And He said unto them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Analyzing the speech of most believers, you’ll find a strange device on our tongues: Christianese. We sound like we’re stuck in the King James version of reality, trying to make the world around us understand how good God is by employing the verbal equivalent of an 8-track. It’s old, it’s tired, and it’s too stinking familiar to be of much use.
This familiarity isn’t a boredom with personality or style or content but a boredom with language. Our dictionaries have shrunk. As the cultural vocabulary diminishes, so does our capacity to comprehend greatness and depth. A believer’s message is composed of words strung together, and words have lost their impact. We are a society steeped in acronyms, emojis, clichés, and abbreviated theology bytes, numbed by a deluge of worn-out language. Nothing really strikes us since we’ve heard it all before. Isaiah encountered the Word and quaked. We encounter the Word and yawn.
As “people of the Word,” learning, living, and communicating truth is the name of the game. When we allow routine to dictate our speech, we’re not acting like the blood of our big Brother, the Word made flesh, is pumping through our veins. Our language should taste different, fresh, alive.
Verbiage changes so quickly in the realm of technology. If I speak to my grandparents about their computer in the same kind of language I use with my peers, I’m met with blank stares and frustration. How is it that we utilize an ever-evolving index of technological terms, but we’re content packaging concepts that carry eternal weight in unoriginal ways?
Let’s shock the world back into intrigue. (I say “back” into intrigue because Christ did this; as the Author of our faith, the Word Himself, Jesus was the ultimate wordsmith to His culture, capturing the imaginations of all who heard. They either found His message inspiring or infuriating, but they never found it dull.)
It might be beneficial to enter your regular devotional time with not only your Bible but also a thesaurus. It’s time to fall in love with language on a personal level and let it spill out into your daily outward rhythms. Consider having a “word of the day” sent to your inbox—as you grow, your speech will expand, and as your speech expands, those around you will be impacted for the better.
Maybe you don’t need to call sin sin. (I know. Please don’t stone me—I’m passionate about good doctrine.) Maybe you observe your culture and create a new term that encapsulates the grievousness of what you previously called sin. I’m not advocating cheap gimmicks or shallow thinking here. This is about effectiveness. Every shrug is a missed opportunity.
I would argue that almost all of our overtly religious language needs overhauling, words like:
Our culture is becoming increasingly unchurched, and we spend precious time translating our Christian dictionary for them rather than repackaging truth—the same solid, Bible-centered, Christ-pointing truth—in a new and accessible way. For instance, I know a pastor who has forsaken the word “holy,” replacing it with “powerful and impressive.” This new dictionary doesn’t have to be complicated, just intentional. Which words have become as worn as bald tires in your communication? How can you recalibrate your verbiage?
Have you ever played the game Taboo, the one with the specific word to avoid and all of the phrases to steer clear of as you describe a term? Try that with your testimony. Type it up and see how many stale concepts you’re employing. I understand that this idea could easily be met with valid buts: but that’s too time consuming, but that’s too much work, but I’m doing just fine, but that’s uncomfortable…
Concepts such as glory and righteousness and sin are weighty enough to penetrate the hearts of the people God has planted in our circles of influence if their vehicles don’t fail in the process of transportation. We’re not orphans here, bound to a poverty of riches. Let’s drink deeply of the curiosity and creative resources available in Christ.
The gospel is too rich to use boring language. It’s time to up our word game, friends.