The Immense Value of Missionary Biographies by Justin Wainscott



Outside of the Bible, biographies can be some of the most encouraging, inspiring, challenging, and beneficial types of books for Christians to read. We learn valuable lessons from reading about the lives of other people—their trials and their triumphs, their struggles and their strengths, their greatest mistakes and their greatest achievements. But there is one particular kind of biography that I believe has immense value for Christians, arguably more value than any other kind, and that is the missionary biography. So in the brief space I have here, I want to commend to you the practice of reading missionary biographies by highlighting just a few reasons why they are so valuable. 

One, missionary biographies fuel and inform our prayers for missionaries. Reading their stories reminds us that most days on the mission field are a grind, not glamorous. We’re reminded that missionaries frequently face loneliness and discouragement. Often times, they experience the same day-to-day struggles that we do, only they do so without the comfort and assistance of family and close friends. Other times, they endure unique challenges due to living in a different culture. And on top of all of that, they may minister for years without seeing much fruit. As a result of realizing such realities, we become more burdened and better informed in our prayers for missionaries.

Two, missionary biographies inspire us to make sacrifices for the advancement of the gospel. It is hard to read about the sacrifices of missionaries and not be stirred and challenged. A look at their lives forces us to look at our own. We begin to ask ourselves what risks we ought to be taking to help spread the gospel. And in the end, we often find our own evangelistic zeal strengthened by theirs.

Three, missionary biographies cultivate a culture of missionary support in our churches. The more people in our churches who are aware of the hardships and trials that come with missionary service, the more people who are willing to pray regularly for missionaries, email them notes of encouragement, send them care packages, love on them when they return, and listen attentively to their stories. Missionary biographies can help cultivate that kind of mindset in church members. 

Four, missionary biographies awaken us to the need for all nations, tribes, and tongues to hear the gospel. They provide gripping examples of darkness throughout the world and remind us why we prioritize unreached and unengaged people groups in our missions strategies. At the same time, they also provide vivid illustrations of the power of the gospel to bring joy and hope to people who had never before heard the name of Jesus.

Five, missionary biographies mobilize God’s people to go, both short-term and long-term. So many of the men and women on the mission field today are there because they were first inspired by reading or hearing the story of another missionary. Who knows how God may use missionary biographies to raise up more missionary laborers?

So pastors, missions pastors, children and youth pastors, church librarians, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, parents, I encourage you to read, recommend, utilize, give away, and fill your library with missionary biographies. And if you are looking for where to begin, let me suggest just a few: To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson, Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliott, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliott, J. Hudson Taylor by Roger Steer, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey by Timothy George, and Ten Who Changed the World by Danny Akin.


thumbnail-copyJustin Wainscott is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Jackson, Tennessee.

Posted: September 22, 2016
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Saying Goodbye to a Legend by James Scott Bell


I’ve never known a breath of life without Vin Scully in it.

Growing up in Los Angeles, and being a die-hard Dodgers fan, I spent my youthful summers listening to Vinnie (we all called him that, he was our favorite uncle or best friend) call the games via my transistor radio. Many a night I’d fall asleep to that honey-toned voice and my mom would have to tiptoe in and turn the radio off.

And now he’s about to retire. After 67 years behind the mike for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s like summer itself will no longer be there.

Everyone acknowledges Vin Scully as one of the greatest (JSB would say the greatest) sports announcers of all time.

The question for us today (and for writers) is, Why? I’d say three things:

His precision.

His poetry.

His passion.

Precision: Vinnie is always so prepared, able to talk about each and every player who comes up to bat. On both the Dodgers and the opposing team. He knows their stats, their backgrounds, and the particular stories that turn them into individuals and not just numbers.

He also knows when and how much of that information to give. One of the greatest Vin Scully traits is not over-talking, as so many announcers do. He often just lets the crowd chatter or cheer. It’s like he’s letting you be part of the game. Thus, you never get tired of hearing Vinnie’s voice (one of the most naturally gorgeous in all sports … or any other verbal art form known to man).

Poetry: Vinnie has always been able to weave lovely and often unforgettable phrases into his announcing. He often cites great literature and even popular songs. I remember one game he was calling over forty years ago where he referenced a Jim Croce song, saying, “Tonight, they are playing like a junkyard dog.” I’ve never forgotten that. That’s what Vinnie can do.

