Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
What is Christianese?
Simple words like sin, salvation, fellowship, and gospel could be considered Christianese, if the person you’re talking to isn’t familiar with them. A proper definition would be ‘the terms, catchphrases and theological jargon used by some Christians, commonly from Christian theology and influenced by popular translations of the Bible.’ Christianese (which is in itself Christianese) is something that we’re often told to avoid in conversations. We come upon articles like “The Dangers of Christianese,” that encourage us to cease, but should we?
As far as moderate Christianese is concerned, I would disagree that we should stop, as long as our words are applicable to the conversations in which we’re engaged. I am a Christian and I speak the Christian language in an appropriate manner when it is appropriate. What typically happens next is a conversation develops. If I use a word that a person does not understand, they generally say something like, “What does that mean?” and you know what I do? I tell them what it means and the conversation goes deeper. It’s probably what occurs in your conversations too. Oh, and guess what I do if they use a word I don’t understand? That’s right! I ask them what they mean. As a result we’re not only having a conversation, but we’re learning stuff about each other!
Christianese and Discernment
I was being seated in a diner a few years ago and the waitress asked me how I was doing. I responded as I usually do, “I’m blessed more than I deserve.”
She got the gist of what I was saying. A conversation was blossoming and I couldn’t wait for her to return to the table. As I sat down, my Christian acquaintance rebuked me. “Ya know, David,” he said in his lovely Australian accent, “she didn’t understand a word you said because you’re talking in Christianese.”
I was taken aback. His words made me feel as if I did something horrible. When the waitress returned I said not a word except to tell her my order.
A lot of water has passed beneath the bridge since that incident and I have learned much. I realize now that my friend was wrong and I was wrong for listening to him; I had forfeited an opportunity to have a wonderful conversation with our waitress. God only knows where it would have gone — I had been given a measure of discernment and direction from the Holy Spirit, and I ignored it. Shame on me for listening to the wrong voice.
The Real Controversy
The real issue has nothing to do with non-Christians not understanding the words that Christians use, in fact it’s quite often the opposite – they do understand, or at the very least they recognize it as Christian jargon and as a result they are offended. They’re offended because they don’t like Jesus and they don’t want to discuss their sin. If they sense that they’re conversing with a Christian, they go on guard immediately. If they cannot suppress our enthusiasm (often with some undelightful language of their own), they will attempt to leave the conversation entirely.
It is here that some well-meaning Christians (at least I’d like to think they’re well-meaning) have determined to come to their aid. Their counsel: stop talking like Christians! In other words, they want us to take that little light of ours and put a basket over it, or better yet, slide it under the bed before we leave the house in the morning. Talk about quenching the Holy Spirit! (If you don’t know what “Quenching the Holy Spirit,” means, click the link).
I wonder why my brothers and sisters in Christ do this? Are they ashamed of Jesus Christ and/or their Christianity? Are they embarrassed that they lack boldness and confidence in their faith? Are they trying to protect a relationship? Have they witnessed an overly aggressive believer in operation and therefore want to solve that problem by silencing all Christians? Are they adhering to some false doctrines of their own which prejudices their reaction to the truth? Are they nominal (or minimal) believers? If you’re a Christianese-squelcher, please tell me why in the comments below.
Whatever their reason…
Don’t Buy the Lie
Friends, please don’t buy into their nonsense. I’m not talking about those who muddle a conversation with complicated phraseology or weighty theology (they need to know their audience). I’m referring to us simple folk who desire nothing more than to talk and act like the new creations that God has made. No, instead of rebuking you, I want to encourage you to continue expressing yourself as a Christian should and to be ready to answer any questions that arise, being sensitive to the reality that folks might not understand a word or a phrase you’re using. Also be sensitive to the fact that a Christian conversation is not a Gospel presentation until God says it is. It is when we attempt to force the latter upon an unwilling audience that we often bruise or become bruised.
He that saith he abideth in Him (Jesus) ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked. 1 John 2:6