Beliefs Culture Opinion

A definitive guide to evangelical lingo, part 3

But it's Biblical! Image by Will Laren via Flickr (

Where were we? Oh, right–just so humbled to live in this messy space together as we seek to fill the God-shaped hole in all of us. Today, we take a look at some more of the groupspeak that lets you know you’re in the weirdest club in town: Evangelicalism. Language has always been used to denote who’s in and who’s out when it comes to certain groups, and these words and phrases are like a dog whistle to a certain kind of Christian. Use them at your own risk.

Definition: (1) Adopting the mindset or practices of a missionary in your local, first-world circumstances; (2) emphasizing the mission of God as you understand it above other ecclesial priorities
Example: “In many cases, the phrase missional church simply puts new clothes on old trends, such as the seeker-sensitive church movement.” Source.
What’s weird: What? Everything is weird! This is not a word! I mean, it is, but it just means “relating to a mission,” which all churches have always done throughout all of time–some better than others, but no church has been created by people who were like, “Eh, we don’t really have a mission, we just want to eat donuts together.” That’s an eating club, not a church. Like “emergent” before it and whatever weird word comes next, “missional” is vague, nondescript, and so broad as to be pretty much meaningless.

But it's Biblical! Image by Will Laren via Flickr (

But it’s Biblical! Image by Will Laren via Flickr (

Definition: Contained in the Bible.
Example: “There are clear biblical mandates for us that godly women are to cultivate a quiet trust before the Lord.” Source.
What’s weird: The word “Biblical” is like the last episode of Lost: Everyone thinks they have the market on what it really means. Technically, it is Biblical to rape your neighbor’s wife and have her husband killed in battle. David did it! It’s in the Bible! It is often used to mean things that are praiseworthy or virtuous, because Christians revere the Bible, but disagreements over what constitutes Biblicalism (is that a word?) have lead to opposing sides taking potshots at each other over everything from gender roles to sexuality to drinking alcohol. It used to be that a number of Christian colleges prohibited dancing, but have since updated their policies to allow for some forms of it. Did dancing used to be unbiblical (David also did it!) and through some form of revelation become okay?


Servant’s Heart
Definition: The gift or desire to serve other people, personified in the person of Jesus.
Example: Tim Tebow wants a to marry “someone sweet and kind—and that has a servant’s heart.” Source.
What’s weird: This phrase has become so gendered that it’s impossible to use as it was originally meant to be. It isn’t in the Bible, although the Bible does enjoin Christians to serve one another and it talks about the condition of our hearts. But it’s almost exclusively used to describe Christian women. Two of my good friends attended Thanksgiving dinner at the home of another friend, and when they got up and started clearing the table, a third couple thanked them by saying, “You two have such servant’s hearts!” The third couple did nothing to assist in the clearing of the table. Saying someone has a “servant’s heart” can be a way for entitled people to feel good for praising those who serve, and that’s why it’s bullshit.

Modest is Hottest
Definition: I mean, does it need explaining? This is the idea that Christian women are “hottest”–i.e., most attractive to men–when they dress modestly.
Example: “Take out a pink Sharpie, and take note, girls: Modest really is hottest.” Source.
What’s weird: My friend Sharon wrote a great post about how this phrase is hurting Christian women.”Making modesty sexy is not the solution we need,” she wrote. “Instead, the church needs to overhaul its theology of the female body.” Modesty in the Bible has much more to do with behavior–the way we comport ourselves–than with how we dress. Yet every young Christian girl who went to summer camp knew better than to wear a bikini, unless she wanted to be judged. “Modesty” was one of the four M’s, a funny set of rules put to song every year at the church camp I attended. It wasn’t as severe as it was in other places, where Christian women are still made to wear long, loose clothing and feel shame at their bodies, but I can tell you it was never a yardstick for the boys. The harm that this phrase can do is almost unlimited, and it plays into all the worst stereotypes about gender: Men are sex robots who cannot take you seriously if you look somewhat attractive, and women’s bodies are bad and not to be enjoyed. There are so many better ways to talk about appearance and image than to make women feel bad about themselves.

About the author

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.


Click here to post a comment

  • Interesting series. I agree with much of your “What’s weird”. But I have to say that your example of what is Biblical really misrepresents both Scripture and probably most people’s appeal to the authority of Scripture.

    When reading Scripture one will find described behaviors, and prescribed behaviors. In your example the Scripture is merely describing David’s sin, NOT prescribing it. In fact to study that description of David’s life, is to learn what not to do. As an example of a prescribed behavior, when Jesus tells us to love one another or to pray for our enemies, he expects us to follow his prescription.

    Again I agree that all people, not just evangelicals are more effective a communicating when they pay attention to all aspects of their communication especially with people who don’t identify themselves with that group.

  • “Where were we? Oh, right–just so humbled to live in this messy space together as we seek to fill the God-shaped hole in all of us.”

    Speaking of which, what exactly is the evangelical definition of “humble?” I keep hearing Christians talk about how humble they are and how they aspire to humility. But calling yourself humble is never humble; you’re supposed to let other people call you humble, not brag about how humble you are. What do they even think the word means?

  • Curious, I think you’re confusing saying one’s humbled with saying one is humble.

    The two are opposite.

    The latter is a contradiction in terms. The former is not. The latter is about self. The former is about something that dwarfs the self.

  • I guess in Laura’s circles, it’s cool for adults to whine incessantly about how both evangelical subculture and human nature refuse to become other than themselves. Part of being an adult is coming to terms with the immutability of many things. It’s the opposite of what children do.

    If Laura wants to do a truly funny spoof on evangelicalism, she should take lessons from Lisa Birnbach’s Preppy Handbook. Written decades ago, it stands as a way to poke relentless, irreverent fun at a subculture without being bitter or mean-spirited.

    I guess the difference between Laura and Lisa is that Lisa was not bitter or ashamed about prepdom whereas Laura is apparently both when it comes to evangelicalism.