Passion: One thing for sure, Vin Scully loves baseball. More than that, he honors it. He knows the rich history of the game, the great players, the important moments. When you listen to Vinnie call a game you are getting more than an account of the innings; you’re getting a history lesson, too.

I just had to write about Vin Scully today, as a bittersweetness overtakes me for the end of an epic era. Maybe I always thought Vin Scully would be there …

And in a way, he will be. For he called my favorite sports moment of all time. And it is now preserved on YouTube. If you want to appreciate the genius, the greatness that is Vin Scully, watch that entire clip of the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

You cannot overstate the drama. The Oakland A’s take a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. On the mound is the most feared closer in baseball, future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

Gibson, the Dodgers’ most valuable player (along with pitcher Orel Hershiser), couldn’t play. He’d injured both legs during the NLCS, and could barely walk, let alone run. But as the ninth inning rolled on, Gibson (in the clubhouse at the time) told manager Tommy Lasorda he could pinch hit if need be.

Which is when Tommy Lasorda faked out Eckersley and the A’s. With two outs, and Mike Davis at the plate, Lasorda put Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle. Eckersley decided he’d rather pitch to Anderson, and pitched around Davis, who drew the walk and trotted down to first base.

Then … suddenly … stunningly … out comes Kirk Gibson.

Watch the clip to see what happened.

gibsonup101513Vinnie, calling the game with Joe Garagiola for NBC, was as precise and colorful as always. At one point he describes Gibson “shaking his left leg, making it quiver, like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.” Perfect!

But what is so endearing about Vinnie and the home run is that his love of the game and its iconic moments couldn’t be held back. When Gibson’s ball cleared the right field fence, Vinnie for that instant became a fan himself. Not of the Dodgers, but of the game of baseball. He knew this was a moment on par with Bobby Thompson’s dramatic home run back in the 1956 pennant race, or Bill Mazeroski’s game 7 World Series winner in 1960.

So when Vinnie says, “She is GONE!” there’s a little extra oomph in the word gone that reveals the great one’s heart.

As Gibson rounds the bases, with the crowd going nuts, Vinnie lets the TV audience share the experience by saying not one word. He waits over one full minute, as Gibson’s teammates mob him, and then delivers one of the great lines in broadcasting history: “In a year that has been so improbable, the IMPOSSIBLE has happened!”

Writers, learn from the great Vin Scully.

Be precise. Yes, you can—indeed must—let your imagination out to play. But if you want to be a selling writer, at some point you must use the tools of the craft to shape readable fiction. Vin Scully is still one of the hardest working broadcasters in the game.

Be poetic. John D. MacDonald wanted “unobtrusive poetry” in his style. Not so much that it stuck out, shouting Look at this great writing! But more than plain vanilla. The latter can work, but why not reach for more? Vin Scully elevated every game with his prose.

Be passionate. Love telling stories. Joy is one of the big secrets of popular fiction. You can hear the love and joy in Vin Scully’s calls. Here is a man who had his dream job for nearly seven full decades. We always knew it.

Ah, Vinnie. I will miss you so much. You made my summers unforgettable. You transported me to the stadium when I couldn’t be there. And even when I was, I had my transistor with me so I could hear you call the game. So, I might add, did about half of Dodger Stadium.

And someday, when I write the best book of my life, and know it, and hit the key that publishes it, I want to hear your voice in my head:

“She is GONE!”

God bless you, Vin Scully.



Posted on September 11, 2016 on The Kill Zone Blog



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The Bible Project–Joshua

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This Constitutional Crisis Is CRUSHING us, but There’s One Way To Break Free By Daniel Horowitz

We the People quote on parchment.

The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t know that today is the celebration of the 229th Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution (tomorrow is the actual anniversary, but it is a weekend). On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine delegates to the Constitutional Convention from 12 states signed the document establishing the most effective form of government ever known to man.

Towards the end of his life, James Madison reflected in his notes on the Constitutional Convention that

[T]here never was an assembly of men, charged with a great & arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of proposing and devising a constitutional system which would…best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of the country.[1]

Sadly, over two centuries later, almost every word of that document has been contorted beyond recognition, flipping our system of governance on its head.

There are numerous facets to the severe constitutional crisis we are confronted with today, and a myriad of culprits to blame for the source of this crisis. But perhaps the biggest crisis we face is the one resulting from the collapse of representative democracy — with Congress becoming impotent, and the federal executive and judiciary crushing the states while stealing the sovereignty of the nation, states, and individual citizens. The clear culprit of this aspect of the constitutional crisis is the rise of political parties, which have replaced our republican system of governance with a ruling class of oligarchs loyal to their party instead of the Constitution.

