Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Christian Euphemisms

In the interest of clear communication, Christians should carefully consider whether the vocabulary we use in declaring the gospel helps or hinders its furtherance. Contextualization of this sort is commendable. However, sometimes our selection of terms is driven not so much by a desire to facilitate understanding as by a desire to diminish the offense inherent in the message of the cross. After all, warning unbelievers about entering a "Christless eternity" isn't nearly as harsh-sounding as warnings about "hell" and thus the use of such euphemistic language might give us a longer hearing with people who would otherwise be turned off. Of course, it doesn't occur to us that the thought of an eternity without Christ is actually appealing to those who now hate him and have no desire for him.

The use of such toned-down language is not restricted to our conversations with non-Christians. Even when talking with each other we can resort to the use of euphemisms that dilute the concentration of biblical truths. I've always considered the phrase "unchurched" to describe the unconverted to be an example of such. The familiar term can easily give the false impression that a person's most fundamental problem is that he or she has not been properly socialized in church life. Likewise, it can give those who have never repented and trusted in Christ yet who regularly participate in church activities (i.e., the "churched"), a false security.

David Wells in his latest volume, The Courage to Be Protestant, critiques the premises and methods of the church growth and seeker-sensitive movements, noting how the words we use are products of the paradigm that is functionally authoritative:

We need look no further than the way those involved in this experiment speak of the unconverted. In virtually all church-marketing literature, non-Christians are no longer unconverted, or unsaved, or those not-yet-reconicled-to-the-Father, or those who have not come to faith, or those who are outside of Christ. No, they are simply the unchurched. Those who were once the unconverted have become the unchurched. This spares us the embarrassment of uttering theological truth. And that is the tip-off that something is amiss here. What is amiss is that the Christianity being peddled is not about theological truth (p. 45).


Jennifer F. said...

These are some great points. As a former atheist, I completely agree that it's important that we Christians not shy away from clearly stating the truth.

Glad to have found your blog!

Jim said...

You make a good point.

But I'm interested in your use of the term "unchurched" - I've heard the term many times, but never used as a synonym to "unsaved". I always heard it used as a category of unsaved - there are "churched" unsaved and "unchurched" unsaved.

I'll watch and see how it's being used!