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.
It's time to drop these archaic beliefs. Religion is only for the weak minded. There is no way to prove that there is a heaven or a hell. Someday we will all learn what happens when we die, but it is not worth it to waste any time worrying about what will happen. Lets spend our efforts on helping the sick and the needy. We do not need churches to be our middle man.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear. He's alive, my friend. That's Christianity. The world as we know it will end and God will repopulate a new one with people who love His son.
I've been born many times........last time I was a Cowboy.
" The world as we know it will end and God will repopulate a new one with people who love His son."
In truth, religion and atheism have been around, side by side, since the dawn of man. Simply because something is archaic does not imply that it is incorrect. It is not that the old theories have been replaced with the new – naturalistic ideas have been around for millennia, as has religion.
Sir or miss.. What proof do you have of Jesus existing? Outside of the bible and the falicious reference by Josephus, where is your Jesus spoken about in history?
Faith is the license believers give themselves when reasons fail.
There is ONLY one Church.
This is why religion is BS. If it was everything that people claim it to be, there wouldn't be so many so completely divided about it.
"By that time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian – they've become spiritual snobs."
But that's part of the definition of being Christian! They believe, fervently, that only those people who believe as they do will be given spiritual blessings. Only people like them will be "saved." Only people who have participated in their rituals and have turned themselves over to Jesus will find salvation. Everyone else will burn in the fiery pit, right?
How can you see that as anything except spiritual snobbery? Even if you're not using "code language," do you believe that you've got a favored place with the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful? If so, you believe that you are fundamentally superior to those who disagree with you. It's the ultimate snobbery, because it's applied to the ultimate measure of worth of a human being. Christians who feel that they're the only ones who are "saved," Muslims who believe that all infidels will be condemned, Jews who believe they're "God's Chosen People" (for reference, I'm half Jewish by heritage, and I don't buy that tripe)," and even Scientologists who... well... who knows what they believe, right? It's all spiritual snobbery. Don't fool yourselves.
Would you say that physicists, or biologists, or any other experts should refrain from using terminology unique to their field lest they be branded with 'snobbery'? Though I think it is unwise to use such 'Christianese' when speaking with a non believer, as it would be of little merit for a zoologist to call common animals by their latin names when speaking with a layman. However, within a congregation of mature christians, why should they be prevented from using such terms?
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to follow jc.
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to give away their money to jc.
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to get drunk on cheap wine.
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to believe in miracles.
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to love their enemies.
Being a true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to disobey Torah.
"The fool hath said is his heart there is no God". Jesus loves you and died for our sins.
Quoting a line from a book doesn't make the line nor the book true. The second part is a baseless assertion.
"Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." – Billy Idol
Fundament: The part of the body upon which one sits; the buttocks; specifically, the anus. (Wiktionary)
Fundamental, Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist – just expand upon the above.
Knowing Christ is like walking away from a plane that crashes from 30,000 feet without a scratch. It seems impossible but He chooses you for it.
I guess I's be more concerned about why he *didn't* choose the other 250 people who died in that crash. Answers???
and "He" maliciously condemns all the other passengers to the incalculable fear and pain of this crash.
Wow, I'll take a pass on this god that could have prevented all that agony (all-knowing? all-powerful? all-loving?).
Is that right??? Cuz I think if that was really the case, based on what is preached, everyone would walk away from that plane crash. Isn't He supposed to be "all forgiving" and "love all His brothers and sisters"? (Incorrect interpretations and quotes taken outta context from the greatest STORY every written are now welcome.)
And screw the other 259 passengers aboard, right?
holy crap here comes Jesus...and he doesn't look too happy...
He wasn't happy with nails in his hands either – But he's long dead and in Torah there is no resurrection
He's already in the process of frying 10 billion souls who did,'t believe in him, so watch out!
@SA – You obviously never read My Torah – My inheritance. What is your father leave you??? Ignorance
oh great. now we're going to argue about whose fairy tale is the real one. yes, a torah can be a very valuable thing – emotionally, financially, spiritually. but it certainly does not speak of anything that is really applicable today, and was still ultimately written by men to control the masses. don't get me wrong – i love the jews, but seriously, this blind faith must stop before we destroy what's left of the human race.
So sick of CNN's anti-christian slant.......the bashing is a weekly thing now.....poor Ted did not realize he was creating the Communist News Network.....
So anything that doesn't exactly promote your beliefs is anti-you. This persecution complex is a common theme on the blogs. Put yourself in somebody else's shoes for once. All kinds of people actually are discriminated against. Christians control almost everything in this country.
I'm sorry. I must be missing the connection between silly religious beliefs and Communism. Please explain.
I am curious why you believe CNNis anti-Christian, especially coming after the above article on speaking Christian. Why is learning about our religious phrases anti-Christian?
I agree with you Mimi, its been happening quite a while now, targeting ministers, they say your are not really reading the bible, or Jesus didnt mean this or that, re-defining marriage, its a direct attack against christianity and Jesus. Then you got your Audience here posting stuff here just getting all the glory when they see articles like this :Athiest, Agnostics, Heathens, and Cults, etc...
