Nov 7, 2006

Jesus Jargon: The List

I ranted a while back about Christian Clichés.

You can't really get away from clichés. Clichés arise because someone says something clever or smart, and it works. Or it's just a way to explain a complex idea in simple terms. Nothing wrong with that. But then the phrase gets overused, and eventually it gets said by a white guy on a commercial (i.e. fat white guy on Dominos Pizza says "that's what I'm talkin' about!"). Even "jump the shark" has er, jumped the shark.

I just don't like Christian cliches. Burnside Writers Collective editor Jordan Green and I think that a dictionary of Christian clichés would make a fun book. So we are compiling a list. This isn't a complete list because, well, we'd love to publish it as a book and for you to buy it! Or ask me for a free autographed copy to wow your friends.

If you'd like to contribute your idea, please send a comment below. here are some of our worst offenders...


Many Christian clichés originated from Bible verses, such as "born again" (John 3:7). But if you don't know the Bible, the phrase means nothing. Or worse: it conjures up scary images of blue haired ladies, or Debbie Boone. Some of the oldest Old School clichés go back as far as the Oakie Tent revivals, or as recent as, well, Debbie Boone.

  • Blessed, or blesséd. (we're not sure if it needs the accent aigu) God-ordained luck?
  • Fellowship: sometimes called "The Christian F-Word." (See Sugar's comment below)
  • Brethren: Or Sistren, depending on the group. The friendship or community of believers. This is usually coupled with "do not forsake the brethren." Meaning, "get your butt in the pew!"
  • Go before, come before: to get in front of. To address or approach. Often coupled with just ... as in
  • "Lord we just…" meant to show humility, but ends up sounding wimpy and waffly. Lord we just wanna praise you. Lord we just wanna come before you. Lord I just want Paris Hilton to convert so I can date her."
  • In the word: reading the Bible.

Same Poo, Different Day. In reaction to fundamentalism, many Chrisitians wanted to present Christianity as intellectually sound and uh, relevant to, um, the culture (i've already used two). These phrases below probably started out well, but now the user can appear like he's TRYING too hard to sound credible, relevant, or at least cool.
  • Authentic: real
  • Community: Group of friends
  • Authentic community: Real group of friends, I guess
  • Authentic lives: Living really? Really living? (Michael Corwin)
  • Life-on-life: A creepy way to say real (Rebecca Corwin)
  • Having an authentic life-on-life experience with someone: "a creepy way to say we're friends." (Rebecca Corwin)
  • Engaging the culture: getting involved in secular society? I can't help but think that the culture is out there idling like an old VW and someone needs to pop the clutch and engage it.
  • Unpack: Examining something to the Nth degree. At Redeemer Church in New York City, they can go overboard and unpack the announcements. "We are dismissing the kids for Sunday school. Dismiss is from the Greek "desmedoudas" which means to let go, or loosen … JUST SHUT UP AND LET THE KIDS LEAVE ALREADY!
  • Faith-based: A euphemism for religious. Often used in fields where religion is suspect, ie entertainment. A faith-based music label. According to Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman, faith-friendly is coming into use. Aren't we lucky.
  • God showed up: Often used at charismatic hip churches.
  • live that out: Um, to follow through. Replaced "walk the talk."
  • Purpose filled, Purpose-driven. From Rick Warren's best seller. I wonder if there's a purpose driven coffee house as of yet? Or the Purpose Driven desk calendar.
  • Redemption or redemptive: Often used in terms of creative ventures, such as filmmaking and storytelling. This can often be stretched to the point of incredulity. "Despite the gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity, The Sopranos is a redemptive story… (John Fox)
  • Relational: Related; connected. In kinship with. The newest "Next Big Thing" church in LA recently held a seminar on small groups called "VELCRO: Creating Relational Stickiness." This is so bad I can't even talk about it yet.
  • Relevant: Meaningful, pertinent to the time or issue at hand. Overused to make Christianity meaningful and valuable in the current culture.
  • Transparent: Honest. I hope it's not the Christian version of Scientology's "Clear."
  • Transparent on the pulpit: Pastor with a "past" spilling guts about all the sordid things ue used to do before he became a Christian. Either to look cool or to get free therapy (Tina Slenk's brother-in-law)
  • salt and light: being a good example. This one is often used in entertainment industry, like, "it's great you're being salt and light in the industry." (Jeff Raycher).
    I wonder if you can be "salt and light" doing a horror-torture movie? Or a soap?
POMO (Post Modern, Emergent)

