Friday, June 17, 2011

Christianese - If Only Life Had A "Mute" Button

I speak two languages. Butchered, shortcut-laden English and fluent Hillbilly. I pray to God that I never become guilty of adding Christianese as my third. Hate it. Hate everything about it. It's an empty language, promoting fluid (to the speaker) symbolism instead of substance. It's ammunition in the gun of the legalist mouth.

I've spoken some Christianese in my time. I'm not proud of it. I haven't spoken anything along the lines of the nonsense I've encountered in the last 4 years with this patriarchal crowd, but I'm still not proud of any Christianese I've spoken - whatever it was and to whomever it was spoken. I'm not a fan of empty words.

For those wondering what exactly I mean by the term "Christianese", this is MY definition...

Christianese: language crafted to create the appearance of, the illusion of, or provide the evidence of piety

My less formal definition of Christianese: BS.

All of us have our favorite (SA) Christianese terms which make us roll our eyes or shrivel away from dialog. In the last 4 years I've come to loathe the term "godly", and the last couple of years have also brought me to recoil at the term "biblical worldview". I'll explain why...

The term "godly" is probably the most used, and abused, word in the Christianese language. ALL of us in the Christian faith have used it, and misused it, in our day. It's been rendered, in substance, meaningless. 

When the patriarchal jackholes in her life would come down heavy on her, my ex, long after having accepted my ring on her finger, would hit me with things like, "I need you to prove to me that you're a godly man." I'd respond with "Say what you actually mean", to which she'd again give me the spiel about proving my "godliness" to her. She was confusing "godliness" with conformity - expecting me, in her moments of extreme weakness, to conform to the bassackward ways and wishes of her crazy family. She couldn't outright say it, though, because she'd once sent me a list of qualities she desired in a husband which she'd drawn up a couple of years before I ever came along. Featured prominently on her list was "non-conformist". Ouch. So, splash a little Christianese on the cognitive dissonance, and viola. When I'd ask her how exactly I was supposed to prove that I was "godly", she couldn't answer.

How does one become "godly"? Praying 8 hours a day? Memorizing the KJV cover to cover? Walking on water? Belching "Amazing Grace" in three-part harmony? Tithing 11% (you Spinal Tap fans will appreciate that one)? How? What is the threshold? If man is created a little below the angels, and I'm not quite "godly" yet, can I achieve "angely"? Is that possible? Can I still be accepted in the Christian community if I'm just "angely"? I mean, that's better than I was, right?

In my ex's world, the Patriarchal/Authoritarian Dictionary definition fits perfectly...

godly: adhering to a list of self-punishing, arbitrary, and superficial rules designed to cosmetically defeat the sin-nature and produce a SuperChristian


godliness: a SuperChristian - the result of adhering to a list of self-punishing, arbitrary, and superficial rules designed to cosmetically defeat the sin-nature

In other words, substantively, it means nothing. It means to cease to be a thinking, discerning creation of God, and instead to become a creation of whatever fundamentalist group you've had the misfortune of joining. Yes, you've become a new creature compared to who you were, but you're really just a knock-off of whatever fundamentalist fruitcake "walked you down the Roman Road", recreated in that person's image, not in the image of Christ.

In sports, there's a language called "Coachspeak". It covers everything from insider language and cliche to the stuff coaches say out of both sides of their mouths to the media to avoid telling the truth about something. Most of the more forthright coaches avoid it (guys like Bobby Knight, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, et cetera). The whole thing with "godly" brings to mind a postgame press conference Bobby Knight had in the NCAA tournament in 1992. A reporter asked him if he felt like his players had their "gameface" on. Knight's response...

"In my entire adult life, I've never used the expression 'gameface'. I have no @#$!ing idea what that means or what you're supposed to do."

...before proceeding to make a series of goofy looking faces to further illustrate how stupid the idea of a "gameface" was. While Knight could be, and often was, a jerk of the highest order, both as a coach and as a man, he hit that nail squarely on the head.

And such is "godly". There's any number of unappealing adjectives I'd prefer you apply to me - stinky, hairy, ugly, smelly, skinny, fatty, dummy among them - than to hear you refer to me as "godly". It no longer has any positive value to me.

