special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.
Bad news and good news: Christian jargon is inevitable. Language is a fundamental component of culture, and so the culture of any faith community will be defined by its language.
That’s bad news because some religious jargon is worthless and vapid. It makes Christians look ridiculous, like the video above. And it makes outsiders feel like they are all the more outside, because they can’t understand what’s being said.
The good news is that language is a major asset in spiritual formation. Language opens up new vistas of imagination for us about how to follow Jesus. Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture is a great example of such formative language.
Further, outsiders aren’t always as resistant to learning new language as we might assume.
Think about Starbucks. Their language isn’t user-friendly at all. Who knew what Venti was before Starbucks? But people are open to it because they want to be invited to enter a different world — the world of the Italian cafe.
Quinn Fox suggests that the church “might learn about corporate worship language from the language of coffee. Starbucks realizes, it seems, that a distinctive menu that people need to learn is not a bad thing.”
So we shouldn’t try to avoid language (because we can’t), but rather think intentionally about the jargon we use. Two questions that might help us:
- Is our language helpful? Does it give us a lens for seeing the world and ourselves as followers of Jesus, or is it empty and meaningless?
- Are we hospitable with our language? What makes jargon jargon is that it’s difficult to understand. When we use different language in our worship gatherings and conversations, are we sensitive to who is hearing it? Do we explain what it means to outsiders and invite them into our world?
Maybe you’re wondering if Christians should only use Bible words to talk about Bible things. Trouble is, the first Christians didn’t even do that. They created new language to describe what they were experiencing that drew from the broader cultural warehouse. For example, the word church (ecclesia) wasn’t a “Christian” word until Christians decided to borrow it from their broader culture; it was a political word to describe a political assembly. Do you see the imagination that word opened up for the early Christians? They saw themselves as a political movement — God’s kingdom moving into the world over against the kingdoms of the world.
Please leave a comment! What are the challenges to being purposeful in our use of language?