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.
I do not believe in Iron Age FAIRY TALES.
I think it's more bronze age.
You are too stupid to own a computer.
I believe in the seperation of church and state. I also belive in the seperation of church and children.
I agree sportreform...children should not be exposed to any religion until they have developed critical thinking skills.
Yeah, I bet you really love little children, in a Michael Jackson kinda way. Fu ck off idiot.
Islam or Christianity by Birth are Not Religions but rather a political Nationality & National Ident-i-ty !!
Islam or Christianity by Birth are Not Religions but rather a political Nationality & National Ident-i-ty !! This is a very tall claim you are making. Could you please eleborate your claim with sound arguments. Effort has been made to refute such claims in an organ which can be visited under the muslimtimes.org. However after having recieved your response one can enter in to further discussion.
Say: Are the blind man and the seer equal? Will ye not then take thought? (50)
It is not by Birth it is by Faith;
"The blind and the seeing are not alike; (19) Nor are the depths of Darkness and the Light; (20) Nor are the (chilly) shade and the (genial) heat of the sun: (21) Nor are alike those that are living and those that are dead. Allah can make any that He wills to hear; but thou canst not make those to hear who are (buried) in graves. (22)".
"These two kinds (of men) may be compared to the blind and deaf, and those who can see and hear well. Are they equal when compared? Will ye not then take heed? (24)".
"Say: "Are the blind equal with those who see? Or the depths of darkness equal with Light?" (16)".
"Is one who worships devoutly during the hours of the night prostrating himself or standing (in adoration), who takes heed of the Hereafter, and who places his hope in the Mercy of his Lord― (like one who does not)? Say: "Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition." (9)".
"Not equal are the blind and those who (clearly) see: nor are (equal) those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and those who do evil. Little do ye learn by admonition! (58)".
Example; Late Amy Winhouse was Nationally known to be Jew but was she really Jew religiously.... Or haven't you yet the terms I been reading here example talking about people;
– He was A Christian Atheist....or was A Jew Atheist...
Or other way of identifying some one they say;
– He was American White Christian Atheist.
– He was American White Christian Jew.
Notice the nationalities we gave here;
– The Country Nationality.
– The Race Nationlity.
– The Actual belief Nationality.
– The by birth community Nationality..
There are other Nationality terms such as the Religious sectarian and regional areas...
Your muslimtimes.org link ends up opening ;http://www.minedirect.com/ ??? Seems link is being redirected...
Keep religion out of politics and when a politician talks about his or her religious beliefs, don't vote for them.
End the budget crisis in USA now, TAX RELIGION!
I like THAT idea.
YES!!! Freeloaders, the whole lot of them...
YEA! I'll vote for that one.
Would you take your car to a garage where they cast dice to decide what's wrong with it? Marcus Borg is part of the Jesus Seminar where they do that exact thing to decide what Jesus did or didn't say or do or didn't do. What is Christianity? I suggest we consult the author rather than some post-modern theologian.
Every single person that wrote each book of the Bible were no different than these people. Some recount the things they've seen in life, some fill it with lies (there was this whole controversy accusing one book of being completely false I forget which one). You want to ask the author of the Bible? Tell you what, they are no better off than you are. THey are human too.
And didn't the 12 disciples "roll their dice" when they let the Pilates take Jesus and reprimanded him? Even after he told them it's OK, to them they are just human.
Joe... by the author of Christianity, I didn't mean the author of the Bible. I meant Christ, himself. By the way, the Bible was written by over 50 writers over 1500 years from three continents, but message of all of them is the same. To me, it's pure deniability to disbelieve the Bible.
"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.
Let me posit an alternative explanation. As we become less overtly superst.itious as a society, such are simply seen as too silly to continue.
The entire New Testament is written in the common language, as was the original Latin in the 4th century so that the normal person could understand the intended meaning.
People are biblically illiterate which is why they listen to the hear-say of others instead of doing the work to find it themselves. This doesn't change the intended meaning of the text and through careful study, but most of all having the Holy Spirit's guidance, a person can understand the simple meaning of the text. Without it, the application doesn't make sense.
I think most of the "rapture" theology is generally terrible, but CNN's reporting and understanding of historical Christian faith is worse!
Jesus said this in the book of Matthew 24...
37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.
42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. Matthew 24:37-44 (NLT)
It's just on accurate that this idea only began in the 1850s.. The worst part of the way the doctrine has been interpreted but there is Biblical support for the world ending in a sudden way. Why would you say that this doctrinal idea is only driven by the lesser precise passage in Thessalonians?
