Filtering by Tag: Communication

A Week of Christianese: A Q&A With Tim Stewart

J: Tim, thanks for taking some time away from your word hunting to offer a few words of your own. Language continues to fascinate me, in its origins, usage, and change over time. Growing up in Evangelical Christian Culture, I am used to hearing plenty of these sort so of oddities. But I'd have to say, you've introduced me to some doozies. What has been the most bizarre term you’ve found to date? On the bizarre-o-meter, probably the sheer number of variations on "evanjellyfish" (a derogatory nickname for an evangelical) is the winner. When it comes to evangelicals, it seems like believers in America think they're either the greatest thing since sliced bread or else they're the reason that western Christianity is doomed.

J: Personally, Purpling (Also, Making Purple) is my favorite, both for it's awkwardness and the fact that it's trying to bypass direct talk about awkward subjects. While a lot of these seem good for some laughs, have any in themselves helped you understand a concept better?

By their very nature, Christianese terms are usually a mile wide and an inch deep. That is to say, they don't go very far into complex theological topics but they tell you a lot about the many people who do use the term.

I would say that the greatest takeaway I've gotten from studying these various Christianese terms is that even when Christians are using some of these jokey, cheesy, punny words and phrases, they are still very earnest about their faith. People can look at a Christian slang usage and say, "Look, he's using non-serious language, so he must not be serious about his faith either." It's just the opposite really. The more playful a person can be about their language when talking about religion and faith and God, it's almost the more personal and the more profound that person's faith is. I'm sure it's different for every Christian, but it's been a strong lesson to me that I shouldn't measure the quality of a person's faith simply by the sort of language that he or she uses.

J: How has the collection of items affected your own speech and writing?

My ear has become very sensitive to Christianese, either in conversations and sermons or when I read it in books, magazines, and online. I sometimes feel awkward when I'm listening to someone preach and I keep honing in on the Christianese they use, but for the most part I've accepted my hyperawareness of Christian slang as part of the job hazard of being a word researcher. The feeling is similar, I would say, to those folks who have a natural gift of spelling and have fits when they try to read the poorly typed menu at a Chinese restaurant. In my own writing and speaking, I've acquired a strong sense of what is Christianese and what is standard English. I cannot tell you how helpful this is when I'm speaking with non-Christians or writing for a non-Christian or mixed audience. It's my hope that many more Christians will take the time to learn what their most common Christianese words are so that they can turn them off and on as needed to keep their language meaningful and clear.

J: I would agree, I've found these sorts of things more of a hindrance than help to communication. Which makes me wonder how and why these phrases form in the first place?

It's a fascinating area of study. For the most part, Christianese terms are born the same way any popular catchphrase or slogan is born: a person will use a clever phrase and it becomes popular, either gradually over time or in a big explosion of faddishness.

Not all terms catch on, though. There's a somewhat famous American missionary named C. Peter Wagner who has been writing about church-planting and mission work since the 1960s. Earlier this year I was reading his memoirs, Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church: A Memoir, and he has this choice quote about the various Christianese terms he tried to popularize: "I optimistically thought that the names of these diseases, like 'ethnikitis' or 'St. John's syndrome' or 'sociological strangulation' or 'koinonitis' or 'hyponeumia' would become technical terms used throughout the whole church world from then on, but sadly they never did!" We do still use "koinonitis" a little bit, though, so at least one of Mr. Wagner's words did make it into the Christianese dictionary. His other coined words that he mentions in that quote however were never widely used by anyone but himself, and so they probably won't be included in the dictionary.

J: Koinonitis? Does that require antibiotics? What is the most confusing term you've found?

I am constantly getting e-mails and voicemails (and even texts) from friends and contacts who want to tell me about the latest Christianese expression that they just heard someone use. This way I can I keep up on a lot of Christianese terms, both old and new.

