Why labels and categories aren't always wrong

From Real Live Preacher:

“What need has God for categories? Why sort and catalog a collection when you know and can describe every individual item? What meaning do your base labels have for a higher mind? You have created categories for your own use, fallen in love with sorting them, and made a god of the whole affair. This is an idolatry of the highest order. It is a blasphemy so bold as to cause angels to tremble. ‘The mind of The Almighty,’ you say, ‘is like unto my own mind.’”

“God is on intimate terms with the simple matter of earth, yet you dare label people instead of trying to know them. Your precious divisions of nationality, of Christian and non-Christian, saved and damned, good and evil, slave and free. These convenient memory aids might have served you well when you were biting spiritual ankles and wrestling with your primers. Will you not set them aside even now?”

Real Live Preacher is an amazing writer. I wish I had the talent that he does. And I know what he's driving at here. Labels can be abused.

Still, I think there's a certain fallacy here:

  1. Categories and labels are wrong and make us judgmental.
  2. There are two categories of people: those who categorize others and those who don't.
  3. Therefore, we should join the category of people who don't categorize, and judge those who do.

Huh? No matter how hard you try, it's impossible to not label or categorize. As I quoted Tim Keller the other day: "We can't avoid drawing boundaries. Everyone does it, and if they say you're not doing it, then you're drawing a boundary by saying you're not doing it."

I think labels and categories are here to stay, and that's not all bad. Categories exist. They are not right or wrong. They just are.

By the way, I don't think people really mind categories. For instance, few really mind being categorized by gender. It's practical and helpful. What's wrong is the abuse of any category, such as gender. It's not the category that's wrong, but the misuse of categories - things like stereotypes, caricatures, and a refusal to see differences within categories.

Categories aren't perfect. Categories work as long as we recognize that there are differences within each category. The differences do not negate the category, though. Within biology, for instance, there is something called a species problem. As long as we realize that at some point categories break down, categories are useful and even necessary.

I have another couple of posts brewing on this, which will come pretty soon. But for now, I disagree with RLP: categories are here to stay. The real trick is how to avoid misusing categories.

Dan Kimball on Why We're Not Emergent

Dan Kimball is interacting with Why We're Not Emergent. I'm pleased to learn I'm not the only one who feels this book is a better critique than others that have come out:

...out of all the critical books so far written on the emerging or emergent church, this seems to be the more readable and overall balanced. Their tone is somewhat more gentle than others and they didn't just focusing on only one or two people for all of their conclusions. They do say some negative, or maybe a better word is cautionary things about me in it and things I have written.

Kimball also shares some concerns he has with the book. He's been in touch with Kevin DeYoung, one of the authors, and says, "I can't imagine that this type of correspondence to me, isn't what would please Jesus. We have had some very wonderful back and forth dialogue."


Found via Bill Kinnon's link blog.

Reminded in worship

This post is from the defunct blog "Dying Church"

From a book review by Katie Galli in the April 2008 issue of Christianity Today:

Yes, we're Americans. We multitask all day long. Efficiency is one of our top cultural values. I, too, am pragmatic. I'd like to use Sunday morning to worship God, to get a few pointers on how to improve my relationship with Jesus, and to reconnect with community. But every Sunday, the first words I hear are, "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." And I'm reminded that we gather weekly not to hear a practical talk on how to better live out our faith or to provide a venue to tell our friends about Jesus. We gather to corporately worship God, to celebrate the redeeming work of Christ on the cross, and to remember that our lives are not about us.