Some of you will likely disagree with me on "biblical worldview". The reason I don't like it is simple. To the vaaaaast majority of those who use it, what they really mean is the conservative, likely Republican, fundamentalist, protestant, trinitarian, white, religious worldview. Personally, I don't exclude anyone who doesn't exclude Christ as Lord from the Christian faith. For most who claim a "biblical worldview", or who claim to actually know what THE "biblical worldview" is, they're excluding a HUGE section of professing Christians. The fact is there are lots of followers of Christ who aren't conservative, aren't fundamentalist, are of some political affiliation other than the GOP, aren't protestant, aren't trinitarian, and are ethnic minorities. Where does this "biblical worldview" leave them? Where does this "biblical worldview" leave Preterists, or Universalists, or Apostolics? What about Catholics who use a different bible? Unless I'm mistaken, all of those groups acknowledge and accept the lordship of Jesus Christ. What about those of us who aren't confident in the human canonization we currently call the protestant "Holy Bible"?

Look at a guy like Rob Bell, who, to my knowledge, has yet to diminish the role of Christ in the salvation of humanity, yet most who don't share his "biblical worldview" have beat the hell right out of him (pun intended).

Things like biblical worldviews can give the bible a bad name.

Yes, the bible does play a significant role in shaping my view of life - past, present, and future. It doesn't, however, play a larger role than the Holy Spirit - which I rely on to shape my view of the bible. Other things also shape my "worldview". My personal walk with Christ and the experiences therein, human relationships, common sense, history - and my personal interpretations of all those things as lead by the Holy Spirit. Lots of things. To call my worldview "biblical" is just a little too Christianesy and dogmatic for me.

If you use either of those two words regularly, it might be a good idea to read this. There's a very fine line that's sooooo easy to cross, and after having crossed it, the bible itself becomes either a rigid rulebook or the true "deity" we worship. Crossing that line produces things like patriarchy, and quiverfull, and all kinds of other little cultic nasties.

And sometimes we, as Christians, take ourselves, our "godliness", and our "biblical worldviews" waaaaaay too seriously.

If any of you have seen the movie "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby", you know there's a couple of scenes that would be so offensive to an uptight legalist that it'd make him or her choke on their own spit. There's a scene of Ricky Bobby's family at the supper table, Ricky Bobby is getting ready to ask the blessing, and an argument breaks out over "which Jesus" he's gonna pray to. He starts out with "Sweet baby Jesus". His wife doesn't like it, interrupts his prayer, and tells him "You know, Honey, Jesus did grow up." The argument then ensues, and ultimately, Ricky Bobby spitefully begins his prayer with, "Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus, all wrapped up in your swaddling clothes, probably don't even know a word yet..." High comedy. My favorite line was one of the outtakes - Ricky Bobby's best friend Cal Naughton, Jr., sitting right next to him at the table, chimes in with his version of Jesus..."I like to picture my Jesus as, like, a dirty ole bum or somethin' that comes walkin' up to me, and just as I'm about to punch him right in the mouth, I say, 'Wait a minute, there's somethin' special about this guy.'"

Somehow I don't think Jesus is or was threatened by any of that. Gothard or Phillips might be so offended by it they'd light themselves on fire in protest, but if it were a real life scenario, that's probably the supper table Jesus would sit at. He didn't speak much in the way of Christianese and probably had a good sense of humor.

The thing about it is, there's more people out there like those characters in that movie than not, and you aren't gonna persuade them to Christ with Christianese. Trust me - I've done mission work with Motor Racing Outreach at NASCAR events, even as a guest speaker. (There's nothing quite like a drunk, middle-aged woman running up to side of the stage just a few feet to your right, grabbing the bottom of her T-shirt and going all "Girls Gone Wild" on you while you're trying to play "Will the Circle Be Unbroken")

God help me if I can't talk about Jesus, my faith, or the bible in everyday, everyman terms. Yes, even then, some people won't "get it", but I have NO control over that. If I spoke Christianese, no one would WANT to "get it", so I'd rather speak English and LIVE Christ. That I DO have control over.


  1. That part of Talladega Nights is one of our favorite movie scenes ever....because that's how we sometimes pray and talk and live life. We have a sense of humor, we don't understand everything about God or Jesus, laughter is the best medicine and that's just the way we are. We could SO relate to that scene.

    Oh....and my daughter knows how to go all spider monkey, too!

    Love this post!

  2. *raises hand sheepishly*
    I've been tempted to go back and delete some blog posts I wrote during that time. Haha, it's so painful to look at! Why would I talk like that? It's all so elitist.

    I'm sure all of us have our list of pet peeves and phrases that just make us cringe. The latest one is "killing the flesh." What is flesh? Flesh, so it seems, is any thought or feeling you have that doesn't perfectly align with their "biblical" worldview. People are supposed to reduce themselves to nothing but robots and stifle all emotion. asjdfgkladjfklg.