As for the rest of this article...
Biblical Salvation is about renewal and restoration in this life, but there is NO DOUBT that is it also about preparing for the life that is to come as well. When the thief on the cross cries out to Jesus, the salvation he finds as he believes is both in this life and in the "paradise' that is to come... So it is with all who believe....(believe is more than belove is also trust for forgiveness, follow, and obey). It's now and then.... Liberals tend to want to make it all about this world... Fundamentalism seem only concerned about the next life...Jesus was clearly and consistently both/and.
CNN... not well informed or balanced. If you want to speak about evangelicals, maybe you speak with one first.
Jesus said several times that the second coming was going to happen during the disciples lifetime (Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Luke 21:32).
Arguing about it 2000 years after the supposed time of the second coming makes no sense.
It was all a metaphor/dream about the fall of the Roman empire, and it happened, a long time ago.
Other than historical context on the politics inside Christianity, this is an ultimately pointless discussion. Arguing about invisible pretend men in the sky and what they think is about as useful as arguing about how many reindeer Santa has on his sleigh team.
Islam or Christianity by Birth are Not Religions but rather a political Nationality..!!
I don't know how you entirely discount the rapture, John. You provided absolutely no evidence- just one quote from Borg. If you actually decided to read the Bible, instead of criticizing those who follow it, you would find many references to the rapture.
Oh, we are back on this again. God? Blah, blah, blah...GOD=Control, fear of going to hell and this that and the only a good way to make people behave. This is a pure fairytale and the only reason people get offended when you tell them that their GOD or Jesus or whatever is make believe is because deep down they know it is true and don't want to face it.
References yes. I DO see many signs of rapture or the judgment day. You see that as soon as in the book of Jobs. However, the common rapture belief is far too specific and far too detailed. It's true, the whole obsessive belief with rapture only started in late 1800s, whereas the whole speaking in tongues really took rise early 2000s. Rapture can be very real, but the whole point is that people are distorting and changing the Bible and the belief system to their own liking, to meet their own lifestyle. What's really strange is prosperity Christians. The idea of Christianity is not to be materialistic or idolizing something. Thus how can you say "I claim and take a Mercedes and a promotion?" Sounds crazy. And some people who believe speaking in tongues is great criticize other Christians harshly saying they will burn in hell. At this point, Jehovah's Witness evangelist are less of a bother than them.
The whole point is, people are following/using/taking the words/phrases created by modern pastors/reverends and spreading that ideology around. Who's to say the pastor is even right? After all, it takes quite a while before some pastors are outed for molesting children. People are taking to heart the wrong words from the wrong source. Pastors are supposed to give insight to how you believe, not tell you what to do and what to believe. That's no different than a cult/organization. THe whole focus of Christianity is directly from the Bible (not that it's all and well because ALL modern Bibles are full of mistranslations and books that didn't even exist until 1500-1700s). I'm not even religious but I see my parents slowly changing. BEFORE they were just great people who believed in God. Now, they're talking about some crazy things like going to Pakistan to preach the word of Christ. They talk of nothing BUT God. My mom rocks back and forth on the ground while she prays. It's not religion that's the source of craziness, it's people who give the wrong message, and stupid people accept it without reflection/thinking it through.
Always skeptical of any religious writings I see here. As for this article and anyone who speaks Christian, Jesus said of those who speak and act in such a way to be seen of men (and impress them) "they have their reward." And remember, the devil can quote scripture with the best of them! lol
I have news for you the Devil is just as make believe as god.
Hey, you're the one who put his name in caps, Joe. Not me.
I see a whole lot of persecution complex here – this from the group that controls our government almost completely and would never vote for a non-christian.
So, according to this aryticle's author, rapture does not exist (though it does, it just has different name and was noted in the earlier chuch. The Syrian "Efraim"and Josephas talks about it over 1500yrs ago. Jesus points at it, and the Scripture reveals to the 'Saints' how our Lord will spare His church from 'the hour of wrath'. The church he refers to are all the true Christian SAINTS (those who have followed Christ and obeyed His commandments and who first and foremost are BORN AGAIN. As Jesus said: 'verily verily I say to you, unless a man is born again, he can by no means see God'. and 'I am the way , the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me". One has indeed to be born again and one has to follow Christ's example of lifestyle (not follow the ample road which leads to perdition).
