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While in Riga over the past ten days I have used some of my spare time to walk and some of it to read. It has been good to exercise the body and the mind. I have very much enjoyed reading Karen Swallow Prior’s book: The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis. In this thought-provoking book the author takes words from awakening to rapture that have been used and misused by evangelicals.

Cliches are widely used by politicians and preachers alike. One recent cliché is the idea of politicians “putting money back into people’s pockets;” although there is much less emphasis on the way they try to take it out again!

Cliches are well-worn phrases that with overuse tend to lose their impact. In the 1970’s it was the term “born again.” It was being used everywhere, so that a born-again Christian was the genuine variety as opposed to other inferior substitutes.

Even advertisers got in on the act with the car makers Volkswagen re-launching one of their iconic cars with the strapline: “Born-Again. Golf.” The mind boggles.

Jesus used the phrase born again in John chapter 3, although many Greek scholars would suggest that the best translation is probably born from above. Hence it is not so much something to do with the nature of the change as its source. Jesus, whose authority resides in him being from above does a work in people’s lives that has its origin in a place that is out of this world.

“Biblical language (which, of course, for most of us is translated from its original language into our own) is never clichéd. But our use of it can be. We should take instruction from the fact that the Bible expresses its recurring ideas and concepts with a delicious menu of varied words and phrases.” (Karen Swallow Prior)

When Paul speaks about the same experience as Jesus is talking about in John’s Gospel, he talks about being a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

While we are talking about variety, it is interesting to note that John hardly uses the word kingdom; his preferred term for describing God’s saving imitative is “eternal life.”

Not sure why I have not noticed it before, but Matthew never uses the word grace. Yet as I found preaching on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), he does tell many stories that brilliantly describe grace in action.

Come to think of it, why are there four gospels. There is only one story of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to edit them by merging them together? It might be efficient, but we would lose the rich variety. That is one of the reasons I am not a great fan of so-called “Harmonies of the Gospel”.

Preachers as you prepare your sermons, gathering your materials and choosing the words you are going to use, remember to make full use of the “delicious menu of varied words and phrases,” that are at your disposal.

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