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.
Why is it that the so called born-again christians think they are so much better than all of us 'ordinary christians'?
They are no better they just took the time to read the bible and they believe what it say. Read John 3 and believe Jesus. It may happen to you.
James, The book of James says "humble yourself before God and he will lift you up. I like that one. It keeps me right sized.
Don't worry. I think you are all equally foolish.
You asked: "Why is it that the so called born-again christians think they are so much better than all of us 'ordinary christians'?"
Because they are bigoted pukes?
They are "better off" for being aware of their sin. They don't have to live in their miserable habits anymore. It is a relief to call on God for help.
There is no such thing as an "ordinary Christian" vs. a "born again Christian." If you believe in Jesus Christ,, accept him as your Savior, and live your life following his teachings, then you've been born again. You just may not call yourself born again, and there's no rule that says you have to. But Jesus himself told Nicodemus in John 3:3 that you must be "born again".
Texas Shell: "Jesus himself told Nicodemus in John 3:3..."
Or so says someone writing under the name "John" in the early first century... unconfirmed hearsay.
Pretty soon CNN will come out with a report. " Christians misinterpret the RFID chip on humans, to the MARK of the BEAST"
RFID is good just incase you lose your I.D and wallet, just swipe your hand and wala there is all your info and accounts. this will control TERRORISM also.
WoW! I love it. It will drive the fundies nuts! LOL!
What would be even better, would be for Obama to start pushing for it.
Unfortunately, that has already come and passed. (Some brands of) Christians have been interpreting each new advancement of technology as the mark of the beast for ages. I remember growing hearing about how credit cards were the mark of the beast. In fact, every time we get a new president (save, God bless him, George W. Bush), or a new Pope, they cry "Anti-Christ!!!" Gotta love it. And we wonder why we have a hard time getting anyone to take us seriously. Great article, though. I've been saying it for years.
All Christians are screwed up in the head.
I don't even need to watch that, of course it is. Most tend to start EVERY god damn sentence with "I", "I will be saved", "I know that......", "I have experienced", "I will watch you burn in magic hell", "I am", "I was", "I will be".
Michael, I see the existence of believers really bothers you. Why is that.
I don't see anything referring about denying the existence of believers, just common everyday phrases we non-believers hear from fundie families and friends alike.
Crikeys, I don't think ANYBODY doubts the existence of believers. On the contrary, they're so numerous and so pushy that you have to work really hard to AVOID them.
There seems to be more attacks on Christians beliefs now more than ever. But we know there will be much more to come and that makes me know that the Bible is 100% true after all. God loves you, don't listen to this guy. He knows nothing about the Hebrew,greek or Aramaic languages.
So because people are starting to realize how ridiculous your religion is, that somehow reaffirms your faith in it?
Makes a ton of sense, bro.
Don't get your knickers in a twist. Nowhere in this article did I see any attacks on Christianity. I did see, however, the author simply stating that the different denominations have their own language, and sometimes that language may be misguided compared to the teachings of the bible and Christ. It's not saying it's wrong, but it's saying that it can be misleading as well as elitist. Which, it can be. But all religions are elitist to a point - they all think they are right and the best - but you can not go out and preach the word of Christ by alienating those you wish to hear the word... it's like someone from a country club going to a homeless person and throwing out all the benefits of the country club and the amazing life of the people who are members... Not exactly welcoming and understanding.
Many "Christians" aren't familiar with the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts – including quite a few pastors – so they don't know what they are talking about either.
Hey, they have been attacking Jesus since he was 13. The world of the world does not like change. Few will follow His path though all are invited.. They do not understand that the staff of the Shepherd is to pull the wolfs off. This is what keeps them from being of God. Religion is greatly the blame for much of this sadness.
But that is what they always do....twist everything to make it look like they got the inside sccop.....
It is time to put away childish things......
This is not even remotely theology. If it were I might have some respect for it. It is Christian-baiting pure and simple. The articles that CNN posts are really adolescent. Why? Can't atheists handle real theological discussions concerning Christianity? No. They can't. They have decided that God is dead and they need think about it no longer. Even John Dewey was against militant atheists. Right. Mr. Secular Humanism had no use for nut-case atheists. And the new, coming secular humanist 'religion' will have no use for them either. This may be the 'golden age' of atheism. Lord, forgive them, even if they know what they are doing.
Why must you Paul resort to persecuting CNN Blogs So? I find their literature to be an Enlightening Source of Scripture! :)
paul, god isn't dead. He just never existed.
Actually, very true. Even though I'am pretty familiar with the Bible, it is not only enlightening but refreshing to read the Christian posts. It is truly inspiring to know there are so many believers who are willing to stand up, witness, and speak out.
At one point there were only 7,000 who had not bowed to Baal. God, Christ, and Christianity will endure this onslaught of
atheism. Thank you for pointing this out to me. God's will, will be done.
"Can't atheists handle real theological discussions concerning Christianity? No. They can't."
-- Yeah they can. Lets do it.
"They have decided that God is dead and they need think about it no longer."
-- Wrong. "They" think about it all the time.
"God's will, will be done."
-- THAT'S what you call a theological discussion ? :twisted:
Bucky: Get down to it then.
YOU said they can't have a real theological discussion, (I didn't), so I'll let you name the subject. And BTW, why does the subject of a CNN article have to be on ONLY theology ? "Beliefs" are more about psychology anyway.
Bucky: I believe the article itself frequently refers to theologians or theology. I recommend you start with Sarte.
Jean-Paul Sarte was a philosopher, not a theologian. And I read him when I was in grade school.
"This is not even remotely theology"
"Bucky: I believe the article itself frequently refers to theologians or theology"
You don't see a slight inconsistency there ? hmmm. :twisted:
I am getting really sick of CNN posting this crap on mainstream news site. i don't want to see it. Is this their answer to Fox news, which I hate even more? Stop opining and report news.