  3. "conservative, likely Republican, fundamentalist, protestant, trinitarian, white, religious worldview"

    Middle-class, too. Try asking them how to fulfill their vision below the poverty line and you'll get a lot of empty stammering about how the Lord will provide. Then they'll flee.

  4. Amy...I wouldn't sweat it. We're all guilty of it to varying degrees. Like I wrote the other day, I can look back to the beginning of this blog and see significant differences. I hope that a year from now I can look back on the things I'm writing currently and still see differences/growth. While none of us have "arrived", sometimes it's good to have something to look back on and measure our personal journey.

  5. Denying that Jesus is God *does* diminish His role in the salvation of humanity. Ignorance is one thing, but outright denial of His deity makes His death/sacrifice meaningless.

    I've been enjoying your posts on The Joke Was On Me. I was on the fringes of patriarchy for years but am so thankful my family didn't get too enmeshed in it. It all sounds good in their books and looks good on their blogs but your series is showing what this patriarchal legalism looks like in real life.

  6. In fairness to people who use the word Trinitarian to describe their faith, you ought to take that one out. A quick google search brought up a Catholic order and a Wiccan group. n_n

    But otherwise, I totally get you.

    Or should I say, "We are of like minds, brother Lewis." :-)

  7. I don't like the word "biblical" at all any more. What it seems to mean is either "Just like the way they did it in bible times" or "according to my interpretation of scripture that I am now going to impose on you as though I were the arbiter of truth."

    "Worldview" on its own is ok. I agree completely that when "biblical" is added to "worldview," the result is pure poison.

    I also thoroughly dislike "die to self," (Jesus never said that), "total commitment" (I know where someone who boasts of this needs to be committed!) and "my brother's keeper" (which means "my brother's watchdog who can't keep my nose out of his business" rather than "someone who has my brother's back").

  8. Denying that Jesus is God *does* diminish His role in the salvation of humanity. Ignorance is one thing, but outright denial of His deity makes His death/sacrifice meaningless.

    Becky...I don't believe this is something that is rock solid in scripture (needing to believe in the deity of Christ to be saved). Christ never demanded we believe He is God to be saved, but asked us to believe in Him, period.

  9. I share the feelings of other readers who dislike the phrases "Biblical worldview" and "Biblical".

    Here are some of my most disliked cliches.

    1. "Surrender your will to God" because I have no idea what this means.

    2. "Personal relationship with God" and "God has laid this upon my heart" because I do not feel an emotional connection to God.

    3. "God says..." or "the Bible says..." are also disliked phrases because they are often invoked to justify women subordination or some other legalistic interpretation of the Bible.

  10. Agree on so much Lewis!

    While "biblical worldview" used by MOST are like that, I have come to believe there is a purer one, less arbitrary and more accepting.

    The typical "biblical worldview" is what I like to call modern day Pharisees. People who are so caught up on saying "the right things", memorizing "the right things", doing "the right things" of the Bible. In fact, I now have a few select verses that have come about in recent memory.

    Luke 12:1-5:

    Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. 2 The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 3 Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!
    4 “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. 5 But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell.

    And Luke 16:13-15

    13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

    14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.

    My old church was pushing for stronger, Godlier marriages as there were quite a few falling apart. My wife and I attended a Weekend to Remember (A lot of helpful stuff for our communication! Especially as newly-weds!) but I didn't have a lot of money. The church offered many times before to help financially and we took them up. We were told to get a list of expenses and they would help cover it. Guess what? They only covered the hotel bill because everything else was "un-necessary". The reading material was 65% off (proof provided, less the $40), the food was cheap (ate at Subway!), and the gas bill wasn't "what they intended". Huh. 2 weeks before you were pushing a family to go and offered to pay the WHOLE thing. Yeah, it put a strain but we made it through.

    The church was "very proud" (insert chest thump) that 40% of the budget went to missionary work yet didn't want to help the local community as "there were other churches that could help in that area". Money tight? No. Just unwilling. Very willing to open the pocket-book but not the person.

    Boils my blood really.

    Christianese is spoken all too often. I have refrained from saying a lot of what's posted as there was a check/unwillingness to portray something that I didn't was worthy of that saying. Others did but it never seemed genuine when I said it.

  11. YES! Thank you! I've been complaining about the "biblical worldview" nonsense for years; as if there is only one, and True Christians all know what it is and agree unanimously. Sadly the term is creeping into mainstream conservative Christianity too. Don't forget to add "6-day young earth creationism" to the list.

