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 piece of reporting is at best a fraud. CNN is promoting a false religious idea with out checking facts. a news source that is so much into telling the truth is promoting the biggest lie in this piece. This video package, with its graphics and catholic music and some leader that says he is the authority is pitching miss representation of the word of God as gospel and making the American public like it.
all while there is a bill before the US. Senate to remove christian TV so it can be replaced with a first responders channel. so cnn jumps on the band wagon. Cnn steps in and says that Christianity language is changing there fore the bible must be wrong. so the media can get a first responders channel and replace christian tv at the same time .. killing 2 birds with one stone.
and this is suppose to be a reputable news channel.
Satan = tempter
Definition of 'Satan' Princeton's WordNet
1. (noun) Satan, Old Nick, Devil, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Tempter, Prince of Darkness
(Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions) chief spirit of evil and adversary of God; tempter of mankind; master of Hell
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing; but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. I Corinthians 1:18 God loves everyone and gave us the will to say yes or no to Him. The last thing Jesus commanded His disciples was to go to the ends of the earth to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus – He died to take the punishment for our sins so we wouldn't have to. Now, whether you believe this or not is your choice. God does not force His way on anyone. However, when Jesus returns to judge us all, evey knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
Thank you, nicely said. God Bless.
What utter nonsense... especially the part that according to legend was said by Paul of Tarsus...
....so the rapture isn't true taking into account that you believe that Christianity is true?
We all speak Christian. Everyone tells a lie here and there.
One day soon, everyone will see. I know in whom I believe and it is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is who he claims to be. Wake up everyone. How can you say the word of God is not true when you haven't read it or prayed and ask God to show you. I know what Jesus has done in my life. I know how he has changed me and is still changing me. Judgement day is coming. I hope your eyes will all be opened before you stand before him. Anyone who hasn't accepted him will be lost. He will tell them to depart from him because he never knew them. To those who live for him will spend eternity in heaven. I choose him. He gave his life for everyone. Lord open up the eyes of all who do not know you before it is to late. I am not ashamed of him. He said if you are ashamed of him on this earth, that he will be ashamed of you when you stand before him. What is wrong with our world. Why do so many people hate God. I will tell you like he said it the bible. Because he stood for what was right and holy and preached to the people about their sin. They couldn't stand that so that is why they tried to put him to death but he gave his life so that we could have a home in heaven. They hated him because their deeds were evil and he convicted them of their evil deeds. He was a God of compassion and went about doing good. Wake up, I say unto you all who do not believe. Wake up before it is to late.
I studied the various religions of the world for 12 years. I have read the bible, qua ran, and the Vedas many times. I was raised catholic and went to catholic school. I was an alter boy at church. I have studied Christianity extensively and imy younger years prayed and asked god to show me the way many times.
I educated myself and came to my own conclusions.
Religion is rubbish, and until god comes down and shows himself, I think he or she is rubbish as well. I prefer to see the word from a secular stance. I don't look at lightning and think "man, the wonder of god is amazing, look what he can do". I think "lightning is an awesome power, and I would love to figure out how it works.". Faith is an intellectual blindfold.
Tour post is sheer crockery Trudy! Did not Christ say that He would come as a thief in the night and did not Christ say that the kingdom of God is INSIDE YOU wherein our Temples/ bodies/Claymationed Being does reside One God and or Goddess each to GOD's Accords and in our Death we will enter into this Kingdom whether we want to or Don't want to! }:(
According to scientists we might all be holograms.. that said.. maybe we're all imaginary. Wouldn't make you so imaginary then would it 'god' if we all happen to be imaginary projections? Just something to think about. You should really stop blaspheming by speaking in our Creator's name. Then again, it is the one unforgivable sin so it's probable you're beyond help at this point anyhow.
Odd, reply ended up in wrong place. Oh well. I'm sure 'god' will see it.
Of GOD is CREATION, By God were all creatures herein created, of god and goddess was humanus Omnivorus to become a Celestial creation. Remember do, Of GOD, By God, and I am god!
Kaiser, which edition of the Bible are you getting that out of? If so, would you care to give reference to chapters and verses because I don't recall your phrases as having to do anything with any of the content in the Christian Bible.
@Good without God
Faith should not be a blindfold. I seek answers even though I have faith. My faith often causes more questions than answers and that's also perfectly normal. I can wonder about how lightning works as well as the creator who caused it to be there and generated the system which causes it to function. They are not mutually exclusive. To think otherwise is a logical fallacy.
In fact, in chasing understanding of how the Universe itself functions around me I chase understanding of my Creator and a better knowledge of who He is, for it is the most direct work of His hand which I can personally and directly witness.
@ The Church,
If one might truly Utilize the King's English Correctly, than One Might be Able to Comprehend; Of GOD, and By God men are gods. GOD is ALL CREATION and God refers to the Gods of GOD while god refers to us men who figth the establishing Menageries of ongoing Manmade churches that are but Holoistic damnations wherein our Bodies are the True Churches of the Gods and Goddesses! I am no God and yet I am a lowly god upon the GOD Totem Pole of Fractal Cosmologic Relatives. If you do not and.or are unaware of "Fractal Cosmologic Relatives: search thru these Blogs for I have so written on it! May the God and.or Goddess that dwells within your temple body find favor in your demise from this earthly realm! :-)
THE POORER AND LESS EDUCATED A POPULATION IS THE MORE RELIGIOUS A POPULATION IS
you say that like it is a bad thing. people that don't have to worry about possesions all the time have a better ability to focus on their faith. i admire them for that. i am christian, but i'm also a college graduate and upper middle class and all the worldly things i have cause me to fail to be the person God wants me to be sometimes.
So with the USA having enormous debt it must be scarily religious. What a mess!
Those who adhere to the true doctrines of Christ often end up poor because they're sacrificing themselves for others, something that other individuals do not often do. That said, I think you have causality reversed.
Hey Tommy, do you actually talk to this "God" imaginary friend that you have. You are over 5 years old aren't you. I mean I'm not conversing with a minor here am I?
As I said, I am a college graduate, not 5. I don't need to talk to God to know how he wants me to act. Jesus already showed me how to live. I am saying that it is very difficult to follow Jesus' example when you focus on worldly stuff too much like I do sometimes.
Every sinner is subject to his own distractions, and we are all sinners. That said... at some point we all get distracted.
I know what you mean Church. It's just that I'm sick of all these distractions. After trying to become happy in every worldly way I can think of and failing every time, I've decided that the only way I'm truly gonna be happy is with God. Sometimes it's a lot harder than it sounds though.
Keeping the faith will never be an easy task. We have a strong adversary and his grip on what little he is permitted to have is tight and he'll try to take us at any opportunity we permit. We must be eternally vigilant and always faithful. The soul is more precious than gold and you can see how we guard Fort Knox.
"Man" does not live by "bread" alone which means one does not live by Christ's teaching alone but by the very word of GOD, the Father of God, Christ Jesus! :-)
Of course. Which is why we use the whole Bible, not only the new testament. Everything that God has done or said is of edifying value to those who would seek to know him.
Many people are using christian terms, sure they are, just as many thank God on a daily basis without actually knowing Him. We can learn of God by His word, other than that I totally disagree with Marcus Borg's beliefs and how he interprets scripture. I want to share this though. People who claim to have no faith at all are obviously unaware of what they are saying. In one way or another everyone has faith. Since we dont know everything we must trust or put our faith in others. Who do we trust with our vehicles when they break down? Which mechanic to pick when there are so many? How do we know we made the right choice? Who do we trust with our health? Which doctor, which hospital do we pick and why? Who do we trust with our money? How do we know anything for sure if we are not experts in the fields? These are all answers that we look to find based on our own personal assumption or based on another's judgment. People would consider seeing the facts, but facts can most likely be opinions. Therefore we tend to blindly trust others and rely on their word and their professional skills, if they fail us then we tend to move on and keep searching, not much we can do about it. It’s a fact that perfection cannot be achieved, we all make mistakes, no one is perfect and this is no opinion, its pure fact. So why not apply this very principle to believing in God? Im not talking about religion, or being religious, but believing in His word and applying it to your daily life, living it truly not by man's principle, but by God's Word, putting faith in Him just as a mother would to a babysitter who is going to look after her child, or just as you would trust someone with your money, or yet with your own life. People place their faith whether it be in others, in a system, in a government, in religion. Why not place it in the word of God? This is something to truly think about. Many me disagree with what i say, but that is their opinion and they can’t prove what they say, but i say that the only way to know is to try it....just as you would an unknown food, no one can tell you if it's good or not until you try it..... only then can you decide for yourself whether you like it or not.
Just get it into your thick skull that "faith" is not a Christian property – it is a fundamental quality of the brain. You would know that if you had a good one. Your religious faith is something else though – just another term for "stupidity" – another fundamental quality of your brain.
THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTOR TO PEOPLES BELIEFS IS THERE SOCIO-ECONOMIC FACTORS. EDUCATION LEVEL AND MONEY LEVEL
Thank you for perpetuating a false stereo-type.
Also, talking in all caps.. it really demonstrates your intellectual superiority to be professing this to the rest of us.
Ditto "the Church"..... Nick... what are you, a 5th grader?
I think you are getting causality. Did you not know that some people elect to be poor in order to assist others? I know.. self-sacrifice for your fellow man is just a crazy ideal only idiots adhere to isn't it?
Correction to last statement, causality backwards.
some of these comments make me want to puke
I know what you mean.
“Christianity’s goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better."
Um, no? That's the goal of pagan humanism ...
Christ's commission to the apostles was to "go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you".
It wasn't "go and make this world a better place, because you love it so much".
Christians "love His appearing" and the day when Christ will put an end to the wickedness of mankind.
Life is not that "simple" Joshua, for if it were we would all be made whole and cleansed from our humanus omnivorus natures. We eat what we like and do we repent for the things we devour that were never meant to be eaten? :(
The reason why Jesus came to this world was because He loved the world and wanted to make it better. Its the basis for his incarnation, without which discipleship would cease to exist. Lets not knitpick this article- it has some truths to it. We could all be a little more genuine and welcoming in our walk.
