What ‘Shoot Christians Say’ says about the next generation of evangelicals.

This video made me squirm. It was so dead on and so disturbing. The first thing I thought when I watched it was “what do any of these words actually mean?” and I was convinced that, for most of them at least, I did not know.

Now, I grew up outside of any sort of church setting and didn’t attend a church (with maybe two exceptions) until I was sixteen years old.  Until then, “secular” music was known as “music” and “guarding my heart” was done with Kevlar in a guerrilla warfare situation. And lo and behold, my first experience with a church was a small, Acts 29 church plant of 30-odd young folks. From there I learned some of the evangelical jargon, but stayed away from other linguistic patterns that I found trite (I still think one of the great exegetical swindles of the last 150 years was the use of the phrase “guard your heart”…don’t get me started…). From early on, I was critical of the church’s lingo and sought not to say things that I didn’t mean, I blame it on the fact that I was a reader growing up.

But as I survey the cultural landscape of evangelicalism, particularly young theologically conservative (if not Reformed) Christians, I see a lot of great things; sacrificial communal living, theological depth, caring for the poor, engagement in intellectual dpersuit, et cetera. But this video is a helpful reminder of cultural and spiritual tendencies of young evangelicals that range from sinful to just plain silly.

Spiritual Code Switching

One thing that I have noticed about young evangelicals is the way that they (or should I say, ‘we’, as I am among the ranks) talk normally and the way that they talk about ‘spiritual’ (or gospel, as some might say) topics varies in vocabulary and tone. Notice at about 12 seconds in when they go through the ‘how’s your heart?’ sequence and at about 30-36 seconds when they are praying for ‘traveling mercies’ that the vocal inflection is softer, like a loud whisper almost that varies from a normal conversational tone. This is when you are likely to find the most Christian jargon words per sentence.

I have noticed this when talking to people at a small group during the ‘discussion time’. During small talk or non-spiritual talk, the voice is more ‘at home’ but when it is time to talk about God-stuff, the spiritual voice comes out. I think this is the product of quite few different things. First, it seems to denote subtle discomfort when talking about spiritual subjects. As if it is a straining or an unnatural thing. This makes sense considering the privatized spirituality that is expected in the culture at large. And even when a Church culture is very intentional about ‘going beyond the Sunday service’, as some might say, it is still seen as culturally wrong to speak about spiritual things consistently. And while we fight it, we still have to ‘code swtich’ when we talk about things that are (although sometimes unconsciously) relegated to the ‘private sector’ of life.

While not particularly sinful, it is helpful for Christians to be aware of this, that it may become more natural to see all aspects of life as worthy of divine commentary. This understanding of all of creation as divine has been somewhat lost in protestant evangelicalism in the last few centuries with the ascetic temperance movement and the rise of hyperfundamentalist influence and can be seen even in the vocal inflection of those seeking to obey, worship, and think about God.

“Catch-all words”

The part of the video that makes me squirm the most (and in turn, giggle like a schoolgirl) is at around 1:40 when they start talking about guarding some girl’s heart. I love it because nobody really knows what that means. Let’s be honest, we all have an idea of what it could mean but we aren’t so sure. Besides being nice and not having sex with someone that you aren’t married to, it’s as clear as Lake Erie in the 60′s. But nevertheless, after being told to ‘guard this girl’s heart’ quite austerely, the dude responds with an equally as ambiguous ‘will you hold me accountable for that?’.

What saddens me about ‘catch-all words’ like ‘accountability’ and ‘guarding your heart’ is that they lose meaning and become meaningless assumptions. This has happened with the word ‘gospel’ in some circles. When you attach gospel to everything somewhat spiritual, unless the word gospel has been truly meditated on and expounded, can become flaccid when passed down. Sure, the guys writing the books about ‘gospel-centeredness’ may not have that issue, but it’s transference can become cultural jargon if it isn’t expounded and meaning isn’t searched for in it. What is funny about this video is that what they are saying really doesn’t mean all that much. Ironically, it is important to young evangelicals how it is said

We love marketing

Extreme

Velocity

Ignite

The Edge

The Bridge

Fire

Echo

Reverb

Noise

Elevate

Radiate

722

641

419

Orange

Yellow….

They nailed it here. We, as a young, plugged in, advertising saturated culture love to market our churches like soda pop. We trust churches, seminaries, blogs, et cetera that have sleek designs, good websites and catchy names. We don’t have the desire to sit through a service as St. John’s Dutch Reformed Church of Brattleboro, but ELEVATE sounds appealing. Maybe this is because of the change in the way that we receive information (google vs. books) and the declining attention span of our generation or maybe it is an attempt to attract the google generation. Either way, it is streamlining church and changing the way the body of Christ interacts.

This video is so funny for young Christians because it is so, so true. It is not all bad, because culture is not all bad. But if we are aware of our cultural tendencies, it becomes easier to put them on and off as needed. And it so doing, acting more as salt and light to the culture around us.

About Nick Rynerson

Nick Rynerson lives in Normal, Illinois (no, seriously). In his free time, He writes, attempts to play mandolin, reads and hangs out with his groovy wife. Nick has a soft spot for any song with a banjo and thinks Bruce Campbell is the best actor on earth. However, he is a terrible golfer and has particular distaste internet controversy . Nick is passionate about the Church, (lower case) orthodoxy and whatever he's been reading about recently.

