Editor's note: Kirby Ferguson is a New York-based writer, filmmaker and speaker who created the web video series Everything is a Remix. His videos, like the one above, can be found on Vimeo, an online community where artists share their films.
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) - Can you speak Christian?
Have you told anyone “I’m born again?” Have you “walked the aisle” to “pray the prayer?”
Did you ever “name and claim” something and, after getting it, announce, “I’m highly blessed and favored?”
Many Americans are bilingual. They speak a secular language of sports talk, celebrity gossip and current events. But mention religion and some become armchair preachers who pepper their conversations with popular Christian words and trendy theological phrases.
If this is you, some Christian pastors and scholars have some bad news: You may not know what you’re talking about. They say that many contemporary Christians have become pious parrots. They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort.
Marcus Borg, an Episcopal theologian, calls this practice “speaking Christian.” He says he heard so many people misusing terms such as “born again” and “salvation” that he wrote a book about the practice.
People who speak Christian aren’t just mangling religious terminology, he says. They’re also inventing counterfeit Christian terms such as “the rapture” as if they were a part of essential church teaching.
The rapture, a phrase used to describe the sudden transport of true Christians to heaven while the rest of humanity is left behind to suffer, actually contradicts historic Christian teaching, Borg says.
“The rapture is a recent invention. Nobody had thought of what is now known as the rapture until about 1850,” says Borg, canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.
How politicians speak Christian
Speaking Christian isn’t confined to religion. It’s infiltrated politics.
Political candidates have to learn how to speak Christian to win elections, says Bill Leonard, a professor of church history at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity in North Carolina.
One of our greatest presidents learned this early in his career. Abraham Lincoln was running for Congress when his opponent accused him of not being a Christian. Lincoln often referred to the Bible in his speeches, but he never joined a church or said he was born again like his congressional opponent, Leonard says.
"Lincoln was less specific about his own experience and, while he used biblical language, it was less distinctively Christian or conversionistic than many of the evangelical preachers thought it should be,” Leonard says.
Lincoln won that congressional election, but the accusation stuck with him until his death, Leonard says.
One recent president, though, knew how to speak Christian fluently.
During his 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush baffled some listeners when he declared that there was “wonder-working power” in the goodness of American people.
Evangelical ears, though, perked up at that phrase. It was an evangelical favorite, drawn from a popular 19th century revival hymn about the wonder-working power of Christ called “In the Precious Blood of the Lamb.”
Leonard says Bush was sending a coded message to evangelical voters: I’m one of you.
“The code says that one: I’m inside the community. And two: These are the linguistic ways that I show I believe what is required of me,” Leonard says.
Have you ‘named it and claimed it'?
Ordinary Christians do what Bush did all the time, Leonard says. They use coded Christian terms like verbal passports - flashing them gains you admittance to certain Christian communities.
Say you’ve met someone who is Pentecostal or charismatic, a group whose members believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. If you want to signal to that person that you share their belief, you start talking about “receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost” or getting the “second blessings,” Leonard says.
Translation: Getting a baptism by water or sprinkling isn’t enough for some Pentecostals and charismatics. A person needs a baptism “in the spirit” to validate their Christian credentials.
Or say you’ve been invited to a megachurch that proclaims the prosperity theology (God will bless the faithful with wealth and health). You may hear what sounds like a new language.
Prosperity Christians don’t say “I want that new Mercedes.” They say they are going to “believe for a new Mercedes.” They don’t say “I want a promotion.” They say I “name and claim” a promotion.
The rationale behind both phrases is that what one speaks aloud in faith will come to pass. The prosperity dialect has become so popular that Leonard has added his own wrinkle.
“I call it ‘name it, claim it, grab it and have it,’ ’’ he says with a chuckle.
Some forms of speaking Christian, though, can become obsolete through lack of use.
