Friday, June 20, 2008

Communication - Their Terminology

Fact: Many Christians don't remember what life is like outside of Christianity.

I believe the Gospel should be presented to the secular community on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Sometimes the the communication process begins to fail before the channel is even utilized at the point of encoding. Far too often we explain the gospel using one of two things:

  1. Christianese - n. the acquired second language spoken by members of the Christian community which consists of words that have either different or no meaning at all to the larger secular communities. Christians typically use this language to identify one another and/or determine the spiritual health of the speaker.
  2. Seminarese - n. the acquired third language spoken by members of the Christian community after prolonged isolation in institutions of higher learning away from the larger Christian community. "Seminarians" typically use this language to determine probable GPA of the speaker.

The Gospel in Christianese
Here is what a short gospel presentation would look when the speaker chooses to encode the message into Christianese.

"I'm not going to tell you about my religion because Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship. When I found Jesus I knew that my life had more meaning because now I can glorify God better than I ever could before. The wages of your sin will be that if you die without accepting Christ, you will recieve eternal death. The Word tells us that Jesus Christ gave himself for your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die. Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart today?"

If read the above and think, "What's wrong with that?" then, congratulations! You are fluent in Christianese. Note the use of phrases that would only be understood by people who are already Christians.

"A relationship, not a religion." - I know what you're saying and you know what you're saying, but to the untrained eye, Christianity looks an aweful lot like a religion with all it's worship, holy book, special music, and rules that people say you don't have to follow, but you're not allowed into their church if you don't.

"Ask Jesus into your heart." - When I was a kid people used to tell me that Jesus lives in our hearts, so I seriously thought that Jesus was a few inches tall and kept things going down there.

"going to heaven when you die" - Believe it or not, if I'm not a fan of Jesus and God and everything, spending eternity with them does not sound like a whole lot of fun. Then the unbeliever finds out that a bunch of Christians will be there and it seals the deal for them. (You may think I'm being sarcastic, but read Job 21:13-15 and see how those who refuse to worship God respond to Him even in the afterlife.)

The Gospel in Seminarese
In order to counteract the much too muddled language that Christianese offers, speakers of seminarese tend to overcorrect a bit. The gospel in seminarese as precise as it is baffling.

"The omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable triune God, eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit, being born of a virgin. Jesus Christ, being tempted in every way, did not falter in His life, but was delivered into the hands of evil men and was crucified. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ shows us that He is the full and perfect vicarious sacrifice to the post-lapsarian condition of man. He died as the substitutionary atonement for you. On the third day He was resurrected showing us His victory over death. The first steps of your soteriological journey begin by trusting in Jesus Christ as the propitiation for your sins so that you can dwell eternally with Him in the eschaton. When you begin this soteriological endeavor, He will send the Holy Spirit who will indwell you and comfort you as you await the day of your resurrection."

Too much to comment on here. It's completely incoherent. If you do understand it, congratulations! You're thousands of dollars spent at seminary is starting to pay off.

Speaking to people on their terms does not have to be hard. When you are sharing the gospel with someone, think to yourself, "What am I really saying? Would I understand this if I were not part of the Christian culture?"

Encode the message using their terminology. We have the only life-giving gospel and the world cannot afford for this message to be lost or misunderstood simply because we choose to encode it in such a way that only other Christians can understand it.

Remember - Communicate on their Terms, Using their Terminology, so their condition isn't Terminal

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