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.
What you believe does not change the future of the world. Sorry. What you believe does changes your future.
The world is in an invisible war. The prize is the souls of man. Satan is the great deceiver – the great murderer. God is the giver of light – the great Redeemer – the giver of life to any one who believes.
Everyone has beliefs. You live and act every second on this earth on your beliefs. You are either a follower of black power, gray power, or white power.
Do you follow black power? The evil power of satan.
Maybe you are really Gray Power .....a black power person disguised as white power. Those who proclaim to be moral and righteous but deny red power of Jesus. Self righteousness falls short of God's forgiveness. No gray power can ever be good enough to be forgiven according to God.
White Power – Those washed as white as snow from God's forgiveness through belief in Jesus the Son of God.
RED POWER – The blood of Jesus dying for your sins. Without Red Power there is no white power.
Red Power will win.
Do you still believe in Santa too? Some people never grow up.
Why did God create Satan if he knew he would be totally evil and his greatest enemy?
Again, something not taught in the Bible.
To the Editor:
You really don't know what your talking about unless you have a real relationship with Jesus; A relationship where the Holy Spirit dwells inside of the Christian believer after being born again. A relationship that you continue in from day to day, week to week, year to year. If you have this type of relationship with Jesus, then you would then be able to speak some wisdom here about what you are talking about. I hope and pray that you would accept Jesus into your life.
So you have a ghost living inside you? You don't find that statement the least bit crazy? And apparently you have a relationship with someone who you believe lives in the same place dead people live. Maybe you should see a doctor because if you are talking to dead people and think that ghosts are living inside you, you have a problem.
A perfect example of what the author was trying to say....right on time.
We can add you to the list of people not knowing what they are talking about. Pagan customs and Greek mythology have long been used by so called Christians. This is nothing new. Christmas and Easter for example are two celebrations brought over from Paganism. These are NOT christian holidays, and yet many churches teach them as Bible truths. They are in fact lies.
What you are saying is not taught in the Bible.
You're spouting exactly the kind of polarizing evangelical charismatic pentecostal garbage that the author and his interviewee are trying to point out. If you think that "witnessing" to people on a CNN religion blog is gonna change even one person's mind, you're living in a dream world.
Right on it TLB! Only people who accept Jesus Christ can understand the relationship. God bless!
You people need to get a life, and stop trashing something you haven't bothered to understand. In fact, if it weren't for this slanted article, you wouldn't know a thing about the subject.
TBL – "All men will hate you because of my name." Matthew 13:13. He was right.
You just proved the author's point.
Do you speak Flying Spaghetti Monster?
ONCE SOCIETY BECOMES ENLIGHTENED PEOPLE WILL NO LONGER BELIEVE IN THE BOOGY MAN BUT UNTIL SOCIETY BECOMES ENLIGHTENED PEOPLE WILL CONTINUE TO BELIEVE IN THE BOOGY MAN
Please....save us from your followers!
Jesus is an imaginary friend for not so bright adults.
If the Buddhist believes that through believing and meditation things come true then if as a christian and through my own belief i believe every word of it to be true then by the power of the secret will it then not be true?? my favorite words above all are love and kindness.
Burger Queen is Extreme humor
You don't understand Buddhism at all. Sheeesh.
Kent! You are absolutely right. The non-Buddhists are in nowhere that they could even see a trace of what Buddhism is all about. All they could see or hear was from the ignorant.
I don't speak Christian. I speak Catholic and therefore, I "offer it up" the ridiculous effect this article intends to have on those who love Jesus. Why not let live and let live? Why do people make a daily habit out of belittling the followers of Christ?
Because the followers of Christ have been murderers thru-out history. There is more blood on the hands of the Church than anything other then natural causes of death.
I guess it is fear based.
Because people that still follow the idiotic crap that Christians do, dam-n well deserve to be belittled as the backward, ignorant fools that they are. Get used to it or get past your religious delusion.
Why not let live and let live? Why do people make a daily habit out of belittling the followers of Christ?
Because you people keep trying to shove your imaginary eye-in-the-sky down everyone else's throats. Honestly, evangelicals are the worst people I know. Hypocrites and haters.
