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 for god who left his unwanted comment: The term of stupidity really applies to yourself because if you would of read clearly without getting all emotional and sarcastic, your brain would actually realize that im not referring to "faith" as a christian term. I made a clear comparison of how we all use faith in our daily lives, that's called world concept just in case your mind couldnt proccess that. But why get so agitated by a comment that was left by some one who you really dont know? Are you threatened by what was said? Do you know what the term civilized means? People who speak out of terms for no reason at all and disrespect others are not civilized at all. Their brain does not permit them to communicate with others in a well respectful manner. So buddy, believe what you want and get all upset and immature like a baby...you're just doing yourself harm and making yourself look ridiculous with your comments.
I agree! Respect other's comments if we want our comments respected.
Once you know without a doubt He exists, despite the fact that there are some things not completely compreheded and false doctrines- whcih by way He told us beforehand, why would I want to go to this website.
It's so unfortunate that you have not come to know Him for yourself. Once you have really really tasted of His goodness and His reality, it is impossible to turn back.
kaen, terminal gullibility is not a good trait.
Personally, heaven is not my incentive for following Christ. The hell I experienced in my life without Christ drove me to become a Christian (former atheist). I proudly say Christ is my crutch. I now have peace I never had before. The emptiness I had inside, which I could not fill, is gone. I make no claims of being perfect, but lean on Christ to cleanse my soul. If you are content with a life without Christ, there is no ill will toward you. People cannot be condemned to heaven. If you are searching for a very good option . . . Christ is a very good option.
@GeePi Joe I used to think like you. I pray you can find peace.
GeePi Joe, what a small person you are. @Thoughts was explaining why s/he chose to follow Christ - s/he didn't slander anyone, didn't slam anyone, didn't point fingers, just told his/her story, which sounded pretty uplifting to me. You definitely don't make atheism look attractive. I'm actually pretty floored by your pettiness. @Thoughts - thanks for posting this. I know Joe's remarks don't hurt or affect you except that you must feel sad that he's so full of anger and venom. Me, too.
I've been where Thoughts was. When Christ became a reality to me, so much changed. Not that I'm perfect by any means, but He is....
You can go through hell in life being a Christian. It happened to me and now that I believe on nothing I do not have any hell. I asked There are others that do not! Some people never grow up....
You can go through hell in life being a Christian. It happened to me and now that I believe on nothing I do not have any hell. I asked and asked and nothing happened and still nothing. There are others that do not! Some people never grow up. BTW I have never seen an amputee get a new limb. Have you?
Thoughts, you need some thinking help. Go here http://fallacyfiles.org and do some studying to understand why your bible is a load of self-contradictory nonsense.
Why is belief in a fairy tale like your Jesus story a good option? It isn't. Belief in stuff that is obviously fiction is for cowards and wimps like you. Grow some courage and get with the real world.
Yeah, how come god hates amputees?? Stupid stupid Christians.
@Wendy You are right . . . I am weak. I did not used to think I was, but when I realized I was not in control of my life I turned everything over to Christ. Christ strengthens me. I do not pretend to know everything. If you read what I type a deem me stupid I have no qualms. Christ loves you, Wendy, where you are.
Nope, you're not any stronger. Now you just have one more crutch that you depend on, and it's total fiction. Your sky fairy story isn't even consistent with itself. Again, grow some courage and get a life instead of relying on a sky fairy to come and rescue you.
@Jibaro This world is broken and your frustration makes absolute sense. I have never seen an amputee grow a limb. I too have prayed intensely and not received an answer. In my difficult times (divorce, addiction, loss of loved ones and depression) I have asked God "why?" Sometimes it does not make sense. For me I found Christ and other broken Christians as the support I needed. I could not face my demons alone. I needed people to love me and cry with me. I found others who had been where I was. No condemnation . . . just open arms and support. God gives us each other to make it through this messed up world.
@Wendy I appreciate your concern for me. I pray you experience peace.
Christianity is for weak minded fools.
@Anon I wish I could take you to lunch. You have a great deal of enthusiasm and it would be nice to have you as a Christian brother.
