Christopher Chelpka

Hidden Christian Jargon

Christian jargon is not always what you think it is.

When talking with non-Christians about Christianity, who isn’t in favor of clarity and openness? And yet, the jargon we use—the jargon I use—often works against those ideals. Christian jargon tends to obscure what you are trying to say. It also excludes outsiders and isolates insiders (i.e. Christians), like a wall around a city. These are both good reasons, I think, for avoiding Christian jargon.*

But sometimes Christian jargon can hide itself better than we realize. I experienced this about a year ago when I wrote an essay for a community college writing class. The essay was about being a Reformed minister. I knew that my classmates might have to look up some technical terms like ”hermeneutics” and ”homiletics,” but there were other words I assumed would be no trouble. I was wrong.

As it turns out, there are some words that sound familiar but don’t sound overly evangelical. And this makes them good at hiding in plain sight.

One word that surprised me was ”commentaries.” I had written about having many books, including commentaries, on my bookshelves. But in the edits I received back, several classmates put a question mark above the word. One person penciled in: ”Biblical?” And this makes sense. Outside the Christian bookstore there are commentaries on all kinds of things, from plumbing code to martial arts to the laws of England. Only a Christian audience would pass over the word “commentaries” and automatically assume I meant biblical commentaries.

Another point of confusion that surprised me was “proof-texts.“ Again, the question marks, and understandably so. Though I didn’t notice until it was too late, where else is “proof-text” used but in theological contexts? To someone who hasn’t grown up in the church, “proof-text” stand in a paragraph like a Presbyterian at a Praise and Worship Conference.

Of course the case against Christian jargon can be overstated, and it’s avoidance overapplied, but this experience proved to me that if clarity and openness are valued then Christian jargon is still something to watch for. I also learned that having your essays edited by a general audience is a sure-fire way to improve.

 


  • I call it Christian jargon and not “Christianese” because “Christianese” is a Christian jargon word itself, and, in my opinion, one of the worst.