Christianese

A Dilemma

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A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity.

One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, which is the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift only brings insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach.[i]

Adjustment needed

Christian believers need to understand this cultural change, and make necessary adjustments to address it. More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? This is an important question to answer.

Christians need to have a much more global view of the world around them and of God's kingdom. Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language.

A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii] Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

The problem of Christianese

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, these words become foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study. They're called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings within a certain field, or a subculture.

Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

A language of its own

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—or so they think. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently.

Many Christian believers can't explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

Christian clichés and what I call Bible talk,[v] used outside their field of reference (the church), are unfamiliar and difficult to understand.

Subtitle interpretation needed

I've traveled to many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I'm expected to respond. Though I want to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand this language.

The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, yet doesn’t understand the terms themselves. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words but can’t.

Experience—the great teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. If a person can put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words, then they understand them. If not, they don't.

There's a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways.

Learning curve

As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually. I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started.

My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services, which prompted questions. They often asked dad (me) these questions at inopportune times. It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, or so I thought.

With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself unable to explain them in simple, clear words. More than a few times my oldest daughter would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as on my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner.

The reality is, it challenged me, and this changed my whole approach to teaching.

On the job training

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this, while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But, I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases. I got a partial clue early on, while settling into Filipino culture.

Slow to learn

We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained that they sang in English because that's how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of their dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

No more coded language

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, it does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. Although it may seem clear to the speaker, unless the person can explain these same things in simple words, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated.

As Christian believers, we need to speak in simple, clear, non-Christianese words.

What's your experience with using or not understanding Christianese?


This post follows an earlier one called— The Search to Know God

It is another excerpt from my book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book (see sidebar).


[i] There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo

[ii] With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/

[iii] Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.

[iv] Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp (also see “Christianese_glossary” in the Glossary)

[v] Christianese comes in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible, or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

The Search to Know God

Photo credit: TNValleyTalks.com  

Not long ago, I posted Calvary Chapel—Past and Present as a guest post on Ed Cyzewski's blog. It's easy to reminisce, but I'm not so big on that. Selective memory tends to cloud reality and make things worse or better than they were.

In that post I share a bit of my early history with Calvary Chapel. So, here's a little more of my own life story and search for God. My search proved fruitful, but it met some roadblocks along the way.

It may be history, but it's relevant for our times and a new generation.

The 60's and the Jesus Movement

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.[i] This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression during that decade. Young people, including those known as hippies, joined the developing counterculture of the 1960's and popularized the Jesus Movement. A spiritual vacuum existed in those days.

[bctt tweet="During the Jesus Movement—It’s not about religion, but relationship was a common expression"]

For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era. Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[ii]

My search begins

In my own search for truth, I sampled the wisdom of various religions and philosophies, which surrounded me in abundance and diversity. I was raised in a nominally Christian home and confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at age twelve.

But my Christian moorings were too weak to keep me from drifting into the counter-cultural vortex of the day. Initially, my search produced plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that era.

[bctt tweet="My Christian moorings were too weak for the counter-cultural vortex of the 60's"]

Through it all, I came to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a church in Southern California that grew into a mega-church within the Jesus Movement.

I attended an evening service where a young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he invited us to “accept Christ.”[iii] But, I wasn’t ready to do this.

Questions, questions, questions

After the service, I asked many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible-answer-man of sorts, so I continued to ask questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

[bctt tweet="Answering questions with Scripture quotes, with no explanation, is not helpful"]

Each time I asked a question, he quoted a Scripture in response. I heard a round of “amen’s” and some cheers, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, then how would you tell me you truly know God?” He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

More wandering

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus. I continued to read the Bible and pray, but didn’t give up the other counterproductive activities and experiences to my spiritual growth. My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, I left the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend to search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt.[iv] I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices. Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold. This text showed me I was on the wrong path and it led to destruction.

[bctt tweet="Do you expect some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience from God?"]

