Do you attend church or watch online worship services and become disinterested while listening to the sermon? Are some of the Christian teachings that you hear sound oddly detached from reality? Do otherwise good sermons leave you spiritually empty?
If the answer is yes, you may be suffering from an overdose of Christianese. Throughout my struggles to maintain a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ over the course of my adult life, I’ve left some church services feeling spiritually undernourished. One of the reasons has been listening to the worn-out and simplistic phrases and words that some Christian preachers overuse.
To address what I consider a weakness in the Christian church writ large, I'm beginning a three-part series on common words and phrases that many Christian pastors, teachers, and believers use that unintentionally confuse, dissuade, and turn away seekers and nonbelievers from the Christian faith.
According to a 2022 cross-sectional social survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, only about half of adults in the U.S. believe in God without a doubt or attend religious services frequently.
Therefore, I believe many would agree that we’re entering a post-Christian phase of our society. Our government has banned prayer and scripture reading in our public schools, in most local government proceedings, and at most public events. Many in our society label the Bible as fiction or a well-meaning fairy tale.
Followers of Jesus Christ have been marginalized and canceled on many social media platforms. Accordingly, Christians have learned to measure their words carefully when discussing their Christian faith. More importantly, some Christians have learned that they must consider how a nonbeliever could construe and even misuse their words.
Despite the foregoing acknowledgment, I believe many followers of Jesus Christ intensify the opposition of nonbelievers by what they say. They play into the hands of doubters, agitators, and hardcore atheists by repeating phrases and words that nonbelievers use as evidence to claim that Christianity is merely a cult that relies on musty old myths and child-like vocabulary for authentication.
I believe Christians must be aware of the literal meaning of their words when they use them in conversation, and they should have a clear understanding of the Biblical truths documented in the scriptures that supports their verbal expressions.
Below are the first two of six phrases and words that I suggest all should avoid using in conversation with others when discussing the Bible and its truth.
1. Bible Stories. In my old line of work – criminal investigator – a story was usually the invention of a criminal trying to create a false alibi to avoid prosecution or an informant or asset who was lying about his or her access to sensitive information for some ulterior motive. Criminal courts never knowingly allow defendants to tell stories while under oath on the witness stand. Moreover, I would've been fired if I had written fiction, aka stories, in my reports.
In generations past, when Bible reading was permitted in public schools, and most Americans attended some church service weekly, people automatically understood that a Bible story was simply a passage in the Bible that everyone generally accepted as accurate and true.
In today’s culture, however, the word “story” brings to mind a work of fiction or an imaginary tale concocted to serve a purpose. The word connotes the term "fabricated.” Yet many well-meaning pastors and Christian teachers consistently use the term "Bible stories” when referring to specific portions of scripture.
I continue to be disturbed by some of the well-known Bible apologists I follow who use the word 'story' repeatedly during their otherwise outstanding podcasts and YouTube videos – programs designed to confirm the integrity of God's written word.
The scriptures are truthful Biblical accounts of creation, the fall of mankind, and our redemption through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scriptures also contain prophetic passages – many of which have come true, and some have yet to be fulfilled.
The Bible describes how the disciples categorized the knowledge they obtained as first-hand eyewitnesses:
Acts 4:20 For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.
I suggest we start honoring the God-breathed words of the Holy Bible and treat it as the absolute truth that it is. The term Biblical account or just plain passage of scripture is more accurate and far less misleading. I suggest we be mindful that the Bible is a factual book of truth, and the language we use to describe the Bible be reflective of the authenticity, accuracy, and veracity of God’s Holy words.
2. Glory. The word ‘glory’ or some form of it – glorify or glorious – appears in the King James Version of the Bible 538 time. The word ‘glory’ generally represents the Hebrew word. Kāḇôḏ, which has the root meeting of ‘heaviness’ or of ‘weight’ or ‘worthiness.’ The word is also used to describe a man’s wealth, honor, or reputation. According to Hebrew and Biblical experts, when applied to Father God or Yahweh, the word denotes the revelation of God's being, nature, and presence to mankind, sometimes with physical phenomena.
When reading and discussing the Bible with others, avoiding the use of the word glory is difficult. The authors of the Bible used various words, depending on the context, to describe God's majesty, holiness, and supernatural power; however, they frequently used glory as the “go-to catch-all” word to describe Him. Because of their readers’ limited understanding of the physical world they occupied at the time, the writers relied on the simple word to convey the multi-dimensional power and majesty of Father God.
Today, however, the average person with at least a high school education understands basic scientific principles that were unknown to the scribes of the Bible. We understand the fundamental properties of various forms of energy. We know that light is a form of energy composed of photons. We also know that science has made significant advances in a whole host of areas to include proton beams, nuclear fission, and quantum physics, to name a few.
Many verses containing the word glory appear to describe the unfathomable amount of supernatural energy God emanates. The following passages are an example:
Hebrews 1:3 KJV
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…
Isaiah 60:1 KJV
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Revelation 21:23 KJV
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine I in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
A reading of the above today triggers thoughts of power and energy. Accordingly, I recommend such words can and should be used when describing God's physical and supernatural qualities with an unbeliever vice glory.
In the same vein, our United States Military, at least for the present time, is the mightiest military on the planet. Most everyone knows that the U.S. can use its military capabilities to fight and win wars at will – when it wants to.
If we were to discuss military tactics with someone, we would probably not state that the U.S. intends to unleash its “might” on a particular region or country. We would not use the term "might" when discussing ground engagements where our Army and Marines engage enemy ground forces. We would use words that described what happened, such as our tanks were superior to the enemies or that we used effective air-to-ground missiles to down enemy planes. We could also discuss how our special forces conducted clandestine night raids in enemy areas. We would not simply repeat the word “might” to describe the various combat actions on the land, sea, and in the air,
Further, when we repeatedly use the word glory in our conversations to describe God’s indescribable power, strength, and essence, we come across as uneducated and lacking in intelligence. We rely on pre-K vocabulary that could be avoided if we took the time and did some deep thinking on how God's glory could be described in modern terms.
With the preceding stated, in a different context, glory can be a more appropriate word in the following example, where we are told to honor and revere God:
Matthew 5:16 KJV
Let your light so shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
While the previous is true, to those of us who are of the baby boomer generation, the terms ‘glory’ or ‘glorify’ can have a negative connotation under certain circumstances. When I was growing up, no one wanted to be called a ‘glory seeker’ or be accused of being a ‘glory hound,’ such as a person constantly seeking attention and praise from others. Modesty was considered a virtue in my day before the advent of Facebook and Instagram.
While neither of the above terms is a salvation issue, they detract, in my view, from the Bible's power, authenticity, and rich detail. We should go out of our way to be original and expressive whenever discussing the Bible – especially with unbelievers.
The disciples understood the need to speak clearly and use the most impactful and straightforward words. They also understood the difference between plain language and figurative speech.
John 16:29 NKJV
His disciples said to Him, “See, now you are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!
If the disciples understood the importance of clear speech, we should too.
In part two, we’ll discuss the phrases “Satan is defeated” and “God is in control.”
Christianese: Christian Phrases and Words That Cause Confusion - Part Three
Christianese: Christian Phrases and Words That Cause Confusion – Part Two
Christianese: Do Some Christian Phrases and Words Confuse You? ? Part One
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