Christianese

The Illusion of Obscure Language

Photo by https://unsplash.com/@markusspiske

Photo by https://unsplash.com/@markusspiske

A typical American Christian uses obscure archaic language with the expectation everyone else what they're saying. But this is an illusion.

As a general rule, Christian believers are oblivious to this illusion. Being in contact with nonbelievers and nominal believers in God and I'm keenly aware of this.

When talking to nonbelievers I find it necessary to use simple, non-Christian wording to explain spiritual truths and concepts. I wrote about how I saw this need in a previous post—IYOW.

When I answer a question about why the Bible says this or that, I'm intentional to explain what the Bible says without the usual Bible terms, common clichés, and phrases Christians often use called Christianese.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A lot!

It's the language

Language is important. It's how we communicate thoughts in our minds and hearts so we can understand each other.

Christians don't need to become bilingual or multi-lingual, although that would be valuable and advisable when speaking to people from other nations. We need to be clear with our language—the language we use in everyday life and the language we use to share our faith.

Over the past several years, I've had the pleasure of interacting with many people of different backgrounds from mine, in various work environments. I've gained insight into the inner workings of street gangs and gained some perspective on the current worldview of twenty-somethings.

Working three part-time jobs gave me this opportunity. Each type of work and its social environment has its own collection of terms and catch-phrases.

Thankfully, when I ask for explanations and clarification, people are happy to help me. Some also admit their own ignorance of these things at one time.

This is how Christian believers need to be with nonbelievers.

An obscure language

I read somewhere that an obscure language in a far away land will become extinct soon. Why? Because only a few people know and speak it, and they will die soon.

In a way, this is my hope for Christianese—the general term for all those Bible words and Christian catch-phrases and clichés. 

I would love to see Christianese become a dead language.

It's already dead in one sense—only those who speak it know what it means. Even many of those who speak it don't understand it very well. Christianese is self-limiting in that way.

Why? Because it closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God and confuses those who have a limited knowledge of God. It's obscure language.

Christianese is self-limiting. It's obscure language and closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God

When Christians use specialized terms and catch-phrases with over used clichés, ignorance is not bliss nor is it enlightening.

When believers use this obscure language—Christianese—we close people out of our circle of understanding. We block the entrance to the Kingdom of God with obscure language.

Is there a solution? Yes!

Christian believers need to use simple and clear words when they share about their faith in Jesus. What we share needs to be grounded in real life experiences of faith.

Even the simplest of words, like faith, need to be explained without quoting Bible verses or using theological terminology. It's ok to use those terms and biblical wording, but be sure to explain what they mean with simpler words.

It's ok to quote Bible verses and use Christian terminology if they are explained in a simple, clear way.

Christian believers need to translate biblical, spiritual truth from what is obscure language to the unitiated—nonbelievers—into plain wording that anyone can understand.

How to explain Christianese

This takes some work on the part of believers. We need to understand the Bible verses and terms we use and put them in our own words.

This requires thinking through the meaning of words and phrases we use so they can be put into our own words—IYOW. That's the work—thinking—with the guidance of God's Spirit.

A simple way to do this involves two basic things anyone can do—

  1. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and use it! (there's an app for that!)
  2. Read various translations and versions of the Bible, even paraphrases—these will give you some ideas of how to put things in different wording
  3. Oh, and one more thing—pray! As Paul says, "Pray continuely." (1 Thess 5:18 NIV)

I use my apps for the Bible and dictionary a lot even though I've been doing this for many years—putting things IYOW.

Give it a try! I use the God's Word translation quite a bit but there are many, many others to choose from.

This is important!

I come back to this topic from time to time because it is so important. It's important to me and important if we truly want to share our faith in the Lord so others can understand and believe.

What is your experience with confusing Christian lingo?

Share it in the comments, and maybe I'll write on one of your experiences. ;-)

Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post!

IYOW—a Useful Acronym

Photo credit: https://www.articulatemarketing.com/blog/annoying-acronyms

Photo credit: https://www.articulatemarketing.com/blog/annoying-acronyms

Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… LOL (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind.

BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms." [LOL]

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx).

