 15 in a way that I have never seen done before. It's caused me to reexamine these parables in new ways. According to Jonathan, “The lost-ness of these items is not the item’s fault… The items are only lost because someone lost them. And they do nothing to be found, either. They are passive objects in the affair.” Based on this, Jonathan concludes that “Lost-ness is the state of being separated from the community and in need of reconciliation, but Jesus does not equate it with evil or sinfulness. Jesus gives a sweeping picture of lost-ness that encompasses all who wonder and wander…In this view, lost-ness does not quarantine “outsiders” from “insiders”. It makes space for insiders to own the roles they’ve played in fracturing community and work to reconcile outsiders. If religious insiders began living that lesson, there would truly be rejoicing in heaven.” Ever since I began reading Learning to Speak God from Scratch, I’ve been excitedly talking about this book with people. This book is important. As Jonathan says, “When we lose our spiritual vocabulary, we lose much more than words. We lose the power of speaking grace, forgiveness, love and justice over others.” In Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan has written a book that will help us understand the power of words and in the process, reclaim them so that we can indeed speak grace, forgiveness, love and justice over ourselves and others. ***************************************************** Disclosure: I received a free copy of Learning to Speak God from Scratch from Convergent Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Crista Kettenhofen

    Note: I received an ARC from the publisher. The opinions expressed here are my own. Jonathan Merritt, author of "Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them,” begins by setting an ambitious goal. “Ours is an expedition to rediscover a love for consecrated terms and discover why speaking God matters now more than ever.” Merritt begins with a powerful and persuasive thesis that is well-defined in the opening section of the book, entitled “The Lost Lan Note: I received an ARC from the publisher. The opinions expressed here are my own. Jonathan Merritt, author of "Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them,” begins by setting an ambitious goal. “Ours is an expedition to rediscover a love for consecrated terms and discover why speaking God matters now more than ever.” Merritt begins with a powerful and persuasive thesis that is well-defined in the opening section of the book, entitled “The Lost Language of Faith.” “Terms, like sin and hell have become so negative they lodge in our throats. Others, like belief and salvation have been uttered so often we don’t know what they mean anymore.” In the chapter titled “Our Divine Linguaphile,” he says “We are word-shaped beings who live word-shaped lives within word-shaped communities.” I wholeheartedly agree with him. His approach is a masterful blend of cogent linguistic analysis and the sharing of personal stories, many originating out of the dislocation he experienced upon his move from Atlanta to New York City. “Prior to moving to New York, I resided in a suburban neighborhood in the heart of the Bible Belt. Almost all my friends were Christian, and most of us attended the same type of church … In this world, there was a kind of cultural Christian lingo many speak and almost everyone else understands.” The second section of the book is called “Finding Our Voices Again,” and is made up of nineteen chapters, each devoted to the exploration of a single word: creed, prayer, mystery, sin, and saint are just a few examples. He selects a wonderful variety of words, and includes highly practical chapters that address pain, disappointment, and brokenness too. His insights ring with authenticity, and range from the poignant and challenging to the encouraging and humorous. I loved this book, and I recommend it with enthusiasm. I believe this book will appeal broadly to - Progressive Christians for its politics and theology - Those from a conservative Evangelical background for its relatability - New Christians seeing context - Amateur but intrigued linguists and word lovers It could be appropriate as a Christian book club choice, or for a Christian Education program. It may also appeal to sincere spiritual seekers from both Christian and non-Christian religious traditions.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily P

    Alright, I am only giving this 5 stars because there's not more! I think this book is long overdue and brings to light many of the questions we all have about talking about God and faith in the world we live in. Jonathan weaves together stories of his upbringing as a pastor's kid, adult with questions and issues like us all, and the stories of those who have been alienated or excluded from knowing Jesus because of His followers' ineptitude or shortcomings. If you believe in anything, you ought t Alright, I am only giving this 5 stars because there's not more! I think this book is long overdue and brings to light many of the questions we all have about talking about God and faith in the world we live in. Jonathan weaves together stories of his upbringing as a pastor's kid, adult with questions and issues like us all, and the stories of those who have been alienated or excluded from knowing Jesus because of His followers' ineptitude or shortcomings. If you believe in anything, you ought to be able to articulate it, yes? If you want to do so, this book is for you. From linguistic studies, research on the power of prayer, conflicts as to how/why the state of religion is what it is to everything in between, Jonathan gives a well-balanced challenge to us all-- start from scratch and learn as much about God as you can, THEN share about your faith and what it means to you. Don't shy away from tough conversations or give in to the pressure of those who believe differently than you--use that opportunity to learn--and perhaps we will see that the end result is exactly what God asked of us: to grow the Kingdom by loving one another. This is a timely, well thought out collection of thoughts that will call you out, make you sad, encourage you with hope, and explain some of the real reasons we're not always ready or able to share about who God is to us. Of course, you don't have to agree with everything in order to weigh its value in a conversation. Don't be afraid to talk about God. Re-calibrate, restore and redeem words that we've forgotten or neglected. Read the Scriptures and understand the context. I read so much that occasionally books can seem similar, but this is not the case for "Learning To Speak God from Scratch." Starkly original, it feels like you're having a coffee conversation with someone much older than his years, yet wise beyond them. I looked so forward to reading this each evening that I am now saddened that I've finished it and (until I get his other work) there won't be any new moments to share with my honest friend Jonathan. I am seeking out his other books and will continue to recommend this read to family and friends. I received an ARC copy from Convergent books. All opinions are my own.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Lopez

    Words change over time. Years ago, the definition of the word "Literally" changed from not just meaning "In a literal sense or manner" or "With exact equivalence", but to also mean "an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible." This doesn't mean to word itself changed, but that it's usage did. People didn't "literally walk a thousand miles." They just say it to emphasize how hard walking is. Jonathan Merritt has noticed how sacred language has Words change over time. Years ago, the definition of the word "Literally" changed from not just meaning "In a literal sense or manner" or "With exact equivalence", but to also mean "an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible." This doesn't mean to word itself changed, but that it's usage did. People didn't "literally walk a thousand miles." They just say it to emphasize how hard walking is. Jonathan Merritt has noticed how sacred language has changed, and wants to reclaim words that have taken harsh connotations and redeem them, as well as bring new life to words used by many Christian's. Learning To Speak God From Scratch is sectioned into two parts, with a short introduction. The first part Merritt dives into research on Sacred Words; mainly what they are, how they are used, and where they are going. He argues for the evolution of the sacred words and their use in every day conversation, while showing the decline of their use, and how this effects culture. He doesn't shy away from the baggage sacred words bring, but uses their abuses to argue for an ever evolving language in Christianity. The second part is an exploration of some words that Merritt wants us to rethink. With a mixture of research and storytelling, Merritt shows how these words have changed for him and the new life they bring. Reading this section had me all over the place emotionally. Chapters had me shouting "Yes!", laughing out loud, and crying in my car on my lunch break from work. But they also required me to put down the book and digest what I've just read. This is the part where Merritt shines as a writer, not only putting these new ideas out, but making them easy to understand without losing complexity. Afterwards, Merritt invites us to not only be readers of this idea of Speaking God from Scratch, but to participate in relearning scared words. Using his examples and method, he encourages us to make our own list of words, unload the baggage, and reclaim language previously excluded to the in-crowd of Christianese. I read Merritt's last book Jesus Is Better than You Imagined during a spiritually difficult chapter of my life. After leaving a church I had called family for years and seeing the dirty and abusive side of church (again), I was about to give up on any form of Church. JIBTYI reminded me of what the Church can be, and how the faith I belong to is more than the politics. So when I saw the opportunity to get an advanced copy his newest book, I jumped at the chance to read it. Having not read what is was about, I didn't realize how much this book would speak to where I was again, and the lasting effect it would have on me. Having read this already, I'm already planning on rereading it when I buy the final copy.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Shank

    Possibly, the greatest misstep in the church today is the silence amongst its people. In Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt combats the silence amongst Christians, the loss of their sacred words, and the deafness with which they use their words to exclude the people they’re trying to reach. Identifying 20 sacred words, held closely within the church, Merritt identifies the importance of each word for the church and its believers. He couples scripture and language study, with bi Possibly, the greatest misstep in the church today is the silence amongst its people. In Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt combats the silence amongst Christians, the loss of their sacred words, and the deafness with which they use their words to exclude the people they’re trying to reach. Identifying 20 sacred words, held closely within the church, Merritt identifies the importance of each word for the church and its believers. He couples scripture and language study, with biblical study to identify the value of each word, its significance within scripture, and how it fits within our current culture. Merritt’s primary purpose is to encourage believers to speak about their faith, about the God they believe, and the words they cherish. He desires a reversal of the declining faith language within the church and world. He challenges believers to consider their words and the reasons they often hold back. This book gives a full view of the power of words with regards to faith. Christians can reach people and repel them with the same words. This book causes readers to consider how their most sacred words are received by others. It also asks the question of why we choose not to speak words of faith with the greater world. Although some of his statements are challenging to closely-held Evangelical traditions, the truth and love with which he shares these statements creates an opportunity for genuine conversation. These are the types of conversations needed greatly right now. Merritt’s book provides a starting point to important conversations. Without words do Christians know what they believe? Can they share their faith with anyone else? This book offers the challenge we need to consider faith within the culture we live. Receiving an advanced copy of this book was a privilege. I appreciate the opportunity to review and share my thoughts with others.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kaci__lynn

