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.
Borg is a liberal and I'd suggest to read a book which looks like a debate with the famous British theologian: N.T. Wright "who is Jesus" or something like that. You'll find where does Borg stand.
I agree completely, especially with the "spiritual elitism" part. If you've ever been around a bunch of evangelicals talking about the rapture, it's a bunch of smug comments about the heathens getting their comeuppance.
I gotta quote: I like Jesus, it's His followers that scare the $- outa me.
Most of the teaching about the rapture and the end-times is speculation, but Jesus said:
Luk 17:34 NIV – I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.
Luk 17:35 NIV – Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."
The majority of christians have no idea about their faith or what it is to be christian, you see them spout nonsense from a bible they have never read and judge or even hate others who do not believe their beliefs, all the while not knowing they are going against its teachings.
Ignorance is the only reason why religion survives and common sense is why its followers are dwindling.
Now this is a good one. Peter taking one for the team!
Why do atheists spend their time at a Belief blog? Because they are joyless people who can only find joy in making life difficult for others and/or trying to make everyone else like them. Misery loves company, doesn't it?
Since religious peoples are so easly branwashed into mindless automaton, maybe if we post about REALITY long enough. some of them will finaly understand and quite religion.
yes your hate truly shows how much better it is to dislike anyone who doesn't follow your beliefs. people only dislike religion because they do not think, they only obey.
Last time i checked, religion is all about obeying the great wizard in the sky who rules over your life qith a IRON FIST. i don;t hate reigious peoples i feel sory for them.
I think it is because deep down inside, they don't believe their own objections. I've heard (whether true or not I do not know) that atheists fail lie-detector tests when asked if there is a God. For years they have attempted to convince the whole nation that is 'intelligent' to disbelieve. This way they can support their doubts AND feel intellectually superior. Ultimately, they are internally miserable and want others to 'feel their pain'.
Enoch... They know us by our LOVE. If you don't have love then you got nothing... It's not about religion; it's about the spirit of the living God. You cannot fake LOVE. The only way to get it is to go to the source: God. Love is not one of God's characteristics; rather, it is the very essence of who he is<3
Tongue firmly in cheek, one could make a good case for either the devolution or devilution of man after reading some of the comments here.
They know us by our LOVE...not our lingo<3
Thankfully, Christianity represents a shinking minority of world and American belief, and Athiesm is one of the fastest growning segments. Now if we could just figure out a way to get through to the Muslims, we'd really have something to celebrate. By the way, this isn't a coded message, at least to the best of my knowledge :)
sorry, but I have bad news for you. According to the muslim holy book, the Quran, God will cause Islam to prevail over ALL religion no matter how much the disbelievers may hate it !
For the record, I am a Christian and I feel perfectly comfortable with my religion (or my interpretation of my religion) without having to shove it down other people's throat. I am also perfectly comfortable with other people having other relgions, or no religion at all. I don't feel the need to constantly quote the Bible, I don't feel the need to take everything in the Bible literally, and I am also perfectly comfortable looking at other sources for guidance. I love my religion, I love my Bible, and I am perfectly comfortable with you having different beliefs.
aww "interpretation", and that is why religion fails. you can't have a million individuals people with the exact same ideals.
Sounds pretty fair. That is not the typical 'believer' response here on the blogs. Thank you.
If your retarded brethren would do the same and stay out of laws.
The author represented Episcopal dogma on the 'rapture' quite well. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately), his teaching does not, in fact, represent the whole of Christianity. He represents the spiritually dead denominations that have been declining for decades because they failed to truly stand on and for God's Word. The rapture was taught by Christ Himself when He said, "I go to prepare a place...". It was taught again by the angels in Acts 1:11 when they truly proclaimed, that Christ would come again. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 teaches that Jesus will rescue us (genuine Christians) from the coming wrath.. Just because the author, and perhaps others, were blind to its meaning, does not mean that it is somehow invalidated. his view is indicative of the religious elite that look longly down their noses at humanity as the Sadducees did in the Old Testament. Beware the blind guides who speak of what they do not know. Familiarity with Episcopal orthodoxy does not equate to Godly knowledge of the Scriptures.