We are told "People are for People and Satan is Alone" that's why you find Muslim community have the strongest ties towards family,friends and people...
Christianity maybe not as stronger than Islam in that therefore suggest "Anon" towards such ties and larger community seek brotherhood in Islam...
Guess now Thoughts will hate me for that and am joking now although no sure if to fast from joking as well during fasting Ramadan therefore may God forgive me... :)
Muneef, I do not hate you. I am very familiar with the Muslim culture and community. You must be in the east as it is not 1 August in the West. You are correct about the brotherhood in Islam. It is very strong. The Christian community I am a part of is very strong, as well. I think you are looking more at a cultural difference than a difference in Christianity and Islam. It is typical for Americans to not know their neighbors, but this is more cutlural than Christian. The Bible wants Christians to be a part of a Christian family and this is not limited to blood relatives. I will fast from dawn to dusk for you tomorrow. You are in my prayers.
Interesting, it was the hell I experienced being raised a Christian that started me thinking and put me on the path to atheism. That and all the contradictions
I am not sure why this is interesting? People from different cultures, societies, religious traditions and regions often use speech that is common to them, so what? Borg is fine but he is an Episcopalian, which today is a a tiny fringe Christian group I think a couple of million members. Southern Baptists are the largest non-Catholic Christian group in the US and they would likely know the terms used. So what?
Respectfully, I think you are missing the point here. What Borg is saying is that the Christian phrases people use have a definite impact on that how the religion is thought of and practiced. For instance, making allusions to being "caught up in the clouds together" may reinforce the idea of the rapture, which as the article points out is a relatively new concept in Christian theology which can a have a big impact on how one imagines salvation. Also, referring to Episcopalians as a "tiny fringe Christian group" as if to delegitimize the Episcopal Church is both inaccurate and, quite frankly, borderline insulting. Just for your information, the Episcopal Church is a member in full communion with the 80 million member Anglican Communion, which regardless of differences over social issues among its churches is still the THIRD largest body of Christians in the WORLD after Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Marcus Borg, as an ordained priest within the Communion, is every bit as qualified to speak on theological issues as is any Southern Baptist.
Some body has to play the role of Middle Man/ Negotiator whether you trust or not ! Some body has be there with contacts when strings are to be pulled...they are even gain as brokers in deals...!The right contact and the building of public relations locally or internationally is an important issue for finalizing any political or business deals therefore you have to build your relation and extend it to whom you like or don't like for any means, after all you never know when you will be needed to resolve problems between people through your contacts...! That is life "We need each other whether we like each other or not" and that how things are concluded rather than closing our selves into shells... Any business man within imports/exports/transportations services has to have and build contacts globally to run a business otherwise by being choosey as to whom you like or do not like....guess there will be no business and you got to trust that some body even if you do not like them beliefs or what's ever it is That bands you....?!
That bands you....?!
What are you saying, Muneef? Have you had a bit of wine today perhaps?
No no. Don't drink and it is my first date in fasting but sorry it must be my Arabic English D-ictionary... the word I wanted to use was "what Binds you" so hope this time it is Right...
Interesting how the theological expert is Dr. Marcus Borg–he of the Jesus Seminar fame. His explanation of salvation, while correct in that the usage concerns more than the afterlife, falls way short of the multifaceted meaning found in the Bible (e.g. the late John Stott's book The Cross of Christ). In fact, what he described concerning justice was a fruit of salvation, not salvation itself–for he isolated the biblical meaning of justice in the same way that he asserts "Christians" isolate the usage of salvation! With all due respect, Dr. Borg may have a head of "knowledge" to speak the most advanced Christianese; however, I hope his is a language of the heart and not just of the mind only.
Speaking Christian is like speaking Gullah–it makes you sound like a stunted imbecile, and with good reason.....
First, Christianity is about knowing Jesus personally and accepting His grace through faith, not about jargon or how pious you sound. 1 John 3:18 says, "let us not love in words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
Second, to those who say God does not exist: You say you have evolved, that you cannot believe in something or someone you cannot see. In your heart, though, do you really want to hear the truth or are you afraid that Jesus really is God's Son, that He really does love you, that He really does have a plan for your life? If you say you are truly searching for the truth, seek God.
