Why I Won't Be...
"Sharing My Testimony"
Among some folks, the ability to speak
fluent "Christianese" is a sign of true Christianity. But do these
special words and phrases help or hinder the message? Our managing editor
takes a frank look at how other people see and hear evangelical Christians-and
gives some suggestions as to how we might improve our communication skills.
"Testimony" and illustrations by Monte Wolverton
I just want to come up alongside you.
I have a word of knowledge for you. I also have a burden-because
God has laid it on my heart to minister to you and disciple
you. God spoke to me, and he wanted me to share my testimony
with you and to witness to you. The message I'm called to
give you is anointed, and I know it will be a real blessing
Chances are, you know some people who talk this way all the time. Maybe
you are one. You might know others who don't use this kind of language everywhere,
but reserve it for use only when they are in the company of fellow Christians.
In certain groups, the ability to speak fluent Christian jargon is the
verification of true Christianity.
Hundreds of thousands of well-meaning Christians talk this way because
they believe it helps set them apart as God's people. It's their Christian
What Is Jargon?
Jargon (or inspeak) is a special set of words or phrases understood by
a particular group.
Jargon is useful. The world could not function without jargon. Just about
every profession has a jargon. Musicians, publishers, computer software
developers, lawyers and accountants use jargon.
Psychology has a separate jargon for each of its several branches.
Jargon is really a kind of shorthand; one word can encompass a broad
meaning. It might take paragraphs -- or whole books -- to explain the meaning
of one word to the uninitiated.
Without jargon, communication on the job, or in a profession or in a
field of knowledge would slow to a crawl.
But how many times have you been in a group of computer aficionados as
they started throwing around terms like USB, I/O port, co-processor,
jpeg and bandwidth?
Or perhaps you found yourself among a group of printers who started talking
about bi-metal plates, blankets, slurring, density, web breaks and
If you've ever been in a situation like this, one of the following things
might have happened:
· You pretended to understand (and probably misunderstood)
what everyone was talking about.
· You became bored and annoyed and wondered why the group
was so socially inept and insensitive.
· You were intimidated and frustrated, so you left.
· You were impressed by the esoteric knowledge of the group,
and you wanted to learn more about how to use these mysterious words.
The last one probably didn't happen.
The point is that if jargon is an aid to communication inside a particular
group, it is a hindrance to communication outside the group.
Christian jargon falls into two categories -- which we have taken the
liberty of naming. The first category we'll call:
Theologyspeak. Christian clergy, theologians and theology students
use some of these words -- like sanctification and justification
and predestination and the procession of the Holy Spirit.
Most of us don't use these words in our everyday conversation -- or at
all. It is simply not necessary for us to use them.
However, if you're a theologian, a member of the clergy or engaged in
extensive study of Christian doctrine -- you just can't escape these words.
For example, two theologians discussing supralapsarianism (a legitimate
theological term whose meaning I cannot recall) would be at a distinct disadvantage
if they could not use the word supralapsarianism. They would either
be compelled to explain the concept fully each time they mentioned it, or
they would be forced to use vague replacement terms like whachamacallit.
Nevertheless, the quickest way for a pastor to cure a congregation's
insomnia is to announce: "Today I'm going to talk about justification."
And it's a safe bet that if such theological jargon would put most Christians
to sleep, any non-Christians would fall into a coma.
That's one kind of Christian jargon. The other kind we'll call:
Evangelicalese. We'll call it this because it seems to be
limited to the American evangelical community. Evangelicalese is largely
absent from the mainstream Protestant denominations and the Catholic and
Eastern Orthodox churches.
Since only a minority of Christians really use Evangelicalese, calling
it Christian jargon or Christianese would be a misnomer.
Those of us who are evangelical Christians place great emphasis on evangelism,
or sharing the good news about Jesus. Many evangelical Christians pride
themselves in relating better to the average person on the street. In an
effort to be more up-to-date, we brought the world contemporary Christian
music. We have also created more accessible and popular worship styles.
Yet, ironically, in spite of our goals and purposes, many of us insist on
speaking a language that leaves the average person clueless.
If we firmly believe in communicating the message God has entrusted to
us to people outside of our group, then we should use the kind of language
that makes communication easy.
Unfortunately, Evangelicalese is only the tip of the isolation iceberg
for evangelical Christians. Because we want a safe haven for ourselves and
our families, we have created our own culture -- separate from the rest
of the world.
But this is not what Jesus instructed us to do. Before returning to heaven,
he told his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news
to all creation" (Mark 16:15). While it is clear from other scriptures
that Christians are to be separate from the evil in the world, we are to
go into the world to share the good news. That implies that we should interact
with people in our communities and that we should speak their language.
Some might claim that Evangelicalese is merely using biblical words
and phrases, with which there can certainly be nothing wrong, can there?
Yes and no.
Indeed, some Evangelicalese words do come right out of the Bible -- and
some don't. The ones that come out of the Bible usually come out of the
1611 King James Version (KJV) -- and now, almost 500 years later, the meanings
of those words have morphed into something quite different. Of course, even
if a word or phrase does come out of the KJV, we should be aware
that most normal people don't run around speaking 17th century English anymore.
So it behoves us -- (now there's a good candidate for the Evangelicalese
lexicon -- behove. It's rarely used by normal people, and it's in
the KJV: Luke 24:46; Hebrews 2:17) -- to examine some of our favorite Evangelicalese
words and phrases, in the hope that we can find replacements that will communicate
Christian concepts just as well or better to average folks.
By the way -- I'm not saying it's wrong to speak Evangelicalese.
It's certainly not a sin -- if it were, we can rest assured some fundamentalists
would have already let us know. I am simply suggesting that Christians should
be careful how they use it. Among some groups of Christians, Evangelicalese
might be appropriate. But the average person will probably want to get up
and leave if you use the word:
Disciple -- "Hey, buddy! Have you been discipled yet?
I'm going to disciple you!"
Our word disciple comes from a Latin word meaning "student."
But the Greek word translated "disciple" in the New Testament
means more than "student." It also means one who imitates his
or her teacher.
But in Evangelicalese, we use disciple as a verb. While it is
nowhere translated as a verb in the KJV, a few scriptures use a Greek verb
which means "to make a disciple" (Matthew 13:52; 27:57; 28:19;
I suggest that it's really a lot simpler to take a cue from some of the
newer Bible translations. The New Century Version (NCV), for example, translates
disciple as "follower."
But in most cases, instead of using disciple as a verb, the Bible uses
the words teach or instruct.
Instead of discipling people, we could simply instruct them or
teach them. Isn't that easy? Let's try another.
Minister -- "Do you mind if I just minister
In modern English the noun minister means pastor or clergy. A
ministry is an institution involved in service. Evangelicalese takes
it a step further and uses the word as a verb. It sounds nice and biblical.
But is there another term that might be more palatable to most people?
In 2 Corinthians 3:6, we read, "Who also hath made us able ministers
of the new testament" (KJV).
Contrast this with the NCV: "He made us able to be servants
of a new agreement."
So what we really mean by ministry is just service. Why not say
Witness -- "I was on my way to church Bingo,
but I had to stop and witness to some sinners."
This is a good Bible word -- used hundreds of times in the KJV. It's
also used as part of our legal process. But is it the best word for Christians
to use for sharing the story of Jesus with someone?
Acts 23:11 in the KJV reads: "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou
hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also
The New International Version (NIV) reads: "Take courage! As you
have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in
The NCV reads: "Be brave. You have told people in Jerusalem
about me. You must do the same in Rome."
Telling people about Jesus. That sounds pretty natural. But no, we can't
just tell people -- we have to "witness" to them.
Witnessing often implies that unless the "witnessee" accepts
Jesus on the spot, your responsibility as a Christian is over. The practice
of witnessing can turn people into objects -- tally marks on the cover of your Bible. But the Christian
duty is to love all human beings, and the message of Christ is most effectively
shared in the context of a sound friendship -- not a random encounter.
Testimony -- "I shared my testimony with
the supermarket checker."
This is sort of the same as witness. It's a word out of the KJV
that has been picked up and used by well-meaning Christians. In "real
life," testimony is something you give in court. People get
uncomfortable when you tell them you're going to share your testimony
with them. Just tell them your story, and they'll be happier.
Have a heart for -- "She has a heart for ministry."
While this is not a biblical phrase, it just sounds more spiritual than
saying that someone has a preference or an aptitude -- or -- simply that
someone loves to serve or is motivated to service.
Heart, however, is a biblical word, referring to the center of
human mental and moral activity, both rational and emotional. In the ancient
world, people did not realize that the brain was the center of mental activity.
They believed that emotion and thought were housed in the heart or liver.
It is still popular to refer to the heart, metaphorically, as the center
of emotion or motivation.
But using the word heart in every other sentence can leave some
people feeling as though they are swimming through a vat of sentimental
goo, a recreational activity which not everyone enjoys -- least of all,
Anointed -- "His preaching was anointed."
In Evangelicalese -- especially in charismatic circles, the word anointed
or anointing is used excessively, almost as though it had magical
Biblically, anointing was a ritual dating from Old Testament times, involving
the placing of olive oil on someone's head to set them apart for the office
of priest or king.
In New Testament times, the oil became symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The
terms Messiah and Christ mean "the anointed one,"
or one set apart by God for a specific duty or office -- in this case Lord
The ritual of anointing the sick is mentioned in James 5:14, however
the NCV offers an alternative rendition of this scripture: "Anyone
who is sick should call the church's elders. They should pray for and pour
oil on the person in the name of the Lord."
Pour oil on doesn't sound quite as spiritual as anointing -- but
The Bible also speaks of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that
we as Christians receive through Jesus (1 John 2:27, NIV). But here the
NCV replaces anointing with the simple word gift. When we say anointing,
what we really mean is that a person has a special gift from God. Why not
Burden -- "I have a burden for witnessing to people."
In the Bible, a burden is a metaphor for a responsibility or duty.
Those words probably communicate your meaning better to most people.
Fellowship -- "After services, we always stay and fellowship."
The various Greek words translated fellowship mean companionship,
sharing, participation or communication. Normal people would talk or converse,
but in Evangelicalese, we fellowship.
Yet, even in the KJV, the word is never used as a verb. In place of the
noun fellowship, newer translations, such as NCV, use the less archaic
alternative terms above. That would be a good idea for us.
Come up alongside -- "He came up alongside
me in my hour of need."
While this phrase is not found in the Bible, it does evoke a sort of
nautical imagery of human companionship -- one vessel coming up alongside
another. This can be pleasantly metaphorical the first time you hear it.
Subsequent hearings of this phrase become less pleasant.
Furthermore, many people may interpret your offer to "come up alongside"
them as an invasion of their personal space. It's much easier and safer
to simply ask someone if they'd like to talk.
God spoke to me -- "I was reading the funny papers, and
God spoke to me."
In most cases, this means the person had an intuition, or they felt as
though they were being instructed by God through some circumstance, or they
had a strong feeling that God wanted them to do a particular thing.
In a few cases, the person means it quite literally.
While the Lord spoke directly and audibly to some individuals in the
Bible, suffice it to say that such visible or audible manifestations of
God (called theophanies in theological jargon) are not normative
And in any case, the phrase is not something most people want to hear
from you -- especially in a confined space. You will not positively influence
or persuade most people with this one. You will scare them away.
Perhaps you can think of more Evangelicalese phrases and words. Perhaps
some are localized to your denomination or church. You can do what we've
done in this article -- look the phrase up in the Bible or dictionary, find
out what it really means and find a better way to say it.
Once again, Evangelicalese is okay in the right context. But it is not
more spiritual or biblical than any other way of talking. And when used
among people -- even other Christians -- who are not part of Evangelicalese
culture, it may have the result of alienation and frustration.
At Plain Truth Ministries we try to avoid Evangelicalese in our publications,
tapes and radio broadcasts -- although sometimes it is difficult. We make
an effort to use normal English to make the good news about Jesus plain
If you find yourself slipping into Evangelicalese at inappropriate times,
here are three things you can do.
1. Take note of the way people react to you as you talk with
them. Do they look puzzled, confused, irritated -- or frightened? If they
do, you probably need to take more care about the way you say what you say.
2. Find a good Bible translation or Bible paraphrase in contemporary
Hundreds of translators, scholars and writers are working hard every
day to bring God's message to people in a way they can understand. There
are many good products to choose from.
3. Think, write, talk and pray in normal language. The more
you do this on your own, the more inclined you will be to do it around others.
Paul told us that he became all things to all men for the sake of the
gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). Many uses of Evangelicalese seem to violate
There. I've come up alongside you, witnessed, unloaded my burden and
ministered to you.
JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN
Every industry and subculture has its own
jargon. Every type of organization has buzzwords that help the people in
them communicate effectively and efficiently with their co-workers. These
words mean something to those "in the know," but are meaningless
to those on the outside. Have you ever visited a place of business and overheard
a conversation that was full of jargon? You are sure that the people are
talking, but you have no idea what they are saying.
As a Field Artillery officer in the army, I remember numerous occasions
having a conversation like this.
"Python one-six, Python one-six, Cobra Gunner."
"Python one-six, Go."
"Python one-six, Cobra Gunner, sierra papa in two zero mikes, whiskey
alpha niner, niner, tree, eight, eight, one."
"Cobra Gunner, Python one-six, lima charlie, wilco, out."
Do you know what? That messy, confusing sentence was a complete conversation,
an order from higher headquarters telling a subordinate unit when to move.
Did it make any sense to you? Probably not, unless you had been in the military
and remembered all the acronyms and characters in the phonetic alphabet.
Yet, it makes perfect sense to people serving in the army.
People in the computer industry are notorious for using buzzwords and
jargon that the average citizen does not understand. They use words like
RAM, BIOS, server, byte, ASCII, ISP, HTML and DOS. These terms, used by
people who program and maintain computers, don't mean much to the average
person, even the average computer user, because they don't have the training
or expertise to engage in conversations where these terms are used.
Did you ever try to listen to a teenager talk? Their speech is filled
with what grammarians call "filler" words. These are words that
are used to "fill" the silence until another, more legitimate
word is spoken. In other words, the conversations of the majority of teenage
girls would be rather short without the words "like" and "you
In addition, many interviews of professional athletes and coaches would
be eliminated if you removed inconsequential phrases such as "we just
played our game," "they were the better team," "we gave
110 percent" and "we took what they gave us." What insights
do they expect us to gain from comments like that?
In the Christian church, we throw around some pretty unusual words and
phrases also. In our sermons and Bible study lessons, we sometimes use words
like propitiation, justification, indwelling or salvific. As Christians,
we have been known to use phrases like "washed in the blood of the
lamb" and "slain in the Spirit." Just what do all these phrases
mean? I had to go to seminary to learn many of them, so I know that the
average non-believer is lost and confused when Christians throw around church
If we want people to believe in our Savior, we have to introduce them
to Jesus using their lingo, not ours. During his earthly ministry, Jesus
taught using parables -- short stories that dealt with topics that the average
person could relate to and understand. When we teach or preach, we should
ensure that our vocabulary is understandable, not piously puzzling.
Bill Easum and Tom Bandy made a great impression on me recently when
they stated that their ministry's goal was to answer this question: "What
is it about my Christian faith that the world cannot live without?"
The answer to that question, stated in everyday terminology and shared with
people who do not know Christ as Savior, will usher in revival. In other
words -- don't speak Christianese, just tell them the difference Jesus has
made in your life.
What attracted you to faith in Christ? How did God reach you? Share that
with someone else; just share it in a manner they can understand. As Jesus
said, "Go and tell." Just go and tell in normal English.
-- Trey Graham
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