Linguistic Christians

Eleven different ways of experiencing Christianity—Part 11

There are many ways of seeing yourself as a Christian. You can add another way as your faith grows; you can have more than one at a time and move through them over time.

I am going to look at this through Advent this year. None of them is wrong when taken in context with the others; all of them are wrong on their own. The list is not exhaustive.

Words associated with Chruatianity are arranged in the shape of a cross.
Used under a Creative Commons Universal licence

What do you mean by that?

Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

They replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we find the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships.”

And Jesus said, “What?”

The problem with that Joke is that it is niche. You have to have some understanding of theology and its jargon to be able to understand it.

Jargon is everywhere in Christianity. In theological discussions in universities, where it is understood that there is a need for precise language it has used. Jargon is everywhere. Journalists use jargon to make things understandable, the problem is when the jargon of the theologians gets out into the world and gives the impression that Jesus is for intellectuals. I believe that people are looking for Jesus and he is being hidden behind the fancy language. Remember guys, intellectuals are a minority, keep it simple.

But we even use different words for the same thing. Look at the names for the Lord’s Supper:

  • Eucharist.
  • Holy Communion.
  • Holy Sacrament.
  • Last Supper.
  • Sacrament.
  • communion.
  • Intinction
  • Mass

We divide ourselves with our jargon. In an Anglo-Chatholic church when there was a pulpit swap, I heard a sermon which was not much different to what the congregation were used to. Afterwards, someone rejected the sermon because the preacher had referred to Jesus as “The Lord,” instead of “Our Lord.” Jargon divides us.

We also use words that mean different things to Christians and non-Christians. Sometimes it is because the meaning of the word has changed over time and we stick to an older meaning and sometimes we just apply a word differently. Take the word charismatic, to the non-Christians it is applied to someone with an engaging personality but in Christian circles, it means those using the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially within mainstream denominations.

It’s all about Jesus

Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, that’s where the name comes from. But first a word about language. The New Testament was not written in Hebrew, the religious language of the Jews, or Aramaic, the language that Jesus and the disciples would have used, but Koine Greek, a common language used through a wide area in the lands Alexander the Great had conquered. It was not formal Greek, but the language of the people.

The language of the people is something that Christians are no longer good at. Even when we translate the Bible into modern English from the oldest sources we don’t seem to get it right, Intellectuals are translating for intellectuals. The average reading age in the UK is about 9, Some Bible translations, especially those which follow in the tradition of the King James Bible need a reading age of well beyond that and even the NIV needs a reading age of 12, about the same as broadsheet papers like the Times and the Guardian—papers for a minority.

If the Gospel is for everyone we need to communicate it in understandable English. The Message has the right reading age but is in US English, we need a British message and people who will preach in understandable English. Perhaps we could take lessons in communication from tabloid journalists who know how to communicate with the masses.

I am not talking about dumbing down. The beatitudes (the sayings at the beginning of the sermon on the mount) are teaching in soundbites. The commentaries on the beatitudes as very unsoundbite like. That looks more like hiding than bringing out the meaning to me.

Let’s use soundbites. Let’s tell stories. Let’s use the techniques Jesus used. Let’s stop ordering people about, telling them how to live their lives and start serving them instead. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

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