In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says, "seek and you will find..." God wants all people to know Him through His Son, Jesus. His plan was always for us to live in communion with HIm. Through Jesus, God's Son, you can know God personally. In John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." What you personally think is truth is irrelevant. Truth is not relative.
God is not a mere sky friend. He is your Creator. Jesus is your Savior. If you really want to discover the truth, then talk to God. Read the Bible. The books of John and then 1 John are a great place to start.
What do you have to lose?
What have I got to lose? A life wasted on an ancient Bronze Age tribal war-god cult. A life wasted on spending it with the worst hypocrites, liars, and weasels found in America.
No thanks. Keep your imaginary pal to yourself.
Don't forget losing a life of Sunday mornings dressing up to listen to facile prattle by some conman who really just wants your money.
that "searching" crap in the OP's name is the standard crapola that Christians pull out when all their other arguments fail as they always do.
Read up on Pascal's Wager, "searching". You just took it, you ignorant twit.
Interesting that you state: "In John 14:6 Jesus says, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'". Isn't that a violation of the first Commandment? "I am the lord thy God. Thou shalt not place false gods before me." Jesus was a philosopher, not a god. Don't place him before the true God. God is the only one I talk to. I don't need Jesus to do my work for me. God knows me and loves me. I have no reason to fear Him other than I might be standing next to a self-righteous bible-thumper when God decides to shut him up finally.
BELIEVERS – Please learn brevity or get an education to learn how to say what you need in a couple of sentences. Spare us the sermons please. It is attention seeking and exclusive – just like the author was saying. Stay off the pulpit and come back down to reality. How about sharing what YOU feel and think (in a sentence or two).
I say let Christians do what they wanna...if you don't understand ask ,and they'll preach you another sermon.. :)
Every person's faith is an individual matter. case closed.
That's why I worship The Tooth Fairy. At least he brings me money as proof that he's real.
yes , that we who are in Christ should share with others.. :)
Jonathan, that's why the rest of us see you evangelicals as annoying morons.
Holy roly! The Teatards are jumping out of the aisles in protest to this intelligent, well-reasoned piece. They simply can't stand truth and logic. It blows up their entire philosophy.
This is the truth ...That Christ is risen from the dead. and i am witness by the gift of the Holy Spirit which dwells within me... :)
@jonathin: Here’s a little quote from you Christ
"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Also heard and used: "God put it on my heart to...", "I was convicted," "We walked alongside them," "We prayed on this," "I believe on this," etc. We hear a million such expressions every day.
Glory to God!!! God's people are acknowledging him before men... :)
Gory be from god, the evil jerk that will torture you forever if you don't kowtow to him on your knees.
I like how this entire article is about "speaking Christian" and the author fails to reference one single scripture in the bible. Who's really perpetrating?
BKG you bigotry is getting very smelly! Marcus Borg is an intelligent writer. Methinks that's what you're having the most difficulty with.
While he may be intelligent I'm having fun speaking Christian in his article :)
Why can't people believe the bible? It's not that hard!
The key word he failed to mention in the whole video is the word "faith". Huh, I wonder why? Maybe because he has no smart comeback for it. Check. Blink right eye once.
Christians, don't despair by what is written in these forums.
The Apostle Paul told us there would be Godlessness In the Last Days in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 & 7 and that we would see a Falling Away From The Faith in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.
These things must happen before our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ returns.
So even though Atheism has existed for centuries the end of days is only starting now?
I might not be screwed yet, maybe the Scientologest will let me get on there spaceship. If you think about it the probability is much greater them some dude floating out the sky and taking all his followers with him.
C'mon DoE, Do you honestly believe a God will truly come down from the clouds to save us Humnaus Omnivorous Ingrates from our Own Homemade Soon to Come Calamity and/or WWW-3? This world will not vaporize until either our Sun expands and envelopes all the planets and melts away all elements or a burst of Gamma Radiation comes from the center of our Milky Way Galaxy! Kapeesh? } :(
Why would you believe Paul of Tarsus?
Blessed be the Cheesemakers.