Because in a rational thinking society, irrationality must be put in its place—at the very bottom of the pile with the other fairy tales. If you continue to act like a child and believe in fairy tales, you shouldn't be surprised when adults start treating you like a child.
AMEN, SISTER!!. I mean, yes, most excellent observation, Mary. Nice name, too!
The religious people have no life to live because they are busy looking for God and they have yet found none.
Mary, you ask: Why do people make a daily habit out of belittling the followers of Christ? Because they do not know Him... if they did, there would not be so much hatred in their words. We cannot convert people... we can only teach by example and pray that all non-believers will find Jesus someday and open up their hearts... should they live their lives as if there is no God, it is their choice. We are blessed to be Catholic... let's just thank God for that, and keep praying for those who persecute Him. God bless you!
If God is known by human, God is no better than human. I wish you would know better whether you really know God.
Wanderer – very well said. I love to see when people create a super human being that is beyond knowing, then have the arrogance or self-delusion to believe that they and they're group of "special" super friends alone can know this unknowable being. I see this same kind of rationale in pre-adolescents when they're using their imaginations. I often feel like religious people are emotionally or psychologically stunted at an age where the child-parental structure was most meaningful.
"If God does not exist then he could not have created religion. Then what did? Evolution. Aren't atheists also denying the 'wisdom' of evolution?"
God did not create religion man did and then got followers by killing anyone that did not believe. Does that sound like god?
Bible-gawd is one ugly immoral monster.
Come on you know man invented and wrote the bible. Why in a world of such progress do people still believe and follow? and why are they the most ruthless people in society?
and Hitler, Mao and Stalen were saints?
Craboo, you need to heal yourself from nonsense and hatred, because they do not let you think accurately. Indeed, why in a world of such progress do people still believe and follow the Bible? It is exactly because it is NOT a human book. It is because the living God is guiding those who want to go beyond the box, in which you are living. Which ruthless people you talking about? Christians who built universities in which you study and hospitals in which you heal your empty head? The world is here because the Bible guided the best people.
Reply to MShawn
and Hitler, Mao and Stalen were saints?
They were the progenies of stains
and Hitler, Mao and Stalen were saints?
They were the progenies of saints.
Alex, My point is that if you were a true follower you would be above insulting my "empty head". Correct? Anyone heard of the Spanish inquisition before?
Alex, Do you believe the Bible fell from the sky?
MShawn: "and Hitler, Mao and Stalen were saints?"
No, they were nasty guys. Do you really think that those are the only other choices?
They are the only comparable choices. The only difference between them and the Church is they lost their wars.
CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS LIKE THE ONES ON HERE POSTING COMMENTS ARE THE SAME TYPES OF PEOPLE AND PEOPLES THAT LEAD TO TIMOTHY MCVEIGH AND THE UNABOMBER TYPES. I HOPE THE GOVERNMENT IS WATCHING ALL OF THESE HATE GROUPS.
Don’t worry, this type of people are gradually disappearing from this kind of gene pool.
Nicholas, people like you are exactly the people who killed millions in concentration camps and invented ideologies to pursue these killings. Timothy McVeigh was not a Christians but a dude of your type who hated all sensible things. You are enjoying your freedoms because of Christianity.
Whoever wrote this ought to try reading the Bible – He might be pretty surprised by what he finds out! By the way, before
you start, pray a little prayer that God will open your eyes and ears to the truth.
Sad that so few Christians actually read and comprehend the bible. If they could comprehend the truth, that the whole bible is a pile of manure excreted by many authors over many years, they would become atheists.
Yes, I was very surprised by what I found. That's why I left the church.
I didn’t really become an atheist until after I started reading the bible. I didn’t get very far. Man there is nasty stuff in those first 5 books. Evil, war, genocide, fratricide, ince$t, adultery, patricide, r_ape, child mole$tation and slaughter of the entire population of entire cities (every man, woman, child and even animal) in city after city … and that was the good guys, with god’s blessing.
That's true, the word rapture isnt in the bible, but caught up is, in 1 Thess. 4:17. 726 in Strongs, harpazo in the Greek, then in Latin the word for caught up is rapturo, where we get rapture. 1 Cor 15:51-52. A great deal of very solid biblical support for the rapture. My Episcoplalian "theologian" friend. John North
May 21 is coming. Oh wait, it's past. Guess you missed out on the rapture party. Alas, so did everyone else.
