Press in and love on: The new wave of Christian jargon and why it's not half as clever as we think it is
Christians and jargon; we just can't help ourselves. In recent years, the church has developed a little bit of self-awareness when it comes to the ultra-cheesy phrases which characterised it in the 1980s and 90s. Most of us no longer use the old classics; we rarely 'name-it-and-claim-it', we're less concerned about being 'unequally yoked' and we talk less about that infamous old 'hedge of protection.' And yet, just as we were clearing our house of all those weird, alienating sayings, we've not noticed a whole new wave of them coming in through the other door.
Thanks to the new Church movements, the leadership strategists and of course, the hipsters, we've seen an entirely new set of weird and maybe-not-so-wonderful phrases come tumbling into the Christian lexicon. It's only natural of course; every subculture from football to comic book geekery has its own language register. But one of the side-effects of this is that while it might increase a sense of belonging for those already safely inside, it becomes a barrier to entry for new members. Here are just a few examples of how modern Christian language can sound great to those of us swimming in the subculture, but impenetrably weird to those outside and who we hope might come in.
A popular phrase used to describe learning to follow Jesus alongside another person, which is only slightly more annoying than the even-more-prevalent 'doing life together'. The latter sounds like prison slang; the former becomes more inscrutably nonsensical the more you think about it. I was once at a meeting of Christian leaders where almost everyone in the room reported that 'life-on-life' was now a major focus for them, after which I couldn't stop singing Des'ree's career-defining hit Life (oh life) in my head. Oh no, it's back again. I feel like I've seen a ghost (it's the thing that I fear most).
Dream and scheme
A thing that Christian creatives and entrepreneurs often say, a) because it makes them feel like they're having important, world-changing meetings, and b) because it rhymes. Of course, 'scheming' in the the Bible is less often found in lists of spiritual virtues, than it is in relation to the works of the devil. But the important thing is that IT RHYMES.
This is a hot contender for the worst piece of Christian jargon ever. Hugely popular, especially in the United States, it's often used to describe an unrequited outpouring of love in the direction of an individual. Quite apart from the nonsensical grammar (how do you actually even love 'on' something), it also sounds terribly non-consensual.
Not to be confused with Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, this is a phrase which Christians use to describe striving to be closer to God. That's no bad thing in itself of course; the problem comes when our theology subtly begins to shift to suggest that we can do something that makes God love us more, do more for us or get any closer. Our omnipresent God is already closer than our own breathing; we can't actually 'press' ourselves any nearer to him, although we can become more aware of his presence.
This is a wonderful buzzword in leadership circles, introduced after Rick Warren trademarked 'Purpose', and which seems to suggest that everything we've been doing up to this point was entirely un-intentional. You can place this word before almost any Christian verb and make it instantly more dynamic. The mere addition of intent turns relatively mundane roles into energised, world-changing pursuits: Intentional Leadership, Intentional Worship; Intentional Flower-Arranging. Co-incidentally, this is also the reading list for the next Willow Creek Leadership Summit.
Christians love a weird word, and especially one that sounds like it might be vaguely biblical (this isn't, it appears twice in one fairly obscure translation as a word for unusual). The trouble is that this sort of deliberate and avoidable strangeness is exactly the sort of thing which repels normal people. I've also observed that this is particularly popular among prosperity teachers; give your 'seed' and receive an uncommon blessing in return. Which, like much of the teaching of prosperity teachers, is both entirely meaningless and worryingly expensive.
There's a whole semi-romantic sub-genre of Christian jargon around our relationship with God. Use words like 'captivated', 'chasing after' and 'pursuit' and you'll instantly be self-identifying yourself as a charismatic Christian. They're not especially offensive words, but take them out of their spiritual use and put them into the context of a human relationship, and someone is instantly getting a restraining order.
Raising up a generation
Man, we love raising generations in the evangelical church. We enjoy rising generations too. And we love it when the generations rise up among the nations. What we mean is that we hope people will continue to become Christians, and that they'll have a positive impact on their cultures. However, this sort of talk does not sell conference tickets, and helps us to become a nonsensically irrelevant-sounding generation. Among the nations.
Daddy / Papa God
There's some debate among theologians and translators about whether 'Abba father' literally does mean 'daddy'. And I love the teaching idea behind this – that God isn't some gruff pre-Mary Poppins Mr Banks figure, but a loving, devoted father who throws his arms around the prodigal son. The main problem is simply that calling God 'daddy' is off-putting and weird to a culture that simply hasn't ever understood God in that way.
Ah, the glory of the Christian composite word (see also the now-less-popular 'prayerful'). Once again, there's no more sure-fire way to convince onlookers that you're nuts, than by starting to take normal words and mashing them together to make them sound more spiritual and interesting. What presumably we mean when we use this word is that we've noticed a coincidence which we attribute to God. By using this slightly longer form of words, we'd not only clearly communicate our meaning, but we might also intrigue non-Christian onlookers who are interested in how we seem to see the hand of God at work in our lives. Which again begs the key question: WHY CAN'T CHRISTIANS JUST TALK LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE?
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders