Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is Christianese? What are some examples?
“Christianese” is the casual, informal language that everyday Christians use when they are talking with one another about their faith. You can think of Christianese as “Christian slang.”
Some Christianese expressions have become well-known outside the church, such as “What Would Jesus Do?” and “born again.” But the majority of Christianese expressions are only well understood by other Christians.
Now as a point of clarification, Christianese words are not the “theological terms” you may be familiar with, such as dispensation, doxology, exegesis, hermeneutics, hypostatic union, justification, regeneration, sanctification and substitutionary atonement. For one thing, there are already hundreds of specialized dictionaries that define these standard Christian theological terms. In fact, most of these terms are clearly defined from a Christian perspective in college dictionaries and unabridged dictionaries. By comparison, Christianese words and phrases are almost never defined in the usual dictionaries, and up until now the only way to learn what they mean has been by asking other Christians to explain them.
You can see many common examples of Christianese here.
Q: What is the Dictionary of Christianese?
The Dictionary of Christianese is a new dictionary currently being written that explains the slang words and expressions used by Christians. The Dictionary is a serious work of scholarly research, and it is written for use by all kinds of people, including new Christians, long-time Christians, and interested curiosity-seekers of every sort.
The Dictionary will help you avoid overusing Christianese in your sermons, so that everybody can understand what you’re saying. The Dictionary will help you remove Christianese from your promotional literature, so that you can connect with everyone you’re trying to reach. The Dictionary will explain the word histories of the most common Christianese terms, so you can understand how the Christians of yesterday are very similar to the Christians of today. The Dictionary will take you on a fascinating tour of the creative and humorous ways that Christians have come up with to talk about their faith and the world around them.
The Dictionary is so much more than a list of words and expressions that Christians use. Every term is carefully researched and defined, and most of the words have cross-references to similar and related words. Quotations of actual uses of the word are also provided, and in many cases the Dictionary explains the origin of a term and who originally coined it.
Q: Who is this Dictionary for?
This Dictionary is for everyone, whether you’re a new Christian, a long-time Christian, or not a Christian at all. Whether you grew up immersed in the various idiomatic expressions of Christian culture, or if you’re a non-believer who can barely understand (or stomach) what Christians are sometimes saying, this Dictionary is written with you in mind.
The Dictionary’s definitions, explanations, and selected quotations have been written with the aim of avoiding any doctrinal and denominational bias. The emphasis in this reference work is on providing a clear understanding of what these terms mean, where they came from, and how Christians have used them over time. This Dictionary is a work of lexicography and history, not theology. Though some readers may find themselves thinking about matters of faith and religion when they learn what some of these terms mean and where they came from.
The Dictionary is a reference tool for everyone, including pastors and ministers, youth leaders, laypeople, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, seminary students, writers, journalists, newsrooms, publishing houses, professors of religious studies and anthropology, and libraries.
Q: I’m not a Christian. Why would I be interested in this Dictionary?
If you’re not a Christian, the Dictionary of Christianese will clearly explain what Christians mean by their catchphrases, slang figures of speech, and idiomatic expressions. Perhaps you are curious about Christian culture, or maybe you know some Christians and want to better understand the Christian mindset by examining their language. The definitions and explanations in the Dictionary of Christianese will help you do all those things.
The Dictionary doesn’t assume that the reader is familiar with Christian history or culture, nor does it assume that the reader is a Christian believer. No matter who you are or what you hold true, if you’re curious about the casual, everyday language that Christians use, then this dictionary is for you.
Q: I’m already a Christian. Why would I need this Dictionary?
This Dictionary will be a helpful tool for any Christian, whether a recent believer or a “cradle” Christian. For new Christians, this dictionary might be useful in decoding the various slang words that the other members of the church are using. For long-time Christians, this dictionary will answer questions about where we got certain words and expressions over time. Some Christians might even find it useful to identify what Christianese terms they use so that they can be more careful to avoid using such words in conversations with non-Christians.
Q: Do you encourage people to use Christianese?
The goal of this Dictionary is not to encourage people to speak in Christianese. The goal is simply to explain what Christianese words mean. I think there are times when using Christianese is appropriate and times when it’s inappropriate. It all depends on when you use it and who your audience is. If your goal in speaking is to be understood by your listener, then you want to be sure to avoid using words and phrases that are likely to be confusing to your listener.