The System of Government We Adopted

The Constitution signed on that day in Philadelphia was a sacred document forever fixing the terms and conditions of our form of government. The beauty of that document, of course, is that it also prescribed the narrow and exclusive path through which the American political system can be changed.

What was that system?

The Constitution addresses the relationship between three entities: the people, the states, and the federal union. Misunderstanding the rightful powers of each “branch” is the reason for our existing Constitution crisis. Our Founders were quite clear in their intent to assign the federal government only enumerated powers dealing primarily with national defense, external affairs, and subject matter that required uniformity, such as naturalization, currency, and interstate trade. They vested all other powers needed to foster internal order with the states, except for issues affecting natural and inalienable rights that were left to the people, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence. It was the job of the state and federal governments in their respective spheres not only to leave those rights to the people, but also to check each other’s power in order to secure those liberties for the people.

Madison explained the arrangement of federalism best in Federalist #45 as keeping the powers of the federal government “few and defined,” applied “principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” State powers, on the other hand, were to be “numerous and indefinite,” extending “to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Madison was also quite clear which one would be most dominant in people’s lives:

The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government.

Reading these thoughts from Madison 230 years later should jolt any patriot who celebrates the Constitution into a sense of shock as to how dramatically our system of governance has been altered.

Despite the very narrow, yet vital, purview of policy that was granted to the federal government, our Founders still wanted to ensure that its power would be kept in check and that it would remain dedicated to the prudent use of the critical power that was ceded by the states after the collapse of the Articles of Confederation. Writing in Federalist #47, Madison very presciently recognized that “[T]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

To that end, the Framers vested Congress — the elected branch with the most transparency (through public votes) — with the “predominant” power to legislate and fund the functions born out of those “few and defined” enumerated powers, which were “few and defined.” The Executive was to faithfully execute those laws. The judiciary, which was to be comparatively the weakest branch and wield “neither force nor will” over the direction of the country, was to interpret the application of those laws — not overturn them.

Once again, let’s explore how Madison viewed this division:

The magistrate in whom the whole executive power resides cannot of himself make a law, though he can put a negative on every law; nor administer justice in person, though he has the appointment of those who do administer it. The judges can exercise no executive prerogative, though they are shoots from the executive stock; nor any legislative function, though they may be advised with by the legislative councils. The entire legislature can perform no judiciary act, though by the joint act of two of its branches the judges may be removed from their offices, and though one of its branches is possessed of the judicial power in the last resort. The entire legislature, again, can exercise no executive prerogative.”

It’s not that our Founders didn’t envision tyranny or usurpations from one corner of government. Rather, they were confident that if one area of the government would step out of line, the people’s representatives, in conjunction with a group of states, would check that power.[2] This is at the heart of the republicanism the Constitution sought to foster. In establishing this system of federalism, representation, and separate branches of government with distinct roles, ultimately the critical decision-making power was vested in the people. As Madison wrote in Federalist #39, “we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.”

This is the sacred contract our founders signed; this is the system of governance they adopted. Nothing in the ensuing 17 amendments adopted after the Bill of Rights, including the much-contorted Fourteenth Amendment, countermanded or vitiated that document.[3

As Supreme Court Justice William Paterson wrote in 1795: [4]

What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental law are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people, and is the supreme law of the land; it is paramount to the power of the Legislature, and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it.

How the System Got Turned Upside-Down

To say our constitutional system is undergoing a crisis is an understatement. The states have been crushed by the federal government, and the national legislature — the predominant branch of the federal government — has allowed itself to be neutered by the executive and judicial branches, abdicating its responsibility to protect the people and the states from such usurpations.

With the exception of Obamacare, almost every recent perversion of our system has come at the hands of the unelected branches of government or are the result of poorly crafted legislation from years ago. The legislative branch, with the power to legislate, the prerogative of oversight, and the control over the purse, has refused to lift a finger to stop the runaway leviathan. The judicial branch of government has now become the final arbiter over every political and social issue, has castrated the states, flipped fundamental rights and natural law on its head, and has rewritten every clause of the Constitution to mean the exact opposite of its intent.

