If there is anything that needs correcting among Christians in general, and Christian counselors in particular, it is their use of poor terminology. When I say “poor terminology” I am not thinking of shoddy or pornographic language. I’m speaking of misidentifying truth by using language that belies biblical truth.

The world has been working at eroding language over the years. Today, with the advent of the feminist, and the politically correct movements, the process has been greatly accelerated. Bad as the destruction of language that these movements has caused, perhaps even worse is the way that jargon—particularly the jargon that flows from the psychiatric world—has negatively affected speech. And thought!

I say, “and thought!” not as an after-thought. I placed it alone to call attention to it. Why? Because all speech affects thought. Thought affects living. Living affects relationships with God and with man. That is the point at issue. It isn’t only that we think in words. Concepts coupled with attitudes are formed by hearing certain terms over and over again. What we hear often enough we are apt to believe, (Remember Hitler’s “Big Lie?”). Especially, if we have been listening to ourselves say it.

Let’s take an example. We begin with something simple, but perhaps not so obvious. There are certain phrases which over the years sinners have manufactured to excuse their behavior. Here is a common one today: “I made a mistake.” Every time a politician is caught in sin, he refuses to use the term. Instead, the common way to define sin is to call his behavior a “mistake.” True, sin is a mistaken activity, but it is far more—it is an offense against a holy God. This excuse for sin is being carried over into the hoi poloi as well.

More common among most people is the expression, “I didn’t mean to do it.” The proper retort should be, “Then why did you do it?” Of course, he meant to do it! Both you and he know that. What we really mean by that excuse is, “now that I’ve messed up so badly, I want you to know that I had no intention of getting either you or myself into this mess.” What he is expressing is a lack of intention after the fact. And, subtly, he has turned the intention from what he really did mean to do to what he regrets having done. We usually do what we intend to do, in spite of the language of excuse that we use to hide it.

Recently, their expression, “I have [had] a need to,” has been foisted upon us by the psychologists. Now, the common expression for requiring a shovel to dig up some dirt is “I need a shovel.” In the absolute sense, even that isn’t true—one might use his fingernails! But, I’m not getting down to that level of thought. What the modern expression says, in effect, is “my inner urges are [were] so powerful that I cannot [could not] help myself.” The unspoken implication is, “So, then, please let me off the hook.” Three factors might be mentioned in this regard:

  1. The word “desire [desired]” might be more readily substituted for the word “need” in the expression.
  2. There is some difficult to control force within, but that it is a “need” which requires one to meet it, is utterly false. That there is an irresistible, inner force behind our actions—namely, sinful desires—is true.
  3. But that we ought to be left off the hook by not controlling them is inaccurate. It is a psychiatric ploy for reducing the sense of guilt.

Let’s look at another word misuse: “psychological problem.” Too many Christians use this lingo in a totally unintelligible fashion. Most psychiatrists would have difficulty defining it. Perhaps it makes the speaker think that the problem is beyond reach—at least the reach of a layman. Thus, by simply adding a word to the term “problem” one deftly eliminates any responsibility to deal with it. Or, in other cases, the one who uses the limiting adjective may simply want to sound scientific. In most instances, however, it would be a solid bet to say that the individual using the term meant to excuse someone in some way by doing so.

Consider this: Akin to the addition of the word “psychological, is the word “syndrome,” a term that follows a so-called diagnosis. A syndrome, however, is simply a collection of observable factors. It may be appended to almost any other term one wishes. It sounds scientific, but tells us nothing about scientific studies that have proven something beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mentioning “syndrome” reminds one of the totally unscientific, but commonly used word, “complex.” This term, added to the word “inferiority,” an expression which has a gravely questionable psychological background, is used willy-nilly by Christians to describe someone who may be a bit timid, hesitant, or backward.

If we want to be accurate, the way to be so is to become more and more biblical in our use of vocabulary. If you are going to describe an inner force, an outer action, an observable phenomenon in someone’s life and so forth, then go to Strong’s concordance! But above all, don’t go on confusing things for people by employing jargon or by mouthing excuse-laden expressions or sentences.

It was language that bound God to man in the garden; in the cool of the day, God walked and talked with Adam. The devil aimed at that bond—he questioned God’s Word. When it was rejected for the falsehoods of Satanic language, the bond was broken. Today, what binds man to God is His Word. First of all the living Word, Jesus Christ. Then, of course, the written, breathed out Word of God. Throughout history, the evil one has done all he can to make men question His Word. He attacked it in the garden; he attacks it now. One of the most subtle ways in which he succeeds is to con Christians into accepting errant terminology.

As Christian counselors, we must be exceptionally careful to describe conditions biblically. Otherwise, they will confuse and lead astray. People have enough error in their thinking, that can be discovered by monitoring their speech patterns. They need to learn no more from well-meaning, but foolishly carelessly speaking Nouthetic Counselors!


The Christian Counselor’s New Testament and Proverbs, translated by Jay Adams

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