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]
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.
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.