These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions. But outside of those fields, they may mean something else or nothing at all.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk or Bible-babble.

For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study but in a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

Solving a dilemma

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach.

Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating—a common form of education in much of the world.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity?
How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW—a useful tool

I developed the expression IYOW—In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area.

As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they thought they knew into words of their own.

They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words. It is proper and useful, even necessary.

Seeing their struggle, I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students but those who think they know the truth.

You try it!

Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect!

As a matter of course, I try to decode certain terms even when used in Christian circles, especially within churches. I've found it to be helpful and insightful to challenge people to do the same.

Most all believers use Christianese expressions, which is not wrong in and of itself, but when we use them we need to explain them and make sure those who hear us understand what we say.

[See the links below for some more insight and a few laughs about Christianese.]

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Just put them in the comment section. Maybe it will be the basis for another post on the subject.


Christianese

For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

Here's another— "Do You Speak Christianese?" Bible Quiz

And another— Wise Fools: Top 10 Christianese Words/Phrases

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

Getting Personal

James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai
James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai

A drastic difference exists between western and asian culture when it comes to personal interaction. Actually, this difference exists with most of the rest of the world (MOTROW) and western culture. Westerners like plenty of space, whereas much of the world will get right in your face, enough so that you can smell their breath, and they yours.

Time and tasks are the priority of westerners, while most other cultures value people and events. Events are important because people are involved, and events mark important milestones in people's lives. As westerners, we're more about getting the job done, making the most of our time, and putting off vacations and sleep to do so.

In the Philippines, a very social culture, people will sit outside in the evening to greet one another and visit. When's the last time you saw a front porch filled with people sitting, watching, and available for a visit?

Keep it personal

An important element in sharing your faith is to keep it personal. This is contrary to our tendency to not get too personal. But keep in mind, sharing your faith is always about relationship—relationship with God. When it gets focused on theology, the discussion easily turns into a debate rather than knowing the Lord.

Our theology needs to be sound, but this is rarely a good place to start sharing your faith. People who have no background in the Bible won't be able to relate, and those with some background often want to talk about their perception of the truth.

Narratives compose much of the Bible's writings. These stories reveal God's interaction with people, and people's life stories as they intersect with God. It's at this point, this intersection, that we gain insight on sharing our faith with others.

Everyone's got a story

When we engage people by asking them about themselves, we open a door of opportunity. This needs to be done with a genuine interest in people, not just a means to an end. We're not a salesperson hawking our wares.

I like getting to know people. Asking questions is an effective way to find who a person is, but be careful to not make it like an investigation. It's not about rattling off a bunch of questions to get some facts about a person. The goal is to hear their story, and everyone has a story to tell.

People will tell their story to someone interested in hearing it. Think of all the reality-based programs that fill television, YouTube, magazines, and blogs. It's obvious that people want to know the stories of other people. And so, this creates an opportunity to share our faith and our own life story.

Make connection

What interests you? My interests are varied and broad, but there's only a few things I'm passionate about. You'll know what those are when you engage me in them—I'll get animated in my talking.

I'm a fairly public person, but my wife is not. She doesn't feel the need to comment on everything like I do. But when the subject of children or grandchildren comes up, it touches a vital part of her heart. Her life and work has focused on her love of children, not just her own, but children in general. She still works in a preschool with babies and toddlers, and loves it.

So, we want to find a common point of interest or connection when talking with people. But again, it needs to be a genuine interest in them as a person, not just a way for us to talk.

A fitting story

When I engage people in conversation, I try to listen for a common thread in their story. Often I'll get some insight into a person's life, even when it's a light conversation. I make a point to listen carefully. Sometimes this provides a reference point for future conversations. I also look for similarities to my own experience in life.

The more familiar I become with the narratives in the Bible, the more I see how these stories mirror the lives of people around me. These narratives run the gamut of emotions and events people experience in every day life.

As you engage a person in conversation, pay attention to details in their life. If you're open and receptive, God will help you see how that person's life connects with someone in the Bible. When you realize a particular story fits a person, then you can share it with them. After all, it's a story, and we all love stories.

Ayele-story_OmoVillage
Ayele-story_OmoVillage

Keep it simple

On one of my travels in ministry overseas, I was teaching a small church in a remote village in Ethiopia. The fellow believer who was my guide and interpreter would take what I said and put it into their own dialect, which was different than the written materials we used.

As I taught, I realized that some of it was too western and unknown for them to understand, or even be interpreted in a clear way. So, I began to use stories in the Bible as a means of instruction. They engaged well with these stories, and conceptual truth became real to them.

Christians often speak in a foreign language when we share our faith. This is referred to as Christianese. When we use Bible wording and theological terms, people don't understand it. I make a point of saying things in non-Christianese. In other words, I use plain and simple words, and avoid quoting Bible verses to people.

More and more people have little to no knowledge of what the Bible says, and don't see it as more authoritative than any other book. This is the reality of our times and if we ignore it, people will ignore us and what we want to share with them. So, ditch the Bible-talk and use other words for Christian terms. Connect with people and share your faith in words and ways they will hear.

Next week I plan to complete this series of posts on sharing our faith. Until then, share your thoughts with me...

How have you connected with other people and their life stories?

Does Anybody Really Understand?

Photo credit: Bing search
Photo credit: Bing search

We live in a specialized world. We are way beyond information overload. It's now over the top.

YouTube videos show you how to do, well... almost anything. News media parade experts on top of experts with conflicting and opposing views, and the amount of websites, blogs, and email traffic number in the billions.

Are you worried about the rising oceans from global warming? Forget about it! We're flooded with a tidal wave of information inundating our lives every day, enshrouded in terminology and acronyms that require an interpreter.

Does anybody really understand what's going on?

It's the language

It would be easy to jump off from here into a discussion on the end of the age, and signs of the Lord's return. Especially with all that's going on in the Mid-East.

But I want to talk about the importance of language. Not the need for becoming bilingual or multi-lingual, although that would be valuable and advisable in our current times.

The language we use in everyday life is what I'm interested in.

Over the past several months, I've had the pleasure of interacting with many people of different backgrounds from mine, in various work environments. I've gained insight into the inner workings of street gangs, and gained some perspective on the current worldview of twenty-somethings.

Working three part-time jobs has given me this opportunity. Each work and social environment has its own collection of terms and catch-phrases. Thankfully, when I ask for explanations and clarification, people are happy to help me. Some also admit their own ignorance of these things at one time.

But there is one field that uses specialized terms and catch-phrases, and over used clichés, where ignorance seems to be bliss. I'm referring to Christianity.

An Illusion

A typical American Christian uses obscure, even archaic, language with the expectation everyone knows what is being said. But this is an illusion.

It may be a self-imposed, although I suspect for most it is unintentional. As a general rule, Christian believers are oblivious to this illusion. Because I'm in contact with non-believers and nominal believers in God, I'm keenly aware of this.

Photo credit: www.briancromer.com
Photo credit: www.briancromer.com

When talking to non-believers I find it necessary to use simple, non-Christian wording to explain spiritual truths and concepts. When I answer a question about why the Bible says this or that, I'm intentional to explain things without the usual Bible terms, common clichés, and phrases Christians often use.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A lot!

An obscure language

I read somewhere this week that an obscure language in a far away land will become extinct soon. Why? Because only a few people know and speak it, and they will die soon.

In a way, this is my hope for Christianese—the general term for all those Bible words and Christian catch-phrases and clichés. I would like to see Christianese become a dead language of sorts.

It's already dead in one sense—only those who speak it know what it means. Even many of those who speak it don't understand it well. It's self-limiting in that way.

Why? Because it closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God and confuses those who have a limited knowledge of God.

Is there a solution? Yes!

Christian believers need to use simple and clear words when they share about their faith in Jesus. Even the simplest of words, like faith, for instance, need to be explained without quoting Bible verses and or using theological terminology. It's ok to use those terms and biblical wording, but make sure to explain what they mean with simpler words.

So "stay tuned to this station," I'll be coming back to this topic from time to time as I mentioned in a previous post.

In the meantime...

What is your experience with confusing Christian lingo?

I'd love to have you share it in the comments, and maybe I'll write on one of your experiences. ;-)

Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post!

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo

Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.

For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/