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.
Fundamentalist Christians be they Evangelical or Catholic are no better than the radical fundamentalists of Islam.
Hallelujah...someone else understands that! Thank you, brother!
extremism of any sort is dangerous - religious, political, etc....
Yes. You're right. I would find it hard to believe that there were non-fundamentalists in the KKK, or non-jihadists in Al Queda. Not to get off the topic, but has anyone noticed JEWS are the only abrahamic ( Judaism, Christianity, Islam) people who don't believe others must be like them? During the crusades, the Christian armies killed Jews, the KKK killed Jews, and many people in the middle east want to see Israel blown to the heavens. But do Jews travel the world converting heathens? HECK NO! We welcome you to join us, but we figure the Native Americans are just fine with their ways.
This is a a treatise in liberal theology, not theology. The absolute truth of the Bible is affirmed by the Bible; take it or leave it. The idea that not-all-of-the-Bible-is-true is excluded by the Bible itself. Whatever you believe, understand that the Bible is one work, pure and holy. You can not just have parts of it be true. Furthermore, the Bible directly speaks to this world's impermanence and in-consequence and tot he value of life to come over this life. Christianity is not a philosophical dogma it changes everything and the time will come before all thing will to to it. And certainly Christianity has its faults, but Christ does not. Certainly some teaching of Christians are inconsistent and erroneously so, but Christ's are not. Christianity has caused hurt, but there is not any other paradigm the world over that has brought so much hope and happiness that has been a crutch to the broken and a rest to the weary as Christianity. Before Christianity charity did not exist, nor was there tolerance or humility. Christians are the same sinners everyone else is. Any other belief represent ignorance of true Christian Doctrine.
NoDakLuther, re "The absolute truth of the Bible is affirmed by the Bible; take it or leave it.". I'll leave it, thanks, and you should too. No biscuit for your logic fail.
What you call charity is not a Christian invention, since the Golden Rule pre-dates Christianity by centuries, so fsck off with that lie. What an asinine, ignorant statement you made.
Your statement is a plain circular argument and your god is pure fiction. Get a life and get past your idiotic delusion.
You said: "The absolute truth of the Bible is affirmed by the Bible; take it or leave it. The idea that not-all-of-the-Bible-is-true is excluded by the Bible itself. Whatever you believe, understand that the Bible is one work, pure and holy. You can not just have parts of it be true."
You are right. You can't have just parts of the bible be true:
Notice how many denominations of Christianity there are (~ 34,000). Each denomination can show you scripture, that "proves" they understand the wants of Jesus/god.
All of the denominations could not be correctly interpreting the bible. Many are contradictory.
Many of these denominations believe only their members will be saved.
If the Christian god exists, and He is all knowing and all powerful and all good, why didn't He provide a bible that could not be misinterpreted? That everyone's comprehension of His wants would be the same?
Christians believe god's purpose in creating the Bible is to guide human beings towards a knowledge of God, and to help them lead moral lives, Christians must be certain of the meaning of the Bible.
ambiguity – a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression.
"There are in excess of 1,000 Christian faith groups in North America. They teach diverse beliefs about the nature of Jesus, God, the second coming, Heaven, Hell, the rapture, criteria for salvation, speaking in tongues, the atonement, what happens to persons after death, and dozens of other topics.
On social controversies, faith groups teach a variety of conflicting beliefs about abortion access, equal rights for ho_mo$exuals and bi$exuals, who should be eligible for marriage, the death penalty, physician assisted suicide, human $exuality topics, origins of the universe, and dozens of other topics.
The groups all base their theological teachings on the Bible. Generally speaking, the theologians in each of these faith groups are sincere, intelligent, devout, thoughtful and careful in their interpretation of the Bible. But, they come to mutually exclusive conclusions about what it teaches. Further, most are absolutely certain that their particular interpretations are correct, and that the many hundreds of faith groups which teach opposing beliefs are in error." Source: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
If the bible is ambiguous, then it cannot be said to be inerrant. If the bible is not without error, then how do we know which parts to accept as truth and which to reject as fiction?
The Christian god is very unlikely to exist.
So... the Bible is right, and the proof is that the Bible says so? And everything in the Bible has to be right?
Slavery, justified by the Bible, is right?
Polygamy is right?
The Sun revolving around the Earth is right?
Killing family to secure your throne is right?
Or okay, let's ignore all these, and turn to the positive teachings of the Bible instead. The Bible, which as we know is correct, teaches us the importance of charity and of giving. Have you followed that teaching? It teaches forgiveness. Have you been forgiving? It asks us to keep holy the day of Sabbath, tells us not to lie, honor our father and mother, not to covet our neighbor's wife or goods. Have you followed all these Commandments to the letter?
And speaking of 'to the letter,' it is the biggest fallacy to talk about the Bible as one, perfectly written book. That's just being ignorant of the history of the Bible. The Bible has been changed through translations over centuries, and has been heavily edited by the Church on what's in it and what's not. You may want to look up how the Catholic Church originally decided amongst hundreds of scripts which one to include and which one to exclude from the Bible.