Christianese can be used to talk with people in a meaningful and expressive way, and Christianese can also be used to be completely misunderstood. In that respect, Christianese words are not really different from other words in the English language: they can be used, misused, and abused.
My task in writing the Dictionary of Christianese is to make sure that anybody with questions about Christianese words and phrases will have a convenient and authoritative resource they can use to look up answers.
Q: When will the Dictionary go on sale? How much will it cost?
Already more than 7,500 terms have been selected for inclusion in the Dictionary, and I am currently in the process of writing definitions and collecting quotations for those words. Publication of the Dictionary is still a few years off.
Possibly the Dictionary will be released in volumes. For example, volume 1 might be published first with just the words that start with the letters A-C, and then a year or two later there could be a volume 2 with the words that start with the letters D-F, and so on.
I want the price to be reasonable so that ordinary people will buy it and not just libraries and pastors. Until I know how many pages the final book (or each individual volume) will be, I can’t begin to calculate what the price would be.
Any news about the Dictionary’s release date and price will be announced on this website. Stay tuned.
Q: How did you get started writing this dictionary?
I grew up a “cradle Catholic,” meaning that my family was Catholic and we participated in weekly Catholic mass for as far back as I can remember. As I got older, I went through the usual sacraments of First Communion, First Confession, and Confirmation. In elementary school I served as an altar boy, and in high school I sang in the choir. I remained active in the Catholic Church until I was in my early 20s. That’s when I started seriously reading the Bible. You see, even though I had participated in church my whole life, I had never really sat down and read the Bible from cover to cover. So I read through the entire Bible from start to finish for the first time, and this process of studying the Bible and thinking about what its teachings meant to me led to me switching to the Protestant church.
Within a few short weeks of attending a new Protestant church (a Methodist church, in fact), I realized that the people there had a lot of figures of speech and slang terms that they used to talk about their church and their faith that I had never heard before. This surprised me quite a bit, because I assumed that I knew “how Christians talked” since I had been going to church my whole life. I realized that Protestants have an entire slang vocabulary of their own that they use when they are casually conversing with each other before church and after church and when they are just hanging out (or, as they refer to it, when they were “fellowshipping”). My whole life I have been interested in words and where they come from, so I began to keep track of all these new “Christianese” words and phrases I was hearing. At first I just kept mental track of the words, but there came to be so many that I had to start writing them down in a file on my computer. After a few years I had hundreds of words in my list, and I wasn’t even trying very hard to collect them.
Eventually I had the thought that there are many new Christians who start attending a Protestant church and encounter these Christianese words and don’t have an easy way of finding out what they mean. Christianese words and expressions aren’t listed in any dictionaries, and it’s inconvenient (and sometimes embarrassing) to always have to ask your friends what these new words mean. I had tried using Google to find out the meanings of some Christianese words, and there were only a few web pages that talked about Christian lingo and slang, and usually those web pages just focused on the humorous aspects of Christianese—they didn’t really explain what the expressions meant or where they came from. I concluded that there was an urgent need for a serious and thorough study of the Christianese vocabulary, and so in 2008 I began to methodically track of all the Christianese I could find. In 2010 I created the website http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com and made plans to publish a printed dictionary that is comprehensive and scholarly but is also written with all kinds of people in mind. I currently have nearly 8,000 terms in my word list, and I estimate that the completed dictionary will contain over 10,000 words and over 1,000 pages of material.
Q: I want to cite the Dictionary of Christianese as a source. How do I do that?
The Dictionary of Christianese is not yet a published book, so it’s reasonable to wonder how to cite it as a source. Until the book is published, you have really only one option: Cite it as a web page.
Tim Stewart, “10/40 Window, 4/14 Window, 40/70 Window,” Dictionary of Christianese, March 5, 2013, http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/1040-window-414-window-4070-window/.
Q: I’m a journalist or student who is researching Christianese. Can you help me?
I would be happy to help you. I’ve given media interviews and also helped students with research projects. My contact information is below. Let me know what you are looking for, and I’ll see what I can do for you.
Q: Who can I contact for more information about the Dictionary?
You can contact me! I’m Tim Stewart, and I’m the researcher and editor of this Dictionary. Feel free to comment on any of the blog posts or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another good way to interact with me is on Facebook: here’s the fan page for the Dictionary of Christianese on Facebook.