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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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What Does That Really Mean?

As Christians, we would do well to notice Jesus' teaching methods. He used words and illustrations plucked from the daily life of the Judean culture—farming, family, festivals. As leaders and teachers, we must rigorously examine our words, seek to use culture to provide images for our theology, and strive to break down any obstacles that can keep someone from finding Christ.

Several years ago, I was counseling with a young woman serving full-time in a church. During our first session, she offered this observation of her struggles: "Over the past year I've experienced the redemptive qualities of grace."

I nodded my agreement, meanwhile thinking, I have no idea what that really means. And I'm not sure she did either.

Back then, my own insecurity kept me from probing that young woman's statements further. Today, I'd likely press her to give me more words to describe what she'd been experiencing. What does redemptive grace look like to her? Can she give me an example? How is it playing out in her life? What other words would she use to describe the change in her?

It's all too easy to hide behind our washed-in-the-blood, princess-for-Jesus verbiage. Instead, let's consider our words thoughtfully, strive to promote understanding with those who don't speak the language, and be brutally honest with ourselves before we choose the easy way of Christianese.

Speaking our hearts in plain English will stretch our theology, challenge our complacency, and help us to emulate the apostle Paul, translated by Eugene Peterson's The Message: "I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life."

Nicole Unice is a TCW regular contributor and a contributing editor for GiftedforLeadership.com and works in family and student ministry for Hope Church in Virginia. She is the author of She's Got Issues. www.nicoleunice.com

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Nicole Unice

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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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December 01, 2012  3:13pm

Great article! I remember wondering what in the world "praying in the spirit" meant.

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