So typical and the way religion keeps alive: promise wonderful things with no firm dates, and then you never have to deliver.
If God does not exist then he could not have created religion. Then what did? Evolution. Aren't atheists also denying the 'wisdom' of evolution?
Evolution doesn't "create" things like religion, only a propensity in our brains for imagining/extrapolating things that aren't there, i.e. creating patterns in our minds to explain that which we don't understand. But we are now so evolved that we should be able to see this for what it is, a property in the brain that is good for some things but also creating this imagined supernatural "gods".
Clearly, atheists must believe that religion is a natural human development since, as you said, it can have no supernatural origin. I believe they would argue that its development results from the innate human desire to "explain" and "understand" the natural world around us. Early humans, not being privy to the level of understanding of our universe that we in the 21st century have, "naturally" concluded that the sun rises each day because the Sun God wishes it to be so, and that the crops failed last year because the gods were displeased. I think that atheists would argue that religion is no longer necessary today, despite whatever beneficial developmental purpose it may have had in the past, because we are intellectually and technologically in the position to discover the true causes for things that seemed like magic thousands of years ago.
I am more agnostic than atheist, though. Any true atheist care to comment on this?
One facet of evolution is that there are snake-oil salesmen ready to take advantage of the gullible masses...
There must be something before the existence of God that created God before God could create the religions.
Good question but it has been established that the clear answer is, NO.
You are about right where Atheists stand. I used to call myself Agnostic for the lack of a better term but many Atheists will tell you they can never be sure of the non-existence of God. But if you sway to the reason of natural evolution of human mind over God explanation for the existence of religion then you are an Atheist. I, on the other hand, am also an anti-theist because I believe religion has become derogatory and harmful to our continuing evolution.
AIDS, starving babies in Africa, constant wars, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hilter, hate everywhere - m- yeah, we've 'evolved' right enough .Highly 'evolved' atheists like einstein help make the atomic bomb. If we keep 'evolving' at this rate we shall evolve ourselves right into extinction.
While you're being 30% rational, you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot. Evolution puts forth all sorts of failed products, mutations and aberrations. People once, in the oldest recorded religion, believed that man was given birth to by a giant rainbow snake. Evolution also spits out all kinds of insanity. It's time and death that eventually weed out the weak and undesirable of the species. If you need more evidence, just look what's happening to religion these days. It's becoming marginalized and replaced with more rational thought. In fact, you could say that it's constantly trying to reinvent itself in order to reduce the appearance of insanity so it can survive by tricking more people into believing in it. Does that sound more like god to you or evolution?
OK, now let's see this same article only insert Muslin and Koran. Don't really think CNN is up to judging all religions especially not the religion of peace just Christianity.
then it wouldnt maker sense because islam has nothing to do with the rapture
one messed up world.... the crazies are breeding faster than common sense – education is failing to teach realities (due to the religious right cuts) – it won't be long before we blow this planet up – hehe
I do hope that religion dies and the world lives on – but I doubt it – so I'll just take a front row seat while they kill each other and laugh a bitter laugh
Can someone please explain the difference between "People of Faith" and "People of Gullibility"?
One believes in God. The other believes in himself.
They are interchangeable.
People of gulability are not nearly so visious or violent as people of faith
There's plenty of room to interpret and disagree, but being/not being a Christian devolves to how each of us answers a single question – one posed by Jesus to his own apostles: "Who do you say I am?"
Taking into account that Jesus wasn't just claiming to be some kind of guru here to teach people how to get along, that the claimed for himself the name "I AM" which is the very name of God in the Hebrew language, calimed that he is "Lord of the Sabbath" and Judge of the human race, one must come to one of three answers:
a) Jesus is the Son of God
b) He isn't.
c) Don't know (or care enough to find out).
Or d) Jesus is A son of God . . .
Or jesus is a lterary charactor that didn't actuall exist
Or jeasus was a figment of Paul's imagination during an epoleptic fit
In the words of the Virgin Mary, come again?
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.