I’ve you’ve been slain in the spirit, does that mean you need to be born again? When the Bible refers to the body of Christ, is that the same body that we’re supposed to eat and whose blood we’re supposed to drink? What about being washed in the blood of some lamb? We’ll talk about Ted Cruz, these phrases, and more on Unapologetic.
I’d like to read you a quote from a CNN TV reporter. Here’s what she said in talking about Ted Cruz:
”One observation. I don’t know, this seems to have slipped through the cracks a little bit, but Ted Cruz said something that I found rather astonishing. He said, ‘You know, it’s time for the body of Christ to rise up and support me.’ I don’t know anyone who takes the religion seriously who could think that Jesus should rise from the grave and resurrect himself to serve Ted Cruz. I know so many people who were offended by that comment.”
Wow, there’s just so much there that we could talk about. The one main point I want to make in today’s podcast is how Ted Cruz said something that communicated to Christians probably without a second thought, but it was incomprehensible to the secular media. You see, when Christians talk about the “body of Christ,” we mean the church, the people of Christ, the new covenant community. But when you say the “body of someone”, out in the non-Christian world, people are thinking you’re talking about a real body. Just picture a dead body rising up out of the ground and supporting a political candidate. That would be a little weird. That’s exactly how this CNN reporter seems to have taken it.
Now, does that show she doesn’t know much about Christianity? Yes, and whose fault is that? I’m sure there’s a fair amount of fault to go around both for Christians and non-Christians on that one. Here’s the point I want to make. We need to make sure that the terms we use and the way we talk about things communicate as clearly as is possible. Because, after all, we’re talking about Christianity and the Gospel, the most important messages that could ever be communicated. Let’s put some effort into communicating it well. This requires knowing our audience.
The way I talk with a Christian about Christianity is going to be different than how I talk with a non-Christian. It’s kind of the same thing as if I’m talking to someone who’s into exercise science about exercise or someone who’s not interested in exercise science. With one of my friends who’s interested in exercise science I might say something like, “Over the last six months I’ve increased my myofibrillar density and I’ve experienced some sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.” Most people are going to say, “What?”
If I’m talking to someone who’s not interested in exercise or not knowledgeable about that, I’m just going to say, “My muscles got bigger,” [hopefully]. We need to use terms that communicate effectively. Sometimes using a proper term or accurate term actually communicates less. For instance, if I were to talk about Christ justifying me on the cross, a non-Christian isn’t going to have any idea where to start with that. “Justify you how? What’s that about a cross?”
I’ve said something theologically deep and accurate but I haven’t communicated well. I have a list of churchy phrases, Christianese you might call it, that we should probably avoid when talking with non-Christians. I actually started out the episode with some.
Being slain in the spirit. I don’t actually think that’s a thing, but nonetheless, the phrase is going to creep non-Christians out.
Being born again actually needs to be explained. I would tend to not use it. It will probably end up recreating the Nicodemus conversation with someone saying, “How do I get born again? How do I go back inside my mother’s womb?” That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a spiritual birth, God remaking us, rejuvenating us from the inside.
Being washed in the blood of the lamb. There’s some great theologically-deep imagery there, but without explanation of the Old Testament sacrificial system, the cross, justification, and lambs, that’s not going to communicate well at all. It’s just going to sound maybe cultish and weird.
The same goes for the words of Jesus when he said, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” That needs some serious explanation and context because Christians aren’t cannibals.
This brings us to the phrase Ted Cruz used: the body of Christ. Any time you say that with a different name in it than Christ, it doesn’t mean a group of people that come together with a common interest. It means someone in their physical body. It doesn’t communicate well to say that a dead person is going to rise up and support you.
As Christians, I want to encourage all of us to take seriously getting better at communicating more clearly. That could be with our children. Children are very good at being sponges and soaking up what we say. Any parent knows that, oftentimes because they hear things repeated back that they wish the child had not absorbed.
Children can also adopt language that we use and not understand what we mean by it. They might not question it the same way that the non-Christian does. Basically, in our conversations with non-Christians, we should not need to have a translator. We shouldn’t be speaking “Christianese.” We just need to be speaking in normal terms.
Common Churchy Phrases
There are some other words I want to give you that might be churchy and maybe we need to use different definitions for.
