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 gave up 2000 year old tooth fairies when I outgrew my toy chest.
Pass the hat, or be sure and put money in the collection basket, is what I remember.
That's what will entrap most , the disbelieve in God is automatic enslavement by satan the adversary of mankind and God
Never mind the little minority of Christians that American Southern Evangelicals are. They may think 'their' Christianity is the only way but it isn't so.
Further identification in the way of clothing, jewelry, etc. that I can see from a distance is most welcome.
This whole article proves the lack of scriptural scholarship on the part of the general public. All of these myths like the "Antichrist" and God creating the universe out of nothing didn't arise until people stopped reading their Bibles and becoming educated for themselves. Blame the rise of radio and TV for people laying their Bibles aside in the evenings.
Most Christians don't care if they get the terminology, or even the concepts of Christianity right. They see religion as a way to give divine authority to their own asinine beliefs, since evidence supports none of them.
It's a club to raise the self esteem of contemptible halfwits, and provide cover for politicians who manipulate said halfwits.
vin, you fooled me but good. now i am catching on. duh! on me.
Torah101: Satan has misled you. Jesus was and is your messiah. The Jews who know Him are extraordinarily happy about it. You remind me of Paul, who also hated Christ ....before He bowed the knee to him.
Yeah, that omnipotent god just seems to have a hard time dealing with Satan. We'll just skip over that problem.
Jews are pharisee who rose up against my Sadducee Priesthood brothers to destroy the Priesthood to gain controlof the land of Israel. You, like them blaspheme equally
@The Trucks Shall Inherit The Parasol
– Mention to me were in Torah your satan is mentioned. You can't. Because your bad god satan was and is never mentioned therefor does NOT exist. It is mankind that is evil. Remember being kicked out of the garden??? Huh? Blame it on a snake – lol – feed me
Satan is no more real than your god. He is just a convenient placeholder to hang all of your fears on. The only one being misled is you, and it is flesh and bone people who are doing it.
Torah101: then who is "the Adversary" in the Book of Job who questions the faith of Job and asks to have him suffer to prove that he will curse god in return? Who is it that questions God's authority and wisdom in this way and seeks in stead to see someone curse God?
Kirby is on the mark. There's a whole lot of babble out there that just turns people off of the core messages found in the collected books we call the Bible. - all the books, from the beginning, through the chronicle stories ending in the apostle's writings contain really good social messages and examples (what not to do as well as what to do), not just about eternal life, but also how to get along with each other and live a good life. One needs the skill of an open minded literate reader to discern what is literal, what is metaphor and read in the context of the writers from THEIR viewpoint – not your own head's bias. Messing with the words, making catch phrases creates an enormous mess of lies, assumptions and myth – to the point that no one really knows what their talking about. There are innumerable examples, I.E., that "researched" movie Zytgeist specifically refers to "THREE wise men" of the Bible to prove a point. "3 wise men" actually came from a Christmas Carol – now, just how researched is that!
Yeah, also don't eat those shellfish. And make sure you kill and burn a poor creature today. The smell makes god happy.
This is the reference you so ignorantly proclaim does not exist (an is not the only one). Believe what you want but stop living to destroy the faith of those who believe the truth. It's alright for you to be so cynical with proof, but a theory and discredit the proof of God's existence even in the things you can see with your eye. The truth is, God's mercy will still provide another chance for you to believe after the "rapture" if it happens during your lifetime. God bless you.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18–Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
I almost didn't read this article because I don't like religious subjects. This is not an attack on Christians as some other people writing here have suggested. I agree with the writer's statement about Christians becoming elitist snobs. Many of them are exclusive and judge other people who are not like them very harshly and will have nothing to do with them. I have experienced this first hand having been on the inside of one such Christian group and have been on the receiving end of their hypocrictical judgements. I left Christianity and adopted a more broad philosophical way of thinking that recognizes all people and all faiths. I choose not to follow any faith and feel it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. What I dislike in most of today's Christians is their exclusivity and their insistence on converting people. They are not humble when they presume that their way is the only way. And I blame the current situation in Washington on Evangelicalism which pervades the Tea Party.
Christians believe in 2 gods: A good god, lover, kindness, jesus and a terrible scary god that encourages bad acts satan.
Neither of these gods are mentioned in Torah. For christians top keep My Torah in front of their bibles is a sin beyond comprehention
No it isn't. The sin beyond comprehension is rejecting God's son. That's the one that sends you to hell. You don't have to go there, though. Despite your blasphemy, Jesus knows what you're made of, and is willing to forgive when you ask for it.
The god of the Torah is a genecidal, murderous, woman-hating old pervert who only the super-stupid would believe in today.
It's ok, Torah101. Your god is no more real than theirs. Everyone can play make-believe any way they want.
Speaking Christian 101:
1. It's not abuse if the little boys like it
2. Ignore "Thou shalt not kill," in case of war, capital punishment, shooting abortion drs
3. Jesus loves everyone, except gays, illegal immigrants, interacial couples, non-Christians, liberals.....
4. Forget "give unto Caeser," give churches tax exemptions dude
5. that whole "turn the other cheek" thing was a joke. Kill your enemies, the church's enemies, make up some enemies when your politicians need to be re-elected
1. it's not abuse if the little boys like it – I DON"T THINK THAT
2. Ignore "Thou shalt not kill," in case of war, capital punishment, shooting abortion drs – I DON'T THINK THAT its all wrong except to protect yourself or your family (don't you agree)
3. Jesus loves everyone, except gays, illegal immigrants, interacial couples, non-Christians, liberals..... i DON'T THINK THAT, he loves everyone
4. Forget "give unto Caeser," give churches tax exemptions dude I THINK THAT TAX EXEMPTION FOR CHURCHES HARMS THE CHURCH AND KEEPS THEM DOWN.
5. that whole "turn the other cheek" thing was a joke. Kill your enemies, the church's enemies, make up some enemies when your politicians need to be re-elected – i THINK THE WAR WAS WRONG
And I am a born again, spirit filled, assembly of God believer (ya like Sarah Palin)....you have it wrong.. Sorry
Which of the following groups bases their 21st Century social outlook on a collection of Bronze Age myths from the Middle East, that were cobbled together into a book during the Dark Ages:
(a) The Ayatollahs of Iran
(b) The Afghan Taliban
(c) American Christians; or
(d) All of the above?
Religion is so dumb. Really, reading this it becomes so clear that only weak minded, intellectually lazy, morally confused and easily manipulated people choose to be imprisoned by this ridiculous cultish nonsense. The worst part is that they want to force everybody into living by their backwards, ancient Middle Eastern "values" and bizarre worldview. No thanks.
I totally agree with shawn about weak minded, easily manipulated people being bound up and controlled by religious groups. There are many people who seek out religious groups because frankly they need other people to tell them what to do and how to be. Unfortunately, for all of us, these same controlled individuals do things like vote for Tea Party candidates and are brainwashed into thinking that they are doing what is good for the country by demanding Tea Party policies.
I'll be praying for you Shawn. I'm not being flip I will be
There's a lot of Christian denomination, but there is ONLY ONE CHURCH that God will save.
Yeah, that racist, evil, torturing old man in the sky. Tends to play favorites, that one. What a jerk.
Read the Bible and try to understand, there is a reason for everything.
The bible is easy to understand. What is hard to understand is that anyone believes the cr-ap in it.
do tell. i will take the bait. which is the one true church?
CNN is so out of touch with Christianity its ridiculous. Please get off the 'news outlets reinventing Christianity and pretend this is how it always was'. This is Jeremy – a now EX-CNN patron, signing off of CNN forever.
Why do some of you think Christians are being "attacked" by this article? You're not. The martyr act is getting really old.
I completely agree...The article is basically using the pretense of language to lump all self-proclaiming Christians together, while illuminating those who embrace a revisionist theology.
Your loving Jesus said himself that he is the only way through which man can be saved(John 10:1-10, 11:25-26, 14:6...), and that not everyone who says "lord, lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 7:21-23) He called the religious men of the time hypocrites because they do not practice that which they proclaim (Matthew 6:1-6, 15:1-9). He angrily turned over the money-changer's tables in the temple and drove them out, telling them they have made His father's house a "den of theives." (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22).
Why not grab a New King James bible and start reading at the book of John? It will make the deity of Jesus obvious to anyone who truly seeks God, if they are willing to ask God for clear understanding...It's right there-just read. You'll find out in John 4:3-32 that a Samaritan woman actually asks Jesus what place we should worship. His response? "4:21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Why not skip church for awhile and get to know who God REALLY is through reading HIS Word?
*A true Christian (which they were traditionally called in a mocking way while being persecuted)=follower of Jesus Christ=anti-religious hypocrisy, anti-religion, & pro-relationship to the one true God. !! God did not tell us to judge the world or try to make it better, or to collect fine things...
Why are TRUE Christians obsessed about "saving souls?"
Jesus Christ gave us specific instructions (the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20):
"16Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17And when they saw him, they worshiped him: but some doubted.
18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Do it now and He'll forgive your sins. Do it then and He'll judge you guilty and consign you to eternity with Satan. You don't want to go there. He forgives every sin but you have to ask for it. That's the rub. You're too proud to admit your need.
theres an invisible man, watching everyone, of every hour of every day? Are you sure thats not made up?
Wow, that'd be quite the a-sshole of a god, condemning anyone to torture for ever and ever for maybe a few bad deeds if any in a brief trip on this planet.
No thanks. You can keep your a-sshole in the sky fictions. Just get your butt in to church now so I can have more of the beach to myself today.