Few contemporary pastors use the language of damnation - “turn or burn,” converting “the pagans” or warning people they’re going to hit “hell wide open” - because it’s considered too polarizing, Leonard says. The language of “walking the aisle” is also fading, Leonard says.
Appalachian and Southern Christians often told stories about staggering into church and walking forward during the altar call to say the “sinner’s prayer” during revival services that would often last for several weeks.
“People ‘testified’ to holding on to the pew until their knuckles turned white, fighting salvation all the way,” Leonard says. “You were in the back of the church, and you fought being saved.”
Contemporary churchgoers, though, no longer have time to take that walk, Leonard says. They consider their lives too busy for long revival services and extended altar calls. Many churches are either jettisoning or streamlining the altar call, Leonard says.
“You got soccer, you got PTA, you got family responsibilities - the culture just won’t sustain it as it once did,” Leonard says.
Even some of the most basic religious words are in jeopardy because of overuse.
Calling yourself a Christian, for example, is no longer cool among evangelicals on college campuses, says Robert Crosby, a theology professor at Southeastern University in Florida.
“Fewer believers are referring to themselves these days as ‘Christian,’ ” Crosby says. “More are using terms such as ‘Christ follower.’ This is due to the fact that the more generic term, Christian, has come to be used within religious and even political ways to refer to a voting bloc.”
What’s at stake
Speaking Christian correctly may seem like it’s just a fuss over semantics, but it’s ultimately about something bigger: defining Christianity, says Borg, author of “Speaking Christian.”
Christians use common words and phrases in hymns, prayers and sermons “to connect their religion to their life in the world,” Borg says.
“Speaking Christian is an umbrella term for not only knowing the words, but understanding them,” Borg says. “It’s knowing the basic vocabulary, knowing the basic stories.”
When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means, Borg says.
Consider the word “salvation.” Most Christians use the words "salvation" or "saved" to talk about being rescued from sin or going to heaven, Borg says.
Yet salvation in the Bible is seldom confined to an afterlife. Those characters in the Bible who invoked the word salvation used it to describe the passage from injustice to justice, like the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian bondage, Borg says.
“The Bible knows that powerful and wealthy elites commonly structure the world in their own self-interest. Pharaoh and Herod and Caesar are still with us. From them we need to be saved,” Borg writes.
And when Christians forget what their faith means, they get duped by trendy terms such as the rapture that have little to do with historical Christianity, he says.
The rapture has become an accepted part of the Christian vocabulary with the publication of the megaselling “Left Behind” novels and a heavily publicized prediction earlier this year by a Christian radio broadcaster that the rapture would occur in May.
But the notion that Christians will abandon the Earth to meet Jesus in the clouds while others are left behind to suffer is not traditional Christian teaching, Borg says.
He says it was first proclaimed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century British evangelist, who thought of it after reading a New Testament passage in the first book of Thessalonians that described true believers being “caught up in the clouds together” with Jesus.
Christianity’s focus has long been about ushering in God’s kingdom “on Earth, not just in heaven,” Borg says.
“Christianity’s goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better,” he writes.
For now, though, Borg and others are also focusing on changing how Christians talk about their faith.
If you don’t want to speak Christian, they say, pay attention to how Christianity’s founder spoke. Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in, says Leonard, the Wake Forest professor.
“He used stories, parables and metaphors,” Leonard says. “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.”
When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people, he says.
“Speaking Christian can become a way of suggesting a kind of spiritual status that others don’t have,” he says. “It communicates a kind of spiritual elitism that holds the spiritually ‘unwashed’ at arm’s length."
By that time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian - they've become spiritual snobs.
CNN, why do you only get the most liberal-leaning "theologians" to be interviewed for these articles? Marcus Borg? Are you kidding me? He doesn't believe most of the Bible and the parts he says he believes he has twisted so badly that they no longer even resemble historic Christian doctrine.
Try John MacArthur, James White, John Piper, RC Sproul, etc. Guys that actually believe God's word and can articulate those beliefs.
