Monday, January 12, 2015

Evangelical Clichés Redux

Here's a list of Christian cliches that I compiled at my old blog.  Don't get all twisted up; this is all firmly tongue-in-cheek. Oh, and please feel free to add your own in the comments section. I'm sure I'm missing some doozies. Also, I seem to have been in a particularly snarky mood when putting all this to paper (and by paper, I mean the ugliest blog template anyone has ever was a big brown mess). Anyway, that really comes through in this piece, which I now present with very little editorial comment:

An Annotated Guide to Christian Buzzwords

Authentic - Yeah, let's all be really intentional about being "authentic." We can probably synthetically produce authentic authenticity. (Cf. "relevant" and "engaging culture.")

Best Life Now - This idea has nothing to do with the Christian life between the first and second comings of Christ, unless you consider being lied about, mocked, persecuted, and facing "all kinds of trials" as your idea of "the good life."

Christ-follower - I've mostly noticed this listed as people's "religion" on social networking sites. I guess there's not really anything wrong with this term per se (apart from its grammatical awkwardness), but whenever we start using a new word/term in place of an already established word, I have to ask: why? What's wrong with Christian? It's what the "Christ-followers" were first called in Antioch and we've been called Christians ever since. So is "Christ-follower" supposed to be a translation (rather than transliteration) of Χριστιανός? That's over-reaching. I suspect that the real motivation is to set oneself over and against the masses of people who wear the name "Christian," to be part of an elite group of people that take this Jesus stuff much more seriously than those "Christians." And to that I say: yikes.

Comfort Zone - This was probably a good term when it was the new buzzword, but it's definitely run its course. Not to mention that it's misused more often than not these days. Sure, Jesus called us to a life of making disciples and being disciples, which often involves being uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean that we're all called to do everything that makes us squirm. If you're scared to death of speaking before a group, that doesn't mean God is calling you to "get out of your comfort zone" and preach on a Sunday morning. Quite the opposite.

Community - This falls under the category of "regular words that were re-cast as buzzwords and now make me want to throw up." I think I'll just leave it at that.

Conversation - Ditto. This is not a particularly biblical word. It only occurs twice in the ESV, once in the Old Testament and once in the New. The NT reference is to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, talking about how Jesus has died and how they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. Then Jesus came alongside them and did the craziest thing. He didn't say, "Well, just keep being authentic and asking questions." No, he stepped into their "conversation" and provided answers from Scripture. Starting at Genesis, he walked them through the whole Old Testament, explaining how it was all about HIM. Why is it that the new "conversation buzzword" is used to move us in the opposite direction?

Creating a Space (or "Creating a Sacred Space") - Borrowed capital from New Age. I say they can keep it. Our desire to turn spiritual practices into disciplines and rituals by which we enter God's presence is unhelpful at best and blasphemous at worst. And really, only God can actually create space. Besides, the "space" doesn't matter when we approach God (John 4:23, Heb 4:15-16).

Decision for Christ - The Holy Grail of Finneyism and a perfect example of exalting the byproduct. My "decision for Christ" can only take place as a result of Christ choosing me (John 15:16). Shouldn't we be making a much bigger deal of the latter?

Do Church - It's almost like we choose these buzzwords based on maximum grammatical awkwardness. The meaning of this one is kind of elusive. It either means, "Let's commence diaconal ministries" or "Let's make everything really exciting and hip" (cf. "relevant" below). Either way, "do church" is a case of "verbing" (which is, itself, a case of "verbing," ironically)--taking a noun, "church," and making it into an action. But here's the thing: when the New Testament refers to the church, it's using a word that started out as a verb (ek-kaleo, "to call out.") I don't want to make too much of this, since the noun form (ἐκκλησία) had long meant "assembly" when Jesus' earthly ministry began. But either way, when we "verb" the word "church," the action/focus should be on assembling (something we do) or being called out (something that happens to us)...yet that's almost never what people mean by "do church."

Do Life Together - This may be the most awkward phrase ever. And for what? There's already a verb form of the word "life." When you want to know where someone resides, do you ask, "So where do you do life?" No, you say, "Where do you live?" But we don't want to say that people in the church "live together." (Never mind that the New Testament church pretty much did live together--Acts 2:43-47). If we're not going to follow in their footsteps, let's just drop the pretense. Or else, to be consistent, next time your vehicle is in the shop and you need a ride, ask your co-worker if you can "do car together" tomorrow.

Engaging Culture - If you want to be worldly, just say it. If you really want to be like Paul on Mars Hill, then don't sit there and say, "How can we engage culture?" You've just pretty much guaranteed that you won't. (Cf. "authentic" and "relevant"). [NOTE: five years after originally writing this, I'm not sure what my beef was with "engaging culture." I think I had just seen several people use it as an excuse to partake in some worldly "fun." I'm less bothered by this phrase at present.]

Faith Journey - Ugh.

