When CNN posted an article on its Belief Blog asking, “Do you
speak Christian?” author John Blake looked into the various phrases that
Christians use to describe things, like being “born again,” that may be
confusing to those outside the Christian culture. It’s actually a pretty poor
article that merely catalogs a bunch of phrases the author seems to find amusing,
but it brings up an important point. Are you aware of the words and phrases you
are using in your everyday life and how others, especially nonbelievers,
This is a debate that goes on in many churches and
ministries across the country. Our culture is less Christian and less
knowledgeable about Christian ideas than at any point in its history. We can’t
assume that our co-workers and neighbors are going to understand a lot of words
and phrases that we take for granted, especially those of us who have grown up
in the church.
If I tell my co-workers that I have been “saved by grace,”
many of them would have no idea what that means. Terms like that are so common
to Christians that we don’t even notice when we’re using them. But it is
important to be aware; because if we use phrases like that with people who
don’t understand, it can be off-putting. It hints to them at a special group—a
special language that only insiders understand.
Unfortunately we are not talking about something as tangible
or simple as what we had for breakfast. In Christianity God reveals himself to
us, and we are dealing with ideas and concepts that aren’t normally discussed
at the water cooler. We have to be able to describe these ideas; and so,
naturally, we are forced to use words that many people do not use in their
everyday lives. The word justification explains a very important,
essential Christian idea, but it’s not exactly trending on Twitter right now.
There’s nothing wrong with having words and phrases that
explain important concepts, as it allows us to discuss our faith intelligibly.
The issue lies in how and when we use these words and how comfortable we get
with them. It’s all about knowing your audience.
I remember when I was in college leading a Bible study of mature
Christian guys. We were studying Romans and throwing around a lot of these
words and phrases because everyone understood them and was comfortable using
them. Then in the middle of the semester, one of our members brought a
non-Christian friend with him. Immediately we had to change the tone of the
study so he wouldn’t feel left out or ignorant. My co-leader and I kept
catching ourselves saying things he might not understand. We started
re-phrasing. We still studied the same material and discussed the same
subjects, but we had to be mindful of our new audience.