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.
This is all very entertaining for someone who just returned from church :). It's fun to read that everyone else is soooo much more intelligent than those that choose my faith.
That's because we are.
;) sure you are. Do you feel cursed since you have rational understanding of things? With wisdom comes sorrow, with knowledge comes pain.
You Said: "With wisdom comes sorrow, with knowledge comes pain."
Right, and 'ignorance is bliss,' eh...?
You seem to be supporting the old adage of ignorance being bliss...
oops... a bit of a time lag there... didn't mean to duplicate the above posting, although the sentiment's identical...
Peace2all.... I didn't want you to take the bait (with wisdom comes sorrow, with knowledge, pain is a Biblical reference). Anyways, I'm done cleaning my gun, now I'm off to range.
"anyway(s)" we should have known. Billybob is takin me to the NASCAR race.
Awesome, played like a fiddle, but took too long :(.
a very compelling point...also the fact that the mtg in Nicea(sorry if this is spelled incorrectly) the group of theologians were picking and chooshing which texts to throw away and which to include in the Bible. How can it be called the Word of God when men were editing this???
I wholeheartedly agree Peggy! :-) Those early "Revisionists" did blatantly discard many Scriptures even those that declared Adam had a 1st meet/mate called Lilith! It is such a sad state to be called a Christian when those Domaciled Preverts of Today's Christendom Religions care only about their pockets being lined with silkiness! :-(
It was much more complicated than that. They actually voted on which texts were canonical and which were not. But, even before that took place, most Christians were already reading what we now regard as canonical Scripture. Note that even a number of the "heretical" theologians (such as the Arians) often made appeal to individual "proof texts" (often taken out of context) from those same books as they sought theological backing for their positions, but the "orthodox" Christians never made appeal to the "heretical" gospels (such as those claiming to have been written by Peter, Thomas, and so on). It was a grass-roots process, in other words, that got worked out in the churches, and validated by the episcopal representatives of the Church at that Council by a formal democratic process.
Mr Jhon blake christianity is not a religion is away of life is a spiritual relationship with jesuschrist some people dont understand christianity because they live a religious life. mr Blake the holy book has been around longer than all our generations. the bible says this 1corinthians 2:6-16. We have not received the spirit of the world,but the spirit who is from God.but the natural man does not receive the things of the spirit of God,for they are foolishness to him;nor can he know them because they are spiritually decerned.Thats the reason you dont understand, Jesus is the giver of life read the bible ask jesus to reveal his word to you. have peace.
Ugh, I love how many "Christians" think they're so high and mighty, when really they are some of the most bigoted people you'll ever meet. You people disgust me.
i used to go to a Holyist church where everyone spoke in tongues. Problem was that they would speak to you in tongues all day but if they say you out in the community they would Not speak to you in English. The Pastor (who was well versed in the Bible) Never did anything to help the community. Just put all the money people paid to the church for the building fund and new cars for him and his wife. I like a dummy, put 8k into the church one year. What did i get out of it. Appointments set to talk to the Pastor missed by him without enven a call.
Let not people ignorant or hypocrite keep you from God. They do not keep you from buying gas or food.
But one thing is true, that we are all filthy rotten sinners, but we can have his righteouness imparted to us, because our sins were imparted to him on the cross. What a deal.
mike, "I like a dummy, put 8k into the church one year."
How very unfortunate. It would be fun to get a hold of a couple of thousand in pretend cash to 'donate' to these bogus beggars.
SAW, you'd better whip that scapegoat and whip it good, or you'll be punished for your sinful ways. Or you can follow the light here http://gaychristian101.com
The only thing i can say to this article is "wow" and not in admiration, but in the writer's skill of subtlety. I believe that the writer's intent was to do just what this article is doing discouraging people from seeking God. You, as the writer will have to answer to every soul that will reject the truth due to the subtle lies you have post on this blog. I am a christian and have been for the past 30 years. I have to say this is the first time that I have ever heard of this so call christian language that christian use to keep people out.
Wow... I didn't get that from the article. I got that he was attempting to define 'a bit' of (Christian speak), and the some of what that entails.
In my experience, the people who speak "Christian" the most and claim to love Jesus are the least likely to follow any of his teachings. This has happened over the last 30 years or so. If someone puts a fish symbol on their business card, hold on to your wallet.
Christianity in the United States today is far from the true teachings of Jesus. It has become nothing more than a tool of the wealthy and powerful to manipulate the masses. What an inceridible contradicition of true Christianity all of the greed, wealth-worship and consumption is.