Nopunintended – I choose to think on church like a hospital. People that go are seeking help, acknowledging they are sinners, and some but not all ask God for forgiveness.
its funny i tried explaining to my friend that the rapture was a created concept because it was not believed in until the 1850s possibly a little earlier.....was we have always believed in the rapture and you just dont understand because your not christian
he was like
Marty, I've been on this planet long enough to know that sin hurts people. It hurts the sinner.
If you have the magic answer that I'm not aware of, please share it.
Only if the sinner isn't a psychopath.
I'm not Marty JFK, but I have a few thoughts regarding GOD, God and god and goddess, Goddess and GODDESS! Care to read my thoughts? I await your answer. Of GOD, By God, men are gods!
EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS ADHERENCE ARE INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL. MEANING THE MORE EDUCATED A SOCIETY IS THE LESS RELIGIOUS A SOCIETY IS. AND THE LESS EDUCATED A SOCIETY IS THE MORE RELIOUS A SOCIETY IS.
Sa tan was one of the smartest angels before the fall. Apparently his education always had a slightly misinformed twist to it that caused him eternal damnation.
Up to a point. But there are a lot of stupid educated people out there.
Ignorance and the proper use of capitalization and punctuation are also inversely proportional–meaning the more intelligent a person, the better is the use of grammatical conventions in his writing, and the less intelligent, the more cavalier he is with his use of language.
A very good article, but the man is incorrect when he says that the word "salvation" has no ertenal meaning. And his comments on the 'rapture" not beng church Historical may be true, but for many theologians it is biblical reality that Jesus is coming back. His focus that christians use this sepearate "langauge' is true and very sad. Remember their are two churches, the mainstream church of whats happenning now and how we draw people in, and the underground church that needs no terms to describe that we were blind but now we see, adhore politics in our meetings, and we will take the time at the alter if necassary. The usa has created a "professional" christianity that should be "left behind".
All Christianity should be "left behind" where it belongs in the past 2000 years ago in the Middle East. Move on and get a life.
THE DAYS OF CHURCH AND THE DAYS OF ORGANIZED RELIGION ARE NUMBERED. THE ONLY THING CONSTANT IN SOCIETY IS CHANGE AND AS SOCIETY CONTINUES TO PROGRESS AND CHANGE AND BECOME MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE PEOPLE WILL STOP BELIEVING IN FAIRY TALES.
Christianity is about Christ making Himself available to those who choose to accept. So it's a choice, correct? No person is better than another........... all have the ability to make a choice, simple as that!
The message is a good one! Christ died to take away the sins of those who believe in him. While there is mystery in this, I for one am willing to accept it!
Of GOD, By God, I am god; simple as that! :-)
I believe there's a bridge for sale in Brooklyn... perhaps you'd be interested in purchasing it...
If christ dies to cleanse my sins, I am gonna make his death worth while and get a lot of good sinning in :^D
Christianity was and is about scaring people into obedience to a corrupt power structure through lies, deceit, and manipulation.
PS. ANYBODY CAN OPEN A BIBLE AND START PREACHING SCRIPTURE
The correct path is narrow.
yes, you're right Nick. And many have brought shame to the bible and real chistianity throughout history. But, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is far from logical. Regarding "fantasy" its obvious that writer has been wounded by relitgion so I understand the anger. But, the truth is the bible is far from fantasy, but you've never really studied the history, culture, of the bible have you, you just like to jab. Remember their are many sources apart from the bible that give credentials to its authors. Except for one thing. Belieiving Jesus was who he said he was is a step of faith. Not blind faith, but faith never the less. "faith is reasons master".
THERE ARE 7 BILLION PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD AND ONLY 1-2 BILLION ARE CHRISTIAN. I BELIEVE IT IS HIGHLY IGNORANT TO CONDEMN 5-6 BILLION PEOPLE TO HELL SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY DONT BELIEVE AS CHRISTIANS BELIEVE.
There are 127 characters in the standard computer system. I find it highly ignorant to only use the 26 CAPITAL letters.
Christ Jesus, Nicholas, Was Born, lived and did die for those who are the Lost among us! He, (Jesus) did preach yo the masses and did feed them and admonished many of their sinfulness and ways and/or Acts. Our Bodies are the True Temples wherein lay the KIngdoms of the Gods and/or Goddesses. Did not Chrisy Jesus truly say, "This is Not the Kingdom of God for the KIngdom of God is INSIDE YOU!"? :-)
Nicholas, you make the assumption that christianity condems all the world population to hell? It does'nt, though some as Jesus taught 'false teachers do". You're estimate of world christian believers is also in error as well, but I get you're point. You've got it all nice and tidy my man. But remember, you could be wrong.
^ My brain fried due to christardness.
Inside me where ? In my brain? Between the nucleii and the electrons, (and where are they) ? Google "quantum indeterminacy". Out an inch, a foot ? Inside where ?
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.