Paul Prather: Speaking 'Christianese' only serves yourself, not others

Contributing ColumnistJune 21, 2014 

OK, so the first thing to understand is that I'm married to an English teacher. Then remember I'm a former journalist who still writes opinion columns.

Nerds. My wife and I are nerds.

Normal couples, I imagine, sit around at night debating the implications for the Cats of John Calipari's one-and-done strategy.

Far more often than I want to admit, Liz and I sit around discussing tropes and semantics and grammatical usage.

Are you getting drowsy already, gentle readers? I know.

Recently, our discussion turned to the overuse by churchgoers of religious-speak.

Christians, like lawyers, doctors, academics and street gangs (oh, but I repeat myself!), employ a specialized language for the same reasons as other groups: to talk with each other in shorthand, to identify those initiated into our clique, to ostracize outsiders and to disguise our own sloppy, cruel or irresponsible thinking.

Sooner or later, we start repeating impenetrable or inane words and phrases without realizing it.

I recommend plain, unadorned communication, seasoned with humility.

When we talk clearly, we must think clearly, and we also have to take responsibility for what we are saying.

Whether speaking among friends who aren't particularly interested in matters of faith or among ourselves, we shouldn't employ language that doesn't carry its weight.

As often is the case, after Liz and I talked about this, I went online to conduct an Internet search of the subject, and discovered reams of blog entries, articles and books about the perils of "Christianese."

From my own experiences and various online sources, allow me to suggest expressions I'd prefer to hear less of.

"I feel led to (fill in the blank)." As in, "I feel led to leave my current church and go to the new church across town." This implies God is telling the speaker to do something, when usually it's simply something the speaker wants to do. Better: "My preacher's pleas for money are getting on my miserly nerves, and that new church has cooler music, so I may switch."

"We're doing life together." I have no idea myself what this means, but I keep hearing it, probably because it sounds hip.

"You need to get into the Word." Better: "You might consider reading the Bible." I can't explain why, but that comes across as less sanctimonious.

"Hate the sin, love the sinner." Better: Say nothing. Usually, this means, "I can't stand that guy because he's a (fill in the blank), but I'll claim I love him because love is a virtue and I'm not brave enough to admit how I really feel."

"I'm speaking the truth in love." Real meaning: "I'm about to say something unconscionably mean, but I'll say it with a smile and be astonished and feel persecuted when your head spins across the room." Better: "I'll give you my opinion, but I'm a self-righteous blowhard, so you might take that into consideration."

"Washed in the blood." Better: "Forgiven by God." It's plainer.

"God will never give you more than you can handle." Real meaning: "I have no idea what to say." Subtext: "A 747 just demolished your house, killed your family and burned you over 75 percent of your body—but you won't let a few little setbacks get you down!" Better: "I'm terribly sorry this happened."

"God needed another angel in heaven." Real meaning: "I have no idea what to say." Subtext: "The person you loved most has died and left you bereft — but you should be happy about it!" Better: "I'm terribly sorry this happened."

"God is good all the time." Real meaning: "I have no idea what to say." Subtext: "Hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorism, the Black Death — they're great!" Better: "There are countless tragedies and mysteries I can't fathom."

"I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." Real meaning: "I can't abide boring meetings, rules or other people's shortcomings." Better: "I kind of make it up as I go along and follow my own muse, God-wise."

"Fellowship." Often used as both a noun and a verb, as in, "Welcome to our fellowship," or, alternately, "We fellowshipped last night at Carol's house." Real meanings: A friendly group, or in the verb form, hanging out with said group. Better: "Welcome to our Bible study," or, "We went to Carol's house."

"Amen." Commonly used as a filler or a punctuation mark: "It's great to be here, amen? And amen, isn't it a beautiful day!" Better: Use it sparingly, only to express its true meaning, roughly translated as, "Yep, I agree." Best: Say, "Yep, I agree."

"Satan's tempting my flesh." Real meaning: "I want to quit my job, sleep 'til noon, eat a dozen Krispy Kremes, drink a handle of bourbon, chain-smoke Kools and have wild monkey sex with attractive strangers." Sure you do, you and every other human in the prayer group. Better: "I'm flawed and self-destructive. Ask God to strengthen me. I'll ask him to strengthen you."

Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at

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