Dude, Watch Your Jargon

Dude, Watch Your Jargon

Here we go again.

Have you ever thought that at the beginning of a story you’ve heard several times before? Once the person starts talking you know exactly where they’re going. You’ve heard it before. You get it. Here we go again.

It’s interesting how this sort of thing especially happens in marriage. Husbands and wives do a lot of talking and before long they know each other’s best stuff. What might be the first time we tell our story to friends could be (or feel like) the hundredth time our spouse has heard it. This was the theme of a recently re-aired show from This American Life. They call the show “Reruns” and though overall it’s not that great, this marriage part was really good. They interviewed three couples about the stories their spouses always tell.

We all have those stories, don’t we? Just ask your wife or husband. My “go-to” is from a missions trip in Mexico. It’s self-deprecating and serious, but ends funny. See, already I want to tell it. And if you were sitting in our living room, I would. . . even as my lovely wife would probably roll her eyes. For good reason she’d roll her eyes. It’s the same thing again and again. Same setting, same angle, same words.

It’s exactly what pastors and Christian leaders should not do when we preach, teach, and write gospel truth. Our message is not set on mere rerun. It can’t be, not today.

Trending Now

There are two antithetical trends happening right now.

  • Trend One is that Western society is increasingly becoming post-Christian.
  • Trend Two is that Christian media seems to be at an all-time high.

As our environment grows more contrarian to our message, Christians are saying more than ever. Whether the Internet or pop culture or publishing, Christian voices are beaming out all over the world. Our voices beam while we’re simultaneously marginalized, and this should affect how we talk.

How though? How should these two trends impact our speaking and writing and preaching? There are two ways, one negative and one positive.

Not Like This

The negative application is not to slip into the ditch of “same old, same old” in how we talk. It means we beware the poverty of theological vocabulary. Or, to say it straight, it means: dude, watch your jargon.

The easiest thing to do in a world where we get more air time but less ears is to nestle ourselves into a rut of discourse. We speak macro-jargon. We shrivel down into canned language for listeners who we expect already know the words we no longer define. We say something like the other guy did, and the guy before him, who said it like the guy before him. Let’s press each other here. Christian communicators are not hamsters stuck in their wheel. We shouldn’t just robotically repeat the same lines. We should push ourselves to say things freshly.

Extending Our Elbows

The positive side is simply just that: we should strain to say truth fresh. I don’t mean we replace (or contextualize) obscure words with words that are more culturally sensitive. That is well and good and necessary. Sin is sin and grace is grace. We don’t drop those words or swap them out, but we need to go the extra mile to incorporate new words and concepts in order to crisply articulate truths that fly under the radar of a noisy world. The truths don’t change. The content is unshakable. But our communication should be infused with life. Bright-eyed, soul-soaring life.

The Bible gives us a great example of this. Consider metaphors such “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Or the even wilder metaphors like God being compared to a thief or a drunk (Matthew 24:43–44; Psalm 78:65). Or the ragged language in Galatians about the false teachers (Galatians 5:12). Or the stunning cinematic pictures in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 22:1–2). (Thanks to John Piper for these examples.)

We should extend our elbows to gulp up whole systems of thought, spit out the bones, and swallow the good, for our speech. We should swallow whatever is true and honorable and just (Philippians 4:8). We should tap into our senses and really feel what we say. We should say it fresh in hopes of seeing it fresh.

And even if someone were to say “here we go again,” we know the story we tell is more than a rerun. In fact, it’s good news. And good news isn’t jargon.


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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God, and is the lead planter of Cities Church in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.