    If you find yourself in a season of life where the cultural language of evangelicalism leaves you wanting to dissociate yourself from the title “Christian,” I think you’ll find this book a refreshing reminder of what our “God Speak” is meant to communicate. I have followed Jonathan’s articles for years, and I heard him speak a few years ago. I’ve enjoyed his work thoroughly, so I was excited to be chosen to receive an advance reader copy of Learning to Speak God from Scratch. In all honesty, the If you find yourself in a season of life where the cultural language of evangelicalism leaves you wanting to dissociate yourself from the title “Christian,” I think you’ll find this book a refreshing reminder of what our “God Speak” is meant to communicate. I have followed Jonathan’s articles for years, and I heard him speak a few years ago. I’ve enjoyed his work thoroughly, so I was excited to be chosen to receive an advance reader copy of Learning to Speak God from Scratch. In all honesty, the beginning was a little bit of a slow start for me. I think my brain was craving something a little less information-dense to read at the moment, as Jonathan’s journalistic background is apparent as he lays the foundation for the premise of this book. Once I got through the definitions, data, and statistics on Speaking God, I was invested. As a lover of words and someone who was “born in the pews” I was excited to examine afresh a “language” that had long lost its magic for me. Words like sin, grace, brokenness, blessed, neighbor, saint, spirit, and lost have been so ingrained in my vocabulary from a young age, that I really didn’t understand the meaning behind what I said. “Christianese” hasn’t been able to stand the test of time or trial in my life, and the sanctity of these words have disappeared, leaving me unsure whether I wanted to Speak God at all. However, thanks to Merritt’s work, it feels like I can wrap these words around me like a favorite familiar blanket, as he shows how each of these sacred words points back to a God I love. This book feels timely for our culture, and yet is filled with ancient truths. Kind of like a game of Telephone, the meaning of sacred words have been lost as they’ve been passed down from generation to generation. Merritt’s book is a work of bringing these words back to their original meaning, introducing a new generation to the truth that had been lost.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Let me just say, I did not expect to love this book so very much. I was so sad when the book was over. I wanted more! Merritt speaks candidly with just the perfect mix of humor and a lot of thought-provoking insight into his journey to "Speak God" again. Not only did I learn a great deal about religion in America and how religious language is drastically on the decline, I learned about world language, the action of prayer on our brains, and more. Plus, he talks about Mr. Rogers- what's not to lov Let me just say, I did not expect to love this book so very much. I was so sad when the book was over. I wanted more! Merritt speaks candidly with just the perfect mix of humor and a lot of thought-provoking insight into his journey to "Speak God" again. Not only did I learn a great deal about religion in America and how religious language is drastically on the decline, I learned about world language, the action of prayer on our brains, and more. Plus, he talks about Mr. Rogers- what's not to love? As someone who has bounced around from a variety of Christian denominations, I could so relate to coming into a new surrounding and feel like I had no idea what the others were speaking about. What I didn't realize was how much I was possibly isolating others and leaving them out of the conversation by using "Christianese" terms that I thought were just common US vernacular. I have always been fascinated with words and their origin, this book helped me to learn even more about them and gain the confidence to speak about my Faith in a way that would not be isolating and confusing. The book ends with Merritt's own S-P-E-A-K method to help readers learn how to once again speak God in a relevant and meaningful way. I would highly suggest this book for anyone in ministry, especially in a city or outside the Bible belt. I'd also suggest it for any Christian who is hoping to communicate their faith more effectively and understand how confusing some of our language can be to non-believers. I'd also suggest this to those whose faith is struggling and to those who are not Christian but want to understand more about Christianity and world religion. An excellent read! I was privileged to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of this book. The comments in this review are my own.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Hartman

    In the 70's, growing up in the south in a small, conservative church, I never gave a thought about sacred words--they were just used as weapons to make others feel guilty, myself included. I still avoid some of those words because they bring bad memories, pain, and judgment to mind every time I hear them. Years later, I am thankful that most of our sacred words do not mean what we were taught, or they have developed new connotations ("matured"), making it easier to have spiritual conversations w In the 70's, growing up in the south in a small, conservative church, I never gave a thought about sacred words--they were just used as weapons to make others feel guilty, myself included. I still avoid some of those words because they bring bad memories, pain, and judgment to mind every time I hear them. Years later, I am thankful that most of our sacred words do not mean what we were taught, or they have developed new connotations ("matured"), making it easier to have spiritual conversations with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Using personal experiences, vivid descriptions, analogies, and humor, Jonathan takes us on a journey to discover how sacred words can be revived so that we can be empowered and equipped to have spiritual conversations with others. Jonathan is young enough to be aware of cultural dynamics, educated enough to share Biblical scripture to endorse his thoughts, and grace-filled enough to think and act as Jesus would in our world today. As a mom of millenials, Jonathan's research shows "millenials are having more conversations about religion or spirituality than any other generation." I am so encouraged by this! My children have diverse groups of friends, and this age group seems more likely to be tolerant, sensitive, and open-minded. "Learning to Speak God From Scratch" will make a great gift for them! I received an advance copy of the book and am well into my second reading. I rushed through it first because I couldn't wait to read the next page. This time, I'm savoring it, highlighter and pen in hand. The copy I bought will go to my child. Blessings as you read and savor this amazing book.

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