IYOW

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/

Help for Sharing Your Faith

R-MJ_Thai.jpg

Several years ago I escorted a couple young missionaries from our Bible College in the Philippines to Thailand. These two young women were graduates and called to be missionaries to Thailand.

They grew up in very simple and poor homes (by American standards). They weren't highly educated but did well in their studies and ministry at our school. I helped get them settled in Thailand with the American missionary who oversaw their internship.

I knew this missionary from previous ministry trips to Thailand, and through a relationship with others in ministry. He had several years ministry experience within Thailand and was fluent in the Thai language (a complex and tonal language).

He briefed them on what life would be like in Thailand, the challenges they would face within the culture and with the language. They would begin with at least six months to a year in language school. He also made it clear they would not be able to do much in the way of sharing their faith.

This proved to be partly accurate but only partly.

A real-life example

It was a big adjustment for these young Filipino women. They had not lived on their own and away from their families. They experienced the sense of isolation all missionaries encounter living in a foreign country.

But Filipinos, by nature, are very social beings. They are gifted (I believe by God in a strategic sense) to learn other languages and adapt to other cultures easily.

In the small sparsely furnished apartment they lived in, they began to build relationships. Soon they offered to pray for the landlord and her family. 

They began to build relationships

In a fairly short time, they led one of their neighbors into a personal relationship with the Lord. They developed great favor with the Thai people they lived among.

This is no small thing within Thailand, a staunchly Buddhist nation. In fact, to be Thai is to be Buddhist. Many Thais who hear the Gospel are open and responsive, but afraid they will be giving up their Thai identity if they are no longer Buddhist.

Following Jesus' example

Consider how this took place. These young women reached out in friendship to the Thai people they were living among. Since they were learning the language, they did a lot of listening and asking questions.

This sounds like what we read about Jesus as a young man in the temple (Luke 2:41-50).

Too often, what is simple and almost effortless is unappreciated or discounted because of its simplicity. I believe personal, intentional evangelism is one of those things.

Sharing your faith in this simple manner requires no extensive training or education. It requires a willing heart and an interest in others, including their eternal destiny. A knowledge of your own life story, and of God’s story, is also important.

It is helpful to have a sense of how to share your own life story in a simple, brief and genuine way.**

This would take some thought, maybe writing a few things out to be ready to share it with others when the opportunity comes.

Knowing God’s story is gained by reading through the Gospels and becoming familiar with God’s story of redemption for humanity. Of course, knowing God’s story can be developed further, but it’s not a requirement to share the Gospel in a simple and genuine way.

Thai-man_cell_elephant.jpg

The hardest part is to just do it

Being ready and willing is important, but at some point, there is the step of actually engaging someone in a conversation that requires action on our part.

It's much easier to learn to engage people in conversation without the pressure of having an agenda to “save them.”

Showing interest in others is the first step.

Just as the young women did in Thailand, adapt your approach to the people you want to engage in conversation. This requires observation. Get to know them as they are, and relate to them in a way that best connects with them.

It also coincides with the first step of the basic call of discipleship, “If anyone would come after me, let him (her) deny himself...” (Matt 16:24). In other words, learn to be more interested in others than yourself.

Look beyond your own agenda or scheme of sharing your faith. Engage people at their level of faith (or lack of it) and their life experience.

Sharing your faith is not complicated—keep it simple.

Here's a summary—

  • Know God's story and be able to tell it in your own simple words (IYOW)
  • Build relationship with others– get to know them as a person
  • Be genuine
  • Keep your own life story short and simple
  • Be ready for opportunities to share your faith

**Here is a simple outline for sharing your own life story (testimony)— Guidelines-Pers Testimony_2013

If this post and my earlier post have been helpful, please share them with others.

An Unknown God—part 2

 unsplash_RPelati

unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

An Unknown God

 unspalshcom_RLukeman

unspalshcom_RLukeman

Black and white—the epitome of contrast. This contrast may bring various things to mind for you, but what comes to mind for me is the dualistic dilemma we all face. It's a carry-over from the first humans who ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:17; 3:1-13).

As a rule, we tend to divide most everything in life into either-or categories—good-bad, right-wrong, big-small, etc. But life isn't that neat and tidy. There's a lot of color within the color spectrum between black and white.

Black is the absence of light and color, whereas white is the presence of light and all colors. Aren't you glad life in this world isn't just black and white?

