Speaking “Christianese”

There is an interesting post at CNN’s Belief Blog about a phenomenon in American Christianity. The author, John Blake, addresses the ability of Americans to speak a second language of Christian lingo. Blake writes:

Many Americans are bilingual. They speak a secular language of sports talk, celebrity gossip and current events. But mention religion and some become armchair preachers who pepper their conversations with popular Christian words and trendy theological phrases.

He notes several interesting characteristics of this “Christianese,” including its use by politicians (especially George W. Bush) to signal subtly to evangelicals that they are one of them.

Part of the article is also devoted to exposing inaccuracies in commonly used terms and phrases.  Blake (and Marcus Borg in his book Speaking Christian) argue that Christians regularly misuse terms such as salvation, born again, and rapture. Citing Borg’s book, Blake notes:

“Speaking Christian is an umbrella term for not only knowing the words, but understanding them,” Borg says. “It’s knowing the basic vocabulary, knowing the basic stories.” When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means, Borg says.

I don’t agree with all of the theological assumptions that Blake (and Borg) make in this article, but it is certainly an interesting take on religious life in America. I think they are correct to note that we often talk in code and assume that everyone else knows what we are saying. For that reason, it is essential that we define our terms and not take for granted that everyone knows what we mean. We live in a society today with little or no “Christian memory.” Churches in the southern US, especially, have typically approached the world with the assumption that everyone has a church background. That is no longer true in our culture. We need to speak clearly, define our terms, and proclaim the message of Christ with conviction and compassion.