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10 Cliches: Reworked

A cliche is a phrase that has been overused so much that it has lost its effect and meaning. Christians, according to Christian Piatt, come loaded with them (read the article here). On the one hand, I sympathise with some of Piatt's concerns - he doesn't like the fact that Christians often want to say something instead of listening. On the other hand, I am not sure I would want to reject the content of some of his cliches, only change how they are stated. So, in the interests of both hands I have attempted to rework Piatt's cliches:

"If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?" Piatt says that the reason this is meaningless is that no one knows where they will spend eternity. This might be true geographically (I can't provide a grid reference for heaven or hell), but the Bible clearly teaches that there are some destined to be with Christ or apart from him. Perhaps we should ask with whom will we spend eternity. This provokes the question, "are you with (for, in accord with, on the side of, approved by) God or against (hostile, out of relationship with) him?" So lets forget the geographic question and ask the personal one.

Rework: "With whom would you like to spend eternity?"

"Everything happens for a reason." This is indeed a cliche (and the pop version of the principle of sufficient reason as advocated by Leibniz). Piatt notes that this phrase is often used to comfort those who are hurting, as if knowing that there is a reason for tragedy makes it better.

What Christians might mean by this is that nothing happens outside of God's plan. In other words, if a tragedy happens it is not a accident. It might also mean something like: God could have stopped it, but did not; or even: God knew it was going to happen and determined in advance that it would happen.

However, saying that there is a reason for something happening neither removes the sting nor makes it a good thing. Saying that God has a plan and that he is in control is a better phrase, but I am not sure that that is very helpful to one who is hurting. While it might be true to say that God has a plan, it is not much help to know that when life is seemingly intolerable. Perhaps what might be better is to say that God is trustworthy and that he is in control. By focusing on the nature of the person (God) who has a reason for what is happening we don't make a god out of a reason, but turn to a person, the only person, who is fully trustworthy in the midst of trial. 

Rework: "God is trustworthy and he is in control."

"Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?" According to Piatt, this offer is presumptuous. It assumes that Christians have something everyone needs regardless of what the other person actually needs. Although I think that Christians do have something--the message of the gospel--that everyone needs and that Christians know that need even when the other person does not see it, perhaps Piatt is pointing to a failure of Christians to listen to other people. Perhaps Piatt means that instead of offering to listen Christians merely launch into an explanation of Christian belief or into a personal testimony. If this is the concern then the Christian might ask the person to share a little bit of his or her faith. This would be an interesting conversation starter and may lead to the Christian being asked to share his or her faith in return.

Rework: "Could you tell me a little bit about your faith/beliefs?"

"Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" Piatt has two concerns here. He is concerned that the statement has very little meaning--why not have Jesus live in my kidneys?--and that it implies a merely emotional commitment. Before trying to answer his concerns we might consider another apparent cliche: "Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?" To invite Jesus "into the heart" may mean to accept his lordship. This is not to make Jesus as lord, as some people say, but to recognize that Christ is the Lord; he is God. To accept him personally is to accept his sovereignty over one's life - to deny one's autonomy. This is a matter of fundamental commitment, a matter of the heart. It is not merely emotional, but total - mind, will, emotions. So how about pointing the issue of authority in someone's life, perhaps in the form of a question.

Rework: "Are you lord over your own life? If so do you think that is how it should be?"

"This could be the end of days." The problem for Piatt is that Christians come across as being all about watching for signs of the end. However, there is some truth to the statement and perhaps it should be stated more strongly: "Christ could come at any moment - be ready!" However, this is not much of a conversation starter (or even a maintainer). Perhaps the statement is more of a warning like, "what if today is the end of all days? What if today was your last?"

Rework: "If you were certain that Christ was coming again would you change your life now?"

Finally, there are two cliches that are related to the local church: "You should come to church with me on Sunday" and "Will all our visitors please stand?" Piatt is concerned that Christians need to "earn the right to invite" people to church and if they come they should not be made into a spectacle. He suggests that Christians ought to invest in people's lives before inviting them to church. Perhaps what is needed is some definition of "should" that says what it means. Rather than some kind of universal moral obligation, perhaps we should mean it in a more logical sense: If A, then B. How about suggesting coming to church for a reason?

Rework: "If you want to... (e.g. find out more about God), then you should come to church with me on Sunday."

I don't think I have been in a church that made all the visitors stand, but I take Piatt's word for it. Piatt's concern is that calling on visitors to stand up exacerbates the self-consciousnesses they already feel. However, for some Christians around the world, standing for faith has become very costly. Perhaps the pastor should point this out and request the prayers of everyone for those who stand against the tide, stand for Christ, the Lord of all the earth.