  12. I really dislike "God has laid this on my heart" too. Because it contains the assumption that it really was God when it is often just a blanket covering for anything you've decided you like or want, or that someone has guilted you into doing. Also because once you've said it, it precludes argument or discussion. How can anyone say, "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Because it's God who has laid it on your heart!

  13. "There is sin in the world" is another phrase I detest. This is the response I got the few times I revealed that I had been abused. I hate this phrase because it insults the intelligence of the listener(even unbelievers know the world is imperfect). This expression is also very callous because the speaker is showing no empathy for the wronged person. No one would every say this if someone they cared about is being harmed.

  14. Here's a couple I hate:

    Tell someone about your abuse and they responde with, "Well, it's better than you deserve". Meaning of course, that we all deserve hell.

    How do you know this is God's will? "I have a peace about it." ???

  15. "There is sin in the world" sounds like the Christianese version of "get over it already". No one would ever say this if someone they cared about was being harmed. Too true.

  16. My personal pet peeve of Christianese is any form of the word "convicted." As in, "God has convicted me about that . . ." almost always in reference to some sin the person sees in some other person. Or "I have convictions concerning that . . ." It also always implies a strange secrecy or special knowledge that the "convicted" person can't quite share with you, but it definitely makes him (usually a him, sorry) more "right with God" than you are (or I am). Hate it, hate it, hate it.

    In reference to the term biblical worldview, I totally agree with you. It is a meaningless, crappy term. What's more, the Bible is not a list of rules or a guidebook on how to live, how to raise children, how to dress, how to organize your file cabinet, how to run your finances. It simply isn't a how to book of any kind. The sole purpose of the Bible (whether anyone likes it or not) is to reveal Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. I think that one can only properly interpret scripture in light of the gospel.

    And that's my rant on that.

  17. Another famous one among musician/songwriters is, "I'd like to play this song that the Lord gave me". Bob Bennett, one of my musical heroes, commented that often when you hear than and then hear the song, you end up thinking, "Man, I bet He was glad to get rid of that one!"


    Jim K.

  18. Any form of "the Spirit showed me..."

    I've seen several discussions on the Internet where the blogger/ forum member expounds on the bible, going into the Greek meaning of the word or the first century culture, into logical reasons why a text cannot mean X (for example male authority over females), and a commenter answer that "the Spirit showed him" it mean X. (Translation: "You may have book knowledge, but I know God's Spirit, you don't, and you cannot correct me.")

    But Brenda, hearing from you "It's better than you deserve" is so bad that if I ever heard a real person respond to anyone's real problems that way, I'd really give him an earful. What loveless drivel.

  19. Lewis,

    You simply cannot mention "godly" without taking its opposite in the us/them worldview: "worldly." Lord willing.

  20. "Living the Christian Lifestyle": A mish mash of listening to only religious music, watching religious entertainment and attending church on a regular and religious basis.

    "I have something to share with you": Used in place of 'I'm about to give you a piece of my mind whether you like it or not." Implies this is from On High and therefore, cannot be refuted. We were always 'sharing' things around our house. Anyone pulled out that word and the bells of heaven chimed in chorus.

    "God told me to __________": Used at the beginning of a conversation to stop all dialogue before it starts and preempt all discussion on the topic. Okay, so maybe He did. But can't you just say, I think I'll ________" or "I really believe I'm suppose to _______" and leave it alone?

    "Godly" doesn't bother me a bit and neither does "Christian worldview." I think we all come to despise the words we're beat with.

  21. May I add to this the unnatural abhorrence of bad language? I was taught that "heck," "dang," and "sucks" are all really REALLY bad words. As in, my mother says that people who use such language are not acting like Christians or letting Christ shine through them. "Darn" and "shoot," in contrast, were permissible.

  22. "My less formal definition of Christianese: BS."

    Hilarious! Thanks for that one.

    "godly: adhering to a list of self-punishing, arbitrary, and superficial rules designed to cosmetically defeat the sin-nature and produce a SuperChristian"

    Yep. Dead on.

    "What about those of us who aren't confident in the human canonization we currently call the protestant "Holy Bible"?"

    That entirely describes me, to a point. I believe that the Bible is one historical record of human events. The words of Jesus, included therein, being the most important. But, when men threw together letters and documents and then swatted it around, yelling that it was the Holy Word of God, and the last one at that, I disagree.

    I firmly believe that Paul was a wonderful and wise man. We have his take of Jesus Christ, written down for us, in the best way he knew how to explain it, in the light of his culture at the time. We have the right to disagree with it and listen rather to C.S. Lewis or even my wife.

