Q&R with Greg Albrecht – “Do I need to learn ‘Christian-ese’?”

Q. I’m finding it hard to communicate with some of the Christians I have met.  No one I know talks the way people do in the church I am attending. Can you help?

A. There are several schools of thought about in-house Christian vocabulary. On the one hand, there are technical terms, as with any discipline or endeavor, needed to accurately define Christian belief and practice. Using specific terminology enables us to be concise and accurate, and to avoid misunderstanding. 

Here’s a few technical terms that are necessary to accurately explain some of the complexities of the Christian faith:

  • Atonement
  • Eschatology
  • Hermeneutics
  • Incarnation
  • Justification
  • Sanctification  

On the other hand, if we wish to reach a wider audience other than our own holy huddles, then we will attempt to contextualize Christian faith and practice into the common language of our day and age. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, do not relate to the technical terminology of Christianity. There might be times when they need to learn it, but there are times when its usage might be a negative, for the terms simply fly over the top of their heads and little or no real communication takes place.  

There are also times when imprecise cliché’s gain a wide following and become a barrier for anyone who is outside of the particular Christian “club” that favors the use of such terms and phrases. “Christian-ese” is an appropriate description of this sub-language, and while it may have meaning for insiders and initiates, to others it represents a communication barrier rather than a bridge. Here are a few examples of “Christian-ese” that I personally find unnecessary and perhaps even elitist:

  • Ask Jesus into your heart
  • Claim the blood
  • Coming up alongside
  • Feeding on the word
  • Having a burden
  • Journeying mercies
  • “Just” – as in “Lord, we “just” thank you for …
  • Lift Jesus up
  • Share your testimony
  • Witness                                          

Finally, there are obsolete terms which primarily come from the King James Version of 1611 that seem to make people feel more religious if they use them. But once again, they are dated and have meaning only for a select few, and certainly do not communicate with 21st century humanity. Along with the obvious “thees” and “thous” here are a few additional examples:

  • Admonition
  • Backslide
  • Concupiscence            
  • Doleful
  • Kindred
  • Mammon
  • Smite
  • Surety 

Using a modern Bible translation can help with the obsolete language. As far as “Christian-ese,” I believe it helps to explain to others that the terminology they are using seems narrow and provincial, and that “normal” vocabulary will enhance effective communication. As far as technical terms, we have to understand that there are accurate and precise terms that must be used to avoid misunderstandings.

For more answers to tough questions, check out our book:

Between Religious Rocks and Life’s Hard Places—101 Answers to Tough Questions About What You Believe.

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