How to Speak Christianese   Leave a comment

Here, for fun — no matter what “flavor” of Christian you are — is something from Ronald Reagan’s home church when he was governor of California:

Which raises an issue for any flavor of Christian:  how do you handle “communal jargon” which inevitably arises in any community?  What do you do with it when dealing with people outside the community?  As, for example, when you’re speaking to someone outside the faith, to a non-Christian? 

The New Testament doesn’t give us a lot to go on here, outside what you might deduce from examining Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill.  And, the New Testament epistles don’t give us any exact parallels, since they’re written to already-converted communities of Christians who are predominantly Jewish. 

Even when the communities addressed might be supposed to include a majority of Gentiles (Rome, Corinth), Paul deploys the Old Testament in ways that simply borrow the theological iconography of the Old Testament.  In other words, he doesn’t do much, if any, “translating” for the Gentiles within his audience.  Nothing comes to my mind.  How about yours?

What I like best about this satirical video is the way it implies that much of Christian cant is actually meaningless prattle.  “The LORD laid it on my heart,” for example, is notable for what it does NOT say while that empty locution is wrapped in self-justifying endorsement.  In other words, it translates into this: “I thought of something I decided God was telling me, and now I’m telling you, and you don’t have the slightest standing to repudiate what I’m talking about.” 

Christian cant is challenging to avoid.  I know, since a parachurch ministry I’ve headed for 20 years now has, as its primary mission, to develop curricula for teaching Biblical doctrine on manhood, womanhood, and how men and women are to relate to one another in marriage, family, church, and society.  Any of these curricula might have been written in Baptist Blather, or Charismatic Cant, or Reformed Rigamarole.  Instead, we strove mightily to avoid all these sub-dialects within Christendom.  It was not an easy project!

And, yet, it is not possible to avoid Biblical categories, Biblical concepts, or Biblical terminology.  We gain nothing, as Christians, by rejecting the terms in which our faith is communicated to us by the prophets and Apostles of Christ.  And, so, we must use Pauline terms (for so much of the New Testament is written by him!).  And, we must acknowledge and deploy Biblical images, themes, and terminology. 

And, when we come to address new converts, we must teach them.  For many, the first lessons will be rudimentary.  “Milk for babes” is the way the author of Hebrews puts it. 

And when speaking to those outside the faith?  I suggest we take our cues from preachers like John the Baptist.


Posted December 10, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Uncategorized

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