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.
Yarah.. i agree... we are going to be seeing much more of this sort of thing.. we are warned about it.. scoffers and mockers... just as in the days of noah, it will be in these days. let's just keep our eyes heavenward..
especially when the sun is out. And don't wear sunglasses.
Can't wait to party in hell ... oh, wait, that's right, there is no such place. Well, I'll just party wherever then.
Harold Camping, you old dog. Long time, no hear from. Whatcha been up to? What's up with the funny screen name?
When I was in college I was studying death anxiety. The most interesting thing I learned was, the more rabid a believer you are, the more fear of death you have. Why do you suppose this is? If Christians believe the ultimate reward is being in Heaven, why don't more of you go there early in life. Why would you oppose abortion, the fetus ends up in heaven with the angels. Why fight about end of life issues, the sooner terminally ill people can end their suffering the sooner they end up in heaven with the angels. Christians are unable to think their way out of a paper bag. I'd be willing to be you haven't read your Bible from cover to cover. If you are one of the few who have, explain the loving god and his practices, as written about in Joshua.
I likes the commments: “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.
But I have my own. "They become so heavenly minded they are no earthly good."
You say Rapture isn't in the Bible. Well you're right, but the concept is 100% there. The word "Bible" isn't in the Bible either, so what's your point?
You're a dope. He wasn't saying the word isn't there; he was saying the concept isn't there ... which is true. You ninnies that take the Bible literally are in an awful mess of contradications.
The point is, to "find" the rapture in the bible, one needs to root off of one sentence in one book, go to another book in the bible, hop from that book to another, taking one sentence out of context at a time, until you arrive at the heresy of the rapture.
John Blake, Marcus Borg, and Bill Leonard are simply wrong. They are man-centered in their thinking, not God centered. They would do well to actually read the Bible. In seminary we were warned of the dangers of eisegesis (reading your own views into the text). The problem with many liberal theologians is that they are determined to worship man rather than God. The outcome of such rebellion will sadly be eternally tragic.
I love when people such as yourself think they know the mind and will of god. Hilarious.
at least the man-worshippers will be worshipping something that actually exists. God doesn't, so stop wasting your short life.
Yada, yada, yada.
Erm, I love it when Christians claim that no one can comprehend the will of god, then go on and try to foist on others behaviors that supposedly are the will of god.
God doesn't exist and Christians are a hoot to mess with.
How exactly are you different than the majority of self-righteous Christians!?! Have at it – you all disgust me. Oh, and by the way, your Jesus was the greatest filandering pseudo-politician of all time.
Did you mean "They would do well to actually read the Bible" but it's only good if they agree with MY interpretation ?
The problem with your "eisegesis" theory is that there is NO OTHER reading EXCEPT personal interpretation. How did YOU decide what was THE authentic interpretation ? Did you guys VOTE on it, and if so what were the vote totals ? Does a 99-1 vote mean you are right ? If you didn't vote, how exactly did you decide what was the correct interpretation, given that there are thousands of them ? How did you decide "liberal" theologians worship man ? How "liberal" do you have to be before you get slapped with that label ? Who told you "liberals" worship man ? If god did not want us to rebel, why did he give us the brains to do so ? And speaking of brains and interpretation.....there is ABSOLUTELY NO instance, EVER, where a human read your texts and did NOT interpret them. If they "read" them, or "heard" them, the text passed through their cognitive processes, (by virtue of their brain cells), and there is NO OTHER WAY except human, (brain cell) "agency" for those words to be transmitted or imparted. It's ALL "your own views". The only question is "how did YOU decide your view was better than someone else's" ? :twisted:
I'll bet they've read it more times than you have, and understand it far better.
What did they say that was so off base?
Shep, you are absolutely correct that we should not base our understandings simply on the unsupported word of a self-professed authority. YOU would never do such a thing, I'm sure.
Steve: I'm your huckleberry, dude. I'll take that bet. How much are you willing to put up? I'll put myself up against Blake or Borg any day of the week. So, how about it, Steve? Come and get one in the yarbles -
I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone needs to read the Bible so they can see what a mess of contradiction and hogwash it really is. Quit relying on your pastor/priest/whatever to interpret it for you. Read it yourself and if you still think it is the work of some infallible god then there is nothing more anyone can do for you.
I am sad that Shep and none his reply'ers know God through Jesus. That is creepy.
Once you believe in Christ, God will give you discernment. 1 Cor 2:14 So you can start to learn the truth and be set free. Shep seems to believe in his seminary. NG Shep. That is religion. God does not like religion. It is of man.
Find a good non-denominational Christian church that you like church go and listen and worship. The Spirit will come to you. For all non believers... I dare you to try it. I dare you to go 3 Sunday's in a row. Afraid you'll get hooked by the Holly Spirit through Jesus??? Ahhhhhhhhhh ha. Go ahead Give peace, love and happiness a try. Chicken??
