A basic characteristic distinguishing human beings from other animals is the fondness for naming things. As it was in the beginning (Gen. 2:19, 20), it has never ceased to be.

Like the rest of God’s good gifts, the right to name things can be abused. Naming things is indispensable to clear thinking, but it can also serve as an easy escape from serious reflection or personal interaction. Sometimes we attach disparaging labels to individuals or ideas in order to avoid the labor of showing why we oppose them.

Several months ago I was sitting in a biblical-studies seminar in a Swiss university. The members were considering possible topics for future meetings. One professor suggested that we read and discuss a new book that raised some important questions in our field of study. The response by one member of the group was, “Why, that’s published by a fundamentalist publishing house!” That was the end of the discussion; a serious book was dismissed by a sneer.

The same sort of thing happens in evangelical circles, of course. One of my students stopped by the bookstore of a well-known Bible college to buy a copy of a book I had recommended. It had the word “criticism” in the title. “Criticism!” replied the manager. “We wouldn’t have a book like that in this store!”

Everyone has his ways of dismissing people and ideas by labels. The favorite device of a former professor of mine was to call someone “anabaptist.” By this he seemed to mean anyone who thought it was less than ideal to have a queen as the head of his church! By his frequent use of this term he absolved himself—in his own mind—of the responsibility of considering the idea of a “gathered ...

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