Christianese buzzwords

I have been described as an old soul. I have also been described as a grouch. I don’t think they are necessarily exclusive of one another. Something that amuses me in a grouchy way is the employment of Christianese buzzwords, as I’m sure it does to others as well (like Stuff Christians Like). We all hear them on a regular basis, and most of us have probably used them (me included). Here’s a list of Christianese buzzwords I’ve come up with over the years with some accompanying grouchiness:

-Authentic – See: The Authenticity Hoax. If you have to describe something or someone as authentic, it probably isn’t.

-Christ-follower – As this list goes, it’s fairly innocuous, but crosses into buzzword territory when smugly used over and against “Christian.” It’s what all the cool middle class white kids use to avoid the so-called baggage associated with “Christian.”

-Fellowship/community – Mostly used as a jazzed up way of saying “hanging out,” “good conversation,” or “sense of place/belonging/connectedness.”

-Journey (and all its accompanying descriptors, e.g. faith journey) -This word needs to journey on over to the landfill of meaningless, overused words. Coincidentally, the band of the same name seems to have run its course as well.

-Living the gospel – Often stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the gospel is (good news), even if used innocently. This recent article uses it well, describing it more frequently as “gospel living” or “representing the gospel.”

-Missional – Does anyone really know what this means or entails?

-Organic – Please use this word to mainly refer to foodstuffs from now on.

-Post-[anything] – Can’t someone coin a new term for our philosophical age instead of mooching off the last couple eras? Or are we in the process (journey?) of moving past the post- era into the post- post- era, and on and on ad absurdum. Bonus points for using parentheses, as in (post)modern.

-Praise song/praise team/praise x – An unfortunate leftover from the CCM era. Related: worship song. Worse: “praise and worship music.” Someone make sure to tell David, Asaph, and Isaac Watts in heaven that Psalms and hymns aren’t songs of praise or worship.

-Relationship – Many who admirably want nonbelievers to “have a relationship with God” might not realize that this isn’t a biblical descriptor of salvation. In fact, everyone already has a relationship with God (as R.C. Sproul is fond of saying). It’s just a matter of a grace relationship or a wrath relationship.

-Relevant – See: Authentic. If you have to say something’s relevant, that’s a tell-tale sign that it probably isn’t.

-Solid – Used especially to describe a guy/gal one is friends with. I’m guilty of this one frequently. My wife says this word reminds her of going to…nevermind.

-Winsome – I love this word, but to modify a line from The Incredibles, if every author/speaker is winsome, nobody is. C.S. Lewis is arguably the best modern example of a winsome writer, but not everyone is Lewis-like.

Now please don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we should completely abolish these words from our collective vocabularies. Some of them are good (solid?) biblical words with great etymologies. What I’m advocating for is either a re-appropriation of some of them (e.g. winsome, solid, and relevant), a boycott of some of them (e.g. post-, praise x, and journey), or substituting clear thinking and more precise language for some of them (e.g. living the gospel).

Christians (Christ-followers?) are notoriously fuzzy or vague in their language. I’m guilty of this as much as anybody. We use Christianese in our everyday language without actually saying what we really mean, oftentimes without saying much of anything at all. Perhaps it is to sound cool or different (relevant?); words like missional, resurgent, and winsome come to mind. Perhaps it is to build up one’s language to sound extra biblical or intellectual. I think “community” falls into this category, especially when used as an adjective or abstract noun instead of a concrete noun referring to a place. These types of words are favorites of the young, restless, millennial crowd. Elizabeth and I love to play the Pomo Christianese Buzzword game, in which whoever sounds the most like Rob Bell wins.

My point is to draw attention to the need for clear language and clear thinking. Asking “What do you mean by that?” is a valid question when faced with Christianese. There is no substitute for clarity of thought. As my brilliant college roommate would say: PRECISION! Language is a powerful tool for good or ill, but it can also be wielded vaguely, obtusely, or misleadingly. Our speech should not be a stumbling block to those around us; thus we should avoid Christianese when speaking with nonbelievers as well as fellow believers.