Together with the executive agencies, as I warn in “Stolen Sovereignty,” the judiciary has stolen the sovereignty of the individual, the state, and the federal union. While the judiciary green lights the federal bureaucracies to regulate every aspect of our lives — over and beyond even the powers granted to the states — the federal agencies refuse to exercise the main power they actually hold — to protect the sovereignty and security of this country. Madison portended the results of a perverted government that is preoccupied with ill-gotten power and abdicates the responsibility it does have: “The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.”

The decisions of the bureaucracies and the judiciary not only render the results of elections moot by overruling the people, the states, and the Constitution on major societal issues, they steal the sovereignty of the citizen by ensuring that non-citizens can vote and illegal aliens get citizen rights. They ensure that the most sacred question of a society — the decisions governing the future membership of the society and the voting populace itself — are stripped from the people, the states, and their elected federal representatives.

One reason Congress fails to check the other two branches is because at any given time at least half or close to half of its members are of the same political party as the usurpers in the other branches.

As I observed in my book, how ironic that the preamble of the Constitution, declaring “We the people,” was authored by Gouverneur Morris, who was such an early advocate for American sovereignty and consent-based immigration, and is now being used by the federal judiciary to bestow citizen rights on all “people.”[5] How unfortunate that the man who declared “every state enjoys sovereign power,” must watch from heaven as the document he helped draft is being perverted to crush the states.

The Political Party System Is To Blame

How have we fallen so deep into the abyss of a post-Constitution Gomorrah?

How it is that Madison thought the most mischief would come from the legislature, which had the most power, yet they have stood by idly as the other two “weaker” branches crush the people and the states?

The culprit is the binary choice of two political parties and the intellectual dishonesty that it has spawned. One of George Washington’s final warnings in his sagacious Farewell Address (before extolling “religion and morality” as “indispensable supports” of prosperity) was that the seeds of dissolution of the republic were sown in the promotion of political parties. He warned:

The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty…

Sadly, every premonition of Washington has come true. He just likely never envisioned political factions in which one party (Republicans) was the ultimate false flag operation for the other party (Democrats), as is our predicament today.

Instead of having the people, states, and federal government balance one another; instead of having the executive, legislative, and judicial branches balance one another, we have two political parties as both means and ends to themselves. One reason Congress fails to check the other two branches is because at any given time at least half or close to half of its members are of the same political party as the usurpers in the other branches. Consequently, they are happy to go along with illegal power grabs because it advances their party’s agenda.

For example, our Founders put strong faith in the power of impeachment,[6] yet that tool has been rendered moot because the opposing party, which invariably has at least one-third of the seats in the Senate, will never vote to impeach a member of the same party. Forget about the president. The political party system has bred such intellectual dishonesty that Democrats won’t even impeach the IRS commissioner who blatantly lied to Congress and destroyed documents covering up the agency’s targeting of political groups.

Over the years, the two parties have morphed into one oligarchy that more or less shares the same perverted values and unconstitutional means of achieving them.

Likewise, the reason Congress has sat idly while the courts have spawned social transformation without representation is because half of its members agree with the outcome, even if the process through which they achieved it was grossly illegitimate.

It is also for this reason why states have been impotent in fighting back to defend their turf. It is hard enough for a state to challenge the federal government unilaterally, even if its entire citizenry supported the effort. Yet, even “red states” invariably have 35-45 percent of its members who are from the party that agrees with the federal action taken by their allies in Washington, even if it harms their state. Look no further than North Carolina Democrats for an example.

It would be destructive enough, “truly the worst enemy,” in the words of Washington’s aforementioned admonition, if we merely had two opposing parties supplant our system of governance with a Republican Party firmly committed to opposing the Democrat Party with the same rigor and even the same intellectual dishonesty to achieve its ends. But it’s worse than that. Over the years, the two parties have morphed into one oligarchy that more or less shares the same perverted values and unconstitutional means of achieving them. Even when Republicans win back Congress and a majority of the states, and even with regards to the few issues on which they claim to uphold the Constitution, their political caprice convinces them that it’s better to allow the federal executive and judiciary “take the blame” for any chaos resulting from bad policies rather than risk trying to overturn them. It’s all about politics and giving your side an election issue.

It is this failed monopoly of Republicans and Democrats on the political system — one that has morphed into a de facto oligarchy — that has actualized Madison’s worst nightmare of a government not derived from a “great body of the society,” but from “a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers,” who “might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.”

What Are We The People To Do?