A new path and new door

I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God. My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living. I began to give up the old habits of my previous lifestyle and develop new ones.

On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom. I had closed the door on my old life as a new door to a new life opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God. I began to serve the Lord[v] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I were full-time volunteers overseeing the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

Years later, I’ve wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual committing of my life to Jesus could have been much shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

[bctt tweet="For many, Jesus is a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery"]

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel. For many people, Jesus is a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

I believe every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon. Is this possible? Absolutely!

[Check out Acronym-ically Speaking for how this is possible!]

This post is an edited excerpt from my book. If you'd like to read more, it's available in paperback and as an e-book.


[i]The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[ii]The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— http://goo.gl/HwxIJ| http://goo.gl/0vA5T. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here are some links to articles about MTD— http://goo.gl/pJLgY | http://goo.gl/RvllH

[iii]“Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] Reference— Exodus 3:1-6

[v]“Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”

How Does Someone "Accept Christ?"

Photo credit: http://tw.gs/Q6t0ix We live in an exceptional time. If you're not sure how to do something, just ask! Nearly endless online help is available to guide you through car trouble, DIY (do-it-yourself) projects, romance, and even religious concerns.

Is there online help for becoming a Christian? Sure! Of course there is, this is the 21st Century!

I looked up a well-known Christian phrase and found more information than I wanted. It included varying and even opposing thoughts. I'll spare you all that, though you could explore it yourself if you're so inclined.

One of the earliest questions I remember during the Jesus Movement (late 60's through early 70's) was, "Do you want to accept Christ into your heart?" Many variations of the phrase exist, such as, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" But I don't want to travel down the path of examining all these related phrases. It's a long one.

I'm more interested in finding ways to explain and communicate common Christian phrases and Christianese into simple and clear words. Or, as I like to express it, IYOWin your own words.

Here's what I put in the glossary at the end of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"—

Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior by faith, usually by saying a prayer of confession and trust (also called the Sinner's Prayer). [Common Christianese Terms, page 205]

As with many words and phrases, other terms and expressions are associated with the idea of "receiving Christ." But how does a person put such a popularized phrase IYOW?

I won't give a sure-fire bullet list of steps, but I'll give a brief walk through of the process I use.

What does it mean?

First, I need to understand the intent of the term used, whether it's a word, phrase, or cliché. This requires some thought. For me, asking questions helps me process things.

Where did this term come from? Is it (or something similar) found in the Bible? If so, how and where is it used? If not, how was it coined? And most importantly, what idea, thought, or truth is it supposed to convey?

You would need to adjust the questions to fit the term or cliché used, but the idea is to explore the meaning for yourself.

Put it in your own words (IYOW)

Then I need to come up with a non cliché version in my own words (IYOW). This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is vital.

You'll want to avoid making it a technical definition. The goal is to make it clear and interesting, not obscure and boring. Keep who you want to explain it to in mind, or else, they'll be indifferent and uninterested. You don't want to hear, "What are you talking about?"

More and more people have less and less knowledge about the Bible, Jesus, church, and Christianity in general. Even though they are familiar with certain terms, they often don't understand them.

Give it a try

Lastly, you need to try it out. Make the effort to ask or answer a person in simple, non-religious sounding words. It will take some practice, but most people will appreciate your effort. I've had people within the church and outside of it tell me so.

Also, try to avoid answering people's questions with Bible verses. If you need to refer to a Bible verse, put that IYOW too. And give some frame of reference (context) to the verse. But please, don't bore them with lengthy exegetical explanations and definitions of Greek words. It will not help your effort to make things simple and clear.

So, how would I explain "accepting Christ?"

First of all, I try not to use terms like these, even among Christians who are familiar with them. It's how I practice putting things in my own words (IYOW).

Generally, I want to talk with them about having a personal relationship with God, and how Jesus, His only Son, is the personal link to that relationship. It is by having faith, a confidence in Jesus being who He said He was in the Bible. If they ask about what Jesus said, then I need to be ready to tell them—in my own words.