Geez, I had to actively click on a clearly labelled link to get to this site. You mean you DIDN'T? It just came up automatically on your screen when you started up your browser, and somebody from CNN dropped by to hold a gun to your head to force you to read it all, then held a knife to your throat and forced you to comment on it? Wow.
Great and powerful be the name of CNN, blessed and holy be it now and forevermore, amen. (I gotta say that or else they'd come for ME the same way they came for YOU.)
Gee Rick, Persecuting the persecutor makes one a persecutee! :)
Maybe CNN should present its articles and agendas openly and honestly. If a 'belief' article is going to bash any religion, maybe it ought to be up front about that fact.
The premise of this article is ridiculous. Any culturally or socially definable group of people has its own jargon and "in crowd" talk. African Americans do; vegetarians do, the construction industry does. To suggest that somehow Christians do this uniquely demonstrates a narrow experience of people and the world.
And then to follow up the description by the author with the picture of Christians consciously thinking they must use this or that set of inside-group-think in order to fit in... that's just idiotic.
<embed src='http://www.youtube.com/v/ZXEJKcSyhxo?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1' type='application/x-shockwave-flash' allow
Christianity is a curse for the world and all troubles in the world are because of stupid church teachings
Time for people to wake up before this religion drives world to brink of major wars
Eh... people use language lazily. I can think of any words used more carelessly in what passes for our national political debate than 'socialist' and 'communist.'
Be quiet, you commie. Just kidding man. I couldn't resist.
Religion is all the same. They want to control us and society so civilization doesn't go horribly wrong. Other than that, it is the biggest book of fiction out there. Must explain why Harry Potter did so well.
A lot of scoundrels can quote the Bible, especially politicians. A lot of Christians and non-Christians can quote the Bible. It's not what you say so much that matters as how you think, speak, and act, and if you forgive me for quoting the Bible basically I think it comes down to this:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all they strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31
hey, don't forget those commands to kill something wonderful and burn it to please your god's sense of smell.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to follow jc.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to give away their money to jc.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to get drunk on cheap wine.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah to believe in miracles.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to love their enemies.
Being true christian is to encourage those that follow God Of Torah away to disobey Torah.
I think you should scope out the difference between "away" and "a way".
Yes! The Christians even have the audacity to call Jews who accept Christ, "Perfected Jews".
As Lewis Black says: "The Old Testament belongs to the Jews." They are the experts on this book, the Tanakh.
Who better than them, to determine the actual requirements of the Messiah. The Jews find Jesus wanting.
'cept jews of today follow the talmud not the torah Big difference! http://encyclopediaegypt.com/israel/l032001.htm
Being true Christian is to experience the fulfillment of all the promises of the same God of Torah.
JC is best example of all God of Torah revealed.
Your god jc said he came to liveout (insert work you prefer), but what did he do to promote the governance God of Torah commanded in Torah, the PRIESTHOOD???
I've become skeptical of organized religion over the years. Deism best fits my beliefs these days.
Deist sites I like to read on occasion:
Deist Alliance – links to deism sites plus a newsletter full of inspirational articles
Deist Poet – inspirational poems
I'm also drawn to the Spiritual But Not Religious movement:
I find Christians who introduce themselves as such are simply making it known that they subscribe to one of the evangelical and/or more recent fundamentalist flavors of Christianity.
Highly recommend the book: Pilgrims in Their Own Land, 500 Years of Religion in America.
Jesus also promoted the idea that all men should castrate themselves to go to heaven: "For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." (Matthew 19:12 ASV) I don't know why anyone would follow the teachings of someone who literally tells all men to cut off their privates.
There are already too few men who would do me.
You have no clue about christianity and please stay away and watch "star war" as before.
All this 'I speak Christian better than thou' and 'I understand the Bible better than thou' is nothing but vanity. It is about a bunch of elittists trying to justify their superiority complex by excluding others with more and more excuses. 'I am superior because I believe in Jesus. I am superior because I believe in the right words of Jesus. I am superior because my interpretation of the words of Jesus is better than your interpretation.' Excuses, excuses, excuses. It's all just vanity!
Fun fact: the proportion of soecietal deviants has remained constant throughout history. This includes the holier-than-everyone puritans. Why? Because even when everyone was perfectly in line they invented more excuses to exclude people, just to justify their own vanity. They even outlawed the celebration of Christmas because it was not in the Bible and was therefore blasphemous.
NO, thank God, I do not speak Christian in relation to my spirituality. My mother and 3 of her siblings are each a different form of born again Christian. Each of them is on the 'right' road to God and, unfortunately, the other siblings have not heard the 'right' word yet! What a load of crap, one that I think Jesus would not be pround of. To be fair to my Mother, her brand of Christianity does comes with humility and compassion for others. She is not of the opinion that hers is the only path to God.
Every single person's version of God just happens to suit their personality and soothe their ego. This is no coincidence. This is because God is nothing other than an extension of Ego.
Everyone should have a path to nowhere.
Speaking of paths, I thought I ran over you yesterday.
Christianity has suffered from the Evangelical movement. The bible speaks of such things, in the last days.
Couldn't of been said any better.
Most of the many of the people posting within this Blog are heelbent upon Persecusionalizing the moderations of this Blog so written in splendored Regality? :-(
Mimicry is a part and parcel of human fundamentalism and cannot be exorcized or booted out the doors of any cultured Land of the Free and Home of the Brave! :)
Only when the END of an AGE comes around the bend, will the People of the Cross; Rally with the Virtuosos of Globalists to Unite, this Time, Once and for ALL, A World of Absolute Freedoms and Sound Judgementation of Laws! :-)
What the hell are you talking about, you captain kooky?!??!
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.