There are no easy or quick solutions to restoring our Constitution following so many years of complacency in the face of endless usurpations. However, what is clear is that we must find a way to restore power back to the states and tilt the balance of federal power back from the judiciary and bureaucracies and toward Congress. We also need to work in the states to promote Article V conventions, using the existing constitutional tools to restore and reinforce the original system of government we adopted.

Concurrently, it is incontrovertibly clear that to continue down the same path of failure is not an option. So long as constitutionalists are stuck in this binary political game, we will continue to exemplify the definition of insanity by expecting a different result. The federal government will not willingly restore power to the red states; they must grab it back on their own. Doing so will require a new political vehicle, one that is fresh, consistent, principled, and intellectually honest so that it might have the political capital to advocate for state powers, civil disobedience, shunning of the courts and the agencies, and so forth.

The existing Republican Party cannot and will not serve as that vehicle. We have learned from 1988 until the present — ever since Republicans stopped nominating constitutionalists for president — that members of the party will bend in the wind and change their long-held beliefs to comport with the capricious views of the party leaders.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have any factions or parties, but even Washington recognized in his time that they are “inseparable from our nature.” The next best thing is to break the monopoly of the oligarchy by introducing choice and competition through a new party that is actually built upon republican principles. As Madison wrote in Federalist #10, the way to deal with the necessary evil of factions is to grow the pie: “[Y]ou take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”

…we need new and innovative strategies to restore the timeless principles set forth by our Founders.

This new vehicle will not launch overnight in all 50 states and will not take the same form in every state, at least not initially. But it must begin in the states where overwhelming majorities are still receptive to a constitutionalist message. And fortunately, most governor elections and more state legislative elections occur during non-presidential years when Democrat turnout is lower, which is why Republicans to this day control so much state government. Sadly, with the exception of a few states, they don’t do anything positive with the power they have.

That must change. A new vehicle that is consistently committed to federalism can tell the federal executive and judiciary where to go. We have long passed the threshold of usurpations to justify civil disobedience, but we need a respected vehicle — the platform of a sovereign state and a new party — that has the support to see it through. In justifying the eventual need to ignore the courts, Robert Bork once said, “[T]o the objection that a rejection of a court’s authority would be civil disobedience, the answer is that a court that issues orders without authority engages in an equally dangerous form of civil disobedience.”

For far too long, we have tolerated, legitimized, and codified the civil disobedience of the other side. What we need now in response, is not the pursuit of the same failed tactics and strategies, which have led a significant portion of our movement to seek new and foreign principles. Rather we need new and innovative strategies to restore the timeless principles set forth by our Founders.

As Justice Joseph Story once said, our constitutional principles are to “speak in the same voice now, and forever. They are of no man’s private interpretation. They are ordained by the will of the people; and can only be changed by the sovereign command of the people.”

horowitz conservative conscience

[1] James Madison, Preface to The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, 1830: Writings of James Madison, ed. Jack Rakove (New York: Library of America, 1999), 842.

[2] In Federalist #51, Madison wrote that the division between the states and the federal government as well as each entity being divided into three branches would safeguard liberty: “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

[3] Undoubtedly, the movement behind Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments sowed the seeds for an expanded federal government, but the actual amendments did not fundamentally alter the system of government and justify a single usurpation we face today. Moreover, they were enacted through the legitimate amendment process, unlike today’s illegal ad hoc constitutional conventions that take place on a daily basis.

[4] VanHorne’s Lessee v. Dorrance 2 U.S. 304, 308 (1795). William Paterson was one of the primary drafters of Article III of the Constitution, was one of the original members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who created the court system, and was one of the early Supreme Court justices. Few people should be accorded greater respect in their views of constitutional construction.

[5] “Every society from a great nation down to a club had the right of declaring the conditions on which new members should be admitted, there can be room for no complaint.” Gouverneur Morris, “Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787,” Elliot’s Debates, vol. V, as republished on the Teaching American History website,

Morris’s importance as a founder is best captured by Madison’s claim that the actual text of the Constitution “fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris.” Max Farrand, “The Framing Of The Constitution Of The United States,” (Kindle Location 1744). Kindle Edition. See also Richard Brookhiser, “Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution,” (Detroit: Free Press; Reprint edition (June 3, 2004).

[6] During the Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph referred to “[t]he propriety of impeachments” as “a favorite principle.” Impeachment is mentioned 58 times in the Federalist Papers.

