A Week of Christianese: The Dictionary of Christianese
As promised on Monday, Tim Stewart is taking over the blog today, talking about his project, The Dictionary of Christianese, which is currently a website, but if all goes according to plan a full fledged 12,000 entry dictionary. Yes that much Christianese does exist.
And now, ladies and gentleman, Tim Stewart.
I remember clearly the Christianese expression that first made me want to start keeping track of Christian slang so I could someday write a book about it.
"Covered by the blood."
I heard it during a prayer meeting when a young woman I didn't know very well kept saying it. For example, when we were praying for such-and-such request, she would pray that God would "just cover that situation with the blood." When someone later asked her for an update on a previous prayer request, she replied that we shouldn't worry about it---that it was "completely covered by the blood."
I had the fleeting thought that if a first-time visitor to our Christian prayer meeting were in attendance, then what we were saying could sound a wee bit weird.
After the meeting, I asked the woman what "covered by the blood" meant. She said that in the church she grew up in, a lot of Christians used that expression. The metaphor alluded to all the places in the Bible where God uses blood to make someone or something holy---not to mention the blood of Christ that covers our sin. The way she explained it actually made the phrase seem normal, now that I had the context of all the Bible verses. I mean, don't get me wrong---it's still a little gross to hear that "so-and-so's ongoing job search is completely covered by the blood." If I heard that someone's job search was covered by the blood, I'd assume that not only was he not getting job offers but that recruiters were actively running him out with a chainsaw.
That incident with the "covered by the blood" made me wonder what other Christian slang there might be, so I started actively collecting additional terms by asking around. It wasn't long before I had a hand-written list of over 100 Christianese words and phrases, mainly from asking people what they thought was the funniest or the most confusing Christianese they had ever heard. At my last count this morning, there were 8,300 individual Christianese terms in my computer database. I estimate that there will be about 12,000 in the dictionary when it's finished, so I'm nearly there.
This Christianese project started off as something I enjoyed doing mainly out of curiosity. But as I began telling other people about my unusual hobby of collecting Christianese words, I began to hear stories of how Christianese had gotten in the way of effective communication between those who grew up in the Christian sub-culture, and those who didn’t, whether they were trying to follow Jesus or not. It was then that I realized that my list of words and their definitions could actually help Christians avoid some common communication problems.
One friend of mine tells of how much it would distract her family when she would talk about her "heart for the nations" and her desire to "go to the nations" and to bring the gospel "to the nations." She said that her family wanted to talk more about why she kept repeating the word "nations" than they wanted to hear about her desire to be a missionary.
Another friend told me a story about a time he wanted to start offering to pray for the servers at restaurants he visited. So one time he stopped his waitress and asked if there were anything he could "lift up for her." The waitress looked at him in a puzzled way. My friend repeated, "You know, can I lift up anything to God for you?" The waitress, still confused, said, "No thanks. I'm really busy, so I have to go now."
And so I started a website that lists the definitions of over 100 Christianese words and expressions that are likely to be misunderstood. Each Christianese term is explained in plain English so that someone can understand what the term means and find other ways of expressing that same idea without using slang. It's only a website for now, but within a couple of years the Dictionary will be a printed book as well.
There are a lot of barriers in communication that various cultures have to deal with. If followers of Jesus believe that there is something uniquely important about Him and want to communicate who He is to others, the last thing we need is to put up additional barriers, simply because we’re using too much Christian slang. My hope is that the Dictionary of Christianese will enable Christians to communicate more clearly and effectively so that we can take down some of those barriers and get back to the business of talking about Jesus.