Do you speak Christian-ese?

In Culture, Keeping it Real, The Church on August 1, 2011 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

Not sure if you caught this article on this weekend about Speaking Christian.  “Can you speak Christian?” asks author John Blake.  The article speaks towards terms like ‘rapture’ and ‘salvation’ and others like it that the average person in our culture wouldn’t necessarily understand.  It caught my eye because Bethany (the church I belong to) has had a summer course about “Speaking Christianese.”  The problem with speaking Christian, the author suggests, “When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people.”  Jesus spent his ministry drawing people in, does our church do that?  Jesus spoke in such a way that all wanted to hear more.  Do we do that?

One writer said this about Jesus:  “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.”  Jesus didn’t give a lot of requirements to be his followers.  He didn’t create a system for leaving people out.  Think of how he started the most famous of all his sermons in Matthew 5:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  Down and out?  Good news, Jesus says, you are on my team.  Everything is going to be okay.

It’s important as our church grows and we seek to expand God’s people that we are speaking and discussing God in such a way that people can connect with.  When I was in high school, I spent 2 years studying Japanese.  Studying might be a bit of an overstatement because the final year my Japanese class was independent study.  I basically was allowed to sit in the common area between the classes and have a Japanese book open in front of me.  Friends were heading over to a buddy’s house to play dunk ball during Japanese?  No problem!  I’ll study more tomorrow.  At the completion of two years of Japanese, and while receiving A’s in the course, I could say the following words or phrases in Japanese:  “hello…good morning….you are welcome.”  And that was it!

That summer we had some guests from Japan at the fishing lodge where I work.  This group of men spoke only Japanese and not a word of English and after hearing that I had studied their language, I was assigned to be their fishing guide in their boat for the next day’s fishing trip of 8 hours.  They spoke Japanese at me for the first hour and I muttered, “Hello…good morning….you are welcome.”  By mid morning they were painfully aware that I didn’t speak Japanese at all.  They stopped speaking to me, and the next four hours they spoke between themselves while I looked on (it was a very frustrating day because they also broke 3 fishing rods that day).  My problem was that I was familiar with the letters and the sounds and the feel of the Japanese language… but I couldn’t speak the words.  It had no meaning for me.

Sometimes in our churches, we speak Christian words and phrases and terms that no one understands.  We assume people know the value of the words we use but it’s like we’re speaking Japanese.  And people feel left out.  The answer isn’t to “not speak Christian” but rather to act in such a way that the language for our actions comes from the things we do, not the phrases we repeat.  The world has heard a lot of what the Church says, but I would argue, needs to see more of what we do.  Even Jesus at the end of Matthew commands the disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”  ‘Don’t teach people to speak the words,’ Jesus says, ‘but rather show them how to follow Me with their lifestyles.’

I hope our church grows by continuing to develop into people of action, using our lives as our greatest figures of speech.  May we be held accountable to the ultimate truth of speech, that it should only flow after our lives reflect the values we believe in.  This is how we’ll start to speak the language of the culture today as people can see the church stepping in and helping feed the homeless and restore broken relationships and genuinely allow people to learn more of God’s great love for them.  This is the highest of callings for us as we continue growing into God’s people.






4 Responses to “Do you speak Christian-ese?”

  1. The World also speaks its own language. All too often Christians pick up many of the terms used by the World and include them in their vocabulary. Many of these terms would have been considered swearing, cussing, or just plain foul language a few years ago. Why is it we seem to feel that we can identify with non-Christians by attempting to talk like them? Jesus told the sinner he “must be born again”. Certainly, this was Chrisitian-ese at its best. Apparently Jesus was not afraid to use terms not easliy understood by the listeners. While it is important that we are not so “heavenly minded” that we are no “earthly good”, the message of the Gospel has its own terminology. It is our business and duty as Christians to communicate the means of salvation to the World.

    • Ron I get it but remember, Christ wasn’t speaking to a sinner when he said to be born again. He was talking with Nicodemus, a pharisee who had studied religion extensively. When Christ tells him in Aramaic to be born again, He was saying “come to know me and I will make you whole. Change courses and follow Me.” It was understandable. It was relevant. It connected. He was speaking to a man who was an expert in the law but whose heart hadn’t been transformed. Language hadn’t been enough to show Nicodemus that the son of God was right in front of him.

      Sometimes we are more attached to the word choice, in this case “born again,” than the principle Jesus is speaking towards, in this case becoming whole and changing courses. English is a translation, so why be so attached to the translation of Jesus’ native language? Let’s be attached to the Speaker of the truths, Jesus Christ. I’m not sure we should make protecting the language. You say, ‘the message of the Gospel has its own terminology” and this is part of the problem. Why does the message of following Jesus need to have its own terminology? Shouldn’t it be spoken in words and terms that anyone can grasp it? Are we teaching how to speak our terms or teaching people that God wants them to be brought back into relationship? I’ve heard of Christians being so upset because of Eugene Peterson’s The Message being a paraphrase. It reminds me of when John Wycliffe translated the bible form Latin into English in 1380 he was labeled a heretic for wanting people to read the bible in their own language. This is what started the Reformation, the war of protecting the translations of Christ.

      I totally agree with you that “It is our business and duty as Christians to communicate the means of salvation to the World.” I’m just not sure its our business to teach them how to use the words of historical Christianity…I would argue the means of salvation is Jesus Himself. Let people choose the words they want to use to discuss their love affair with Him.

  2. Remember that Nicodemus had to ask Jesus what he meant by the term “Born Again”. Jesus then explained the “New Birth” to him. And Nicodemus was a sinner, as are all of us. These terms that we refer to as Christian-ese are part of the story of the Church and The Gospel. They serve their purpose well. When a person receives Jesus as Savior, he quickly grasps the concept the “I am SAVED! What word could better describe the condition of a soul who has just realized that he has a new relationship with God?

    It should be the purpose of our teaching and preaching to explain “The Way”. In an age where many churches are compromising the message of salvation and the means of grace, words are important. You have probably heard a religious person make a statement and thought to yourself “That doesn’t sound right”.

    But no matter what we say, if we have not love, it is just a bunch of noise (I am paraphrasing;-) Young Christians need to learn the language and what it means. That knowledge will help keep them from accepting false teaching, giving them discernment to recognize the imitation.

  3. I don’t know, Ron. I think you’re stretching it a bit to call “Christian-ese” a “part of the story of the Church and The Gospel”. Scott’s referring to an article about an upcoming book that helps us deconstruct the “Christian-ese” that we have hung on Jesus and The Bible. Just because its part of the story, doesn’t mean its constructive or helpful. Thankfully, God often works in spite of our involvement.

    I don’t think Scott, by way of Borg’s book, is throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this, but trying to help us understand some of our own idol’s that get in the way of communicating Jesus.

    Scott, I’m looking forward to reading the new book and hearing your take on it.

    Press On!

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