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How a Word Gets Into the Dictionary

Slang in the Dictionary, Part One

A while ago, the people at Grammarly asked us a question: has the Internet changed the pace at which new words enter the dictionary? Do we enter new words more quickly now? The answer was so interesting that we ended up writing a series of articles on slang in the dictionary. Today, we’ll begin with the obvious: How does any word get into the dictionary? Next, we’ll look at the earliest dictionaries to include slang, and our third installment will focus specifically on the Internet and the dictionary.

Click here to see the infographic that accompanies this story.

Dictionaries have always been data-driven. A dictionary isn’t an idea museum, it’s a user’s manual for communication.

So how does a word get into the dictionary?

A word gets into a dictionary when it is used by many people who all agree that it means the same thing. If your toddler nephew invented a great word that the English language simply can’t do without, don’t write to us to recommend that it be added to the dictionary. Use it. First, you drop the word into your conversation and writing, then others pick it up; the more its use spreads, the more likely it will be noticed by dictionary editors, or lexicographers. If your nephew’s word is one that English speakers decide we need, it has a good chance of getting into the dictionary.


Reading is an important part of a lexicographer’s job.

This is what dictionary editors do all day

Dictionary editors read actively, looking for changes in the language. To find vocabulary that has entered mainstream life—terms like bucket list or sexting or unfriend, we look at sites and publications with wide national readership. For words that begin as specialized vocabulary but might become more common over time, we look at medical, industry, and tech journals for words like obesogenic and fracking. Captions for comic strips have lots of words that are more frequently spoken than written. It all adds up.

We collect citations of new words

Each example of a word becomes a citation that is collected with its context and source and then keyed into a searchable database that constitutes the first stage of research for the dictionary. These hand-chosen examples form a unique corpus that is the raw form of the dictionary—they provide both the evidence of a word’s use and the basis for extracting a definition from the way the word is used in the citation. We collect new words as well as new ways of using old words, which can be much harder to detect. We have nearly 17 million such citations.

Next, we research how widely a new word is used

We search through other databases that include millions of words in the form of complete articles, books, and speech. We’re looking for three criteria: frequent use, widespread use, and meaningful use. Frequent means that the word is used that way over time. If it’s a trendy flash in the pan that comes and goes, we don’t enter it into the dictionary. Widespread usually means that the word is used by people across industries or regions, in other words that an average adult is likely to encounter the word and need to know what it means. Meaningful should be obvious, but it isn’t, always. Famously, the “longest word in the dictionary” isn’t actually a word by these standards, because it’s never used to mean what it seems to describe. It’s only used as an example of a very long word. It’s not in our dictionary.

The definer must judge whether there is enough evidence to put a new word in; that judgment will be reviewed by more senior colleagues as the dictionary moves through the editorial process, but there’s no committee, no advocacy, no meetings for new word inclusion. If a word seems promising but shows insufficient evidence for inclusion this time around, those citations will be reviewed for the next edition, at which time the word may have flourished—or vanished.

Some “new” words are already in the dictionary

New words like hashtag and selfie get a lot of attention, but many of the new words we add are new meanings of words that are already staples in our language: think of the recent meanings of mouse and cookie that have nothing to do with rodents or baked goods. The Internet-specific senses of lurk and browse built upon the existing meanings of those terms. A verb that we use every day, access, was first entered in the Collegiate Dictionary in 1973, and a specific reference to computers was added in 1993. These words may not make headlines, but they’re just as important as words that are newly coined.

What about words that don’t make it into the dictionary?

They’re still real words! Many words that aren’t widespread enough to make it into the dictionary—words that are particular to a region or profession or even a family—are perfectly good words; it’s just unlikely that a person outside that area or group would encounter them. For now.

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Have You Forgotten?

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Who Was John Calvin and Why Was He Important? By Ryan Reeves


This is the fourth of a 5-part series that will blog through Trevin Wax’s choices for Christianity’s Most Important Theologians. We will explore each to show why Trevin and others find these figures so influential. The first posts were on AthanasiusAugustine, and Aquinas

For those interested in a deeper look at Calvin and Luther, I have a course on YouTube on Luther and Calvin.

John Calvin was a short Frenchman who spent his life in a city that did not always appreciate him. He came under fire almost immediately in his role in Geneva, lost his job over a fight on the sacraments, was nurtured back to wholeness by Martin Bucer, and only begrudgingly returned to Geneva to finish the reformation there. He also wrote what was until modern times the most widely published and read book of theology in English translation: the Institutes.

