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Often when answering questions contributers throw out a lot of Christian lingo that are foreign and unhelpful to those unfamilar or new to Christianity or the church. Without explanation, this type of language makes the site less accessible and serves to narrow the potential audience.

An article from Tim Keller called the The Missional Church address this problem with overly Christian vernacular. This site is not a church, but I believe Keller's points about language are relevant to an extent:

  • In 'Christendom' there is little difference between the language inside and outside of the church. Documents of the early U.S. Congress, for example, are riddled with allusions to and references from the Bible. Biblical technical terms are well-known inside and outside. In a missional church, however, terms must be explained.
  • The missional church avoids 'tribal' language, stylized prayer language, unnecessary evangelical pious 'jargon', and archaic language that seeks to set a 'spritual tone.'
  • The missional church avoids 'we-them' language, disdainful jokes that mock people of different politics and beliefs, and dismissive, disrespectful comments about those who differ with us
  • The missional church avoids sentimental, pompous, 'inspirational' talk . Instead we engage the culture with gentle, self-deprecating but joyful irony the gospel creates. Humility + joy = gospel irony and realism.
  • The missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present. If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.
  • Unless all of the above is the outflow of a truly humble-bold gospel-changed heart, it is all just 'marketing' and 'spin.'

For instance, the top voted answer for this question starts with the phrase "As Christians we are..." This presupposes that the person asking question and everyone reading the answer is a Christian.

I am not suggesting removing technical vernacular but rather adding concise clarifications/explanations or even just a helpful link when using particularly advanced terms.

Should we encourage "Missional" vernacular on this site? If so, how should this be done? Should the editing, commenting, chatting and moderating facilities be used to steer contributors away from "Christianese"?

  • You probably should add some links to relevant answers in this post. – Peter Turner Sep 30 '11 at 4:43
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    I changed the angle of your question a little bit from "how" to "should" to reflect the fact that we first need consensus on whether something should happen at all before the how can really be addressed. I felt this was appropriate since both answers so far are actually an answer to the "should we" question anyway. You might consider moving some of the content from your question into a self-answer and turning it into an argument for why we should pursue this goal if you do think that way. – Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 9:23
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You are specifically not targeting this site to those unfamiliar with Christianity. You are building a site for "experts" (as well as that term applies to this subject).

Using the proper vernacular is an important way to set the right tone for the site. Certainly, questions involving simpler concepts are welcome, but you should be targeting and DESIGNING a site for experts. Remember, an expert site WILL attract those with less expertise, but if you cater to them specifically, it will not work the other way around; a beginners' site will not attract the experts.

Make your questions as clear as you can, but don't specifically dumb down the language of your questions.

The text below is part of the Area 51 FAQ using a site for "plumbers" as an example, but the sentiment applies equally well here:

Ask real, expert questions

We want you to capture the moment that plumbers feel when they look at Plumber Overflow and say, "Whoa! That's my kinda site!" On a site about plumbing, there are 200 easy plumbing questions, and they've all been asked 100 times on other sites. Don't suggest questions like "How do I unclog a drain?" Instead ask, "If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?" Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

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    I think this line of reasoning actually makes a valid refutation to they way some churches approach this. In trying to "appeal to the masses" they actually sacrifice the quality and integrity of their content along the way. – Caleb Oct 1 '11 at 9:49
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I think trying to apply that sentiment to this site runs somewhat contrary to our purpose here.

This is not a church. And we are not trying to be missional.

SE has it's roots in programming QnA and is inherently technical. The idea with this site is to specifically address a niche audience and offer expert level QnA. Any general attempt we make do dumb down our vocabulary will undermine the stated goal of being expert an level exchange.

Instead of making a site-wide effort to NOT use special terminology, I suggest we answer questions in the same vein they were asked. If a question is clearly from a newcomer that doesn't know any terminology, carefully explaining each concept is appropriate. If a question includes specific terminology and asks a technical question based on them, assuming an underlying understanding of those terms is appropriate. If you choose to use a term in a different way than than other OPs it might behoove you to define it in context yourself.

The same principal would be true on other SE sites. Even though both questions end up being about REGEXs, when on Unix and Linux I would answer somebody asking about 'how to find a string in a file' differently than somebody asking about 'the syntax of zero width negative look behind assertions in pcregrep'.

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    +1, partly for the answer but mainly for the use of "behoove" – Waggers Sep 30 '11 at 9:18
  • @Waggers: I figured as long as Christianese was in the lime-light I might as well throw in some King James English for good measure, pressed down, shaken together... – Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 14:27
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I'm not sure that's necessary at all. If I ask specifically Catholic questions, I want to use specifically Catholic words.

There actually is a problem with this site in the opposite effect. I can't tag a question I can only tag and they're truly not synonyms. One is a Person and one is an action. One means thanksgiving and one means fellowship. Yet, essentially they're interchangeable still, but what would you suggest to replace those words?

The point is, this is not a Church, it's a place for people to as questions about Christ's Church. According to the SE overlords and others opinions, we probably need to specifically discourage questions which do not in themselves encourage the use of specifically Christian lingo in the answers, as these would as a rule not be 'expert' questions.

Personally, I'm not going to get all doctrinaire about the whole thing, mainly on account of the fact that you're right, if we want to spread our beliefs then we need to do it in the vernacular. But, if we want to grow the site, then we need to at least act like experts.

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