What sorts of Christianese words and phrases appeared in the June issue of Christianity Today? Let’s find out.
I’m starting a new monthly series here on the Dictionary of Christianese website in which I report on Christianese expressions that appear in the print edition of Christianity Today, a popular monthly evangelical Christian magazine. My goal with this exercise is to provide interesting examples of classic Christianese and point out any newly coined Christianese words that may be showing up in print for the first time.
Think of these brief reports as a Christianese “pollen count”: I’m just sniffing around to see which Christian colloquialisms are blowing around the pages of CT. (I may eventually add a few other monthly Christian periodicals to this informal pollen count.)
Now bear in mind that in the 1970s and 1980s, CT billed itself as “A fortnightly magazine of evangelical conviction,” so as you can guess we’re probably going to be seeing primarily evangelical Christianese within its pages. So this examination won’t be a comprehensive analysis of all Christian culture—just a look at some linguistic trends that are occurring in evangelical Christian culture.
Well, let’s get started.
In the letters to the editor on page 11 I found the first Christianese term: “baby Christian.” Here’s the term in context:
“As a baby Christian, I was so ignorant. I believed that anyone who suffered mental illness or depression was not trusting God. I believed that any form of medication was evil. Shame on me.” (Christianity Today 59/5 (Jun. 2015) 11)
A baby Christian is a recent convert to Christianity. The imagery of a baby in this term has two components to it: babies have a lot of growth and maturation ahead of them, and babies aren’t yet able to master complicated ideas. We see this baby imagery in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2; and Hebrews 5:12-13.
Here’s a quote from my research files showing the term baby Christian being used in the 1970s:
Practically every baby Christian goes through a “honeymoon period” following conversion. For a few weeks, he lives in the glow of his new relationship with Christ. (Neighbour, Thomas Target-Group Evangelism (1975) 26
By the way, don’t get the term baby Christian mixed up with the term cradle Christian. A baby Christian is a new convert. A cradle Christian is someone who grew up in a Christian home and has probably been a Christian for a while.
Well, that’s it for baby Christian. Let’s see what else we can find in this magazine.
On page 17 I found Evana. I wrote about the word evana back in April. Evana is a blending of the words evangelical and Anabaptist. Currently Evana is being used as a proper name for a specific organization that represents a specific conservative wing of anabaptists, but I can easily see this word eventually turning into a generic term for any conservative anabaptists or evangelical anabaptists. You can read more about this organization and its aims and values at their website.
The third and last Christianese term I want to point out is theo-drama (or uppercase Theo-drama), which appears on page 61 in Wesley Hill’s article about Kevin Vanhoozer, a professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here’s the relevant quote:
Don’t be repelled by the word ‘doctrine,’ he [=Kevin Vanhoozer] says in effect. If the Bible is God’s communication to us, then doctrine functions as the “stage directions.” Doctrine helps us take our place to perform the Director’s commands. “Theo-drama” is the way Vanhoozer speaks about the Christian life. Doctrine is part and parcel of making sure that drama gets from the printed page to the well-lit stage. (Christianity Today 59/5 (Jun. 2015) 61)
My initial impression was that maybe Vanhoozer had coined this term, but as soon as I started doing basic research on the term, I discovered examples of it in print going back to the late 1980s, so the term has been around for almost 30 years.
The term theo-drama is used primarily by theologians and academics, so while it is Christian jargon it isn’t the kind of informal, colloquial, slangy Christianese that I generally focus on. That being said, I can imagine that someday the term “theo-drama” will catch on with a wider Christian audience (after all, it just showed up in the pages of CT, which is a magazine for a general Christian audience), so I’ll be keeping an eye on this term in case it blows up and goes mainstream.
Here are a few more quotes featuring “theo-drama” that I was able to find:
There is a very real sense in which the entire Bible is one great “theo-drama” of God’s sovereign guidance of nature and history to a preordained end—the complete and perfect kingdom of God. And yet, that dramatic narrative plays out in a mysterious and complex manner through divine interaction with free agents. (Olson The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (2002) 180)
In tense narratives, God’s saving history with those he has created is put on stage. A kind of “theo-drama” then corresponds to God’s great drama of salvation. (Moltmann Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (2000) 25)
And, for the next quote, I have one from Vanhoozer himself from a decade ago. Vanhoozer’s 2005 book The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology uses the term theo-drama on 90 of the 504 pages of the book (I didn’t count them myself—I had help from Google Books’s search feature), so you can tell he’s a huge fan of the term and the idea. Here’s one choice quote from The Drama of Doctrine:
The sharing of the body and blood of Jesus draws us into the theo-drama. The Last Supper is a complex communicative act whose similarities with Passover blend the story of Israel (looking back to the exodus and forward to the return from exile) into the story of Jesus (the lamb whose death would redeem not only Israel but the whole world). (p. 75)
With regard to where the term theo-drama actually originated, the earliest example I can find so far is in the title of a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, a German theologian. An English translation of his German book Theodramatik was published in 1988 with the title Theo-Drama. This title seems to be the first use of the term in English. I’ll be scheduling some trips to libraries soon to find out for sure.
Do you have suggestions for other magazines I should read because they might contain interesting Christianese? Let me know in the comments.