« Interview, Part One | Main | In Case You're Not a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma »

January 30, 2006


Scott Jones

who does interviews this intelligently!? I'm impressed by the reporter and your answers.

We can speak the language of the parent culture to a point, but eventually we have to teach people the language of the Church.

I like this formulation better than in an earlier post where you complained that megas/seeker-sensitive churches had abandoned the vocabulary of faith; it struck me at the time that I grew up in a church that had retained the vocabulary of faith while repudiating the semantics. Treating discourse about faith as a distinct language (albeit with considerable overlap in syntax and morphology with the parent language), or at least a specialized sub-language, seems to be a more complete way of describing this concern.



I do think many churches are attempting to abandon the language of the faith. They're uncomfortable with words that smack of theology or critical studies. They do preserve some of the words, like substitution or atonement or sin, but they try very hard not to speak "Christianese." However, I agree with you that this formulation certainly works better, and probably does describe the situation more accurately.


Goz will have to remind us which paper in the UK he did the interview for.



Have really enjoyed the interview posts...it is nice to see your thoughts teased out in a more organized and substantive format.

When you speak of "language of the church" what words or phrases or themes are you referring to? In your view what language has the churched abandoned?

Are you criticizing churches who substitute words like glorification and sanctification, eschatology, for other more culturally understandable terms?

In a related note. In my experience in working for Starbucks (which many I know see as a corporate evil) it is interesting there is a language that we suggest you learn when ordering drinks. Some people get really upset and intimitaded by it, but most people, are excited about learning how to order a drink in proper Starbucks lingo. Seems like a good lesson for the church or at least points to some of the arguments you have been making.



The language of the church is the vocabulary we have always used to discuss things that the church cares about. One of the concerns I have about seeker-sensitive church, Blue Like Jazz, and well-meaning but linguistically challenged "spirituality" fans is they act as if you can talk about something with a whole new set of words without reference to the old words. It's the old words that allow us to talk about things that we hold in common. Why go to the trouble of developing or co-opting a whole new vocabulary when I can simply teach new Christians the language of atonement, resurrection, Christology, eschatology, etc.? In seeking to avoid talking Christianly, we abadon the very words that help us make Christianity explicable. We don't expect professors of theology or philosophy or medicine or English to speak in the language of their students in order to teach them the field. No. We expect the students to learn the language. Christianity (any faith) functions the same way.

By not talking about theology or critical studies, we allow people to believe that Christianity is simply a matter of Jesus dying for my sins or some other truncated construction. We don't trust people to care enough about the subject to learn about it in depth, yet that is the very idea of disciple. Instead, we import words that are easier for them to understand, but those words and concepts carry their own grammar and come from a different language game, and importing them into the church changes the way we do church.

I think any church word can be understood once the concept is explained. You analogy of Starbucks is excellent. I'm an iced decaf double tall soy no-whip mocha guy. That phrase allows me better, faster service in any Starbucks in the country. Learning the language of faith facilitates conversations between Christians of any and every background.


I liked the interview. It's amazing how much the Christian culture has oversimplyfied the Gospel. I feel at times work would be so much easier if I went to that model. Yet I think I would be sinning.


I loved your comments about viewing Capitalism through the lens of the Hebrew prophets. I looked at a Christian bookstore's catalog before Christmas and was amazed at the various Bibles offered. There was the Bible for teen boys, the Bible for teen girls - formatted like Cosmopolitan magazine. There was the man's study Bible, the housewive's study Bible, the Coast Guardman's Bible, the Teacher's Bible... I could go on, but I'm about to throw up!
You're right in saying that we should be more critical of our prosperity that has in fact been generated by subjugating peoples and their economies.


Thaks for putting this out to a wider audience Greg. The interview was for The Christian Herald - an ecumenical UK national paper that has sadly just ceased publishing.

I'm sure your answers here have been a big help to many people grappling with these issues.



Question Greg: If churches, especially megas, are resorting to offering special deals, creating a mall-like atmosphere, then how do we change it?


If churches, especially megas, are resorting to offering special deals, creating a mall-like atmosphere, in order to get folks to attend; then how do we change it? I know you said someone should go because they were invited but what if they won't go if we don't have something attractive for them, like a rollercoaster.


How about the revolutionary idea of the Gospel message itself as something to "attract" people? What is concerning about the need for rollercoasters, coffee bars, rock bands, PowerPoint screens, etc., etc., is the implicit statement that without these things people won't find value in church/worship. This is a corporate (as in business) approach--i.e., tickle the buyer's fancy and then sell them the whole product on the sly. The Corporate (as in the body of Christ) approach of _living_ the Gospel and trusting the Holy Spirit to work _through_ us, rather than relying on sales techniques, reminds me of something St. Francis of Assisi said. "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

I know you said someone should go because they were invited but what if they won't go if we don't have something attractive for them, like a rollercoaster.

Under Greg's model, those friends don't go. That isn't a big deal for churches that position themselves to critique the culture of power and focus mostly on crafting disciplined adherents, but it does pose problems for groups who believe their duty is to make the world Christian.

The comments to this entry are closed.