simple words

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!

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?