Well said. Pretty thoughtful post.
I'm sure there were forms of charity prior, but, yes, Jesus broke wide open all (generally) known worldly systems by what He spoke and did.
BS. the bible contradicts itself frequently. There are two creation myths in genesis, both of which cannot be true as they contradict each other fundamentally. all 4 gospels have multiple areas of conflict if you take them as 100% factual accounts. Quite simply, reading the bible as 100% historical fact is asinine, and is also a fairly recent phenomenon. Anyone who claims otherwise is attempting to gain control of you through faith. Think for yourself and stop trying to tell people what to think!
CNN rules! Please print another story disputing the chritstians beliefs – awesome!
I think it would be interesting to see an article disputing judaism or islam though as well.
You sound just as foolish as this author – sad.
Have you ever looked at the Talmud? It's awesome! It is commentary on the bible ( old testament, five books of Moses, Torah). We know that it was written by people and some can probably even date it!
Talmud? It's awesome??? You're a sick person – no worries mate
This video clip does show some and embelishes some more contraversial aspects of Talmud, but the sin of Talmud is that it even was written.
Talmud was written after the Priesthood, sadducees, were wiped out by Rome and the Pharisees in 70AD. It was and is forbidden to ADD TO TORAH, and this is a definite addition to
No, I speak Jive, I guess it pretty much is the same thing.
I've been reading the comments on this article and are struck by how many of them are from self-professed Christians who claim that the article is somehow or other "criticizing" or "picking on" or "persecuting" or "trying to destroy" Christianity. How so? I just don't see it. All the author of the article, the video, and the book on which both are based are doing is saying "These words used by Christians don't have the same meanings as they did when they were originally written."
I don't get it. Aren't Christians supposed to be ALL ABOUT the original meanings of the Bible as originally written? All these guys are doing is saying "Here's what the original meanings really WERE!". Isn't that more helpful than harmful? Help me out here. I really don't understand what the objections are.
Its the very same people who probably use those polarizing words who are finding fault with this article. I am a Christian and I found very little to argue with this article. It has been my experience as well.
Your remarks have been negative and malicious. We have a picture of crazed hitler in the middle of the page and much of the posting on this comment thread are extremely hat.e.ful so actually the comment section is a very accurate portrayal of an ugly divisiveness that is part of our culture .. ugly language, mindless but angry blathering, intolerant, insulting, juvenile, and hostile .. in some ways irrational (the video posts certainly). Is that a culture that is going to create a future in the 21st century? hardly. THe comments reveal something other than Christian speak and it is very ugly
How about an article from CNN, " do you speak freemasonic?"
"All your base are belong to Freemasons "
Mel Gibson epitomizes a typical religious sheep! :)
Citing Marcus Borg favorably ruins any chance you have to speak authoritatively to me. Heretic of the highest order.
Heretic because he, like many Episcopalians, follow the teachings of love your neighbor as yourself, and do unto others and you would have them do unto you?
Yeah, you're right, God hates progressive Christians like Marcus Borg or me.
You gave just some of the reasons why I have no fear of the U.S.A. being turned into a 'Christian Nation'. Christians are like members of Congress, they can't agree to disagree and compromise either.
Except their beliefs aren't robbing you of your Social Security or handing our country over to the Chinese. Let me guess, Liberal? Way to pretend to be clever though... keep it up and maybe it'll happen for you.
As we "thu-mp" along with rational thinking, conclusions and reiteration to counter the millennia of false and flawed religious history and theology!!!------––
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.
Everything you said is just as much speculation as you claim Christianity is. Try again to break the Holy Spirit.
Ok, maybe I'm 'reading challenged', but this seems like a conflicted statement:
"There was and never will be any bodily resurrections "
So, there was a bodily ressurection, but will never be again? Meaning, it happened once but won't happen again. Isn't that pretty much what the Christians say? So you believe? Good for you!
That, or you're just 'writing challenged'...
In other words, "all" religions are one kahuna POS! :)
There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!
Once again, another sweeping generalization. And hatred.
Right turn clyde, I love that movie, just listening to the old sound track this morning. Every which way but loose is a classic!
god is imaginary.
"you are on your way to destruction, make your time"
HA HA HA
I'm surprised the writer mentioned the sinner's prayer without mentioning that it does not exist in scripture and is not part of any example of salvation in the Bible.
It's still a load of rubbish no matter how you 'speak it.'
Someday, CNN will let actual Christian theologians write about the Christian faith with sincerity and accuracy.
You mean your kind of theologian, right?
How could you write about fables with sincerity and accuracy? You are as much a POS as religions themselves.
A Christian theologian speaks:
As per the famous contemporary theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, God is not omniscient. Please read, pause and contemplate the following by Schillebeeckx:
Church: The Human Story of God,
Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)
"Christians (et al) must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history."
"Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the historical future is not known even to God, otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women."
Assuming that there is a god.
How about an article from CNN, " do you speak freemasonic?"
IF god created everything, who created Satan, devils, hell, mindless sheep, etc. Could this be a case of insanity as defense? Think!
there is no satan in Torah
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.