Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speaking Christianeze

Have you ever been in an occupation where you used a technical language? It enables those in the occupation to speak more clearly to each other then regular English. It can also be mysterious to those outside. Christianity has such a technical language (commonly called Christianeze). The question is whether we should abolish it.

There are definite drawbacks to technical language. It can cause a people to think they are communicating to others when, in fact, they are not. Also, with Christian language there are groups that use the same words with different meanings. It is also possible to use the words in a technical language without being clear ourselves what they mean. Also, we can end up inventing technical words just to show off that we understand them, even if they are not necessary.

But I question whether we can just throw the technical language out. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation on Christian subjects if every time we said "born again" or "spiritual" we had to explain it in ordinary language. It would take us hours to say anything. We would also lose precision. There is no equivalent in everyday language for words like "justification" or "atonement". We would also cut ourselves off from the majority of Christian writing and thought both past and present. Further, there is a danger of assuming that if we get rid of the technical words, we are communicating. This is not necessarily true. Many of the concepts of Christianity are foreign to people on the outside, and simply getting rid of the words will not solve it. In fact, it is sometimes easier to grasp a new concept if we have a new word to hang it on.

But the Christian has no different a problem than is faced by many occupations. Further, most of these occupations, if they want to continue to exist, have to deal with customers who do not know the language. What, then, is the solution?

We need to start by being aware of the problem. Therefore, we need to be careful whenever we speak to those who are unfamiliar with our terms and either define our terms or use ordinary language. Also, we need to be sure that we ourselves understand what we are saying. If we cannot explain our theology to an ordinary person on the street, we do not understand our theology. Also, if there are words that are unnecessary and merely make us look scholarly, we need to drop them. This means we need to be particularly careful in contexts like a worship service, where we may be speaking to both believers and unbelievers.

But the bottom line is, if you want to learn how to talk to unbelievers, you need to talk to unbelievers. Also, ask questions and listen to them so you can get some idea of where they are coming from and what they understand. Otherwise we are just talking to ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment