Gospel & Culture blog
Christians should speak differently than the world does, right? Our priorities are different; our beliefs and even our values are different. Christians were different from their Jewish and Greek peers in the first century, just as the Israelites were different from the nations around them in the OT days. Talking differently is a significant way to signal that we are set apart. Early Christians developed a highly specialized vocabulary to describe uniquely Christian ideas like regeneration, election, justification, and so on. Nowadays, Christianese has regional varieties (we "love on" people in the south more than we do on the West Coast) and nuances
Unfortunately, talking differently can also create a barrier. Most training in evangelism and missions says that we should identify with the people we're trying to reach, not let our differences be stumbling blocks (oops, another Christianese term). People will only understand us if we use a language they understand. I remember telling a pre-Christian friend that "God convicted me" about something, and he had no idea what I meant by "convicted." If people outside the church don't understand our "hedges of protection" and "fleeces before the Lord," can we even be certain that people in the church know what we're talking about when we throw around these terms?
The "Dictionary of Christianese" database contains about 200 entries like "check in your spirit" (pictured above, and in the title of this blog) and "missionary dating". Each entry has a definition as well as cleverly designed images and well-researched examples on the origin and historical use of these terms. The database gives an early example of "frozen chosen" in print:
There are undoubtedly many other examples of Christianese, and the dictionary's compiler, Tim Smith, would surely covet your prayers as he continues research on Christian jargon.
Perhaps you feel convicted (a word that hasn't been added to the dictionary yet) about your use of Christianese. Is it missional to talk in a way that seems strange to your ? WWJD?
Maybe this is a good thing to discuss the next time you have koinonia with your life group (still to be added to the dictionary). What is your experience with Christianese?
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor