A lesson from Humpty Dumpty

Do you remember the delightful interchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass?

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

I have listened to many theological discussions which were going nowhere because the critical terms did not mean the same thing to everyone in the discussion. I’d like our discussions on this blog to be productive. To facilitate that, I want all my readers to understand what I mean by the terms I use in a post. So I have decided to develop a glossary which will always be easily available at the top of the page.

While writing the post which is soon to appear, I identified a few items that might benefit from definition, and I have added them to the glossary. Some of these have already come up and the others are sure to arise in coming weeks. You may define them differently than I do, but at least you will be able to ascertain my meaning, and then you can clarify yours where necessary, in your comments. When we talk about “glory,” it will help if we are all talking about the same thing.

Over time, the glossary will grow, but only as needed.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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