The post-modern, emergent church has recently uh, emerged? Well, read the Wikipedia entry on the emergent church. I really love what the emergent church is doing. But like any new thing, the verbiage which springs up around it can get over-used. Here are some buzz words of the Emergent Conversation. (No, not a movement. They don't want to categorized or organized). Hey, I'm 'all about' the 'emergent conversation.' Just not the language.
  • Creating a space
  • Doing life together
  • Intentional
  • Missional
  • Organic and raw
  • Witness worker: Takes the sting out of "evangelist," the way "Sex worker" takes the sting out of "hooker."
  • The conversation: As opposed to teaching dogma, we're having a conversation about faith. Sometimes combined with "having a conversation around this." or "being in the conversation."
  • Tribe: a Po-mo way to say community.
  • Creation-Care: a pomo way to talk about environmentalism. Olivia Mather brought this one to my attention.
  • See the Postmodern Essay Generator to really unpack the above

  • "What can I say" a line from a worship song played at a new hip church. It went something like
    You made a way, what can I say? or
    You turned night into day, what can I say?
    These lyrics are gay, what can I say?
    As I've said before: Dear Lyricist: If you have to write "What can I say?" Please, move way from the pen, ask yourself "what CAN I say?" When you have an answer, come back and write it. Until then, don't put it in a lyric. And don't make me sing it.
  • European music has no place in a multicultural church." Quoted in the LA Times by the pastor of church above. But there is a place for "what can I say?"
  • "Don't nobody do me like Jesus." Becca Bennett said that the worship leader in her college wrote this song, and they were forced to sing it at chapel.
  • I'm coming into the heart of worship, and it's all about you, it's all about you, Jesus. This song tries to affirm that worship is about Jesus, not us. But it sounds oh so much about ME.
  • "You see me and my insecurities." I heard this at a church recently. I don't remember what they rhymed with insecurities. Maybe Maimonides, or Euripides or heebee jeebees. Or maybe the song just gave me the heebee jeebees.

Taking intransitive verbs and making them transitive, coopting speak from other areas like business, technology, rock n roll... The first usage of such often induces a knowing chuckle from the audience. If the word is arcane or "inside," it invokes an exclusive, knowing chuckle. But like any good joke, when overtold, becomes its own cliché.
  • Impact: don't they mean make an impact? What, is it a wisdom tooth? (Phil Oosterhouse)
  • Grow the budget. I think you grow food and flowers.
  • Bandwidth: The pastor doesn't have enough bandwidth to see everyone.
  • Download: I just got this download from God ... Some tech head just have said this and caught on. I'm sorry but I can't help think of download as a euphemism for taking a dump. As in "downloading brownware." See also "unpack."
  • VELCRO: Creating Relational Stickiness: the same hip church's title for a seminar on small groups. How can I express how bad this is? This from the church that disses the hymns as "irrelevant European music" but sings "You made a way, what can I say?"
  • BTW: I have several friends who go to this church; I've heard the pastor's sermons. He's terrific. So are my friends. This church is doing a lot of good stuff.
  • God told me that (Maria DeAngelus, Phil Oosterhouse) Brian Godawa points out they often add, " 'Not in an audible voice, but he spoke to my heart with a strong impression.' Summarily existentialized so you can’t challenge it."
  • Hope: Christian hope. "Christians don't have a monopoly on hope. Plenty of people have hope: hope in success, money, fame, family. The only hope Christians really can claim is the hope of eternal life. (Michael Corwin).
  • Let's see what God wants: not taking responsibility for human decision. (Maria DeAngelus). God wants me to marry you. /Really? I've never seen you before in my life.
  • Rightfully His
  • Consumed By the Call
  • In His Grip
  • In his Grasp (like In His Grip, but for girls?)
  • Under The Mercy: This one is not yet under arrest of being a cliche, but it is a 'person of interest'
  • Amazed by Grace: Pastor Joel Pelsue first used this, but then everyone else copied him. I've thought of a few others so you don't have to plagiarize Joel...
  • Gobstopped by Glory
  • Flummoxed by Faith
  • Agitated by Adoration
  • Joyfully Jargon-free (Mark Kellner)
  • Jesus is my homeboy
  • Body piercing saved my life (picture of Jesus on the cross)
  • In case of rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned!
  • Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven
  • His pain, Your gain
  • Honk if you ARE Jesus: Explains all those honking egomaniacs on the road

