The Devil is in the Adverbs

By Joel A. Hess

This past week I was encouraged at a pastor’s conference to vigorously share the good news. Not just share the good news mind you, but “vigorously” share it. That adverb was placed in there not just for poetical decoration, but to compel me to try harder.

I get the impulse to throw adverbs in our sentences when we want to “really” get something across. Unfortunately these adverbs, which are supposed to be used to bring clarity to a verb, actually invite a dangerous doubt to the listener. Sure, I share the good news as a Christian and a pastor. The church I shepherd does as well. But that’s not enough. Do we “vigorously” share it? Well, how could I ever really determine that?

This was a favorite inquisition of the pietism movement a couple hundred years ago. It wasn’t enough that people attended church services or received baptism and holy communion. Were they “really” believers?  See how that works! Do you “really” believe? Do you “truly” believe? Suddenly people who were confident in Christ are now shaken up.

The Devil is in the adverbs. He loves throwing adverbs into God’s Word. He did it in the beginning!  As many English translations offer, his first question was, “Did God REALLY say?”  See that?  Doubt sets in.

How often are pastors encouraged by bureaucrats to “urgently” spread the good news and “passionately” love the people?

Jesus speaks simply; Go and make disciples! Do this in remembrance of me. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I remember when I was assaulted at college by the adverb Christians. Do you really love Jesus? Are you really a Christian? The simple phrase, “take and eat this is my body,” was not enough for them. Nor the proclamation said over me as an infant, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” You know, things Jesus said and says through His Church. No adverbs. No doubt. He is risen.