It still won't make the rapture any more real or change the historical meaning of salvation. I think that is the broader point that has nothing to do with liberal or conservative. Please don't kill the messenger just to protect your beliefs..
It’s typical CNN. Controversial or partially (if not deliberately) inflammatory articles increase web site hits. More ads are pushed and ad revenue increases.
Of course, one is only Christian if a conservative deems one worthy of being called Christian. Here's the true reason why the "Obama is a secret Muslim" myth persists.
He works for the Elite the New World Order they have one ennemy and its God the only God the creator of this hearth and the Christian .
OK, the problem may not be liberal v.s. conservative but rather the nature and authority of Scripture as God's word. It just so happens that most liberals deny these truths hence their whacked-out, aberrant beliefs.
What Marcus Borg believes does not square with scripture or historical Christian beliefs. Period.
Sounds more like an advertisement for a book than anything realistic. I am a Christian and this article is not really Biblical. I hope they took the man out of context because this is nothing like what I believe in.
Want to impress me CNN...pick the Koran/Islam apart analytically ...AND THEN POST IT! Wanna know the truth....Americans...Liberal/Conservative/Black/White/Hispanic/Asian) are beginning to vomit on the poison you handout on a daily basis (Fox and MSNBC too). You keep people tied in knots on the inside and you are tearing this country apart. You instigate arguments and propogate ill will endlessly; all for the sake of ratings and $. Obviously...you care nothing about the people of this country. So people speak "Christian", BIG DEAL! Thanks for nothing.
A presentation of facts and a provision of a forum for discussion – whoa, lookout! You have a right to be angry. CNN didn't parrot your viewpoint and say only what you wanted to hear.
Speaking "islam" on behalf of the infidels:
Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.
This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.
And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.
The global Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.
Horus you know this as fact? please share your FACTS with the class. You cannot disprove that the bible was written by God can you. You can only have FAITH that it was not. My faith vs your faith if I am right then you go to hell (I do not say that to be mean) if you are right than I have tried to live my life as Jesus taught (and have had much fun) and will be no more. Either way I win in the end. I do not say this as a slam just as a thought to share As I think Jesus would have.
God said it. That ends it.
Assuming "God" exists. Blind faith in anything is lunacy.
Except the bible wasn't written by god.
You don't mind if I skip believe in a fantasy deity, and can not be proved to exist. If really doesn't matter who or what you pray to or believe in as long as you belief. The old saying 'thoughts are things' is so true. So I prefer to believe in dragons – they are more colorful, more interesting and have just as much power, and I get the same results as one on believe in God.
"The Rapture" is actually a distortion of the Rasha PaTa-Ur which is the transfiguration of finite-perceiving molecular structure back into the form eternal life structure. If you YouTube "Ascension Mechanics Ashayana Deane", her Project Camelot interview videos will give you all the information you need to know on the real planetary ascension process and about the real Kristiac teachings translated from the ancient Maharata CDT plates of the Emerald Covenant.
F_CK Y__ Jared. oh look, i have access to wikipedia, that must make me at least marginally intelligent. pseudo-intellectuals like yourself are just as bad as these mor.ons that believe in that pasty fa..gg..ot in the sky. hows about you go whack off to some anime p..orn and leave the conversation to people who can actually come up with original things to say. cu..nt
Please stop quoting me. You may think it makes you sound smart but you just end up sounding like a person who knows how to read, or more likely, how to copy and paste. Thanks!
We are all sinners and we will be judged one day for what we did with his word and for what we did. It is not complicated at all, it is the false prophets we have around us we need to stay away from.
Judged? A truly idiotic concept.
You and people like you are disease on Earth which perpetuate killing, hate, and misery.
Religion is pap for the masses.
I was baptized I don't need to go running around saying I was born again.
Who gives a **** about the bible, being 'born again', and all other such nonsense? All religions, including Christianity, are man-made. It's folly to pretend otherwise in the 21st century when we know so much more than we used to.