Felt Needs - 1. a lack of Flannelgraph supplies.  2. a buzz-word often used to take the focus off the cross and put it on the market. I dealt with this one in my sermon on the Gospel Driven Church. You may want to check that out. Suffice it to say, Jesus never worried about people's felt needs because fallen humans purposefully create false "felt needs" to distract us from our true need (see Romans 1). Every time someone came to Jesus with a felt need, he re-directed them to what they really needed. If they weren't willing to make the shift, he sent them packing (e.g. rich young ruler, woman at the well, the masses seeking bread, James and John, etc.).

Incarnational - As in "incarnational ministry" or "incarnational living." No one quite knows what this means, but it generally seems to mean playing down the actual Incarnation for my own improvised version.

Invite Jesus into your Heart - Much more manageable than dying to self and being resurrected with Christ. Comes from our old buddy Finney's influence. For some reason, we don't think children will understand the concepts of repentance, faith, and atonement, so we hit them with an abstract, poorly constructed metaphor that is found nowhere in Scripture instead. Good call.

It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship - My boy Ted Kluck had this to say in my [not so] recent interview with him:

"[That buzz phrase] is bogus. It is about religion. When Paul was confronted with the altar to the unknown God, he didn’t respond with: “Hey, mystery, that’s great! You have an unknown God…I have an unknown God…let’s do life together and be authentic in our uncertainty.” He preached. He implored Timothy to preach, and to guard the good deposit. I love relationships as much as the next guy, but I also love the gospel and think that if it was important enough for Paul to endure beatings and imprisonment for, it’s something I can and should take a stand on myself. In that same Acts passage, Paul ended with (v. 31) “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Missional - In his book Don't Stop Believing, Michael Wittmer writes:
"It doesn’t help when postmodern innovators punt many of the important questions into the inscrutable realm of mystery. Earlier this year I attended a conference on the missional church. When asked for a definition of the term missional, a leader of the conference mysteriously proclaimed that the concept was too lofty for him to explain. Then he asked us to accept his inability to define it as proof that he understood it, implying that anyone who could put words to it would prove that they did not get it. So if we think we know, we don’t; and if we don’t know, we do. At this point I realized that I had just lost two days of my life to a cause that even the leaders knew little about!" (p. 135)

Red Letter Christians - A self-designation that means I take the words and ethic of Jesus more seriously than confessional or doctrinal Christians. It also indicates a complete misunderstanding of inspiration, as the "red letters" are no more authoritative and no more the Word of God than the black letters. Again, Jesus himself said that the whole of Scripture is about Him.

Relevant - 1. A cool magazine and now-defunct publisher. 2. A once-helpful buzzword. When Christianity had cornered the market on irrelevance (e.g. Stryper, Lord's Gym T-shirts, and Jesus dog tags), this term came in as a helpful litmus test. Unfortunately, it's been over-used until all meaning has been sucked out of it. Let it die. If we all stop saying it now, then the magazine won't have to change its name.

Seeker-sensitive - What Jesus was trying to be when he told the crowds they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Then, when many people walked away, he turned to his disciples and said, "You gonna leave too?" SEN-SI-TIVE!

Soul Tsunami - A term coined before we all equated tsunamis with thousands and thousands of people tragically killed. The idea behind it is that we shouldn't ask God to bless the work we do for the Kingdom, but rather should find where God is already blessing and glom on to it. My first reaction to this is, doesn't somebody have to first start doing the work for the initial blessing to happen? More importantly, though, what if Moses, Gideon, Deborah, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, St. Paul, etc. had decided not to obey and begin the work, but rather to find where God was already blessing someone else to lead Israel out of bondage, defeat the heathen, rescue the Jews, build the wall, bear the Messiah into the world, or prepare the way for him...?

Visioning - Another verbed noun. The standard proof-text for treating the Body of Christ like just another restaurant chain is Proverbs 29:18a, "Where there is no vision, the people perish:" (KJV) Yeah, Solomon must have meant "vision statement" type of vision. Remember, it's really important to mine 500 different translations for every occurrence of words like "purpose," "vision," "mission," etc. The translators of the NIV, though, understood that the Hebrew chazon means a vision in the sense of "revelation" (or, as the ESV translates it, "Prophetic vision"). But even the rest of the verse in the KJV should clue us in: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." The kind of "vision" that keeps people from perishing isn't dreamed up by a superstar pastor our brainstormed by a task force; it's found in the pages of Scripture.

What Would Jesus Do? - Nothing wrong with this question. Just remember, that it's LAW, not GOSPEL. Jesus came primarily to do something, not show us what he would do.


  1. Great list. Glad to know there's at least one pastor out there who isn't obsessed with being relational, relevant, and missional, all while creating a space in which to do church.

    Not that long ago, I heard a pastor ask someone, "What's your current reality?" I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

  2. "Loving on" people. I HATE THAT.

  3. HA! Those are both great. My "current reality" is that I'm "loving on" these comments.... (Is it telling that to "love on" someone sounds slightly inappropriate to me?)