Language matters. Words matter. God breathed Scripture as a book of words, and we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture. The Second Person of the Trinity came as The Incarnate Word, not a word with vague definitions or applications. The apostles continuously challenged their churches to defend the Word of Truth. The gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, is given primarily through the preaching of the Word. I’m not a cynic. I’m aware that language is progressive and evolves over time. “Fundamental” and “evangelical” used to be meaningful, strong words before they became negatively or politically charged, for example. But the fact of the evolution of language is not license to utilize an impotent Christianese vocabulary.

To close, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of words that I would like to see become buzzwords. Not buzzwords in the negative sense, but words that I would like to see be understood, embraced, and used more widely (by me, too):

-Catechetical
-Confessional
-Covenantal
-Justification
-Sacramental (already bordering on a buzzword, but could be re-appropriated)
-Reformed (in the historical, comprehensive worldview sense, not the mere five-points of Calvinism or sovereignty of God sense)
-Trinitarian
-Union with Christ

What do you think? Are there any Christianese buzzwords that you love to hate? Are there any that you would like to see authentically emerge to an organic preeminence, or ones that used to be prominent but need to embark on a resurgent journey?

8 thoughts on “Christianese buzzwords

  1. Good list. "Be the church" is my only suggestion. Maybe "social justice," too. I also tire of all the ways to avoid "Christian" because of the implied apology to which such words are frequently tied. I had nothing to do with the Crusades. I've never murdered an abortion doctor.I think a lot of the vague, emergent buzzwords stem from the hyper-individualized culture of such groups. The premise of most emergent "journeys" is rooted in an intentional cast-off from the harbor of the historical, apostolic church.How did we both end up so grumpy? Dad's not really grumpy. Maybe he's at worst a stickler.

  2. You are too young to be jaded! And your entry reminded me of what Robert Lewis Stevenson said: "The difficulty is not to write, but to write what you mean, not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish." To affect as you wish calls for precision, and that takes time and a commitment to truthfulness. That's what we need more of in Christian speech.-Dad

  3. Scott – interesting point. I think lots of them do have their basis in individualized culture. However, some of the most popular ones with emergent types are an intentional attempt at being more community oriented (like community, fellowship, etc.).Also, ironically, a blogger at Christianity Today posted an article that is very similar to mine. Some of hers that I left off my list include ministry, heart for God, and intentional. Crazy: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2011/07/the_worst_ever_christian_clich.html

  4. For various reasons, I love the part in "A River Runs Through It" when the older son is describing the education he received at the hand of his father, the minister: "Each weekday, while my father worked on his Sunday sermon…I attended the school of the Reverend MacLean. He taught nothing but readingand writing. And being a Scot…believed that the art of writing lay in thrift."

  5. I have only two exceptions to your list. 1. I think we need more talk about two kingdoms, not less. And if I may suggest an answer: One King, and (yet) Two Kings. Christ as Redeemer is King of the Church, and God as Creator is King over all creation (state included). He rules the former through special revelation, the latter through natural revelation (so, not theonomy/theocracy).2. Only slightly less emphatically, Journey the band has not run its course – if for no other reason than to provide GOB with alternative theme songs.AG

  6. If by GOB you mean GOB Bluth, then I concede that Journey is okay…for now.I'm not a 2K kinda guy (collective gasp – don't tell D.G. Hart), so I'd like to see it fall by the wayside :-). Though your answer of two kings is better than most proponents could come up with, I'm sure. I guess it's just the postmillennial in me that resists the 2K approach. That, and Meredith Kline is way over my head.

  7. Joel, this is a very entertaining post. I'm guilty of NOT all of these which struck me as noteworthy. Several of these I try to avoid ("fellowship" comes to mind, I just erased it from an announcement earlier today), others I appreciate but realize are overused ("missional"–I can tell you what it means if you still need to know). Love your list at the end as long as we can keep "missional"!

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