Follow Nick on Twitter: @Nick_Rynerson
or at his website: nickrynerson.com

  • DeoDuce

    What is your beef with the phrase “guard your heart,” is it only that it is vague, or is there something else?

  • http://jaketolbert.com/blog Jake T

    My greatest hate is reserved for the phrase “quiet time” (I’m a half a generation older than the folks in the video). The concept it refers to is fine (even good), but the phrase has always been like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

  • OV

    This reminds me of a pattern I’ve noticed among Protestants generally, particularly those who are in their 30s or younger. When they pray out loud (typically with other people), they use the word “just” a lot, in a way that seems like it’s filler (much like how some use “like” as filler).

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  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    DeoDuce, I don’t know in what respect Nick’s unhappy with “guard your heart” and I’m also not sure in which way it’s popularly used. If I had to guess, I’d hazard that people would use the phrase in a manner keyed toward male/female interaction. But I’ve never been a great guesser. Maybe something to do with the emotions, pinning contemporary Western heart-idioms on top of Ancient Near Eastern ones.

    At least in the context of Proverbs 4, the phrase refers to (so far as I can tell) to protecting the whole ethical self (with wisdom and vigilance) from falling into paths of unrighteousness. Proverbs 4 is, after all, pitting the path of wisdom against the path of righteousness—and concludes with Do not turn to the right or to the left, keep your feet away from evil.

  • Sarah

    A few months ago, we posted an article called “How NOT to Speak Christianese” (http://evangelism.intervarsity.org/how/conversation/how-not-speak-christianese). It’s an overview of what Christianese is, why not to do it, and even has a game to play with fellow “native speakers” to re-instill some meaning to the words we use.

    I also enjoyed your point about how we not only end up sucking the life out of the words, but we also change our tone of voice. Too true.

  • Ted

    “From early on, I was critical of the church’s lingo and sought not to say things that I didn’t mean, I blame it on the fact that I was a reader growing up.”

    I know you’re saying this tongue-in-cheek, but please don’t apologize for being a reader. I think evangelicals in general would be in less murky theological waters if they read their Bible and compared what their pastors preach to it.

  • Nicodemus

    eehhh… i sort of agree and sort of disagree.

    i certainly agree with the assessment of “marketing church,” and i’ve completely had enough of the “young and hip” church. so often it comes off as disingenuous to me precisely because it is so carefully planned out and orchestrated. much like when one’s parents try to use your lingo (or what they perceive is your lingo.)

    and certainly one should not just start using language that they don’t understand just because it seems everyone else is doing it (whether from pop culture or Christian culture.) if one doesn’t understand it, don’t use it. or ask about it. learn about it. similar to above, i think this is again an issue of whether one is being genuine or putting on airs, which i think is the deeper concern that goes to the root of the issue (and is not an issue derived from the use of language.)

    i don’t agree that there is necessarily any problem with words/phrases like “accountability.” the idea of “holding someone accountable for their actions” is not exclusively Christian, nor did it originate there. while the concept may not be in popular parlance as much anymore, i think it continues to see use in Christian circles because it serves a purpose. it expresses a situation and concept that is important to people who try to follow Christ’s example. ideally language should be used to help us communicate and express our experiential reality. if the language adequately does that, awesome.

    mind you i speak as someone who was not raised in the church and did not come to truly know the Lord until later in life.

    i also find it hilarious that you ended this article by saying, “acting more as salt and light to the culture around us.” the irony is strong. =)

  • JACK

    til I looked at the paycheck for $4273, I accept that my mother in law actually earning money part time from their computer.. there aunt has been doing this for only about sixteen months and as of now cleard the loans on their apartment and bourt a great new Chevrolet. we looked here, http://surl.hu/d98F07

  • http://nickrynerson.com Nick Rynerson

    WOAH, JACK ARE YOU SAYING THAT I CAN EARN MONEY RIGHT HERE FROM MY COMPUTER?!?!?!

    Also, yes, the irony of the ‘salt and light’ comment did not escape the author ;)

  • http://TheBereanObserver Bob Wheeler

    I think that there are several different things going on here. I once read an author (and I can’t remember exactly who it was, but it might have been Tozer) who said that he could tell what denomination someone was from by the jargon he used. A certain amount of this is normal — the average Christian is not necessarily a deep theologian or a gifted author. He will have a natural tendency to repeat words and phrases he has heard as a kind of theological shorthand without really thinking very clearly about what they mean.
    I hate to say it, but there is an age factor here as well. Adolescents and young adults tend to be impressed with dress, speech patterns and mannerisms. As you get older all that starts to seem pretty superficial and you go through a stage in which you’re disgusted with being “cool.” But that’s pretty normal, too, and nothing to be distraught about.
    What we all need to learn to do is to think clearly about what we want to say and the audience to whom we want to say it, and to cultivate a relationship with Christ that is genuine, deep, and meaningful. Hopefully then the communication problem will take care of itself.

  • Daniel

    It is interesting to note that the video has been taken down now. I wonder why? I have certainly seen much, much worse.

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  • Gary Simmons

    Here’s a fresh link to the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdcix11qa4E

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