Blah, blah, blah... I'm sorry, but I couldn't get my mind to reconcile this stuff when I was 15, and it hasn't become any more believable four decades later! I cannot believe a Supreme Being is running the equivalent of a fraternity, where only the few who pledge get 'in'.
It IS your choice. Stephen was correct in his description. And neither one of us attempted to convert you. I'll keep my Christianity, thank you.
You can keep your fictions. And get your self to your church this morning and spend lots of time there, because I want more of the beach to myself without seeing fat Christian butts on it.
hahaha great response trucks....more room for us @ the beach....I support christianity on sundays in the summer lol
While it is true that one of the evidences of a subculture is that they have their own 'lingo' so-to-speak, the meanings of many of the terms that evangelicals use have their basis in Scripture. Modern evangelicals do need to 'bridge the gap' and speak more plainly about their faith in terms that everyone can understand rather than assume that what they understand among themselves will be automatically understood by those who are not of their community when they speak to others about their faith. Effective communication methods have not always been one of the trademarks of evangelical Christianity.
That being said, the Scriptures say in Acts 11:26 "And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church and taught much people. And the disciples were first called 'Christians' in Antioch." Being a Christian is still a valid term for one who claims to follow Christ's teachings.
Now when Jesus used the term 'born again' it came from John 3:3 where he said: " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus answered him in a literal sense and thought that Jesus was talking about entering a second time into his mother's belly and being born again (v.4). But Jesus enlightens him as to what this means in the following verses and tells him he is talking about a spiritual rebirth. So true Christians know what that means because they are familiar with this text. So it is more likely that Christians know what they are talking about when they say the term 'born again.'
Borg says: " Christianity's goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better." This statement is contains some truth, but it ignores other elements about this life and the Christian who lives in it. For example, John the Apostle said: " Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." (1John 2:15-17).
Biblical scholars understand that the new Testament was written in 'koine`" Greek. The term 'world is used in 4 different contexts. One (kosmos) means the earth in contrast to heaven. (John 21:25) In the verses from 1 John above, it means the values of the world system in contrast to the values of the kingdom of God. In other words, the old-fashioned term the Bible calls 'sin.' Not a popular term today. Everybody wants to do what is right in their own eyes and frankly, I am growing weary of media statements that suggest "well, everybody knows that the Bible is just a book of myths and that it's irrelevant, etc." as though everyone accepts this as understood. Well everybody does NOT just accept what the media is pushing onto the public. The 2nd term for world in the Greek is (aion) which translates to an age of period of time (2Cor. 4:4). The 3rd word for world in Greek is (oikoumene) which simply means the inhabited earth by the humans. (Mt. 24:14)
Now bear in mind that the spelling of the word is 'world' in English, but the Greek behind the word is different in these 3 places. Part of the problem has been that we have been using the King James (which I quoted here) from 1611. Many of the old English terms have a different meaning in modern 21st century Western English, or American vernacular. If someone really wants to understand the terms, there are plenty of help materials available. The question to readers is: "Do you really want to understand or do you just want to dismiss it all and go on your way?"
The video narrator who talks about the word 'believe' as being 'to hold dear' or 'beloved' is a bit off base. The actual Greek term for believe is (pisteuo) which translates literally to " have faith in (with God or Christ as the object grammatically) and to 'have confidence in someone or something; entrust". The term is used to trust your life into the hands of another and believe that you will be helped or taken care of. This is a strong term in the bible and does not need to be diluted in any way.
I am concerned that America is seeing more an more of so-called 'experts' who write things that have a ring of truth to them socially, but they do not do a thorough job in explaining all sides of the picture. As a result, many readers of their books stop with what they have read and go no further. So they become experts at quoting modern authors rather than going to original sources because modern authors tend to water down things and encourage us to live any way we want to live.
I'm all for trying to explain things in a more understandable manner and not leave people wondering what on earth I am talking about. True Christians do need to do a better job at communicating their faith. If that's all the author is trying to say, then that's OK. But we can do without any distortions of what Jesus or the Bible has stated.
The man god JC was a rebel, a blasphemer and a hypocrite and he died as he should have. Why he was confused at his death for his own blasphemy only shows how confused he was
Per Torah, the story of Babel, God confounded mankind, our languages, because we wanted seperation from the rest of creation. DOES THIS MEAN THAT ANIMALS AND ALL ELSE CAN STILL COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER????
No, it means that the author of the bit about Babel had no clue as to how languages actually evolved.
What's new about this? All in-groups speak their own languages, they (sometimes) exclude others from their little club, and feel proud of it. It can be small groups(sects, cults), it can be large groups (christian groups, muslims, hindus, politicians, white supremacists, student fraternities, end time followers, baseball afficionados, and and and). They see the world in certain terms and express their views in insider language.
Does that make them more right than others? No. Do their opinions / beliefs supercede others'? No, as hard as they try, they just believe it. That doesnt make it true.
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.