Who gives a hoot what you have to say. You can go someplace else if you want, and how do you really know the truth about anything? You can't prove that a higher power does not exist, and you obviously hate freedom.
"Top Eleven Signs You're a Christian:"
11- You believe in a book (New Testament) that was written 80 years after your Messiah died by men who never met him and who believed the earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth, but continuously deny modern science books.
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.
Amen, brother. Preach the truth!
LOL!!!!! Soooooooo true...hahahahaha
A heathen philosopher once asked a Christian, 'Where is God'? The Christian answered, 'Let me first ask you, Where is He not?'
you forgot "You will cherry pick terms and phrases from the Bible to support your ideology and reject other terms and phrases from the Bible that do not"
Re # 3 : While not so keen on science most of the time, you change your tune when you get sick. Instead of praying, (which you then appear NOT to be so confident in), you call 911, and high-tail it to the doctor, and avail yourself of every bit of technology and science that those with scientific world views have developed, and absolutely refuse to allow yourself or anyone you know to be disconnected from the equipment, (even though you SAY you believe you are going to your reward in a better place). You also condemn embryonic stem cell research, (even though the frozen cells will be destroyed anyway), but if they find something that helps you or your kids, you are first in line at the office to get that treatment.
God is sitting in heaven when a scientist prays to Him, "God, we don't need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning."
"Oh, is that so? Tell me..." replies God.
"Well," says the scientist, "we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating man."
"Well, that's interesting...show Me."
So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil.
"No, no, no..." interrupts God, "Get your own dirt."
You know what interesting. The "Chrstian lingo" in the US is different for Christians in the Middle East. As Muslims we have our own lingo (Inshallah – God willing, Salam Aleikum – Peace Upon You, ...etc). As you know we had big Christian and Jewish communities for past 1400, but Israeli – Arab nationalism politics of the past 60 years caused these communities to get much smaller. These Christians use totally different Christian Lingo than from Western Christians. For example, they also say Inshallah, Salam Aleikum. When they swear they swear like Muslims. For examples, Muslims say "Bil Nabi" which means, I swear by the porohet. When Middle Eastern Christians swear, they say "Bil Salib" which means, I swear by the cross.
I hope this helps
LOL, Do you speak Gibberish?
Why do we waste web space on this supernatural claptrap? How about an article "Do you speak Biochemistry?"
Oh yeah. That would exclude too many wingnuts. Never mind.
Don't worry. I will pray for you.
If I pray for the opposite thing, how will "God" (supernatural sky daddy) choose?
LOL, now THAT's funny!
Ever since a nude couple took dietary advice from a talking snake, the World isn't the same. This story, Rumpelstilzchen, Thumbelina and the pink Unicorn are on the same level of credibility. But as Bill maher once said: 'I could believe in the Bible if it would mention one of the following words: electricity, nuclear power, computer, laser and evolution...
Instead the god in the OT kills over 2 million men, women and children for being disobedient or collecting sticks on a Sabbath. Not my number, it's all in the good book.
Makes you think doesn't it unless you are speaking in tounges and believe that you are the only right in the world. Too bad you can see the tress from the forest.
I still attend a church where snake handlers poison drinkers and pew jumpers exist these people think I'm a little odd because I only smoke weed to be filled with the "Holy Spirit"
It is really verry simple. Read and practice the 10 commandments. Give thanks each day for all teh belssings and ask for forgiveness for not meeting up to the 10 commandments. Christ told us that we will noty understand many things least of all
what heacven will be like. I do believe that we will be judged one day for our actions or inactions.
There's a difference at laughing at actual science (evolution, atheist articles) than laughing at how easy Christians are manipulated, how they don't truly know what they believe, instead they just believe what their parents and churches tell them to think. They never grew up skeptical. And here they are, speaking of their own religion that they know little of (if you knew how all the stories were basically plagiarized from Egyptian religion, even the dates, it gets to be kinda sad if you still believe). Politicians easily manipulate this, as discriminatory Christians dare not to elect an educated Atheist to office, even more than their fear of Islam comes their fear of Atheism. It's sad how pathetic that is, yet it's true. They fear facts, reasoning, logic, and science. And with this fear they hope to take down this world.
