Learning the Lingo

This is another thought I’ve had while sailing (the last one is here), but it probably actually applies to most activities or things which we learn. It’s about learning the right words.

Using the right words

When I first started to sail, the most helpful instructions would have sounded something like this: “When the big white thing at the front starts to move over when we turn, pull on that rope so it doesn’t flap around.” There is no technical language in that sentence at all – anyone could understand it, and anyone could follow the instruction.

But there’s only so long that can be useful. Having to explain everything in the most basic terms means we can never advance beyond a certain stage. It’s much more efficient to say, “When we tack and the jib moves over, pull on the sheet.” Only once we use that sort of language can we begin to do more complicated things and move on to more advanced aspects of sailing.

I’ve sailed in three consecutive years, and each year I’ve got better. I’ve also learned, and started using, more technical terms and language. The two things go together.

It’s probably true of anything. Football. Engineering. Dance. Politics. Literature. They all have their language associated with them. Even as we become engrossed in a book or a TV series, we start to learn the names of characters, places and events. As we become more familiar with a subject and it becomes part of our lives, we use more of the right words.

Speaking Christianese

I think the same is true of being Christians. There are lots of ‘churchy’ or ‘Christian’ phrases or words out there: ‘grace’, ‘atonement’, ‘mercy’, ‘justice’. Then there are ones which might be even more unfamiliar: ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’, ‘hermeneutics’. I don’t think we all need to know all of them. That’s not the point.

The point is that as we grow up in our faiths, we should also be growing in the language of that faith. Of course there’s all sorts of lingo floating round that is just weird and can be exclusive, making us part of the club and other people on the outside (this video is both hilarious and true). But that doesn’t excuse us, I think. We need to avoid being exclusive, but we also need to embrace growing up in our faith.

We all care about certain things. The things we care about, we want to find out about. The things we find out about, we become more knowledgeable about. And as we become more knowledgeable, the language comes along with it. How many of us know more technical terms in our fields of work or hobbies than in our faith? I probably do, in lots of ways. I could tell you in more detail the storylines of Lord of the Rings, Lost or The West Wing than I could most of the Bible. I probably need to ask myself some questions about why that is.

Not the whole picture

Of course just knowing the language isn’t enough. Knowing all the sailing lingo (or even theory) doesn’t make you a good sailor. But it is part of it. I may be wrong, but I have sensed a certain unwillingness among a lot of Christians to become familiar with the language of their faith, almost an anti-intellectualism. ‘We don’t need that fancy mumbo jumbo.’

I don’t think we would apply that sort of criticism to other areas we are passionate about. So why not try to learn a little bit more Christianese?

Any thoughts? Am I right? Please tell me if you think I’m not!


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  • Graham Criddle

    Hi David

    I think you are right!

    In every area of life, there is “technical” language which is necessary for us to grow and mature. I experienced this in my 27 years in the IT industry where I am sure much of the conversation we had would have been incomprehensible to someone outside of the industry or even outside of the particular area that we were talking about at the time. But what we also found important was that people who had an in-depth understanding of the particular discipline – and knew the “lingo” well – were able, when required, to communicate it to people who were less familiar with it.

    And the same principle applies as you point out in your comment about not being exclusive.

    A couple of passages which – I think – speak about this are:

    “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”(Hebrews 6:1–2)

    There are basics which are important, but we need to get them grounded and then build on them.

    “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But if anyone does not have them, he is short-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:5–9)

    Part of our growth is building knowledge and this – among other things – is necessary to prevent us from being ineffective.

    I suppose I could have left my response at my first sentence but thought I would add some context!

  • http://limpingintotruth.blogspot.co.uk/ Dave Criddle

    Thanks Dad! The speed with which you read and comment on these always amazes me, and makes me wonder if you spend your days clicking ‘refresh’ on your facebook news feed…

    Thank you. The first of the two passages you mentioned came to my mind too. I almost included it, but the post was getting long already. I think it is very important. We mustn’t make it an end in itself, but growth in this area matters. I might go so far as to say growth in maturity and growth in knowledge is often proportional. Thoughts?

    I also think your point about being able to explain to others is important. We all need people who are ‘ahead’ of us in this to help pull us forward. And we must be mindful of helping others forward in their journeys too. That is perhaps even more the case with those called to teach, but I think true of everyone to some extent.

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