Religion has been used as a weapon for many centuries. The blood of so many people have been spilled in the name of God by Christians as well as many other religious sects. I myself was raised by parents who said that Catholicism was the only true religion and that others were doomed. Made me start fearing them from the time I was in diapers...if Jesus said that whatever you do to the least of your brothers, that you do unto me, why was my own family and my church leaders telling me not to associate with others who were not Catholic? They also made disparaging remarks about groups of people who were not white, families where there was divorce etc. I had to hold my tongue as a child, but I left religion in the dirt as soon as I left home. I don't need the promise of eternal life to make me treat others with the dignity and respect I would like to receive and I have friends from all walks of life. Religion is a four letter word to me, but if it works for others, I respect your right to believe, as long as you're not cramming it down my throat or hurting others.
Caholocism is a condecending and ritualistic hodge-podge of mioxing with Paganisms throughout the Globe while its' children those of Christendom waddle it its'(RCC) wake! Maybe it would be good for the "meek" to just lay low and wait!
Sometimes I think "speaking Christian" becomes a way to validate to others that you are Christian or show others you have faith in God. It seems to me that sometimes people feel like they are obligated to show their belief in God to others. Like, 'look at me I'm a servant of God because I can speak Christian.' But its not necessary! If you are a servant of God and exercising faith in Jesus, then you are obedient to the word and it will be apparent in your actions and how you treat others. Your conduct, speech and the way you deal with others will show that you are a servant of God. But "speaking Christian" means nothing. How many do you know who "speak Christian" and yet, live a life contradictory to the Bible? If anything, if you are going to "speak Christian" it is because you are teaching someone about the Bible. Now that speaking Christian! But the rest is just empty words! And nothing annoys me more than a person who over uses all those empty religious idioms to try and validate that their Christian.
Like I keep saying on the way up! Of GOD and By God I am a god! :-)
Of course. I use phrases like:
"it is a sin"
"thou shall not"
"smite them down"
"give me your firstborn son"
"this is my body, eat it"
"this is my blood, drink it"
"make the pestilence"
"cut off her hand"
"To me belongeth vengeance"
Just to name a few Christian phrases
Borg is a false teacer and an apostate misleading many. Not surprising CNN asked for his opinion first.
Right... because only 'you' apparently know 'the' truth. Every other believer that doesn't agree with you has it wrong.
Watching you believers fight it out about who has 'the' truth is amazing.
Peace2all, I think what you are saying is there is no such thing as truth. If that is your position you can never have a discussion with a true believer. What Jesus taught, for instance about judgment and Hell, is either true or false. Borg is a liberal leader of a group of false teachers known as the Jesus Seminar, and he a priori rejects miracles and the resurrection as impossible. There is such a thing as truth and I pray you find it.
Well, first thanks for your prayers. I appreciate that.
And, also you actually not only confirmed but, actually strengthened and cemented my argument.
Your response to mine was just further proof of everyone of the believers that 'believes' that they have THE TRUTH. You are another example. Your dismissing of the author of the article because he doesn't share 'your' particular 'beliefs' again, is just another example of what I am speaking of specifically.
So, 'who' exactly has the 'real' truth, -Mike with over ~38,000 denominations of christianity...?
You guys fight it out for eternity and get back to us, when 'you' have come to a 'consensus'...?
Anyway... Again, thank you for your 'prayers' to me, regarding finding truth. I do sincerely appreciate it.
Hey, JiminTX- try googling Zeitun Egypt, Coptic Church, 1968-1970 and see what comes up. It was seen by 40,000,000 people between 1968-1970. "Sky friends" indeed !!
You're kidding about this, right...?
There's never a Copt around when you need one...
debunked : http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=112838
Speak Christian? No. My brain is too evolved for that.
If you talk about the thruth and who Jesus really is and who we are in Christ, your post is deleted....Jesus is alive and real, the bible is true, and we all live eternally either with he Lord or separted from him...God created you, and he loves you so much that he sent his son to die for your sins and mine...Don't believe a lie because it seems the popular thing to do...This not a joke, and your soul is nothng to be played with...
Nope. The deleting is happening due to a simple word filter. It's not magic (the naughtly word list even gets posted here often), and your god doesn't exist either. Get a brain and get a life.
Sorry about whatever happened to you and whoever hurt you son
So you're saying that the Christian God loves me so much, but if I don't have the correct beliefs, he's going to cast me off to be tortured forever, without any mercy? No thanks.
How about not believing because there is no deity in the first place?
God gives us a choice whether to accept or reject, we make that decision whether where we want to spend eternity. Knowledge and who we "feel" is not going to get us into heaven, but the truth will...One day everybody, will have to give an account to God why we choose to reject him, and we won't have an excues...I didn't know, I wanted to, and all the others we come up with....You've heard who Jesus is, and still choose to wall away....Jesus came so that everybody would be saved, he doesn't want to lose not one but we need to listen to his voice and choose to follow him...The enemy walks around like a roaring lion seeking who he may destory, and unfortunatley he's caught some of us but until you take your last breath it's never too late to choose Christ....
