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
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
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.
This article originally appeared on RELEVANTmagazine.com. 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.