The Language of Christianity

So, I have this deep interest in literary theory. Yes, I know, total nerd subject. I don't write about it much because I am aware that the general population is probably not as interested in linguistic graphs as I am. :) But today I thought I'd share something I've been thinking about this past week: the way we in the church use language.

Why is this an important topic? Well, I believe the way we use language says a lot about our perspective. It's that whole glass-half-empty/glass-half-full cliche in action. Have you ever thought about the implications of Christian lingo?  How often do we drive people away from Christianity, alienating them, without even realizing it? So much depends on the way we use discourse that I think we ought to be cognizant of what we're really saying.

Think about how many "spiritual" or even "conservative" terms are polarizing.

  • Saved versus unsaved.
  • Christian versus non-Christian.
  • Believer versus unbeliever.
  • Baptized versus sinner.
  • Spiritual versus secular.

But what are these phrases really doing? They are creating an "us" versus "them" approach that does not support the Biblical teachings of equality. We are also playing into postmodern philosophy (and theology, really), which argues that everything can be categorized into sets of opposites, and we only know one thing in terms of its difference from something else.

The problem here is that these kinds of phrases, intentionally or not, undercut the necessity of the true presence of God.

God has said in no unclear terms, "I AM that I AM." He doesn't just possess truth. He doesn't just have a presence. He is truth. He is pure presence. Eternally.

This is powerful, because when we are called by His name, when the Holy Spirit inscribes that eternal relationship upon our hearts, we too have access to His truth, His nature. We are drawn into the center of all meaning, and in that moment, our lives themselves take on the purpose God created them for. We become whole because we are His.

We are not "saved" because we're no longer "unsaved." We don't know God or truth in their differences from deception. We know God, because God eternally is. 

Think of it this way. Darkness is not the opposite of light. It is the absence of light's presence. The same goes for heat and cold. What might seem like a slight variation is actually a very important theological principle.

Another example are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Have you ever heard the term "anti-choice"? If you're pro-life, how did that make you feel? Did you respect the pro-choice position more or less for undercutting the heart of what you believe and forcing your political position into a binary? Does "anti-choice" not imply a very different thing from "pro-life"?

The same goes for often-accepted "Christian" terms. How easy is it to categorize someone as "unsaved," when there's so much more to their story. Maybe they don't know God, and they want to, but they're afraid to come to church because they were sexually abused as a child. Maybe they're mad at God, and seem vindictive, but their mother, who was a devoted Christian, just died of breast cancer. Maybe their child has a handicap, or they live with chronic pain. These are the realities of peoples' lives. These are the complexities of their situations. It's so much easier to just call them "lost" than to ever get involved, isn't it?

The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and out of the heart the mouth speaks. It's oh, so important that we pay attention to what we say and to the assumptions we're making.

Next week I'll be talking about how these concepts affect our perspective of our calling as believers, and how a healthy view of truth and God's presence can lead us to greater levels of assurance in grace. But for now, let's talk. Have you ever been subjected to a polarizing term? What happened? How does the use of these terms turn people away from Christ and potentially affect our ministry?


  1. Whoa, Ash, powerful stuff (and no, you wouldn't bore me with literary theory, but we ARE the boring English profs after all...hehe).

    I've often thought about "Christianese" and how it can confuse and turn others away. I love your thoughts here, especially this: "It's so much easier to just call them "lost" than to ever get involved, isn't it?"

    I never thought about how we use terminology creates an us vs. them polarization, but it's so true. It does. And we can say it so flippantly too. Hmmm. I need to go soak this up.

  2. Thank you, Lindsay! I'm glad you stopped by today. It's so nice having another English nerd around. ;)

  3. Whew, girl. You go. Go go go go go on with your bad self. :) (Sorry. I think I'm having a Madea moment or something.)

    I'm so with you on this. I've had several conversations with friends and family about what I call "Christianese, the Language of the Churched." I can't stand it. It makes me insane. You've started with the basics here, but I can give you a list of words and phrases that "churched" people use that are so alienating and sometimes just silly. :) I feel like it's a growing movement among the younger generations to use this lingo to signal to others that we're "involved" with the Lord. But "unsaved", "unchurched" people just look at us like we're nuts.

    Love this post, friend.

  4. Jennifer, you make me laugh!

    And you're so right! Christian lingo does make us look a bit nutty, doesn't it? I always cringe when I hear people using terms like "unbeliever" and "unsaved" because I think about how my atheist friends would react to that... how *I* would react to that if I weren't a believer myself. Thanks for stopping by today!

  5. I agree! Where is the like button? :)

  6. Aw, Jennette, thank you so much! Glad you stopped by today! And as for the "like" button, I think you just pushed it by commenting. :) I LOVE hearing from you guys!

  7. Ashley, this is one of the most fantastic things you have written. I look forward to next week.

  8. Jolee, that means so much coming from you. Thanks, and thanks for reading. :)