“Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God, died a sacrificial death so you could be saved from your sins and live in heaven for eternity.”

Essentially, this is the gospel in one sentence. We marvel at how simple it is, and rightly so. However, if you try this sentence out on a couple of your neighbors or coworkers today, you’d likely be met with confused gazes–at best.

Why? Because in today’s world, most people just aren’t very familiar with Christianity. They don’t have a word bank of Christian lingo, and we just hit them with a truckload of it.

Identifying Christian lingo

Let’s count the number of Christian vocabulary words I used in that one sentence above. “Jesus Christ,” for starters–who is He? What is He like? Well, let’s take a look at the next phrase: “the holy Son of God.” What does holy mean? If God has a son, that means He has a wife too, right? Is Jesus some kind of demigod like from Greek and Roman mythology, then?

What about a sacrificial death? What does that look like? And what are these sins I have? Of course, what is heaven and eternity?

I counted at least 7 words or phrases that are possible points of confusion for an average unbeliever today. Basically the entire sentence. What seems simple to us is packed with background and meaning that are largely missed by today’s culture.

Explaining the gospel through an unbeliever’s frame of reference

How can we clearly communicate the gospel to the world without using Christianese? It’s like trying to define a word without using the word itself–surprisingly challenging! One thing we often do when we struggle with giving a definition for a word is to mention some of its synonyms in hopes the inquirer is familiar with those. We can make use of this strategy in explaining the gospel, too.

We obviously can’t use a synonym for “Jesus,” but what about holy? Perhaps try using “completely perfect.” For sin, we can provide examples and illustrations of relevant morally wrong or evil things.

All throughout the Bible, we see God, prophets, and apostles explaining abstract truths through metaphors, parables, and other imagery. In Paul’s famous address to the philosophers at Athens in Acts 17, he began from their own framework of religion and made references to it to help them gain understanding. In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

Imagine trying to describe your country’s government to someone from a place with a very different ruling structure. You wouldn’t be able to just use all of the national terminology. Rather, you’d have to come up with some creative descriptions and comparisons. Remember, even in speaking with those of the same culture about spiritual truths, we are speaking another language!

Detecting and eliminating Christianese from your conversations

If you’ve been saved for a longer length of time or grew up in the Christian church surrounded by believers, “catching yourself in the act” is likely to be difficult for a while. Here are a couple ideas to help you improve in this area.

  1. Record yourself briefly sharing the gospel or talking about a Christian topic. Then play back your recording and mark down every Christianese word you identify. Play it a second time and look for any remaining words if necessary. Then record again, trying to replace most of the words you identified with other words or comparisons.
  2. Use the Up-Goer Five text editor to write about a Christian topic. The Up-Goer Five text editor is a tool to help you write about complex or jargon-y topics using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. It shows you a red line under words that don’t aren’t on the list, forcing you to find a simpler way to explain the topic. I gave it a quick test: “God” is permitted, but “Jesus,” “holy,” “sin,” and “heaven” are not!
  3. Ask a friend to help. Grab a friend, Christian or not, and ask them to help you eliminate Christianese from your gospel presentation. Have them listen to your spiel and interrupt with “excuse me, what does ____ mean?” every time they catch you using a word a person completely unfamiliar with Christianity wouldn’t understand.

Using some of these tips or your own ideas, you can avoid using too much Christianese when talking with unbelievers and help them truly understand what the gospel of Jesus Christ means for them.

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