Data1000 God is merciful, he could demand your life right now, but because of grace and mercy he keeps giving us chance after chance to accept him as our Lord and Saviour...Read the bible for yourself, and ask God to speak to you and he will. That's what I did, and now that I'm a Christian I continue to do that and he speaks to me....Just give him a try, what have you got to lose if you don't believe?
Yeah and that god is going to torture you forever if you don't bow to him. That's some merciful god you've made for yourself there. Sane people would call such a being an as-shole.
The one word left out of his presentation and all the comments that followed is... resurrection. What about that one?
No, Monica, you're wrong. I've posted the truth here http://gaychristian101.com. The word of god survives because it's an effective meme and so priests can go safely chasing little boys.
Biggest misnomer is the "Acts of God" description for calamities, personal or massive. For example, the various recent mass massacres of innocents by tsunamis.Those have to be the easiest and quickest proof of the non-existence of any such thing as a "loving god". Not with all the children involved.
Ironically, the world is a more hopeless place when you consider that these children are killed or, perhaps worse, left orphaned, in the wake of these random natural disasters. Why not let people be comforted by the thought of meaning behind it all through the belief in God?
Sure... deluding yourself is always preferable to dealing with reality... Now... where did that Easter Bunny go?
I believe that you are only promoting the devil as the usual world around you is doing. By posting junk someone always seems to have to say about something good for the lost to read. You may as well be inviting them to hell by posting this stuff. I have personally had super natural experiences. Quit attempting to stand in the way of God and a path for persons to have happiness and peace through the Grace of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that " the blind will lead the blind", congratulations for helping keep the Bible true. I suggest that you all that like the band wagon of criticizing Christianity to visit a Pentecostal Church and experience the God you don't understand, I will continue to pray for you all. God Bless.
If God is in your heart then why do you need to be so hateful?
Yeah J Watts, those tsunami and tornado victims are real peaceful and happy now thanks to god.
Not god bless. God pi-ss. God pi-sses all over us. Actually, your god doesn't exist. Get on with your life
an interesting article, but to lean on marcus borg when it comes to a discussion about understanding christian language is to already be leaning quite far in one direction . . in other words: his take on what christianity is and what christian language means is very much perspectival and doesn't reflect consensus or–more importantly–an honest reading of the NT, church history, etc. . . if interested, see a little review i did of the book this article references at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/183372006
The idea of an invisible sky friend who watches over me, demands sacrifice, and will punish me forever when I die is absolutely ludicris. Then Christians take their magic even further by saying the Invisible Sky Friend procreated with a child-virgin. Hocus pocus has no place in my life or the lives of any critical thinker.
Its no match for a good blaster at your side either.
Good post -JiminTX !
Someone who totally refutes the possibility of something just because it sounds foreign to them, is obviously not thinking very critically.
jcprush. I reject the sky-fairies, too. Not becuase they sound foreign to me. Quantum mechanics is foreign to me, space-time bending is foreign to. I accept them though, because, unlike your sky-beings, there is evidence to back them up.
Do not confuse rejecting something because it lacks support in facts with rejecting something because you do not understand it
You Said: "Someone who totally refutes the possibility of something just because it sounds foreign to them, is obviously not thinking very critically."
Do you really think it is just that it sounds "foreign" to us...? If so, you have 'really' swallowed the kool- aid.
To reject the whole "believe or else you will burn in eternity" argument from such a "loving God" is not only thinking critically, but... sanely.
Someone who totally accepts ancient fairy-tales just because they're comforting and represent something with which he's been brainwashed since childhood is obviously not thinking very critically either.
Nice post mate !
You said "Someone who totally refutes the possibility of something just because it sounds foreign to them, is obviously not thinking very critically."
Unfortunately, the concept of gods isn't foreign to me. I understand it quite well. Well enough to reject it as total and utter nonsense.
If you really have a need to believe in something, you should try the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. There is at least some evidence in support of these creatures. Hell, even Santa Claus existed at one time. He was the bishop of Myra around 300CE (so a 5 year old has a more rational belief than christians do).
Someone who doesn't question something for which there is no evidence, is obviously not thinking very critically.
As the article states, Jesus used the sort of language which drew people in. Speaking "Christian" often is used as a means of trying to impress others with the speaker's supposed commitment to Christian faith, which in effect often makes non=speakers feel excluded from the Christian "I'm holier-than-thou club," the opposite of Jesus' approach. The same sort of problem can occur in churches in which buzz-wods which are part of a liturgy bring about the same feeling of exclusion for newcomers and visitors. In modern English translations of the Bible Jesus is down-to-earth and relates to all classes of people, but especially to the non-privileged.. Churches and individual Christians need to emulate Jesus' approach if they are to be true what Jesus stands for and taught.
I totally agree!
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.