"spiritually dead" = code for : "agree with ME, or, you're spiritually dead".
lol talk by christ himself that is funny when the bible wasnt written till a few hundred years AFTER his supposed death. such ignorance, do you believe the earth is 10k years old?
It seems that these verses are speaking of heaven but not a rapture
A few hundred years? The OT was written before Jesus death. The writings in the NT may have come a matter of decades afterwords.
I don't ask others to agree with ME. It isn't about Me, but rather the Lord Jesus Christ. If you claim to be a Christian and feel comfortable rejecting His Word, you are MOST CERTAINLY spiritually dead.
"his word" = code : "MY interpretation of it".
Shadrach those verses dont line up with your argument. Just because Jesus will save us from God's wrath, that does not mean that the rapture will occur.
Why I know That There is a God and That He Loves Me
A Personal Testimony.
Allow me to share a story. Not too long ago doubt was creeping into my head about the Lord and then a miracle happened.
It was 3 years ago and 50 members of my church were enroute to a bible camp in the Blueridge Mountains of Virginia. They were traveling in a chartered bus. As they sang blessed hymns to the Lord, Satan was up to his old tricks. You see, the bus driver was an atheist socialist and that day his coffee mug was filled with vodka. As the bus wound up through the switchbacks, the driver became progressively drunker. Then it happened. It was that day that changed this poor sinner's life forever. Entering a particularly tight switchback, the besotted driver finally lost control of the bus and it plummeted 1500 feet down into a ravine where it exploded into a fireball incinerating the flock. The only survivor that fateful day was a young boy who was thrown from the bus by his father seconds before it hit the bottom.
This young boy suffered severe brain damage from hitting a rock head first and will have to wear a football helmet and drool cup for the remainder of his life. But his survival proved to me that miracles do happen because God does exist and loves me. The Lord caused that accident to bring me back to his flock.
Praise Jesus! Just open your eyes to his miracles and you will see him everywhere.
Living crppled and handicap for the rest of your IS NOT A MIRACLE..... sound more like a punishment. a real miracle whoud have been that everyone survived INTACT on only the drunk driver die..... what kind of god will let mass murder and cripple a kid for life?
yes living in misery sure seems like a miracle to me lol
Is trolling a sin? Is copy/pasting silly stories a sin? Try googling that "accident" :)
@Pastor Boby DuFrane
You Said: "You see, the bus driver was an (atheist socialist) and that day his coffee mug was filled with vodka."
My golly, good deduction -Boby, why It surely must have been an 'atheist-socialist'. I mean, come on... who else would do this, certainly not a christian...? Only 'atheist's and socialists' drink and drive. 8O
Give me break ! Thank ya' Jesus for 'free speech' eh, -Boby...?
You Said: "This young boy suffered severe brain damage from hitting a rock head first and will have to wear a football helmet and drool cup for the remainder of his life. But his survival (proved) to me that miracles do happen because God does exist and loves me. The Lord caused that accident to bring me back to his flock."
You have GOT to be kidding me ! Your insane mental leap... "That There is a God and I know that He Love Me" crap, that killing all these kids except for one that now has to wear a football helmet and a drool cup is beyond the ridiculous.
The whole ..." The (Lord 'caused') this accident to bring 'me' back to his flock" is crazy talk.
Using your line of thought, I believe we should all hold 'YOU' personally accountable for the deaths of all those children because of your 'thick-headedness' that the big-G needed to cause such a tragedy in order to bring your sorry a-ss back to his flock.
See this is one of the main reasons why (some) of you christian wing-nuts drive some of us beyond levels of frustration with this kind of talk and the actions that flow from such non-sense.
It is a parody... calling attention to nonsensical beliefs. :)
Gosh, I hope you are right.
Testify, Pastor Boby! Hallelujah!
These Christ followers can call themselves anything they want, but actions speak much louder than words. I don't see these people behaving like Christians. It's the same with people wrapping themselves in the flag and insisting they are patriots. Wrapping yourself in the flag doesn't make you a patriot.
Ya it just
Ya it just makes you hot in this weather we've been hav'n
How do people who call themselves Christ followers not behave like Christians? You need to give examples if you are going to make such a broad generalization.
whats the bs about talking christian.you speak in the language of the land you were born.the pope is german and he can deliver mass in several language.as for me i talk and write in spanish,english,spanglish etc.
Marcus Borg has dedicated his career to redefining Christianity and the denial of key historical Christian doctrines like the Trinity, and is an extremely controversial figure on the Christian landscape. Seems like an odd choice to comment in an article like this.
What would you wish for if JC came to your home?
THAT'S JUST WRONG!
Well, if this article was good for anything, it clarifies that:
Speaking Christian = Easily identifying the brainwashed masses who suffer from self-delusional psychosis.
Religiosity is NOT a mental disability, but rather a complete and utter lack of education. There are lots of smart people who consider themselves religious, but many have been taught from childhood to compartmentalize their beliefs outside of the realm of logic and reason. Rather than working to tearing down this wall and making the world a better place, American society and the media continually shore up this separation between "faith" and reason, hence the comparitively sorry state of science and research in our country today.
As long as religiosity is regarded with reverence rather than the debilitating social disorder that it is, the rest of the civilized world will continue to surpass us in education, the best "salvation" for humanity's future.
While i agree with most of your post. you are wrong on one point: religion is a mental illness. it as plague humanity for millenia and it is time to put a stop to it. Practicing religion should be a CRIME AGAINS HUMANITY. because religion as yet to do a single selfless good deed.
There is no evidence for your claims. Without Evangelical Christians, we wouldn't even have most of the Ivy League.
Brown: Founded by Baptists as a Baptist university.
Dartmouth: Founded by Puritans to train missionaries
Yale: Founded by Congregationalist Christians to train ministers and lay leaders
Princeton: Founded as a school for ministers by Presbyterians
Harvard: Founded by Puritans.
Awesome response. Well said.
Atheism does not equate to intelligence or education. If your really were 'educated', we you know as much. You have a very blinded interpretation of history if you can look upon the course of Western civilization and say that only the uneducated believe in Christ. 'Open your eyes that you may see'. You are blind.
Not to confuse the psychological issues with the separation of church and state, we obviously need to keep religious interference and favoritism to a minimum in government, while shifting the societal paradigm to discourage fervent religiosity while fostering evolved secular morals and ethics.
Religion DOES NOT automatically have equivalence with morality, but it can tend to give believers a lesser need for personal responsibility. America needs a massive social movement to get people to think for themselves and stop relying on their pretend friends in the sky to save them. If you agree, please consider joining one of the many secular organizations that are working to save our country. If you disagree, please consider the long-lasting harm of poor education and inaction on future generations. Absolutely NO amount of prayer is going to save America. Only a complete revision of how we approach educating both children and, yes, even adults in the way the world works, according to science and NOT supersti-tion, is going to give us the hope we so desperately seek in ensuring that the U.S. survives and thrives far into this millennium.
@ total non sense
Perhaps we're splitting hairs here, but I was trying to be kind by implying that rather than treating religiosity as a mental disability, for which the supposedly clinically sick can receive insurance benefits and evade personal actionable responsibility by claiming illness, it would be better to treat religiosity as a societal functional disorder which can be addressed through better education and a perceptional shift towards accepting scientific explanations for how the world works rather than relying on literal interpretations of ancient bronze age mythologies and their many derivations since. Of course I agree that religion has had millennia of bloody history.
Please take into account how far science has progressed in the many years since those insti-tutions were founded. We both know that some of the earliest well-known scientists were not only religious but were funded by the church of their day. The point is that our culture has reached a level of understanding where many of the well educated scientific and cultural leaders of our day have abandoned supersti-tion in favor of science and reason. There are long lists of famous non-believers, living and past, that should inspire even the average person to want to learn more to better themselves and the community around them. It is that passionate love for the truth that motivates me and many other non-believers to shed some light for those who can't see through the harmful religious indoctrination that inflicts and severely intellectually limits so many of our fellow citizens. While future global conflicts will undoubtedly be over territory and dwindling limited natural resources, there is no way to justify waging war in the name of some deity (not that there ever has been). If we, as a collective society, continue the old ways of the masses looking skyward instead of dealing with the real oncoming earthbound crises, we are going to get the snot beaten out of us, on many levels.
I would even go so far as to argue that it is a matter of national security to get Americans' heads out of the clouds and focused on the real pressing matters of the day, and that starts by promoting science-based education and reason to the population at large.
Politicians should no longer feel compelled to pander to get the religious vote, and that can start with dropping the "Christian speak" from their rhetoric. It's absolutely pathetic and should be treated by the media as such. The sharp focus MUST be on the actual issues; the stakes are simply too high to do otherwise.
I was being extremely generous by saying that there are many smart people who consider themselves religious, thus I was not saying with absolution that only the uneducated believe in Christ. Rather, it is that compartmentalization of separating faith from reason, which often equates in large part to fiction vs. fact, that is blinding Americans especially, en masse. It's one thing to read parables and allegorical stories as a moral compass; it's quite another to drop to your knees and blindly believe that any being floating in the sky is listening to and/or answering your prayers. Our country needs to get back to reality and deal with the huge current and forthcoming crises of our time; our very survival depends on it. As a wise one once wrote, "Open your eyes that you may see".
T101, I've known several very nice Christinas in my life (tho, sadly, not Ms. Aguilera), and they'd never steal anything.
To Peter, I think you will appreciate the following, which I often have occasion to use during CNN's political discussions: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." —Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman (5 BCE – 65 CE)
This is for all you special people who speak christian. Since you all believe that the biblical flood covered the entire earth and destroyed all of mankind, with the exception of Noah, his wife, their sons, and their wives, you must also believe that we are all from hebrew descent, right ? Think about it, that's the only way it can be. Remember the only humans saved were Noah and his family, who were what ? That's right HEBREW . So how can it be any other way ? I've brought this subject to a number of pastors and other religious leaders, and they act like they were just slapped in the face. They never have attempted to answer my question and treat me like a heretic for daring to even bring up a subject such as this. So what do you folks think. Any sensible response is appreciated. Let the christian hate mongering begin !!!!
Bobcat, yes, we all came from Noah's line, just like we all came from Adam and Eve's line. BUT Abraham is considered the Father of the Jewish nation. It's from his line that Jesus' lineage is traced in Matthew 1:2. So, while we all came from Noah, we didn't all come from Abraham. Only true Jews came from Abraham's line. That's why we who accept Jesus Christ as our Savior are considered "adopted" or "grafted" into the family of God.
@TexasShell. Just go ddep south (and read royalty history) and look at what inbreeding (adam and eve.....) do.... it the fairy tale (bible) is thrue, humanity whould have not go this far. This alone is enough to discredite the bible once and for all.
Oops, didn't mean "only true Jews come from Abraham." I meant the twelve tribes came from Abraham's line, which is what Jews use to trace their lineage.
Bobcat2u – I think the flaw in your argument that we are all Hebrew is that the Hebrew race descended from one of Noah's sons, not all of them. So – if you aren't descended from the son from which the Hebrew race came, you wouldn't be Hebrew. Anyway, why would it matter if we were all Hebrew?
Noah was not a Hebrew, even in the Bible. The HEBREWS came out of Sam, one of his son.
@TexasShell I've never heard it explained quite like that before. Thanks for your input.
So Pamela, Noah and his wife were hebrew, but only one of their sons was hebrew ? Seems like you have a major flaw in your arguement as well.
While it is true that we are all related to Noah, the Jews are those folks who can trace their lineage back through Abraham. While Abraham was a decendant of Noah, there are many other off spring of Noah who are not part of Abraham's lineage. Hence, we are all children of Noah (and Adam), but not all of us are decended through the line of Abraham. Check out Genesis Chapters 10 & 12
lol texas you are so nieve following a belief that has created more hate, deaths and war than money or oil ever could. Sure sounds like a "good" book to me lol
No Bobcat, my argument is the same as the one made by Texas Shell which you seemed to understand. Also, Sinner Saved By Grace made the same point.
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.