Things we know will become cliché because they're so good
  • Life-on-life: Authentic. Rebecca Corwin brought this one up and it's ripe.
  • Appreciate your ministry: My brother James' euphemism for "get out of my face"
  • Stop dating Jesus: Pastor Tim Keller's exhortation to make a commitment to Christ
  • I love you with the love of the Lord, ONLY: a diss I got from Matthew Corozine and used in a comedy sketch
  • Post-church others: A PC way to say non-christians, coined by James Isaacs

If you'd like to contribute your idea, please send a comment below.


Anonymous said...

Okay, my pet peeve. Prefacing all prayers with "just" and "really," as in, "Lord, we just really want to...."

"Just" = humility. "It's just me, God."
"Really" = earnestness/passion. "I really want" (and want and want and want).

And my favorite sign-off of all time?


Doug Perkins said...

Here's a single Christian dating-ism for you: "He's / she's just my brother / sister in the Lord" - the Christian nice way to say "I have no chemistry whatsoever with this person but know that if I say it like that I will get pummelled for shallowness". In short, this is Christian-ese for the dreaded "lets just be friends".

Sugar said...

A friend of mine once referred to "fellowship" as the Christian F-word.

Anonymous said...

"European music has no place in a multicultural church."


How can "multicultural" exclude a culture?!?!

Or was that a Freudian slip betraying that "multicultural" means everything but Western culture?

Of course we'll keep the parts of Western culture we want -- like electricity, cars, PA systems, deodorant, well-paid clergy, etc.

Anonymous said...

Overuse of the word Father, or the phrase, Father God. "Father, I just thank you, Father, for your grace, Father. Pour out your spirit on us, Father God..." As a woman who has lost her earthly father, it makes me want to scream!

Tribute to Dickens said...

FELLOWSHIP that's always a favorite. Think of what secular people must think when they hear/see Christians passing out flyers inviting people for food and FELLOWSHIP. I'd run from that especially if I didn't understand the positive intention behind it.

Anonymous said...

My pet peeve: "I invited Jesus into my heart" (when I was fourteen...yesterday...whenever...) How does he fit in there?

LarWilson said...

OK, I'm sick of "my Christian walk" or "my walk with the Lord."

Tribute to Dickens said...

These comments are pretty funny. I feel the same as Larry about WALK. What's really interesting is when Christians dutifully ask "How's your WALK?" Answer: "Well I'm spending lots of time in my prayer closet every day memorizing scripture, I go to fellowship Wed nights and I'm 'accountable' to several sanctified sisters in Christ. How's yours?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, just had to pipe up again, this time on the whole notion of accountability, as in, "How are you and God lately?" Well, how am I supposed to respond? "Why don't you see what He tells you?" !!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, again. Bad theology = "God is my co-pilot."

It's all about you, Jesus, except when I'm driving!