In fact, so pivotal was Calvin’s role in Reformed thinking that his name became synonymous with the movement, even though he was not its founder or most influential voice until the end of his life. English-speakers in particular took on the name ‘Calvinist’ with a sense of pride, while opponents to Reformed ideas would always write against the ‘Calvinists’ in their midst.

But what set Calvin above others as perhaps the most influential theologian of the Reformation?

Calvin But Not Luther?

Luther 7

The debate comes down to how one defines the importance of a theological figure. With Luther, no one would doubt the influence of his reformation. One could easily point out that without Luther there would be no Calvin—indeed there would be no Protestantism. His stance before the Holy Roman Emperor is iconic, almost a microcosm of the Reformation itself.

Still Luther’s influence is truncated by a few factors, not the least of which is that few Protestants today would share Luther’s theological position on several things beyond the doctrines of grace, justification, and the Law. His doctrine of the sacraments is unique to the Lutheran expression of the faith and a bone of contention between Lutherans and many other Protestant denominations. Luther’s views on baptism, too, would leave many outside his definition of the sacraments, and he retained an abnormally high view of Mary amongst the reformers.

So if we take the words ‘most influential’ to mean ‘the one who influenced the start of the Reformation,’ then obviously Luther would be in the lead. But this would be a poor definition—in fact it would mean that only Luther can fit this definition, which is hardly a debate.

Instead we should take ‘most influential’ in the broader sense to mean those who shaped the most people over the centuries. Which figure sold the most books, spawned the most movements beyond their immediate context, and even influenced the most hostile ideas against their theology? (Not all influence is positive, of course.)

On this definition, many historians would grudgingly choose Calvin over Luther, but again not in a way that sees Luther as less than vital to the Reformation and evangelical history. Still, given the international influence of Calvinism—both in the Reformation and today in places like Korea—most would place Calvin ahead of Luther. But not without feeling a sense of chagrin that we can’t fit them both in the list.

On this definition, many historians would grudgingly choose Calvin over Luther, but again not in a way that sees Luther as less than vital to the Reformation and evangelical history. Still, given the international influence of Calvinism—both in the Reformation and today in places like Korea—most would place Calvin ahead of Luther. But not without feeling a sense of chagrin that we can’t fit them both in the list.


Wesley famously rejected Calvinism

Another important factor is that the other dominant theology of evangelicalism, Arminianism, was itself spawned out of a rejection of certain points of Reformed theology, and Arminianism has always seen Calvinism as its chief opponent. Wesleyan, Baptist, and Congregational churches that embrace Arminianism, then, will always stand against against Calvin and rarely Luther. The specter of Calvinism on these groups is enormous and weighs into the decision as to Calvin’s influence.

So on these terms the choice of Calvin over Luther is not based only on being a ‘homer’ for Calvin, but on a wider view of the influential theologies within evangelicalism. Calvin’s influence on both his theological advocates and enemies is unrivaled from the early generations of the Reformation—at least insofar as Calvin’s name became synonymous with subsequent developments within Reformed thinking.

But if we had extended the list to 10 instead of 5, it hardly needs to be said that Luther would easily be on the list. For now, we’ll stick with Calvin.

Geneva on Lake GenevaGeneva-2

Calvin and Geneva

For all of his later influence on Protestants and evangelicals, Calvin was the outsider for much of his life. For one, he was the youngest of the first-generation reformers, almost to the point that many consider him to be part of the second generation. At the time of his conversion, the Reformation was more than a decade old, and the Reformed movement—as we would later call it—was already well underway with Zwingli and Bullinger in Zurich, as well as other Swiss cities.


Farel gently asking Calvin to stay

When Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1536 he was also stepping into a tense theological situation made worse by politics. In 1531, just as the Reformed identity was rising in Zurich, armies marched on the city, killed Zwingli on the battlefield, and reimposed Catholicism. With Zwingli’s death went the possibility that Zurich would become the Reformed Wittenberg, shaping all Reformed opinions exclusively. What was left was a chaotic Swiss region, now in need of something to galvanize them and secure their future.