Most terms aren't that difficult to track down. I have access to two seminary libraries here in Austin, as well as the mighty power of Google. It's a fairly straightforward matter to find someone somewhere who used the term in a way that I can get a helpful quotation for the dictionary and also provide a definitive definition.

If I had to pick a word that was especially bewildering when I first heard it, that would be "sloppy agape." I'm picking this word because when I first heard about it I was struck by how it's a combination of a fancy Greek word "agape" and a silly crude English word "sloppy." Apparently I'm not the only one who wasn't sure what to do with it. When I completed my research on the word, I discovered that it has three distinct meanings! You can check them all out on the Dictionary of Christianese website.



I'll be wrapping things up tomorrow with some closing thoughts and maybe a suggestion or two. Stay tuned.



Maybe It's Not Jesus They Are Rejecting

This week I'm talking about talking about Jesus. This would be part two, the first post was Getting Rid of Evangelism. Along with my own thoughts on the subject I encourage you to check out  Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis. It's really messing with my head right now, in a good way. Get it, read it, you won't regret it. Jesus is electric. Ruthless, witty, intensely compassionate, strategically silent. When I finally discovered Him, I found Him to be the most compelling person I had ever heard of. I believe Jesus when he said, "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself."

Jesus was magnetic to the messiest people of His day, the sort of people that rarely show up to our churches on Sunday morning. He had parties with them, in their homes, to the extent that he earned himself the nicknames 'friend of sinners' and 'wine bibber.' As my pastor highlighted a couple of weeks ago, Jesus said of Himself, "the Son of Man came eating and drinking."

I used to find Jesus drab, browbeating, uptight even, so I figured to be Jesus to people I had to do the same, to spread the infectious love of Jesus that wanted nothing more than to make me polite, responsible, and perfectly moral. I tried to obey that Jesus, but until I discovered Jesus for who He was, removed from the pomp, circumstance, and drudgery we've put around Him and gained a desire to follow Him, there is a profound difference.

It could be that people reject our message because of Jesus, or it could be that they reject us because of the Jesus we present to them.

I'll let Tony Campolo have the last word.



Selective Censorship

In case you didn't read the last couple of posts, this week I'm leading worship at Bethel Camp, in the hills of Kentucky. An hour or so ago I was camped out in the bushes, attempting to ambush Jr. Highers who are much faster than I am. But I have an edge; they may be fast, but my brain isn't a sea of raging hormones. So I hid in the bushes and let them run to me. Point for the old guy. But enough about my tactical prowess.

Earlier today I was having a conversation with Mark Driscoll. You heard right Mark Driscoll, but not the one with the giant church in Seattle, which is fine by me, I like this Mark's theology a little better. We were chatting about Jesus, which is really an invigorating topic when you're talking with Mark. Jesus' first miracle popped into our conversation, the one where he gave booze to a bunch of already tipsy wedding guests, which made me think about how un-Jesusy Jesus often was, continually bending the lines we trace around him.

So this thought was bouncing around my head all day, up until we started singing. Lo and behold, I had a song request to sing "Our God" which starts with the line "Water you turned into wine." So I began musing, as worship leaders do (even though they criticize every other worship leader who does so) about the conversation we had and how fascinating Jesus is, when I realized that I'm about to tell a bunch of Jr. Highers that Jesus' first miracle was making alcohol.

Thankfully I realized what was happening before I said it.

The tricky thing is, that was Jesus first miracle, and it is outside of our Jesus box, but two things occurred to me: a) I realized that there were several people present a bit more conservative than I, and really all they had asked me to do was sing some songs and b) if I  did say that was Jesus first miracle, I'd have to spend at least another 10-15 minutes clearing up any confusion I would have created. These are after all Jr. Highers. Jesus loves them, but he does so in spite of their lack of logical thinking abilities.

I continue to hate watering things down, especially when we water down such a vibrant personality as the Son of God, but I think I've learned there is a good and bad time to try to communicate certain things. And depending on the timing I may not communicate what I'd hope to.