Anonymous said...

Oh, and here's something else. When I was in college, I moderated a discussion "unpacking" (hee, hee) all the different denominations of Christianity. One woman in attendance who identified herself as a Presbyterian, I believe, actually asked, "What did the Protestants protest against?"

I, a Catholic, had to pick my jaw up off the floor while thinking, "Lady, if you don't know, then you'd better get your butt to RCIA real fast!" Do not forsake the brethren!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I realize I've been totally abusing my privileges here. So, at long last I just really want to thank Susan for creating a space for the brethren to engage its own culture in such a relevant, authentic, life-on-life conversation.

Grace, (this is one my sister's former pastor would use.)


JohnFox said...

What about, "You just gotta walk the talk."

Anonymous said...

thanks for the good laugh, susie. btw, congratulations i heard is in order. all the best philly way. love, arlene

Soulpadre said...

My fave/not Christian cliche is "I found Jesus." I don't know about you, but Jesus was not last seen at the 7-Eleven with a dog-eared map of Ohio asking for directions to Youngstown! He was never lost!

Anonymous said...

Hey Susan, I just posted a blog on my site inspired by your jargon list. Since I linked to 2 of your blogs, I figured I should let you know about it. Maybe you'll even get some more terms out of it, I used 11.

Happy Thanksgiving! (Go Cowboys!)

Levydry said...

Are you part of the SFM?
(Seeker friendly movement)

What is all this fuss about churches being “seeker friendly”? I can understand if reference were made to believers being “seeker friendly”, this would imply a friendly disposition to unbelievers, “the unchurched”, and the unsaved. This would be accurate in terms of the Word of God, “Go ye unto all the world, and preach the gospel (to the unchurched, the lost etc)…making disciples of the nations” But, I have a problem when church leaders try creating “seeker friendly” services, with the sole purpose of ensuring that these “unchurched” people are not offended in anyway. Come on, church, what would Jesus do?
In a sense, we then need to bottle up the “Holy Spirit’, to ensure this third person of the Trinity does not leak out when we least expect it, and cause a “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord” to slip from our lips. So our services need to be highly organised and programmed to ensure that the Holy Spirit remains well controlled. The focus then becomes “Seeker friendly”, with entertainment being the “carrot” to hold the “unchurched” captive.
So in my opinion, seeker friendly services just lead to compromise. Sermons do not include a call to repentance but rather the content is more ‘secular humanism”, which is able to leave the congregation with a warm fuzzy feeling, which dissipates as soon as they exit the church doors.

Llewelyn Wewege

Anonymous said...

The one that really kills me is when people say they "just want to love on you" or when people make a remark like, "he just needed to be loved on". As a Christian I suppose I should be able to get past that, but it just creeps me out a bit.

Anonymous said...

Here's another one. I don't believe I didn't think of this sooner. "Watchcare." Really nice idea, really stupid word!

Tara Lynn said...

So, I may be a day late and a dollar short, but I gotta add this. You know, it's not necassarily always words here, people, don't forget about the Christian sigh or tisk. The pastors at my old church did this and then every guy started doing it too. "Lord, (tisk) I just (tisk) wanna thank you for all you've done (tisk) (and then a tisk on another tisk). (Tisk, yet again) And all the Lord's people say 'Amen.' (Spiritual sigh here)"

It's enough to make me wanna cut their stupid tongue out. Does anyone know what I'm talking about??? Hmm...

Anonymous said...

Too true! And I LOLed at "downloading brownware." One of my (many) pet peeves: when non-denom churches diss on traditional denominations because of the "wrote prayers" and "antiquated worship" yet the non-demon services are ALL THE SAME. And they've been the same since my mother started taking me them when I was three years old. Like the "spontaneous worship" after the pre-picked music set, when the keyboard player practices his scales, and the worship leader sings, "Alleluuuuuia Lord... we worship yoooooou." The Psalms commanded us to sing a NEW song, people.

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