Speaking the Language
- January 14, 2018
- Josh Godwin
This is a confession. I confess to you, dear reader, that I have a disgusting habit. I confess to you that I am frequent user of the Christianese language.
Does that confession not make much sense? That is, in a very strange way, my point. I had previously thought I coined this clever turn of phrase, Christianese. Turns out I was woefully mistaken and it is a pretty common term with its own Wikipedia page, and isn’t that the real metric of if something is legitimate or not?
If you’re not familiar with the term “Christianese,” it refers to the collection of phrases, words, and general jargon used amongst Christian denomination circles that are hyper-specific to the Christian tradition and community. Best I can tell, there are currently two predominant dialects of Christianese: the traditional, lofty terminology of theological understanding and the hipstertastic lingo of your “spiritual” Christian friends that are fond of skinny jeans, free-trade coffee, and hammered dulcimers.
Some examples of the first are words like eschatological, hermeneutic, and all the –isms with a historical figure’s name attached (Eutychianism, Sabellianism, etc.). I don’t mean to belittle these terms, because in deep theological discussion and study they are helpful and essential. As a divinity school student, I developed a deep fondness for words like that. However, the vast majority of Christians will never need to be familiar with such terms. The second type is, I think, more prevalent. Phrases like backsliding, bearing fruit, and responding with “I’m blessed” when asked how one is doing are some of the hallmarks of the millennial Christianese dialect.
Remember, this is a confession and I confess to you that I am equally guilty in engaging in the Christianese language. Why do I feel the need to confess about that? What’s so wrong with uniting truth to the Spirit’s guidance so that I can bear soul fruit in all the doors opened to me on this life’s journey? If you gagged a little internally like I did in re-reading that sentence, then you know why I feel like I need to confess for buying into this linguistic method.
Christianese is linguistic exclusion for all those not in the language loop. Every time we use a specifically Christian word in our interactions with people, both believers and non-believers, we cut off anyone and everyone who is not from our little community. This is especially dangerous in our interactions with those not already part of the Christian family. It can be intimidating, leading people to believe they don’t have the prerequisite understanding to become a Christian.
If the ultimate goal of Christian life is to spread the love and grace of God through the gospel of Christ, then shouldn’t our words reflect the words of Jesus? We need to pay attention and take note of the ways Jesus spoke to people. He conveyed love, hope, and healing in a common language using stories that everyone could understand. Jesus did not teach people the incredibly complex nuances of the Divine using lofty terminology, but instead instructed them on the ways of their loving God by illustrating life. Some of the most powerful teachings, like the prodigal son (Luke 15) and the good shepherd (John 10), are Jesus’s most memorable stories. Because they’re the most plain and relatable stories.
Our efforts to spread the gospel of Christ to the world should be coated in this plain understanding of life, not in creating a linguistic social club that people can only gain access to when they know the passwords. The gospel of Christ can be understood in any language based solely on the merit of its source in Jesus, not on the merit of our language. The worst we could do is inhibit its powerful message of grace and love for everyone by shackling it with specific and exclusionary phrases.
I confess that I am a frequent user of Christianese. It’s a habit I know I have and a habit I am trying to break because the gospel of Christ that ignited my soul is beautifully simple. God loves me. Christ came, lived, died, and lives again so that we can live with that loving God. Let’s not push people away from that good news by using code words and a secret language. Let’s invite everyone into the