I have read several articles on the when and the where of using, and not using, Christian jargon (this one being the funniest), but I would like to propose that it has no place at all in the communication of faith.
In a post about words, an “official” definition seems appropriate:
Jargon = special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.
Probably the most slanted definition I found was this:
Jargon = a form of language regarded as barbarous, debased, or hybrid.
There are several places where verbal short hand and specialized phrases are handy. They make work and study more efficient if the jargon exchange is between two people “in the know.”
Unfortunately, because people love to sound smart, they will often use their specialized language with people who are not “in the know” either as a way of detecting such fools, or to impress newbies or outsiders…
Efficiency is the best reason to use short hand communication.
But what about in the life of Christians? The other articles I read suggested that Christian jargon should only be spoken to other Christians, and only when those specialized phrases actually mean something to the speaker and the hearer.
I like this second part of that suggestion, but I think we do far too much assuming in regards to who will or will not understand. And further, I think we would be better communicators if we found real and unassuming words to express ourselves.
A good friend of mine, after being a Christian for only a short time was described (in his hearing) as being “on fire for the Lord.” The speaker certainly intended this as a compliment, but my friend was only confused. Since the purpose of communication is to impart or exchange information, it may have been wiser for this person to say, “Wow, you really seem to be excited about following God!”
Why, you might ask, am I so strict in my desire to exclude jargon from communication, even between Christians? It is because jargon itself excludes. The Christian life is about loving God and loving humans. The mission of a Christian (their job, if you will) is to know God and help others know God (otherwise known by that Christiany word “discipleship”). Efficiency is not so valuable in building these relationships.
Would Jesus use jargon? After typing that question, I suddenly remembered how confusing Jesus could be while he was on earth.
My only answer to this question is that Jesus used colloquialisms as a way of helping people understand deeper realities. It was jargon for the sake of clearer communication. His use of parables was another matter altogether. He sought to stir up his hearers to action; they would either come closer and ask questions, or they would throw up their hands and walk away.
But even Paul, the great Apostle shied away from using such tricky methods. In 1 Corinthians Paul says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”(1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
It’s clear from 2 Corinthians that the people of Corinth were not sufficiently impressed with Paul’s style, preferring the shiny language of more fancy speakers. They criticized him for not being more eloquent and his response goes from humble love to a kind of transparency that most of us would find humiliating.
In 2 Corinthians 1:12 he says, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God…”
Perhaps, in our efforts to communicate about faith with others, we might adopt Paul’s attitude of humble simplicity. It might be a challenge, but I’ll bet it’s worth the effort.
What about you? What’s your favorite or least favorite Christian jargon? How else might you express the same thought in language many others could understand?