Do you speak Christianese?
by Danny Tippit
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Son: “Dad tell me about God.”
Father: “Well son God is a holy, supreme being whose righteousness is the standard by which we should all live our lives.”
Son: “Dad what does that mean?”
Father: “Well son, it means that because of our transgression there needs to be retribution which is death. We ultimately cannot live a virtuous, law-abiding life with out being filled by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Christ paid the penalty through his sacrifice on the cross, was resurrected on the third day, and now we can move into sanctification by the shedding of Christ’s blood. His blood cleanses us.”
Son: “Dad, what does transger… transguh… transgresh mean? And how does the Holy Spirit get inside of me? Do I drink Him or eat Him? What does virtoos mean? And what does sancticatin mean? His blood does what? Ewww! Gross! Dad I’m only 6 years old!”
Have you ever gotten that deer-in-the-headlight stare when you are sharing Christ with someone? It is much like the same scenario I shared here when the son asks about God and the father forgets he is talking to someone who has no idea what he is talking about. They are not even close to being on the same level of understanding. Now I am not saying the people you share Christ with are stupid. As a matter of fact I would tend to believe that they are pretty smart. But I can’t have a discussion with a rocket scientist about what he does if he doesn’t speak in terms I can understand. We too often take for granted that everyone understands Christianese, and we wonder why people walk away more confused than when the conversation started.
Yes, Christianese. Christianese is that language a Christian picks up after X amount of years in the church. We say words like sanctification, repentance, salvation, retribution, etc. We also use metaphorical-like phrases. For example, “Jesus blood will wash away our sins” or “we must be born again.” And the only thing the person we are talking to can say is, “HUH?” Jesus even knew not to throw out big talk and to keep it simple so even a child could understand. A perfect example is Nicodemus.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born-again. If he wasn’t serious Nicodemus could have probably traveled the Galilean circuit as a stand-up comic instead of a pharisee, but Nicodemus was as serious as a heart attack when he replied with this question:
“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” – John 3:4
Hahaha… ‘you can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again.’ That guy Nico always the kidder! No. No he wasn’t kidding. He didn’t understand because we take for granted that non-believers do understand. I think we even take for granted when a person calls his or herself a Christian that they would understand Christianese.
Jesus did not speak Christianese. Nicodemus understood by the end of the conversation what Jesus meant. Jesus didn’t just keep speaking another language. He noticed that this educated religious figure did not understand what He was saying. Jesus broke it down for Him. In the end, Nicodemus understood so much so that he was there when they tended to Jesus’ body after He died.
So the next time you are sharing Christ with someone, don’t take for granted that they understand Christianese. They might, but it is highly likely they won’t. Speak their language and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
Oh and pastors don’t assume that since you have had 4 to 6 years of undergraduate and seminary schooling that everyone else present on a Sunday morning has. Your congregation may have a high percentage of unbelievers, and if it doesn’t don’t take if for granted that those who do know Christ understand what you are saying either.
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Thank you for this very informative article on simplifying terms used in sharing the Gospel. I use about 5 words a person can easily understand and relate to: Sin, Separation, Cross, Grace, and Rebirth. Titus 3:4-7 is one complete verse to share.
Those are good simple words that have the same impact as the much more "scholarly" sounding words. I like that verse too. I also like to use the Message Bible for meaning content too. It isn't a bible I use for word study but for a good paraphrase for someone in today's culture I can't tell you how many people have responding by saying they never knew the bible was so easy to understand. Many of them thought all bibles had only 'thee', 'thou', and 'shalt' in them.