Avoiding ‘Christianese’ in Your Writing

"Christianese" is a language used in the Christian subculture and understood easily only by other practicing Christians. We say we’ve been born again, of talk about being backslidden. We talk about our walk and our quiet time. When you’re talking about the Christian experience, it’s tempting to slip into Christianese – it’s a language with verbal short-cuts to explain some difficult concepts. But if our hope is to communicate effectively with people outside the Christian community, we want to stay away from cliches and figures of speech that they may not understand, or may understand differently than we do.

It's also good to avoid Christianese when we’re aiming our message at a Christian audience -- especially if our goal is to lead them to fresh encounters with biblical truth. For the Christian reader, Christianese has very little impact. We’ve heard the words again and again, and the result is that we don’t really pay attention to what they signify.

Another reason to avoid Christianese when communicating with a Christian audience is because sometimes the words can hide concepts we don’t really understand or things we haven’t really experienced. We say we’ve been born-again and that’s enough – but do we know what that means? We say we’re evangelicals, but can we explain what that means? How is it different from being born-again? From being Protestant?

Here's a little exercise you can use to help train yourself to recognize and avoid "Christianese." Write out your personal testimony, avoiding Christianese terms (like “personal testimony”). This should be written as a short feature story, as though you were somebody else interviewing you. You’ll quote yourself directly and indirectly in the third person. This is a short personal feature story emphasizing your own spiritual journey.

When you finish writing your story, look through it for terms that are used only in a spiritual context and may not have much meaning outside the church community. When you find them, come up with a fresh way to communicate the same idea that will make sense to people outside of our Christian subculture.

Here's a list of terms to try avoiding during this exercise. If you find words that should be on this list but aren’t, please suggest them to me.

Accepting Christ
Assurance
Atonement
Backslider
Believer
Born Again Christian
Body of Christ
Broken
Brother or Sister
Charismatic
Christian walk
Committed
Conservative
Convicted
Covet
Dedicate my life to Christ
Deliverance ministry
Depravity
Die to self
Elder
Evangelism
Evangelist
Fellowship
Flesh
Found Jesus
Fruit
Full-time ministry
Fundamentalist
Gave my life to Christ
Grace
Growing in Christ
Holy
In my heart
Justified
Living for God (or Jesus)
Lord
Lord’s Supper
Lost
Personal relationship with Jesus
Praise God
Quiet time
Reconcile
Redeemed
Repent
Salvation
Sanctified
Saved
Sin
Share your faith
Soul
Speaking in Tongues
Spirit
Take up your cross
Testimony
Unsaved
Washed in the Blood
Witness
Word
World
Works