How to Craft a Christian Aphorism

salve-a-terra--twitter by Danilo Ramos
salve-a-terra–twitter by Danilo Ramos
I guess it would be unfair to blame Twitter entirely. Perhaps if I looked back a generation I could pour my scorn on the creators of bumper-stickers. Though if I were feeling especially churlish I may even be tempted to curse the makers of bumpers for providing them a platform in the first place! But then where would I stop…

I don’t much like Christian aphorisms.

I mean; I like some of them. Which is just as well, since the Bible contains a book full of them! They can be powerful, useful things. Some of the most memorable moments in sermons or books are when the communicator manages to summarise a huge concept in a tiny, snappy sentence that just wedges itself in your mind. I try to do it myself and it works. I like humour, witticisms, puns, and inspirational quotes. So my tongue is somewhat lodged in my cheek as I write this post… but I don’t much like the majority of Christian aphorisms I encounter online.

The type I really dislike are the ones that just feel like a pointless play on words, with a vaguely spiritual message, crafted to invoke retweets. Thrown out into the twittersphere without explanation or follow up. A pastor reaching down from his pedestal to give his disciples a little tickle under the chin. They typically sound like they’re really profound, but when you stop and think about them (which you really should before you hit RT) they make almost no sense at all.

A secular example: Comedian Bill Bailey talks about The Killers’ lyric “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” On a first hearing it sounds clever and profound. It gets stadium crowds punching the air as they sing it in unison. But when you stop and think for a moment, you realise that it is so utterly meaningless, you might as well be singing “I’ve got ham, but I’m not a hamster.”


At certain times of day my twitter feed looks like a traffic-jam in which I’ve found myself eye-to-bumper with a million-and-one delegates on their way home from a Christian Accessory-Expo. Which probably means I’m following the wrong people. Occasionally people tweet laconic witticisms mocking “bumper-sticker Christianity” which is too many levels of meta- and irony for my tiny brain to handle!

And if you’re sitting there, smugly nodding and thinking “he’s talking about Osteen and co”, no. I probably mean your people too. It goes beyond just the quick-fix “Jesus can wash your teeth whiter than the snow” feel-good tweets. This is a cross-tribal thing. We all do it.

So, if you’ll indulge me, here’s a little recipe I’ve put together to craft the perfectly retweetable Christian aphorism.

Store Cupboard Ingredients

Whatever tribe you’re part of, these little babies need to be kept in stock at all times. They are the base ingredients – the onions and garlic – of your perfectly crafted aphorisms.

False dichotomies. If you have a strong preference for something in particular and want everyone to feel the same, make it sound far better by contrasting it with something negative. Don’t worry about things like ‘category mistakes’. Just ride roughshod over nuance with tweets about: Religion vs Relationship; Heart vs Mind; Imitation vs Information; Power vs Truth. Be creative and see how far you can widen it out! Jesus vs Broccoli?

Word-breaks. Sometimes you can be really creative by breaking a word in two and reading some significance into the shards. Let me demonstrate with a couple of examples I’ve seen. “Bible begins with Bib, because it’s just what you need for a hearty feast.” Don’t think about it too much. The logic doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Just nod, chuckle and hit retweet.

Or “It’s no coincidence that the word ‘gospel’ begins with ‘go.’” And thus you have a natty, retweetable missional imperative. Most people won’t notice the fact that the Greek for Gospel begins with Eu, which is roughly the sound I make when I read tweets like this.

Chiasms. Make sure your tweet is nicely balanced with inverted parallelism. This little device has been a mainstay of political rhetoric for many years. For example: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” (J.F. Kennedy) or “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” (Benjamin Franklin)

(Note; lots of Presidents and War Generals appear to have been finely trained in the art of the chiasm. So learning this technique may give a nice and much-sought-after alpha male feel to your tweet. Grrr!)

Throw in a few Christian words, particularly about the spiritual disciplines, and you’ll end up with some great new aphorisms: “Don’t read the word, let the Word read you” or “Don’t sing worship songs, let worship songs sing you.”

Don’t worry if your tweets don’t make an awful lot of sense; that’s part of the beauty of it. (And anyone who says otherwise is a legalist!)

A couple of Variations:

If you want to give your aphorism a Gospel-Centred twist, try the following:

1) Firstly, anthropomorphise ‘the Gospel.’ Speak of it as a being. Use phrases like “The Gospel speaks…” or “The Gospel gives us…” Literally, give the message legs.

2) Don’t forget to give him (or her? No… most definitely him!) a capital G. This will help with step 3.

3) Take any sentence in which the words God or Jesus would be perfectly suitable and replace them with the word ‘Gospel’.

4) Misread references to ‘morality’ as ‘moralism’ on every possible occasion and then contrast it with ‘Gospel’ using the false dichotomy method as stated above.

Or why not try a missiological flavoured aphorism:

1) Everybody knows that words sound better in a dead language. Wherever possible, translate phrases into Latin. That will really help people take you a lot more seriously and thus further themissio dei.

2) If there isn’t a word for what you want to say (in English or Latin) make one up! You can never have too many new words. Where would we be without the term ‘missional’ for example. Try smashing some words together to create interesting neologisms. Global + Local = Glocal! Fun, huh? (You can worry about the meaning later. Definitions are for modernists anyway!)

3) Talk profusely about incarnatory practices and decry those Christians who are culturally irrelevant, whilst employing all the new words and terms you’ve just discovered/created. The more red squiggly lines under your words, the better. Fight jargon with jargon!

I could continue, but you get the picture…

Feel free to chip in with any tips I’ve missed. And try them out – see if adopting these strategies doesn’t increase your followership by thousands (and decrease it by one – me!).

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