And the rapture? Oh please do NOT tell me you believe that crap. Some wise individual back then added it, because they knew the only reason for you to keep your religion would be out of fear, and that's how it spread so swiftly.
Since the majority don't seem to understand what the word "Christian" means, then I doubt their understanding is going to be able to go much further than that. The majority of self-described "Christians" are no more Christian than my dog. She treats most people quite well. But if she happens not to like you, or you're a squirrel, she'll attack you. The big difference is she doesn't try to force her beliefs down other peoples' throats. She doesn't go abroad and try to "convert" people (usually against their will, their judgement, and their understanding). She doesn't usually kill people because they don't believe what she believes. Oh, and she's not at ALL involved in politics. In fact, lots of "Christians" could take some lessons from her.
"Those characters in the Bible who invoked the word salvation used it to describe the passage from injustice to justice, like the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian bondage, Borg says."
No, slavery went on after the Exodus. Moses explicitly advises the Hebrews to enslave the people around them and make them "slaves for life."
Exodus involved setting up a strongly controlled new theocracy, not any ethical repudiation of the practice of slavery.
An ethical repudiation of slavery only began with the rise of Greco-Roman Stoic philosophy, which contributed a lot more to the founding ideals of this country than most Christians are aware of.
Epictetus, a former slave, wrote,
"You say, 'How then shall a man endure such persons as this slave?' Slave yourself, will you not bear with your own brother, who has God for his progenitor, and is like a son from the same seeds and of the same descent from above? But if you have been put in any such higher place, will you immediately make yourself a tyrant? Will you not remember who you are, and whom you rule? that they are kinsmen, that they are brethren by nature, that they are the offspring of God? 'But I have purchased them, and they have not purchased me', you say. Do you see in what direction you are looking, that it is toward the earth, toward the pit, that it is toward these wretched laws of dead men? but toward the laws of the gods you are not looking."
– The Discourses of Epictetus
You lost me at "Salvation can be worked for and achieved". Salvation is found only in faith through Jesus Christ. "And there is salvation in no one else: for there is no other name under heaven that has been given to men, buy which we must be saved." Acts 4:12
But see, it's only *your* view that I even *need* "saving". If I reject completely the entire idea of original sin (or in fact, sin at all), then I don't have anything to be saved from. So-called "Christians" telling me I need to be saved when it's really none of their business is what grinds my goat. And putting American flags on the fish symbols... that gets me too. I'm just as American as any "Christian", and contrary to their much-misguided beliefs, America is NOT a Christian nation, nor was it founded as such. The vast majority of the founders wouldn't be remotely considered Christians today. In fact, most of them would be considered heathens by "Christians" today.
while breifly going thru this artical it was makeing my stomach turn, this is just what the devil wants is for doubt and confusion, christianity is growing stronger than ever,souls are being saved and lives are changing every day, and dont for one minute think any different, or try tp put christians down, why would we loose faith, god answers our prayers everyday, think what you want and do what you do, but dont try to put things in other people's opinion or minds, jesus died for our sins, so that we can have better lives and be forgiven for our sins here on earth and move on to a beter place, becouse souls dont die"read the bible, if you dont understand it, find a church that can help you learn a better way of life, I pray for everyone out there that doesnt know jesus christ as ther savior to accept what he has to offer to you "love forgiveness and ever lasting life"Christians" stay strong and [ass the word of god on and share all your tedtimonies in life" god bless everyone"'
One of the things the article tries to say is Evangelical Christian "babble" or language is being used for political purposes.
Leasha, your rambling and disjointed commentary only reinforces the view that today's "Christians" are uneducated sheep. Your mile-long sentence missed the point...
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.