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The Limits of Language

Communicating the gospel involves more than using the right words.

When I came to the United States in 1992, I spoke English but still had hard time communicating. with people. English-speaking immigrants have no idea what "step up to the plate," "tee it up," or "hill of beans" means. Doing my best to fit in, I tried to use the idioms even without understanding them. Instead of "hill of beans," for example, I would say "hell of beans." I got some great reactions from Christians over that.

As pastors we want our message to be clearly understood. I've been to many conferences where pastors are coached to avoid using words that are inaccessible to nonbelievers. Words like ministry, fellowship, and testimony are often labeled "Christianese."

While I appreciate the heart behind this sensitive use of words, in my experience it isn't simply our words that need to change—it's our concepts. Most people can figure out the meaning of our Christian words, just like I understood English words as an immigrant. But understanding the idioms within our Christian ...

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