Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Christian Buzzwords 101

I've been thinking for some time about putting together a new study for use in Sunday School and similar settings, focused on Biblically defining what I call "Christian buzzwords." By that I mean those terms that seem to populate the vocabulary of most evangelicals, but which they rarely seem to be able to clearly express the meanings of. Over and over as I have taught Bible studies, classes, discipleship groups and the like, I have been amazed at how so many professed Christians, some believers for many years, are unable to give definitions for so many basic terms that deal with the foundational truths of our faith. I'm not talking about arcane theological words like supralapsarianism or the like. I'm talking about terms like faith, repentance, santification, regeneration, propitiation, atonement, justification, grace, mercy, and others like these.

In so many cases it seems that rather than do the work to understand Biblically what these terms mean and how they relate to the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, instead so many of today's Christians will adopt some cute little cliche that they hear from some cute little teacher that falls far short of really defining the word. For example, how many times have you heard someone define justification as "just-as-if-I'd never sinned"? Now, to be sure, there is a sense in which this is a true statement. The believer in Christ stands justified before God, and his or her sins are remembered no more. But that is really a better definition of forgiveness, the remission of sins, rather than justification, the imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness to the believer. Justification is so, so much more than simple forgiveness of past sins. But when we adopt a cliche-based definition like this, we are never forced to go beyond the superficial and appreciate the deeper truths of the term and the doctrine. Or appreciate the deeper understanding of Jesus Christ and His grace that comes from a fuller understanding of these terms. They simply remain "buzzwords" that we toss around in Bible studies and similar contexts.

Maybe this is just a phenomenon that I am imagining and that really isn't there. Does anyone else see this kind of superficial "Christian buzzword" thing going on as you teach or converse with other believers? Does it bother you like it does me? I mean, most of these terms are explicitly used in the Bible, so if people are reading their Bibles and encountering these terms but yet having unclear definitions of what they mean, how much is their understanding of the whole counsel of God and the Gospel being affected?

Comments welcomed...but no buzzwords allowed.


sj said...

I was reading this morning from an interview with AW Tozer (1954).

Q: Dr. Tozer, what significance do you attach to the growing discontent of evangelicals with the present spiritual depth of believers?

Tozer: I believe it is a healthy revolt against the cold textualism characteristic of evangelicalism for a quarter of a century or more. ... The strong emphasis on dispensationalism, for instance, which started out to "rightly divide the word of truth' ended up by creating an army of cookie-cutter believers, all repeating each other without any independent thought and without much need for the illumination of the Spirit.

... The spiritual content of evangelicalism has been lowered. But, encouragingly, some people are growing discontented and are demanding bread instead of a stone. If there are enough of such people and if they speak out, it could mean healthy revival in the church of Christ.

Anonymous said...


Wow, 1954? Not a huge amount of progress in the last 54 years in deepening that spiritual depth, is there?