I'm thankful for all the vivid colors that exist and that life can't be categorized into either-or categories. Neither does God nor His story of redemption fit into neat categories.

A lesson learned

Many years ago I taught a workshop to a group of pastors and leaders in the southern region of the Philippines. I needed the assistance of an interpreter, as I taught them the basics of Inductive Bible Study (IBS).

I tried to emphasize the importance of the biblical text as it's written in black and white. But my interpreter added his own take on what I said with, "It's either black or white."

I learned two important things that day. First, I need to be clear how I say things if I want to be understood. Secondly, I need to have confidence in my interpreter and be sure he or she understands me. True communication results in a fruitful dialog.

Words and ways of connecting

Last week I alluded to ways of sharing the redemptive message of the gospel other than traditional or trendier ways.

My experience as a cross-cultural missionary helped me learn how to teach in a simple yet effective way. I first needed to learn about the people I hoped to teach. This required time, many observations, a lot of listening, prayer, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As I gained more insight, I looked for ways to personally connect with those I taught and relate what I taught in words and ways they could understand.

This is what I see the apostle Paul do when he encountered people in a situation different from his typical experiences sharing the gospel.

Reception and resistance

Acts chapter 17 begins with Paul and his ministry team's encounters in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Paul went to the Jewish synagogue as was is custom. He reasoned with them for three days concerning the purpose for the death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross and His resurrection.

But when the Jews became jealous of those who believed the gospel and began to follow Paul's teaching, things turned rowdy. So they moved on to a town called Berea. Again, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue to explain and prove the gospel from the Scriptures.

The Bereans were honorable men and serious students of the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-12) and received and believed the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Once again, things turned badly when men from Thessalonica came to stir up trouble for Paul (Acts 17:13-15). So, Paul was sent off to Athens until the rest of his ministry team could join him.

Provoked and challenged

Arriving in Athens, Paul walked around the city and his spirit was disturbed and provoked by what he saw—a city full of idols. He went to the synagogue as usual but also preached in public at the marketplace.

The philosophers in the marketplace thought Paul was preaching about foreign gods because he spoke of the resurrection as he shared the gospel. Wanting to hear more from him they brought him to a place called Mars Hill where much debate took place (Acts 17:16-21).

The context of Paul's message to the Athenians helps us understand how and why he shares what he does (Acts 17:22-31). He speaks to them about the One whom they call "the Unknown God." Paul explains how this God is greater than any manmade image or religion.

A matter of perspective

The message Paul shares with the philosophers at Mars Hill serves as an example for communicating the gospel to people who are not familiar with Christianity or the Jewish Law, so it's well-suited for a postmodern, post-Christian mindset.

How Paul conveys the gospel at Mars Hill has come under fire by various Bible teachers because he doesn't present the gospel in a more typical direct evangelical approach. Some of my friends who are solid Bible teachers say Paul's message wasn't effective because the blood of Jesus and the crucifixion aren't mentioned.

But is this valid criticism? I think not, and nothing in the book of Acts or the NT epistles indicates that is was lacking validity. The problem comes from our own perspective of how it ought to be.

But that's exactly the issue—it's our perspective and doesn't take into account how others hear it. Or, in many cases, how they don't hear it because they have no frame of reference to understand a more direct modern evangelical presentation of the gospel.

Seeing a new perspective

I see 12 elements in Paul's message to the Athenians on Mars Hill where the redemptive message of the gospel is clearly expressed. Next week I'll go through those twelve points with cross-references to support each one.

Until next week, I encourage you to read through Paul's message at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) to see if you can identify these twelve points. Look at the context of the entire chapter (Acts 17). This should help provide the why to how Paul expresses his message.

The goal is not to pick Paul's message apart from a western evangelical perspective but to understand why and how he communicates the gospel the way he does.

Understanding this will provide greater insight for reaching people who don't have a Judean-Christian framework of understanding, whether in America or anywhere in the worldwith any unreached people group.


My interest in Paul's message at Mars Hill was originally stirred through the teaching of my friend Danny Lehman at a missions conference several years ago. He's a long-time and well-traveled missionary who speaks a lot about evangelism and has written quite a bit about it.

I highly recommend his book,  Beautiful Feet– Steps to a Lifestyle of Evangelism, if you're interested in learning how and why to share your faith with others.