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Friday, May 14th, 2010

Walking the Walk?

In my Bible class on Sunday, I touched on a phrase that is often used. Sometimes I hear, "If you're gonna talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk." Or as a complaint, "She talks the talk, but she doesn't walk the walk." As a general phrase, we all know what it means. Talking about things doesn't get them done. Discussing a diet theory over bonbons won't take off the pounds. So far, so good.

But when it comes to the Christian faith, I find the phrase a little less useful. It isn't that there aren't a lot of good uses for the phrase, but that you never quite know what someone is using it to mean.

My first inclination was to think that perhaps this phrase originated in Christian circles, but became secularized. But this morning, when I started researching, I found this is not so clearly true.

I didn't exactly sit down to research. Rather, I ran into an interview with Madonna where she used the phrase. Speaking of Jeffrey Sachs, Madonna says "He's extremely charismatic. Very well-spoken and charming. He's one of the few people I know who talks the talk and also walks the walk. He thinks very big." The two of them do poverty work. So this means that the man not only talks about the importance of helping the poor, but he also actively helps them. The use of the phrase here is not specifically Christian, but everyone can follow it.

When I looked up the origin of the phrase, I found someone's reference to the fact that the earliest use he could document was from the Ohio newspaper The Mansfield News, June 1921:

"Although he has no gilded medals upon his bosom, Howard Herring of the North American Watch company, walks the walk, and talks the talk, of a hero today."

This use is not specifically Christian, either. Now, my own research on this one is not extensive. So I don't know that this phrase did not arise in Christian circles. And the fact is, there were other quotes where similar things were said by Ben Franklin and Shakespeare. The concepts involved are now part of the common heritage of humanity. The phrase about walking the walk sounds to my ear like a sermonic phrase from the golden age of preaching. But it might also have been from the golden age of oratory in general.

I end up having double reservations. One is a reservation against attacking the use of the phrase. There are some Biblical parallels. Think of "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22). Yet we cannot just leave this here. In Romans we also find a parallel, but in the middle of a sustained argument. St. Paul says, "for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). This sounds clear enough. Not mere exposure to the Law is what counts, talking the talk. But doing the Law, that is, walking the walk. But Paul doesn't stop there. "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20). Here we find that nobody walks the walk.

If we use this phrase in the general sense to mean that what we do should in some sense match what we talk about doing, the phrase in question is still a good one. Our faith should have some impact on our lives. But often I get the sense that this phrase is used of salvation. We get to heaven by following a certain pattern of conduct. The phrase should not be used in ways that leave themselves open to that interpretation.

3:43 am Pacific Standard Time

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