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The Danger of Christianese

The Danger of Christianese

How our church language can do more to exclude people than draw them to Jesus.
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I spent my first few weeks as a college freshmen overwhelmed by the subculture of fraternity and sorority life. It seemed like the minute I stretched my sheets over my vinyl dorm-room mattress, sorority rush began. The whole system was literally Greek to me. I couldn't pronounce the letters and I had no idea what many of the terms meant.

I remember listening from my doorway as the many girls on the hall prepared to attend a rush event. Hearing their chat about words like Pan-Hellenic, legacies, and Ro-Chis only added to my confusion. As the rushing season progressed, my mood progressed from perplexed to annoyed to frustrated at my Greek language barrier. Naturally, this barrier was divisive and exclusive.

Now I often find myself on the other side of a language barrier: that of the churched and unchurched. This time, I am dismayed to find myself in the group that naturally divides and excludes. Yet this is the reality of what happens when I don't watch my words as a Christian. Beware the danger of Christianese!

A Cover-Up?

Fellowship. Quiet Time. The Flesh. Devotions. These words represent just a small sampling of the language of Christianity—easily defined by long-time followers, and incredibly baffling to those outside the Christian culture.

Years of church leadership, seminary training, or professional ministry can desensitize us to how language can exclude and isolate us from the rest of the world. What seasoned Christian can't define agape love? Yet to many we desire to reach, these words are just Greek! Urban dictionary, a popular user-driven website that defines slang, says Christianese "is the language spoken by Christians. It makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with biblical texts, but earns you major points in the eyes of other Christians." This outsider perspective stings because it's partially true.

Our Christian language develops because we strive to find words for the invisible realities in our lives. We rightfully use biblical terms to understand and give form to the growth and change of our inner nature. But there is a dark side: our Christian-only words can tempt us to avoid the reality of our spiritual lives. We can hide behind our words as a cover for spiritual dryness or despair. We can make nice talk, feel like good Christians, and avoid looking too closely at our own hearts. Sounds a bit pharisaical, doesn't it?

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Nicole Unice

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May 08, 2014  4:48pm

I'd forgotten to rate this article in my comment above. Very helpful, bringing light to a timely subject. Thanks!

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May 08, 2014  4:45pm

Christianese slang motivated at times by “hiding behind our words”, or desired appearance as “washed-in-the-blood, princess-for-Jesus verbiage”? I think Christianese is a bane, an indicator of an ingrown “Bless Me” Christian subculture in a prosperous, affluent American economy. A Rick Warren survey reveals 80% of our congregations prefer pastors’ focus to be on us, our care.This article encapsulates outward change needed, but what precedes this ought to be heart-change & self-examination. Just as using trade/shop talk around the unfamiliar is rude,masking the gospel we’ve received freely, with jargon unknown to listeners is even more wrong. If we are “other-focused”, honestly caring about whom God puts in our path today, then we ought to alter our lingo, expand phrases into commonly understood terms,examine our lives – our motives. I'm blind to myself, often. We speak from habit. Included here is a link.http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/list-of-words-by-alphabetical/ Might help.

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Old Lady in Africa

December 22, 2012  6:22am

Thanks for another reminder. All we (don't) need in today's secular society is a special language to make us seem more irrelevent. I cringe when I hear or read things like "I covet your prayers," one of the sillier of our hackneyed phrases. Even this author couldn't resist using the verb "strive" several times. When was the last you heard or read that word used by someone who wasn't speaking to Christians? Back in the day we used to say, "Get real!" Our words should make people know we care enough about them to want to honestly communicate the joy and love of Jesus in their language, not ours.

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