Is Christianese Always Bad?
By laura ziesel
August 8, 2011
As is natural in all subcultures, Christians have developed dialects. Christians (Protestants and Catholics, clergy and laymen) use many terms non-Christians would not understand. Well, perhaps more often than not outsiders understand us—but we simply look odd. One of the biggest grievances against Christian culture is our bubble-like tendency. We can genuinely hurt the cause of Christ when we create holy huddles, only experiencing the world through our own eyes or the eyes of other Christians.
I've heard many people refer to this phenomenon as "speaking Christianese."
Some great examples of Christianese:
"Break bread together" vs. "Eating together"
"Testimony" vs. "Story" or "Account"
"Caused me to stumble" vs. "Was hurtful to me"
"Felt convicted" vs. "Felt bad" or "Felt remorse"
I hate to admit it, but lately I've found myself thinking in Christianese a lot more than normal. And this has me questioning my hatred of it. Upon giving Christianese a second look, here are a few solid reasons as to why it's not so horrible.
Born out of Scripture
Yes, we have Christian subcultures of all sorts: Baptist, Catholic, hipster, straight edge. But our Christian dialect is not born simply out of our subcultures; it is mostly born out of our holy Scriptures.A large part of why Christianese is coming to my mind these days is that I have been editing a Bible commentary for nearly 10 months now. I spend most of my days reading Scripture and editing words about Scripture. And, to be frank, being over-steeped in Scripture is pretty hard to accomplish. Joshua 1:8a says, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth, meditate on it day and night." That's a high bar to meet in terms of Scripture saturation, and I still don't think I've hit it.
If we, readers of the holy words of God, mingle the modern American vernacular with Scripture, I'm not so sure we should guilt ourselves about it; it's a result of time well spent feeding off of God's Word.
No Other Words
Sometimes we have no words of our own. Sometimes we are unable to form coherent thoughts and put words to feelings. This is a common occurrence during grief.
During a hard break-up in college, I struggled to vocalize my feelings. I listened to a lot of Fiona Apple that summer; her album Extraordinary Machine gave words to my grief, an extremely important thing for me. While listening to her album was important to the process of grief, it didn't help me move through the grief. A dear friend simply said to me, "I think it would help if you stopped listening to Fiona Apple so much." I laughed, but he was right; I needed to focus on truth instead of simply what I was feeling. Scripture is valuable during grief because we can find expressions of grief among the words, but they are rooted in truth and hope.
After going through a miscarriage this spring, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland ran through my mind a lot, but I longed for Scripture to reclaim the dominant place in my mind. And eventually, it did. Once I was able to borrow the words of Scripture to express my grief, I thought and spoke in Christianese a lot. But you know what? I finally had words—and I had words that were both helpful and true. Maybe I sounded like an 80-year-old church lady—but I didn't care.
A Deeper Meaning
Sometimes the Christian way of saying something holds a different or more complex meaning that cannot otherwise be expressed easily.
When we say breaking bread is an important part of community, we don't simply mean eating together. Breaking bread holds more meaning. It carries connotations of sharing, giving, receiving, honesty and laughter. Likewise, "to feel convicted" is different than "to feel guilty" or "to make a decision." The word "conviction" implies an outside party, the Holy Spirit, has intervened and influenced your thoughts and feelings. That sense of external interference is not implied easily using normal terminology.
We’ve all seen how Christianese can be misused, abused and overused. Let’s strive to use it properly and passionately, in a way that communicates the heart of God like no other words can.
Laura Ziesel is a seminary student at Azusa Pacific University and a freelance writer and editor living in sunny California with her husband. She blogs on matters of faith, gender, church culture and more at www.lauraziesel.com. She is also a contributing writer for The Redemptive Pursuit, a weekly devotional for women.
Photo credit: Jeff Dailey