    In short, the Bible, in my opinion contains neither a little bit of what is REALLY the word of God, nor does it contain all.

    At this point, I'm still learning and seeking truth. Most definitely not an expert on the subject.

    I went to a parade on Saturday and the local skirt wearing, children squirting, bus driving baptist church had a float. All it contained was a paper mache Bible that was as big as the real Statue of Liberty. It was like they were attempting to slam everyone by telling them that THEY, and only they, had the real corner on truth, so na na na na na. Puke.

    "Somehow I don't think Jesus is or was threatened by any of that. Gothard or Phillips might be so offended by it they'd light themselves on fire in protest, but if it were a real life scenario, that's probably the supper table Jesus would sit at. He didn't speak much in the way of Christianese and probably had a good sense of humor."


    Amy: Real definition of "killing the flesh": Try wearing duck tape for two weeks. Does the job.

    Kirsten: "I really dislike "God has laid this on my heart" too. Because it contains the assumption that it really was God when it is often just a blanket covering for anything you've decided you like or want, or that someone has guilted you into doing. Also because once you've said it, it precludes argument or discussion. How can anyone say, "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Because it's God who has laid it on your heart!"


    My personal worst: "Nobody's perfect".

  23. I also hate: "the plain sense of Scripture" or "the text clearly says."

    These words universally precede dogmatic statements regarding the "true" meaning of verses that are far from clear and are certainly subject to more than one interpretation-- as if the speaker's view were God's own intent and you're being rebellious against the Lord Himself if you dare question it.

  24. Sorry, Lewis, but I have to do it again:

    You're such a stinky, hairy, ugly, smelly, skinny, yet fat, and dumb godly man with a perfectly poignant biblical worldview.

  25. Sorry to eat up thread count, but I just have to add one thing: I didn't get your Spinal Tap reference and it wasn't google-able either. guess it's the perfect crossword puzzle question.

  26. Angely? I liked that one.

    My all time favorite is: "It's the will of the Lord." Any and everything seems to be "the will of the Lord." So vague and so annoying.

  27. 1. If we have to use the term "brother's keeper" then we should be using it as Rich Mullins defined it:

    And I will be my brother's keeper
    Not the one who judges him
    I won't despise him for his weakness
    I won't regard him for his strength
    I won't take away his freedom
    I will help him learn to stand
    And I will, I will be my brother's keeper

    2. I hate the term "biblical worldview" as well. When I taught in a Christian school it was applied to everything including what colors of nail polish would be allowed in the dress code and which handwriting books would be purchased for 3rd graders. I know of nowhere in the bible where nail polish or handwriting workbooks are mentioned.

  28. I think "spinal tap" refers to a 1984 movie directed by Rob Reiner called "This is Spinal Tap". The movie is a mock documentary that satires pretentious rock stars and their ridiculous lifestyles.

    I have never seen this movie, but it is supposed to be very funny. The Library of Congress selected this movie to be culturally significant.

  29. Spinal Tap's 11...

  30. That Spinal Tap scene is one of the all-time classics.

  31. I read an interview, then read "No Longer Quivering," then started looking at the blogs connected to it...It has all been a fascinating read.

    I was raised Southern Baptist, and joined the church the same year the Fundamentalists took over the SBC, thus guaranteeing we would come to a parting of the ways. I wound up a Pagan, and am happy there. But I'm finding it very illuminating to look back at what I was raised with (and especially at my family members who changed with the denomination rather than leaving) through this lens.

    Most troubling to me, I also have seen some echoes in the religion I'm practicing now...Not remotely to the same extreme, but the bare seeds of it. My tradition recently schismed, and one of the precipitating issues was the tendency of a certain faction to use "the Gods told me" as an excuse for behavior others objected to, along with the insinuation that those who disagreed or showed anger were not "aligned" enough. Need I say this is in total contradiction to what our religion is actually supposed to be about? It also, I might add, makes it *completely impossible* to resolve any kind of disagreement or conflict, because it undermines presumption of good faith. This, I would hazard a guess, is part of why it is so maddeningly impossible to carry on a conversation with someone who adheres to that kind of rigid worldview...the ideology isn't just bad for them, it actually prevents them from seeing anyone who disagrees as being a credible person.

    What is UP with that? Obviously, it's not just Christian fundamentalism, or "traditional" religions, but a nearly universal impulse. Where it doesn't already exist, people will reinvent it.

  32. Brother Lewis, I found your blog via the No Longer Qivering website and it could be that the Lord led me here. ;) (How to Speak Christianese)