Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Churchtalk...a second language

Picked this up from Internet Monk:

I am bilingual! Pretty cool eh? Now I’m not talking about the twenty weeks I spent learning French back in high school, or the smattering of Spanish I picked up when in Mexico for a week this Spring. I’m not counting the few sentences of Polish I picked up from a workstudy student or the nifty Latin phrases I gleaned from watching Robin Hood on PBS.

No, the “second” language I’m talking about is one have I learned in twenty plus years of being in an evangelical Christian church. I’ve heard it called by different names, but I call it ChurchSpeak. I’ve recently been critically reviewing what I know of ChurchSpeak and have come to the conclusion that it’s not all that good and not particularly helpful. In fact, many of the terms and phrases used in ChurchSpeak may actually mislead people that hear it, and possibly distort the Gospel we are called upon to proclaim.

Now, like any language, ChurchSpeak has different dialects depending upon which church or denomination uses it. Our Charismatic brethren have a whole raft of terms and phrases that a typical Baptist churchspeaker will not use. ChurchSpeak also has different levels of biblicality. Please note that I do not consider terms and phrases that are directly biblical to be ChurchSpeak, even if they are misused or misunderstood. Examples of these would be “saved”, “born again”, “sanctification”, etc. Also not included in ChurchSpeak are those words that are not directly biblical but have been part of the language of orthodox Christianity for centuries. Examples would be “trinity”, “sacrament”, “communion”, etc.

What I consider ChurchSpeak are those terms and phrases that have crept into use in evangelical churches relatively recently and have vague meanings and questionable biblical authenticity. To the unchurched, this language will have almost no meaning whatsoever.

What follows is a list of common Churchspeak phrases, their normal English translation, and their score on the Bill MacKinnon Biblicality Index (0-5, with 5 being completely biblical) and an explanatory note if necessary.


I feel led…..

Translation: “I want to”, or “I have an idea”

BI: 1

Note: The reason for this particular phrase has to do with the idea that whatever we do should be for God, and not something we thought up on our own. It places God’s stamp of approval on the subject in question and therefore is beyond dispute or criticism.


God has laid something on my heart..

Translation: “I’ve thought of something.”

BI: 1

Note: See note for #1. Very similar.


Let go and let God.

Translation: “Don’t worry”

BI: 2

Note: Although “Don’t worry” certainly is biblical, the phrase is so trite and churchy that the translation is not always self evident.


The Bible is God’s love letter to you.

Translation: just as it is written

BI: 1

Note: This is a pretty gross misrepresentation of Scripture, which is so much more than a “love letter” for people. Additionally, it makes God sound like a love sick teenager.


God shaped hole (as in, everyone has a God shaped hole within them).

Translation: “Every person has a yearning or desire that can only be fulfilled by God.”

BI: 0

Note: The bible is pretty clear that “no one seeks after God” without God first changing their hearts of stone. There are many people that are quite happy without God. Plus it just sounds silly.


Plead the blood.

Translation: I really don’t quite know. It carries the idea that you can speak certain words and ward off evil or danger, much like a cross wards off vampires.

BI: 0

Note: This one really smacks of superstition to me, besides making no sense as a sentence.


God is a gentleman.

Translation: “God won’t do anything to you without your permission”

BI: 0

Note: The bible is a pretty huge record of God doing things to people with or without their permission.


God has given me a word.

Translation: “God has dumped some knowledge directly into my head that I couldn’t possibly have gained otherwise”

BI: 4

Note: This is more of a Charismatic churchspeak phrase, but it is used in general Churchspeak, albeit infrequently. The bible does speak of a “word of knowledge”, hence the higher BI score.


Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.

Translation: “Religion is bad.”

BI: 1

Note: Sorry, but Christianity is a religion. Get over it.


I have a peace about it.

Translation: “I’m not anxious, therefore God is with me in this”

BI: 2

Note: This phrase is used quite often in reference to decision making, where “peace” is one of the criteria necessary for making a decision, based on the premise that God will remove any anxiety once you’ve reached the correct decision. The bible does talk about the “peace of God” but probably not in this sense. Using this will probably lead you into some really horrible decisions.


You have head knowledge but not heart knowledge.

Translation: “You aren’t truly committed”

BI: 1

Note: The “heart” is a biblical term, but a highly nebulous one. Any reference to “heart knowledge” is suspect since we know that knowledge is a function of our mind (ie: head).


Ask Jesus to come into your heart.

Translation: “become a Christian”

BI: 1

Note: How this ever came into practice as an evangelism tool is beyond me. The biblical command is: Believe, Repent, Confess. How that evolved into “ask Jesus into your heart” is a mystery.


Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Translation: “Are you a Christian?”

BI: 1

Note: See note for #12. Although being a Christian certainly involves a relationship with Christ, the bible never presents it in that fashion. Plus it takes longer to say.


Get your end-times latter-rain double-portion covenant seed-faith blessing.

Translation: “send me your money, you ignorant buffoon”

BI: -5

Note: This is a dialect known as TBNSpeak. The curious thing about TBNSpeak is that you can rearrange the words in any order you like, and the meaning stays the same.

I’m sure there are many more I have left out. The point is this: We have replaced clear biblical language with vague, largely meaningless phrases that are confusing to Christians and a complete mystery to non-Christians. Many of the above phrases only make sense with an extensive explanation. Others are simply anti-biblical.

My goal is not to cast aspersions on well meaning Christians, or ridicule their attempts to share the Gospel. I simply want us to re-evaluate the words we use to accomplish that goal. The apostle Paul says that we are “ambassadors for Christ”. It behooves us to be the best ambassadors that we can. Part of being a good ambassador is using clear biblical language to share our faith.

Does that mean we are stuck using only biblical words? No, although the closer we stay to biblical words and phrases, the clearer our message will be. There is nothing wrong with presenting the Gospel in the language of our time, but Churchspeak doesn’t do that. It clouds the message at best, and gives the wrong message at worst.

Listen: Words have meaning and words matter. Sincerity is a wonderful thing, and important to God, but sincerity without knowledge or truth is a hammer without a head and a car without wheels. It just doesn’t work well. Praise God that He can take our best efforts, poor as they are, and use them. But how much more effective will we be when we join that sincerity with the truth of the Gospel as God Himself has revealed it.

Bill Mackinnon

1 comment:

Set Free said...

Glad you're back!!! I like this post!