Yes the illuminati controlled new world order has been created and it is a matter of time before lord maiterya (the anti-christ) shows himself through the HAARP project bluebeam. Then the rapture and then Jesus flies into action to whoop a$$.
Am I the only one who sees the irony in someone named Borg teaching us how to "speak" Christian? Resistance is futile.
You are an idiot.
I thought about his name and The Borg also..but I never paid much attention to their episodes.. I got to involved with Christ at that time ..thank God! :)
when someone calls you an idiot it is because they have no argument... :)
On the Belief Blog, CNN always stays true to their M.O.
1. Pick controversial topic. This is the B.B. so that's not too hard.
2. Pick some shmuck that obviously doesn't have a clue about what he/she is writing about.
3. Turn out a totally misguided, misinformed, one-dimensional story.
This story is utter nonsense, from the Ti-tle all the way through to the last "period". How can you write a story about Christianity without even bothering to mention even a few of the BASIC doctrinal concepts that form the very foundation of Christianity?? Words like...Sin, or Repentence, or the Cross. The way this story is written is akin to writing a story "about" Football that mentions the tail gate parties, the various jersey colors, etc but wouldn't say anything about the BASICS of the actual sport itself. Totally devoid of any substance whatsoever.
I find it repugnant that in the article the "name it and claim it" false doctrine is lumped into the idea of REAL Christianity. This is not in the Bible ANYWHERE...period. This "health and wealth" garbage was dreamed up completely by apostate individuals who seek to try and use God as their personal "Genie in a bottle". All the Eddie Long's, the Creflo Dollar's, and the Benny Hinn's. The false doctine these guys spew out isn't REAL Christianity. Most (if not ALL) of the truly devout followers of Jesus in the Bible were dirt poor people. I find it almost UNbelievable that people who would have even a casual understanding of the Bible could buy into the idea that you can "believe" God for a new house, or a Bentley, or ....(fill in the blank). It's ludicrous. But, unfortunately (and the author proves this point) this is what most people think of when they think of Christianity. And this demontrates the spiritual vacuum that many many people live in. You could tell em almost anything and they'd believe it.
As a Christian, let me clear it up for ya. There is no Christian "speak". It's not some secret club where you have to be able to know the secret knock to get in the door, or know some mysterious password. To suggest this only servers to futher the idea that Christians are somehow an elite group of people that seek to exclude everyone. Maybe there are some groups that try to do that, but these people aren't practicing REAL Christianity. Real Christians are meek, humble, gentle, caring, patient, genuine. Real Christians don't view church as a country club. They view it as a light house where ALL are welcome. Real Christians know that we're ALL sinners, everyone of us. They don't go around all pious acting like they've got it all figured out. The only thing Christians have figured out is how hopeless the "human condition" is apart from a one on one relationship with Jesus Christ. You can sum up EVERYTHING that's different between a Christian and a non-Christian with this statement...
"A Christian is someone who has recognized their need for a savior (Jesus Christ) and has personally invited Him into their lives and surrrendered control to Him".
All the other differences don't mean squat!!!
Solid, brilliant and absolutely to the point.
One minor correction:
"All the other differences _mean_ squat."
This particular article doesn't exactly address a burning issue of the day, but it's gotten a lot of comments, largely from whiny Christians who imagine that they are being persecuted again. Personally, I thought this article was remarkably lame.
"As a Christian, let me clear it up for ya. There is no Christian 'speak'. It's not some secret club where you have to be able to know the secret knock to get in the door, or know some mysterious password."
Interesting. Many earlier comments from self-admitted Christians said, in essence, "What's the big deal? We're like any other group that has its own 'in' jargon, like soccer fans or plumbers." Now you come along and say, in essence, "No we don't." I detect the beginnings a new schism here. You guys in the "we're not a secret club" cult may want to start hunting down the heretics from the "yes we've got jargon" sect before they start coming for YOU.
Richard S. Russell...
"You guys in the "we're not a secret club" cult may want to start hunting down the heretics from the "yes we've got jargon" sect before they start coming for YOU."
Good idea. We'll start tomorrow.
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.