When Christ comes it will be the Second Coming which is not to be confused with the rapture of the Saints. When Christ comes back the Christian church (saints) will be coming along with Christ (they have already been taken away – to be spared from the HOUR OF TRIAL. The Creator of heaven and earth has writen that the Christian church (original Christian Church= Philadelphia and the church which the Reformation represents, so not the Catholic one) will be spared from the hour of trial/tribulation. That is a reward for having followed Christ during the time which is easy to join Christianity. Persecution is going to get worse as the Tribulation gets near and by the time the Antichrist is here, Christians are out of the scene. Only Jews and unsaved (unbelievers) will be left on earth. Why? because they have refused Christ all along, and they have been let to their own false gods and their own devices (sinful nature) for refusing the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, Jesuschrist. God, our Father in Heaven does not play aroud, He already sacrificed His own Son for the sake of mankind, Jesus offered Himself to die for us. If that is not enough for you to come to Him, thn you ahve the spirit of rebellion which is of Satan. If you refuse God then God leaves...He does not force you to love him. But there is Satan who will devour you if unprotected from God's reality.
Rapture is real. It's just talked about in a different way an wording than the earlier church. God does talk about it thru the Bible and the world will make you believe, as the great m agician it is, that God is a liar and nothing of that willhappen. But it will.
Christianity has always evolved. It’s not just ideas like the rapture; they’re usually late adopters to ideas that rational people discover.
Nice sweeping generalization.
I think "usually" is a pretty fair word. I don't think any secularist cut off somwbody's head for believing the earth was round. Christians gradually accept scientific discoveries after they can't deny them anymore. They generally accept mores after they realize denying them makes them look stupid (bigamy).
There is a lot of trueth in biblical principals. But there are more principles that has been made to be excuses that protects everything that religion wants it to.
Religion, Pull the splinter out of your eye before telling the Govt. what is wrong. To many tax loop holes for so called religion. etc. Houses, churchs, many realistate holdings, wages, If religion needs to practice what the are preaching. REduce loop holes for the rich? of course!!!!!! reduce the loop holes for religion? of course !!!!!! Most ministers are also getting paid 3 times of the average attendee's wage earner, plus many fringe bennifits. The Govt. needs to cut spending along with reducing many loope holes, and raise taxes all together slightly.
I'm not that old, but I remember when being a "Christian" was nothing special. CNN and writers like Borg make one of the original core elements of American society look some kind of wacky fad or cult. Instead of pointing out the BILLIONS of Christians who quietly and modestly try to follow the teaching of Christ, the media now just seeks out the loudmouth and lunatic Christians and portrays them as the norm.
Remember a time when kids could walk the streets unsupervised, you could leave your doors unlocked, and no one walked into a building and shot dozens of people? Funny how our "modern" secular society is a lot more violent than the one I grew up in, where people actually believed in God.
Happer, if belief in Christianity wes a prerequisite for a peaceful society, one would expect the most secular societies to be the most violent. The opposite is tru. The most secular countries in the World, are the most peaceful – Australia, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland.
This statement is patently false. Our prisons our full of violent Christians and Muslims. Very fe secular people go to prison.
Tell that garbage to the Native Americans or the slaves whose subjugation and exploitation were all at the hands of 'God Fearing' folk. Try reading history that is not so convenient to your preferred meme.
@Happer , Have you ever travelled overseas ? Do you have friends from around the world..I bet you don't
Jesse both the Native Americans and Slaves were persecuted for economic reasons, more land, cheap labor. Religion was used as a justification but that is not why they were taken advantage of. I believe what Harper is saying is it is difficult to say or society is safer today than 50 years ago. Their were more morales and a better sense of right and wrong when Christianity was more widely accepted. It is foolish to think that teaching people that lying, cheating, stealing, etc.. are wrong is bad for a society.
@Happer...that is exactly what the writer is saying. When I was growing up, being a Christian was ordinary. The Christians I know in my little town never talked like some people I know now. It was about acts and faith. I might state that I am a Christian (which is disputed by some) and practice following Jesus' example, but I don't speak in some language that would turn off non-believers anyway. I am not a member of a club with passwords and such.
Joseph R Loegering, I disagree with your view on the age of the earth. If birds are the decendents of dinosaurs I think the Lord said that first came the birds and the fishes. i.e. Life began in the sea and dinosaurs were here before man. I think it is evidence of divine enlightenment that anyone thousands of years ago would have known that birds and fishes came first. When you say 7 days to create the world I believe the bible says 7 periods of light and dark. Not sure anyone knows what he meant by that.
John, at least you felt comfortable writing the artical and your views on Christianity. Now... why dont you do a similar write-up, this time for your muslim readers.
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.