Go on! Just go. Being you own God will never bring you peace or the blessings of God. Jesus gives a peace you can't completely comprehend but you will like it.
'I am a TRUE Christian, and everything I do is right. So don't tell me what to do because you're wrong. But as a TRUE Christian I know what's truly right and wrong and therefore I have the right to tell YOU how to behave correctly, and you must do as I say!'
A true christian is a true blasphemer
He who believes he is something when he is not is misleading himself.
Ok good. Now, the second step is to get you a spot on TV and you can do that with a 1-800 number.
I recommend Visa and MC.
It is important that we understand the meaning of the terminology we use as believers. This is, and has been, a problem for the Christian community for some time. In theology, as in medicine and the sciences, terminology is very specific in an effort to eliminate, as much as possible, any confusion or misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the meaning can often be miscommunicated or misunderstood when we attempt to blend the terminology with contemporary society in a way that is over-simplified or socially acceptable.
Speak Christian? Absolutely not! I can't wait for it to become a "DEAD LANGUAGE".
Or in a museum.
Well, Praise the Lord that I am with understanding and I know how to talk the Christian talk with confident.
Did you know that a sans-serif font renders a capital "I" (letter between "H" and "J") the same as a lower-case "L"? This makes your screen name look a whole lot like "Hell's God". You may wish to contemplate whether this is the self-image you really want to promote.
"Name and claim" the English language, please.
(p.s. I am very understanding about ESL speakers, but you have no excuse. I have seen you around these boards quite a lot - you were supposedly fully educated in this country)
Religion is a belief system where the believer doesn't use any intellectual reasoning. They're simply drones... I can only hope that these beliefs will fade away!
Do you speak Christian? No, I don't speak republican.
The tone of the article was rude. The final stage of Christian speak is "being a snob"? It is true that there is Bible-speak with some politicians and journalists (ehmm.."The Republicans have there 'feet to the fire'), but in some parts of the country that the author doesn't like, Biblical speech peppers conversations–similar to a person from MA who wants to "pak the cah". It is evident by the content of the article that–A) the author doesn't like George W. Bush– B) thinks Christians are inferior.
If an article similar in tone was published about Jews using Yiddish phrases in some sort of code, it NEVER would have seen the front page of this site.
It is true that there is Bible-speak with some politicians and journalists (ehmm.."The Republicans have there 'feet to the fire'), but in some parts of the country that the author doesn't like, Biblical speech peppers conversations–similar to a person from MA who wants to "pak the cah". It is evident by the content of the article that–A) the author doesn't like George W. Bush– B) thinks Christians are inferior.
Christianity has at its center the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah as foretold by Moses and the prophets, namely the person of Jesus Christ the son of God.
Jesus came to save us from our sins, not to make us better people, so attempting to discredit Christianity by pointing out short comings of Christians is by definition, pointless.
As well, your (widely inaccurate) comments on salvation expose your failure to research the subject matter (you may perhaps remember from school, “reporters are expected to use multiple sources”).
A poorly written and biased article.
Yeah, about that "fulfilled prophecy" bit. Check out Matthew 1:23 and 25 and notice that you can't even get out of the very 1st chapter of the very 1st book of the New Testament without a reference to a messianic prophecy. The fact that the prophecy went most spectacularly UNfulfilled obviously never made a dent in your consciousness. In fact, most true believers read right over it and never even notice the blatant contradiction involved. Such is the power of faith. It can turn off the higher functions of even the most brilliant brains.
Matthew 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
There are several locations in OT and NT describing how Jesus would be referred to: “He shall be called,”
Isaiah said the Messiah would:, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). It isnt an actual name, rather how Jesus would be referred to.
Its fairly simple once a person gets beyond their bias and just decides to look at the facts.
Three religions, one god. Jews are Chosen, Christians are saved, Islam is the final message from God. All these Abrahamic religions profess a way to peace, heaven and God in their teachings, meanwhile these Abrahamic religions cause strife, death destruction, hate, anger for their own followers, for the followers of their sister religions and for the rest of the world.
All the myths and stories in all of their holy books combined can't even hope to negate historical facts. It is like trying to fight gravity. It is said three things cannot be hidden for long: 1. The sun 2. The moon 3. The Truth.
Replace truth with volcano since Yahweh is a personification of a volcano.
Same goes for Jesus as a personification of the sun and Allah (originally goddess) as a personification of the moon.
Comparative religion is probably our only real method of dealing with the three Abrahamic desert religions.
Quoting the Bible as the inerrant Word of God is one of the most laughable exercises in vanity. 'I know the Bible, therefore I am holier than thou!'
WHICH Bible? There are dozens of different translations in English alone, and many have drastically different vocabulary. For example, the much touted King James version uses the word 'hell' nearly a hundred times. Scolars who went back (as far as they can) to original scripts, much of it in Greek, found that to be erronous, and made a more literal translation of the Bible where the word 'hell' no longer appears.
