July 31 2022 By Norris Burkes

I confess. I read some nerdy books.

One such book is “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” (Crown, 2002).

Bryson doesn’t suffer literary fools when it comes to the words we commonly misuse.

He’s a purist, drawing careful, some would say absurd, distinctions between words such as “nauseous” and “nauseated.” The first word describes the cause of your illness and the second describes the sick feeling you have.

With Bryson’s inspiration, today’s column is “Burkes’s Satirical List of Troublesome Faith Words.” Often called “Christianese,” these are the nauseous church words that cause the unchurched people to feel nauseated.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “Christianese is the language spoken by Christians. It makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with biblical texts but earns a person major points in the eyes of other Christians, because it means your words are hella -holy.”

They constitute the insider language that church people use that tends to turn off the faith-curious.

Baby Christian — Referring to a person new to the Christian faith, not to be confused with a Christian acting like a baby.

Born Again — The misunderstood phrase responsible for turning many people away from the Christian Faith. In John 3:3-5 Jesus tells a faith-seeker that he must be “born again.” It works in the story context, but a more accurate translation is “born from above.” It means a new beginning in life. Why we don’t say “new beginning” I’m not sure.

In the adjective form, “Born-Agains” is a disparaging label for Evangelicals.

Covet Your Prayers — A phrase used by someone who is asking you to pray for them.

Father God –  informal for “God.” Used in fervent prayer when the petitioner really, really just wants something, like really right now. (See Just and Really)

Hedge of Protection — Commonly invoked when praying for someone needing protection. This shouldn’t be confused with one of those hedge mazes at the Harvest Festival where I get lost. 

tion — is the suffix on words like justification, sanctification, indemnification, propitiation. The ending changes the word from a verb to a noun and proves we clergy earned seminary degrees.

Just and Really — Purposely overused in public prayers. Example: “Father God, I just really pray right now that you really, really….”  Not sure that God needs us to beg like a Baby Christian before he hears our prayers.  

King James — The key dialect of Christianese drawn from the King James Bible of 1611.  Four hundred-plus years later, some churches still think God responds more favorably if we say, “Oh Lord, we prayeth for thy daughter Sally who walketh into the Valley of the Shadows. Granteth her a Hedge of Protection.”

Lost, The — A disapproving term describing the unchurched.

Love On Him/Her — It may be a nice phrase, but often a bit patronizing. Probably not the best term in the age of “Me too.”

Open Us With a Prayer — Ouch, this sounds like surgery.  Best change this to, “Please begin our gathering with a prayer.”

Traveling Mercies — Related to the Hedge thing, but more mobile. It’s a blessing or wish for Sister Sally to stayeth safe when she driveths across state to see her brother during this storm. 

Unspoken Prayer Request — This is when someone requests prayer for themselves but won’t fess up to the thing they did. Or a sly prayer for a sinner who doesn’t know they’re being prayed for.

Unchurched — Describes a person who’s not yet found a church that speaks clearly. Please don’t give up. They’re out there.

Many other terms could be added to this list, but in the meantime, I beg my fellow Christians to speak plainly. When we use these terms, we are only talking to ourselves. Worse yet, we lose our relevance to a hurting world. Our speech needs to reflect real hurts and real solutions.

By the way, I often use Bryson’s Dictionary to help me get to sleep. This column will likely serve the same purpose.


Norris promises to speak plain English when he begins preaching at Nevada City First Baptist Church August 14. Send comments to comment@thechaplain.net or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.