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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Foreign Language (12/09/10)

By Kate Oliver Webb


“Cling to the Old Rugged Cross,” the bumper sticker on the car in front of us read. My friend who was driving us to lunch commented, “Hmmm; wonder what that means.”

I explained that it was a quote from a Christian hymn and it referred to the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The “clinging” part, I went on, was a poetic way of reminding us that we must rely on the sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and receiving of His grace.

As our conversation veered off into other topics, I silently thanked the Lord for the opportunity to present a little of the gospel to my friend. She had been raised in the Catholic Church, and understood the basics of Christianity, but “grew out of it,” as she explained to me.

But with that conversation came a blast of insight that subconsciously I had been aware of for years, but hadn’t put into conscious thought or words.

We Christians speak a foreign language!

Put us in the same category as a medical doctor who thinks and speaks “medicalese.” It would no doubt frighten me half to death if my doctor came in and said, “Preliminarily, the original diagnosis that you have a subcutaneous panniculitiis-like T-cel lymphoma needs to be studied further, as we found no clonal T-cell population.” Yikes!

I’ve been a Christian since the age of five, and I still feel somewhat out-of-kilter when some well-meaning Christian tract-passer asks me, “Are your sins under the blood?” I guess I feel an empathy with the poor soul who would prefer not to discuss bloodiness of any sort, thank you.

There are times when I hear a Christian interviewed on a talk-show, and it occurs to me that his remarks should come with sub-titles. While I understand and (usually) agree with his comments, the average person on the street has no idea what he’s talking about--and therefore the reputation believers have of being a realm removed from reality is proven true.

Let’s look at a few more Christianese phrases and the contexts which prompt them.

One movie shows the interior of a small country church where a gunman plans to take some lives. The congregation is lustily singing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” almost as though this hymn is going to shield them from whatever actions the bad guys plan to take. Nice hymn, nice tune, but meaningless to anyone outside the church. In fact, some inside the church are confused about that as well. Consider the story of the little girl helping out on laundry day singing, “bringing in the sheets.”

A recent fad has believers proclaiming, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” It strikes me as being the secret phrase we need to use in order to get into the club doors. Does it keep out the uninitiated?

For years now Christians have clung to the motto “Jesus Saves.” That is a powerful message for us it’s true. But the general population does not know that power, and so have turned that phrase into a joke. Jesus saves what? Green stamps?

We did a little better with the bumper sticker that read “I found it.” At least it became a springboard from which real conversation could occur.

The gospel song, “I Go to the Rock,” even became a mainstream tune. The second line in the song, “I go to the stone that the builders rejected,” is very meaningful to those who know the gospel, but those who pick up on the catchy tune and lyrics ought to have those phrases explained in order to understand that great song’s message.

My position is simply that we should make what we have to say understandable to the people who need to hear it. While I was being trained to be a trainer, one basic rule was that we begin with what the listener already knows, in the vernacular he is familiar with.

Which puts a responsibility on us as Christians that perhaps we don’t want. First, we need to know the listener, and we need to be able to translate our own vernacular into language our listeners understand. Which means we must, ourselves, know and understand the message.

If we can do that, we’ll find our ministry to be much more gratefully received, and much more fruitful.

The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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This article has been read 515 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lizzy Ainsworth12/17/10
I agree with this article. It is very hard to break out of Christian-ese sometimes.
Quite good
Amy Michelle Wiley 12/17/10
I'm a sign language interpreter and I often struggle to decide when to expand and explain the "Christianese" and when to just let the Deaf people figure it out the same way the hearing people do. Interpreting music is especially complicated and often takes a lot of thinking to even figure out what it is we're singing about. It's good to make me actually absorb the meaning and not just say words we all say but might not fully understand.
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/18/10
This has a very meaningful (excuse the pun) message. It's presented clearly, with the humor adding interest.
Noel Mitaxa 12/18/10
I could not agree more with how you call us to question all the terms we use. They may mean a lot to us, but they actually insulate us against those we are called to reach.
Sarah Elisabeth 12/19/10
Very good points to ponder
Nancy Bucca12/19/10
How true! The more you know the Bible, the easier it is to speak "Christianese," which nonChristians don't necessarily understand. Good point.
Yvonne Blake 12/21/10
Interesting thoughts. I realized I was "foreign" when I attended a public high school. I spoke English, but they didn't understand me.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/23/10
You make a great point I didn't realize how many phrases might not make sense to everyone. Congratulations for placing in the top 10 of Masters and the top 20 overall!
Carol Penhorwood 01/15/11
You make a strong, valid point and I hope this gets wide coverage so many are "educated" to the need for simpler "language". Well done indeed!