And talking about the Bible as ONE book is laughably incorrect. The Bible contains a selection of scripts chosen and edited by the 5th century Catholic Church from hundreds of just as legitimate scripts. They chose which to include, and which to exclude. There were more than four Gospel writing apostles too, but only four were chosen, and even those had to be edited for consistency. This is history! Ignoring the origins of the Bible doesn't do service to anyone, except feed the vanity of a bunch of self-important smug, holier-than thou people who want to believe that they are superior to others based solely on them having the 'right' Bible and the 'right' interpretation of the Bible.
If Christians actually read completely the bible with reading comprehension, many will come out as atheists.
Anon. Maybe thats why there are so many athiests. The bible is not god.
If atheists read the Bible with reading comprehension they would realize that there are many good lessons in it, whether you take the stories literally or not.
No matter how much you polish a turd, it still stinks.
But Peter, how does one distinguish between a GOOD lesson and a BAD lesson? One must apply EXTERNAL values! For example, the Bible speaks highly of slavery and misogyny. Are those good lessons? The people who think that the Bible is the be-all and end-all of moral reasoning would insist that they are.
I prefer to apply lessons learned from a wider range of human experience and condemn those biblical passages as the product of an ignorant, arrogant, bloodthirsty tribe of self-centered nomadic shepherds whose primary characteristics were a raging persecution complex and an unending quest for justification for their major case of the hots for the little girls in the naboring tribes.
Yes, I've heard the retarded excuses defending Numbers 31.
It is a faulty assumption that anyone who believes the Bible as a good book must also believe in it literally and rabidly tries to justify every word in it. Most Christians are perfectly normal, intelligent people who take their moral teaching from a great variety of sources, not just exclusively the Bible. Most of them are perfectly aware that the stories of the Bible was written in historically ancient time with very different customs than our own that are not applicable to today's society. (for example: most of them believe in the American representative democracy system, a form of government not found anywhere in the Bible)
Do YOU read other books than the Bible? Most of us do. I read history books, science fiction, even gothic novels. They too have good stories, and sometimes good lessons. And I am perfectly capable of distinguishing the good lessons in those books from bad ones without forcing me to believe the WHOLE book. And most people are capable of doing the same. Just because they also happen to believe in the good lessons of the Bible doesn't render them automatically incapable of critical thought.
There are indeed many translations of the bible as few of us speak Hebrew (OT) or the original Greek. There is also overwhelming evidence that the text we have today is indeed what was originally written. Thats just a fact.
The bible is a collection of 66 books from 40 authors penned over the course of 2500 years. The fact that it is cohesive in theology and message is clearly evedence of it's uniqueness.
Read it :-)
Humans have had thousands of gods over our history. Almost all of these gods are now believed to have been mythical creations of the human imagination. Believers make the extraordinary claim that their god happens to be the one exception to the general rule that gods are invented.
no one is perfect. genuine,humble christians (you know who they are) strive to live as Jesus did, but always fall short - and will continue to do so. if you have never had a personal experience with God, i can't expect you to understand what it is like. ask God to reveal himself to you, and He will. i promise you won't regret it.
Christians = Narcissistic mental slaves.
They know what they are talking about...libs just don't like it and don't want to listen to what is said in the frst place
libs? Since when does being liberal define your faith?
Talk about not listening to what's said in the 1st place, where in the article did it say anything about "libs" (or even "liberals") beyond a single reference to liberation from bondage in Egypt?
I where a hat to keep my head warm or the sun out of my eyes.
It's beyond belief that anyone could believe the nonsensical Noah story. It says that a 600-year-old man built a ship big enough to hold hundreds of thousands of animals, even though the ship was smaller than most current cruise ships. He then gathered a year's supply of food for the caged animals. After being cooped up for a year in tiny cages, the animals were once again set free, except for those that were immediately sacrificed to make God happy. Then Noah and his family repopulated the earth through incest. Great story.
You are forgetting that with god, all things are possible.
It has been revealed to me, that god shrank all the earth's organisms to the size of a gnat.
The bible is the inerrant word of god. Amen!
Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason. - Martin Luther
Honestly, Its a lot more silly to believe in evolution. It is the stuff of greek gods. How did a turtle get a shell? Well, he got tired of being eaten so his body grew a shell to protect him. How did a giraffe get a long neck? It got tired of reaching so hard for leaves, so his neck magically grew long so he could reach them. Life? Well, it came from nothing. Something science has never seen, like ever. But we laugh at religious stories. Now THATS hilarious.
The real john,
Where did you read that explanation of evolution? Try again.
Well, John, if somebody's been teaching you that your hilarious parody of evolution is what biologists really believe, you should find better teachers. Lemme guess — you picked up those wowzers in something like a Sunday school, didn't you?
I am sure that they know what they are talking about...it is the libs that don't know what they are talking about and they don't like to hear what is being said in the first place.
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.