Understanding theology deeply necessitates the use of precise and sometimes complex terminology. While these “big words” might initially seem daunting, they are essential for a thorough grasp of theological concepts. We should remember that everyone, regardless of background, is created in the image of God with a mind capable of absolutely profound thought.

From Milk to Solid Food

Scripture itself advocates for growth in understanding. In 1 Corinthians 3:2 (you knew I was going here!), Paul says, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” This metaphor illustrates the progression from basic to advanced learning. Just as infants begin with milk and eventually need solid food to grow, believers start with simple teachings but must advance to more complex ones to mature in their faith.

Learning the Language of Theology

Consider starting a new job. Imagine learning to use a computer for work. Initially, the terminology might seem confusing. For example, instead of saying “move the pointer thingy,” we learn to say “move the mouse.” When asked to “open a new tab” in a browser, we don’t just say “click the thingy to get another square portal thingy.” Learning specific terms makes us more efficient and proficient in our roles. And we are always willing and able to do it.

Similarly, in theology, terms like “dispensation,” “atonement,” “covenant,” and “Trinity” might seem complex at first. However, these words serve as tools that encapsulate rich, nuanced concepts. They help us articulate and understand the depth of our faith more accurately. Using precise language doesn’t mean we become arrogant; it means we respect the complexity of divine truth and strive for a fuller understanding of God’s revelation.

Building Confidence through Language

Embracing complex theological terms is also about building confidence. Many people feel they are “simpletons,” but this is a misconception. We are all created with incredible minds capable of grasping complex ideas. Unfortunately, books like “Theology for Dummies,” “History for Dummies,” or “Catholicism for Dummies” can reinforce the notion that we aren’t capable of deep understanding. While these books might be useful, they can inadvertently confirm a false belief that we lack the intelligence to grasp complex theological concepts. Lowering our standards to oversimplified concepts does a disservice to our intellectual potential and to the God who made us.

The Role of Language in Thought

Psychology supports the necessity of language in shaping thought. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as “linguistic relativity,” strongly suggests that the language we use influences how we perceive and understand the world. Words are not just labels; they shape our concepts and ideas, making it possible for us to think about complex notions. Without the appropriate vocabulary, our ability to conceptualize and communicate sophisticated theological ideas would be limited.

Honoring God with Our Minds

God has endowed us with the capacity to think deeply and critically. I’m trying to get you to recognize this with excitement and anticipation of knowing God more precisely. He has provided numerous resources—Scripture, tradition, reason, experience, and emotions—to aid in our understanding. To responsibly interpret and apply these resources, we must embrace the full range of related vocabulary. This is not about theological academia for its own sake but about knowing God more deeply and expressing our love for Him through precise understanding.


While starting with simple concepts is necessary, advancing to “meat”—the more complex and precise terminology—is crucial for mature theological understanding. These terms are not barriers but bridges to a deeper, more comprehensive grasp of our faith. This honors God by striving for precision and clarity in our language, reflecting the depth and complexity of His truth. Our pursuit of understanding through complex language demonstrates the depth of our love for Him and our desire to know Him as fully as possible.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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