Emergent Christian Cliches to Avoid

To learn about Christian Piatt’s new project, “A**hole Christian Survival Guide,” and to pre-order your copy, CLICK HERE. The humorous illustrated book will include these and other Christian cliches, games and a lot more. 

Following the creation of my first five articles in this ongoing series about Christian cliches (links below), I was alerted to the fact that my lists were notably absent of particular cliches often employed by emergent Christians. While the emergent Christians are endeavoring to re-imagine the way we engage faith, one another and the world differently, the movement still is dependent on human beings. As such, we tend to screw it up.

So in the spirit of fairness, I offer you a list of things emergent Christians can and should strike from our daily lexicon…

We Don’t Use Gender-Exclusive Language for God. There has been plenty of pushback against speaking of God only as a “he,” and this has been addressed with new worship music, updated translations of the Bible and from the pulpit. And while it can be affirming to speak of God in broader terms, while also recognizing the baggage some people carry with regard to certain terminology for God, it’s unfair to suggest that any gender-specific descriptions of God are somehow inaccurate or inferior. If some people find comfort in thinking of God as father, mother or even both, it’s not our place to take that away from them. engaging in substantive discussions about why we all use the words and imagery we do to describe God can be a good thing, but not if we’re starting from a position of having some kind of theological high ground.

Is this (fill in the blank) fair trade/organic/locally grown/humanely raised? I think it’s great that part of the ecological and social stewardship at the heart of the emergent Christian movement is to know more about where all of the goods we consume come from, and at what cost. But making a big scene about such values in public serves to draw attention to ourselves more than the cause we value if not done with some discretion. And as the text in Proverbs says, to everything there is a season. There are times to ask where your chicken came from, but probably not when you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table. Trying to make others feel bad because they don’t share your values only serves to buttress the stereotype of Christians as morally superior, arrogant and insensitive.

I’ve kind of moved beyond the whole (fill in the blank) Christian doctrine. I bristle as much as anyone in emergent Christianity when someone tries to pin me down with a certain Christian doctrine like my position on the trinity or my doctrine of salvation. But to reject these traditions outright is both a potential affront to those who still embrace them as well as a rebuff of our religious history. It’s healthy to have a reason for embracing or setting aside doctrines of our faith, but if we talk about getting over them or moving past them, it implies those who don’t agree with us are, well…dumb.

That is a very colonial/imperial attitude. Most people would agree that plenty of harm has been done in the name of the Christian faith, or faith in general, for that matter. And while some call for the dissolution of religion all together, others believe that it is the marriage of faith to the power of a political empire that creates the real abomination of an otherwise peaceful and affirming faith. But while it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to separate Christianity from its history of Christendom, casting knee-jerk judgments on sentiments or perspectives held by others only deepens the divide between two already deeply-entrenched camps. Yes, Jesus spoke truth, but he did it in love. And if we’re not coming yet from s place of love, it’s probably best not to speak at all.

I love Jesus but not religion/the Church. Though this kind of began as an emergent Christian mantra, it’s actually begun to be embraced even by some evangelicals. But can we really cast such a broad net over the whole of organized religion and the entire history of the church? Has nothing good at all come from our two thousand years of history? Can we take nothing forward with us, despite our resistance to the established norms of institution? The whole “I love this but hate that,” attitude reeks of modernist duality, which seems to work directly against what emergents claim to value. So be bold in critiquing the institutions of power in our midst, religion included, but don’t throw our entire collective history under the proverbial bus because the phrase trends well on Twitter.

We don’t do traditional worship. Emergents tend to define ourselves as much or more by what we’re not than by what we are. And like the cliche above, we have a bad habit (bordering on tradition?) of kicking everything that smacks of traditionalism to the curb. Yes, some traditions become false idols that should be challenged, if not completely toppled. But tradition also is part of how we continue to create and pass on our collective story. Plus, while many emergents reject the very idea of tradition, we’re already in the process of creating some new traditions of our own. I wonder how we’ll react when a future cohort of Christians calls us on our own dusty, rigid ways?


This last one isn’t necessarily limited to emergents at all, but it came to mind as I was wrapping up the list I’ve created so far. Plus, after compiling the list of emergent cliches above, I realized I had thirty-nine, so I squeezed out one more to make for a nice, round number.

I don’t (insert activity here); I’m a Christian. It’s fine that you choose to live differently because of your faith. In fact, one’s faith should inform much about their daily life. But by making public announcements about what you do and don’t do because of your religious beliefs, you’re not only implicitly casting judgment on those who think or act differently than you; you’re also exalting yourself, which I’m pretty sure is something Christians aren’t supposed to do. Yes, I know we can find a Biblical basis for “boasting in Christ,” but if what you’re doing makes you look like a self-righteous tool, you’re probably doing more harm than good.


Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

Read article four in the series here: Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches

Read article five in the series here: Five New Christian Cliches to Avoid

"americas systems are not perfect but the exact opposite extremes or getting rid of everything ..."

Five Ways “Representative Democracy” is Failing ..."
"who are we to say who does and who does not? have we been given ..."

25 Christian Blogs You Should Be ..."
"An informed opinion has value. One that is not has no value. No different if ..."

Five Things Christianity Can Learn From ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • One of my favourites is “Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible.” I say that along with all of these fairly often…

    • now there you go, making me start another list!

      • Lesley Deysel

        I dunno if that should really fall under “cliches to avoid”; doesn’t it sometimes need to be said? I know some people who talk as if the Bible IS Jesus, literally, incarnated in paper and ink this time instead of flesh – kind of like a fundamentalist Protestant version of transubstantiation.

        • Oh, I agree that it is an important message, which is why I say it a lot myself. But I do think that it is becoming a cliche and once something becomes a cliche it has less potential to actually impact someone.

  • Jo Ann Staebler

    Worship, when actually engaged in, is always traditional. Worship IS a tradition. And worship is always contemporary if people are actually doing it right now. Contemporary=now.

  • Bill Shearer

    It’s not Emergent, but it’s popping up all over my Facebook feed today: “I am praying for our country and the President” It’s usually followed by a few Bible verses that warn of authorities other than God or something about enduring trials and tribulations.

    Reeks of “Bless his/her heart”

  • “Tradition is the living faith of those now dead. Taditionalism is the dead faith of those now living.” A quote from a Presbyterian minister years ago.

  • I love this list. I’m Pagan not Christian, but I can tell you there are some people in the New Age movement who could benefit from this list, especially the one about “I’ve moved beyond X doctrine.” I’ve heard that from so many people and it always makes me cringe. People sound so self-important when they say that.

  • We worship God, not tradition or Scripture or reason or our personal experience. If we believe in the communion of saints we have to be connected to the whole Christian witness not just the witness of the past 20 years.

  • That verse is actually found in Ecclesiastes, not proverbs.

  • Theo

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at in your first cliché. Maybe I’m just missing the context it’s used in, but a gender-neutral or gender-inclusive god would probably have helped me when people inadvertently started pushing me away from faith, in part by talking about god as both transcendent and definitely a dude, though.