One of the steps taken by the city of Bern, for example, was to annex Geneva and forcibly move it from Catholicism to Protestantism. Geneva was French-speaking (as opposed to German-speaking Bern and Zurich) and had answered to the Duke of Savoy for centuries. Bern had a large army and a passion for reform. The only thing Bern lacked was the ability to send French-speaking pastors to shape the now-Protestant church in the city.

Enter Calvin and Farel, two French exiles who had embraced humanism back in France, then the gospel, and finally broke with the Protestant church. The French king had swung aggressively against Protestantism, and Calvin and Farel were forced to flee. Bern had worked with Farel before and so hired him to Geneva; Farel also knew Calvin through friends and so eagerly wanted his help. After some gentle strokes of divine threat, Calvin agreed.

The budding problems with these men were numerous: they were both young, the language barrier was significant, Farel was a notorious hothead, Calvin was effectively a nobody and a bit of a snob when it came to education, and the city of Geneva was not entirely happy to have been swung into the Reformation without asking for it.

So Calvin failed his first attempt at leadership in Geneva, not all entirely for his own stubbornness, though it didn’t help. When he returned to Geneva in 1541, he was a wiser man, now married, and plunged himself into writing nonstop.


Calvin the Younger Brother

Within this complex Swiss world, Calvin began to make his stand for the Reformed faith. Still, even after he was restored to Geneva, he was not immediately the major voice in the Swiss regions, and certainly not throughout Europe. These things would come, but for now he was the younger brother to men like Bucer, Bullinger, and other leaders who had more experience and more leverage in other countries.

Calvin and Bullinger meet

Calvin and Bullinger meet

Calvin never seemed to chafe in these circumstances, and his life is marked by his willingness to work with other cities and reformers to bring a unity to the Reformed faith. His letters to these men are marked as much by his collegiality as they are by his willingness to offer his own perspective. They also reveal his willingness to learn from his Reformed companions in other cities. At no point, however, do we see Calvin ever attempt to take on a role similar to Luther’s, where all roads lead to his door, all opinions submitted to him for a verdict.

In this sense, the Reformed movement was always more of a band of brothers—and if you’ve ever lived with brothers, you know how riotous the house can be. They didn’t always get along, and when they squabbled they didn’t always do so kindly. Bucer and Bullinger—both eligible for the most influential voice in early Reformed theology—had a falling out to such an extent that Bullinger forever suspected Bucer of being a crypto-Lutheran on the sacraments. But in this messy life together, Calvin and others were shaping the core perspective of the Reformed perspective.

Calvin’s Influence on Theology

So Calvin was the younger brother, but he was not the runt in the family. By the end of his life he became the leading voice in the wider Reformed world as it began to develop in Scotland, England, France, and the Netherlands. Much of his influence comes down to two major factors: the clarity of his writing and the translation of the Institutes into other languages, especially English.

Institutes-first-editionOn Calvin’s writing, he is not perfect and, like any other theologian, he has moments where he confuses as much as helps. But compared with the wider scope of Protestant writings, Calvin is the clearest and most lucid of nearly all other Protestant voices. Luther, for example, is great fun to read, but he writes like a rabbit runs. He also trades in hyperbole so often he can seem to contradict his own statements (at least at first). Bucer, by contrast, was so wordy and obtuse people in his own day had a wry humor about his inability to stick to the point.

Open Calvin’s works and we find something different, even after 500 years and in a translation. The humanist training Calvin received gave him the tools to carry his reader along to the point he wanted to make. And when he made his point, Calvin often did so carefully with rarely a word out of place. When he does get bogged down in abstract or wordy points, he does not stay there for long. He also had the unique patience—heroic in any century, but certainly by today’s attention standards—to edit and rework his Institutes over the course of his entire life.

Most importantly for English readers, however, Calvin’s writings were the most important theological texts printed in England by the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. Other reformers’ works remained in Latin, which was still a living language for academics but made it impossible for lay readers to study. Before long even academics would not write in Latin. Calvin, by contrast, not only wrote in Latin but worked on his own French translation of the Institutes—a world German-speaking Reformed voices could not engage.

By the end of his life, then, Calvin had grown into a dominant international voice for Reformed theology. He was not the founder of the Reformed movement, and he was not ever considered to be the sole Reformed leader in all matters. Still his influence was not accidental, as we might say today. It was a result of his enormous abilities to explain, defend, and publish the Institutes for those studying for pastoral ministry.

Ryan M. Reeves is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Dean of the Jacksonville campus. He and his wife Charlotte have three children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Posted: June 10, 2016


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