A Note From Ken Clark – Mind Your Language!

  No ‘Christianese’ please’

Since the lock down began I have read that

  • Bible sales are up by 55%
  • 25% of the population has viewed a church service online (normally only 6% attend church)
  • Nearly 3 million people have seen the viral worship video, The UK Blessing

           and 1 in 20 Brits have started praying.

Indeed, one begins to wonder if the data above is correct whether people are not so far from God as we Christians sometimes like to think.   Of course when people are confronted by their own vulnerability and mortality it can often lead to a new assessment of ones life and a turning toward God.   Suddenly things get very real.

All this raises a number of interesting questions for me because it would suggest that all have not rejected the notion of belief in God, but they may well have rejected the way churches present and talk about God.   I don’t think it is so prevalent in our own particular group of churches but ‘God language’ or ‘Christianese’ as I call it can be a right turn off.

There is no doubt that often churches and the language they use belong to a sub-culture all of its own and it often carries little relevance to those we seek to reach and often, although there is a respect for the work churches do, they wouldn’t be seen anywhere near them.  But is the reality something more?

Are we looking at a new ‘purification’ in the way people understand and relate to God? Many still reject God but it would seem there are many who believe but reject most, perhaps, all the words us Christians have grown accustomed to using about God. This might seem rather frightening but it might also be a purifying of our knowledge of God.

I can sort of understand this because God is bound to be beyond our understanding, so any language we use about him however useful and true it may be must to some extent become an idol standing in the way of the full truth about God, in which case a little purification of our ‘cliquey’ Christian language might be a good idea especially when it comes to relating to those around us.

To realise this and to reject some of our language may in fact be an act of faith rather than a rejection of faith.   Much of this suggests to me and if the data at the top of this piece is correct there is a very fine line between faith and atheism and may be difficult to discern.    

Someone may sound like an atheist but in fact have a faith although they may not understand it as such, whilst others may sound like a person of faith because of the language they use but in fact may be using this as a way of avoiding a real encounter with God!   We would do well to to proceed wisely and we must be careful in the way we think of others outside of the Church.

Many people, I suspect, when they ‘reject’ God, are not in reality rejecting God at all, they are simply reacting against, and rejecting the language about God which they hear Christians claiming to be the ‘proper’ language to use, but which they find difficult because it doesn’t match their experience and they don’t find it helpful.

I sometimes wonder if our evangelism may put more people off than it helps, certainly expressions like ‘Give your life to Jesus’ or ‘Let Jesus into your heart’ do not appear in the New Testament at all.   We understand what they mean but outsiders may not and in fact they could sound really weird and off putting.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, I certainly don’t accept the old chestnut of ‘Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words’.  It has its point but we have to convey the gospel in words too and if there is a new awakening in the search for God then perhaps we need to discover new ways to explain the truth about Christ and help people understand God in ways they can grasp. 

Our language and the words we use are so important. Words can bring consolation, comfort, encouragement and hope.   They can take away fear, isolation, shame and guilt, words can reconcile, forgive, they can bring peace and joy, inner freedom and gratitude.

I feel it is only as we ourselves seek to experience and walk more deeply with God that we can begin to convey this, not just as words but from a heart rooted in the love and compassion of Christ.

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