So, I want to convey the idea that what a person "accepts" is the freedom from sin that Jesus' death and resurrection brings into a person's life, spiritually. Depending on how the conversation goes I'll give more insight as they ask for it. I don't want to overwhelm them with too much information at one time, nor push to "close the deal" by getting them to pray right away.

Now you try it!

________________

Here's some resources you may want to check out related to "Accepting Christ" and Christianese (just click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser)

How do I accept Jesus as my Savior? — http://www.intouch.org/you/article-archive/content?topic=how_do_i_accept_jesus_as_my_savior_article

http://www.eternallifeministries.org/wfb_evang.htm

http://www.bible.ca/g-sinners-prayer.htm

http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

Does Anybody Really Understand?

Photo credit: Bing search We live in a specialized world. We are way beyond information overload. It's now over the top.

YouTube videos show you how to do, well... almost anything. News media parade experts on top of experts with conflicting and opposing views, and the amount of websites, blogs, and email traffic number in the billions.

Are you worried about the rising oceans from global warming? Forget about it! We're flooded with a tidal wave of information inundating our lives every day, enshrouded in terminology and acronyms that require an interpreter.

Does anybody really understand what's going on?

It's the language

It would be easy to jump off from here into a discussion on the end of the age, and signs of the Lord's return. Especially with all that's going on in the Mid-East.

But I want to talk about the importance of language. Not the need for becoming bilingual or multi-lingual, although that would be valuable and advisable in our current times.

The language we use in everyday life is what I'm interested in.

Over the past several months, I've had the pleasure of interacting with many people of different backgrounds from mine, in various work environments. I've gained insight into the inner workings of street gangs, and gained some perspective on the current worldview of twenty-somethings.

Working three part-time jobs has given me this opportunity. Each work and social environment has its own collection of terms and catch-phrases. Thankfully, when I ask for explanations and clarification, people are happy to help me. Some also admit their own ignorance of these things at one time.

But there is one field that uses specialized terms and catch-phrases, and over used clichés, where ignorance seems to be bliss. I'm referring to Christianity.

An Illusion

A typical American Christian uses obscure, even archaic, language with the expectation everyone knows what is being said. But this is an illusion.

It may be a self-imposed, although I suspect for most it is unintentional. As a general rule, Christian believers are oblivious to this illusion. Because I'm in contact with non-believers and nominal believers in God, I'm keenly aware of this.

Photo credit: www.briancromer.com

When talking to non-believers I find it necessary to use simple, non-Christian wording to explain spiritual truths and concepts. When I answer a question about why the Bible says this or that, I'm intentional to explain things without the usual Bible terms, common clichés, and phrases Christians often use.

Does it matter? Yes it does...a lot!

An obscure language

I read somewhere this week that an obscure language in a far away land will become extinct soon. Why? Because only a few people know and speak it, and they will die soon.

In a way, this is my hope for Christianese—the general term for all those Bible words and Christian catch-phrases and clichés. I would like to see Christianese become a dead language of sorts.

It's already dead in one sense—only those who speak it know what it means. Even many of those who speak it don't understand it well. It's self-limiting in that way.

Why? Because it closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God, and confuses those who have a limited knowledge of God.

Is there a solution? Yes!

Christian believers need to use simple and clear words when they share about their faith in Jesus. Even the simplest of words, like faith for instance, need to be explained without quoting Bible verses and or using theological terminology. It's ok to use those terms and biblical wording, just make sure to explain what they mean with simpler words.

So "stay tuned to this station," I'll be coming back to this topic from time to time as I mentioned in a previous post.

In the meantime...

What is your experience with confusing Christian lingo?

I'd love to have you share it in the comments, and maybe I'll write on one of your experiences. ;-)

Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post!

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.


For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

____________________________________________________________

For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!


[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”


This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel