Jargon is the language of specialized terms used by a group or profession to communicate in shorthand a big idea or concept. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find myriad articles about why we should avoid using jargon and why workplace jargon is a big problem.
Jargon can confuse and ostracize those on the outside. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and the military are known for their use of insider language. Christians are known for this, too, and it’s not something we should be proud of. We need to get serious about avoiding jargon because it frustrates outsiders who want to understand our faith. It also boosts the cause of those who look for things to criticize about Christianity.
We use words like salvation, fellowship and the gospel in the normal course of conversation with Christian friends. It’s easy to forget that words such these can leave our coworkers and friends confused and even repelled.
As recently as the last century, Americans were more theologically and biblically literate. Not so today.
For example, lost describes our separation from God and inability to find our way back. But most nonbelievers don’t appreciate being labeled as lost.
The term born-again has come to mean narrow-minded, conservative, politically right-wing person.
Sin is another term that causes misunderstanding. It is often viewed by unbelievers as an arbitrary list of thou-shalt-nots. Since most people are averse to arbitrary rules, using the term sin to explain the problem between God and humans, may not produce conviction. It is not likely to generate the desire for forgiveness they should feel for violating God’s standards.
When speaking with non-Christians, we should avoid terms that could be confusing, misunderstood, or perceived negatively. Although the following alternatives do not capture the richness of biblical terms, they may help unchurched colleagues better understand what we say.
Word substitutions to consider
Terms --> Alternatives
Lost --> Separated from God
Salvation --> Knowing God personally
Faith --> Believe in, trust in, rely upon
Repent --> Change mind/heart
Justified --> Just as if I never did wrong/declared “not guilty”
Redeemed --> paid the penalty for my wrongdoing
Saved --> Reconnected with God
Sanctified --> to become all that God created us to be
Adapted from Workplace Grace by Bill Peel and Walt Larimore