Saved. Saved from what? I’m not in danger. Actually, in my current seminary class the professor gives this example of a man sitting on the dock fishing, and a guy runs off the end of the dock, dives down into the bottom of the lake, and drowns and dies. The fisherman’s buddy comes up and says, “Hey, that guy, he died so you could be saved. He died to save you.” The fisherman’s like, “Um, I’m not in any danger.”
Often that’s how the non-Christian world interprets how we talk. We’re saying you need to be saved and they’re saying, “I think I’m pretty fine.” That word and that concept, at least in that point in the conversation, doesn’t communicate well.
Sin also needs explanation. Justification certainly does. Repentance does too. This is actually a word we get wrong in the church. It doesn’t mean just to say you’re sorry. It means to change your mind about your actions, your self, your sin, and God.
God is in control. Now we mean what people generally understand us to mean, but this is a loaded phrase. When you say God is in control, you need to be prepared to address Hitler, ISIS, and people like this. Because that’s going to come up. “If your God is in control, then what about the car accident my family experienced? What about the atrocities of the Holocaust?” Etc.
The Gospel also is a term that needs explanation. Good news isn’t fully sufficient either. Christian is a term that certainly needs to be defined. “Are you a Christian?” “Yeah, I go to church. I try to be a good person. I check that box on surveys.” None of those are what it means to be a Christian.
We can ask people what they mean when they use some of these terms. “What does it mean to be a Christian to you?” Now we’re not saying that a Christian is just anything someone wants it to be. We’re simply using this to determine what they think. Then we could use a question and say, “Would you like to hear what the Bible says about what it means to be a Christian?” They’ve given us their opinion, and then we can share back with them.
Maybe instead of repentance, say changing your mind about sin and God, or renouncing my sin. For sin, you could say “my rejection of God by breaking his commands.”
What about grace? Grace is a name used for a woman in the south, right? Well, it also sometimes means letting things slide or being nice to people. We need to define that when it comes to talking about God and the Gospel. Grace would be God’s goodness and generosity in spite of the fact that we did nothing and could do nothing to deserve it. It’s God’s undeserved favor.
What about being born again? We need to define that too. That means God has made us spiritually alive. Did we feel fine before? Did I feel like I needed a new birth? Probably not, but the Bible tells me I did. I need to die to myself and rise to newness of spiritual life in Christ, living for him, living for his holiness and glory and not my own.
Savior and lord is one that some people think doesn’t communicates well. I actually think it does pretty well. Some people have suggested “forgiver and leader.” I don’t like that. Forgiver I like, but leader, that just seems to relegate Jesus to someone we follow, a good teacher. What about “savior and king?” Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, whenever he talks about Jesus, he likes to say King Jesus. I like that. That fits him and his personality and how he talks and communicates, but I think that’s something that we could use when talking with the world. They need to understand that Jesus is the king, that being a Christian means we ultimately bow the knee to and submit to him. He’s our lord. But he’s also our forgiver. He’s also the sacrifice that paid the price for the things we’ve done wrong when we broke God’s law. (You’ll notice I avoided using sin there, or propitiation or things like that.)
Now, one last word. We’ve talked about this one before: faith. Faith doesn’t communicate well at all. Faith in society today is a belief in spite of evidence, a belief without evidence. But faith isn’t actually a way of knowing it all. It’s a way of acting. Faith is acting in trust because of the things you know, because of the things you have good evidence for.
Biblical faith is a step, a reasonable step, a step that makes sense based on the evidence. Like John wrote in his gospel: “These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son ofGod, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
I would encourage you, as you have conversations with your non-Christian friends or relatives or people at work, or even your children, be intentional about using words that communicate well, not just words that maybe flow off the tongue because that’s how we talk about things in church. Realize that the people outside of church need to hear us communicate well. They need to hear the truth of the Gospel.
There’s one other sub-point here. Even if we use terms that people understand, there is something to be said for using terms and a way of talking about things that communicates in a new and a fresh way. Because it makes people pay attention in a different way. For instance, Greg Koukl likes to say “Jesus of Nazareth,” instead of just “Jesus.” That places Jesus as a figure of history that communicates to whoever we’re talking with that we think Jesus was a person who lived in a real place, was born in Nazareth, and actually walked the face of the earth. That’s helpful. Danny Akin, when he talks about King Jesus, communicates something. It also catches the ear differently because people don’t talk like that often.
We should never change the message of the Gospel. But we should aim to communicate it in a way that’s effective and draws people into listen carefully. I hope you’ll do just that over this next week. I look forward to spending this time with you next week on Unapologetic.