I'm a Christian, but I don't "speak" Christian. My observations is that those who throw these phrases around the most, are least likely to live the values. I am a firm believer in "it's not what you say, it's what you do and how you live." I'm bothered by Christian-speak because to me it always comes across as phony.
You proud of that??? Propoganda is an amazing tool
"Christian" speak in less than 50 words for those who are reading challenged:
There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!
For those who are not reading challenged:
Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con:
From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.
From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:
"Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.
Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.
Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.
The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.
Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "
"In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:
An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
"Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."
p.168. by Ted Peters:
Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "
So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.
Last week a neighborhood girl told my 9 year old that I was going to the place down under (and I'm not talking of Australia) because I was not a Christian. The girl's parents taught her this. I'm tired of this kind of bigotry – because that is exactly what it is. So my daughter is to tell this girl that there is no down under, except for Australia, and a loving God would only send me to Australia, and not the other down under. (Can't use he double hockey sticks without being censored by a prudish American).
He's alive, folks. Why we know and you don't is a mystery but we definitely know. HIs life, death and resurrection are the watershed moments of human history. God will judge the world for sin and repopulate with those who love His son. It's going to be an amazing experience, don't miss out!
I'm falling all over him.
More blasphemy from the confused
show me. at least explain to me this blind faith you have. there is no room for the word "definitely" in faith except to say that you "definitely" don't know. nobody knows, and that's definite.
Organized religion is a business and nothing more.
And a fraudulent one at that.
The reason why christians don't all commit MASS SUICIDE to meet their god jc and the wonderful world they believe exists after death, is because they don't believe it to be TRUE. They also lack FAITH in their god and lack CONVICTION to their cause. In short they are nothing but barbarians with little heart for anything but procreation
Methinks thou dost protest too strongly.
Ah, but if you read the FRONT SECTION OF YOUR CHRISTIAN BIBLE, the teeny section names TORAH, you will realize that my objections are clear, real and have been so for 3500 years.
But that shouln't be news to you, unless you are a blaspheming christian
How much do you know about Christianity and the Sediec Ossuary church built of human bones? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedlec_Ossuary
Christianity is nothing more than Judaism dumbed down for the intellectually challenged. They challenge our teachers but never our preachers. The Scopes trial is a prime example, as is Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and "intelligent" design. Many people think they were not born right the first time so they have to be born again. They were born mostly fine, they just werent raised right. Man has made the rules as he has evolved, and blamed it on God. Unable to face reality they create a fantasy they can believe in. Shame.
Yes, I speak Christian. I write Christian too, watch.
God bless you. Jesus loves you. the Bible says in First John chapter 4 verses 7 and 8: Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Yes, I was a born again Christian. Fortunately, I've gotten over it.
speak which sect of Christian? After all, they're not all the same.
Move along people! There's nothing to See here!
For a good portoin of my life I wanted to believe in some kind of a "god" or "higher power" of some sort. I wanted to believe that there was someone looking down upon us. Someone to have faith in and turn to during the difficult times in life. I had just seemed that as I got older I found myself gradully "losing faith". The idea just became less appealling to me over time. Church made no sense to me and the bible even less (The Bible does contradict itself a lot). I then started to think about what I would be giving up on by not have so called "faith" anymore. By no longer believing in the "supernatural" per say. I realized I was giving up belief in a fairy tale, belief in ghost stories. It was almost like when you"re a kid and you discover there is no santa claus or easter bunny. Giving up on "faith" has actually brought a lot of solace and happiness into my life. I do in a sense have faith but my faith lies in believing in things such as personal responsibility, values such as hard work, respect, and ethics such as charity and helping others (which I developed on my own out of my own choosing and I recieve my own satisfaction from doing not a belief in sucking up to an invisible man in the sky for "great reward" after I die). I could see the possibility of some kind of "higher intelligence" but certainly nothing as "man had created" when HE wrote the bible. My idea of a higher intelligence in something that sparked the fuse of evolution (yes we did evolve from pre-historic man and esstentially apes get over yourselves creationists) and nothing more. It didn't creat love or hate, happiness or anger, envy or need. Those feeling were created by humans over several thousand years. Don't get me wrong, if faith works for you and truly makes you feel happy and fulfilled then go with it. However if it doesn't then remember that happiness really does come from within and ALWAYS see what is in front of you for what it is and never live in dilusion.
Love your thoughts, but until ignorance is no longer bliss you can expect those who back their good thoughts and feelings with fantasy rather than the realities we are confronted wth every day to rule our lives. Too many of us still believe that the Earth is flat. It aint.
Speaking 21st "christianity":---------------
Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.
The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.
For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".
Current RCC problems:
Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!
Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders/reformers of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).
Current problems in the reformed movement:
Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,
JC dies about 30AD. The Temple was destroyed, with help from the Romans and Pharisee in 70AD. Judaism took hold AFTER the writing of their TALMUD, creating NEW laws and a NEW religion after 70AD, so your god jc was a pharisee Hebrew, NOT a jew
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.