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.
Check out a unique take on the fallacies of American Christianity.... http://desh412.blogspot.com
When are Christians going to wake up and realize that the Bible etc. are all books and manuscripts that were created in the minds of our ancestors.
These writings all came from the minds of man.
They were sensationalized,dramatized and spoken of in a manner to be the truth.
NO one knows the truth of where man came from or originated.
Everything YOU hear is speculation!
Religious organizations will teach YOU that it is truth.
That is the way the game is played.
Knowing the above information will hopefully wake YOU up, and get YOU to realize the fabrications that we are victims of.
Who knows, Nobody knows !
Sadly, never. They have to believe this nonsense.
For a better understanding of Gay Christian Terns such as Bjorn Again we invite you to read the articles ‘Bjorn Backwards’ and ‘Jumping Bjorn Again’ on our website http://gaychristian101.com
Please ignore any messages that inform you that we are on a troll and that ask you to activate the abuse button or even refer you to a non-gaychristian website. It is an attempt to discredit the work of our palmistry, which is for us (Ephhhuck off 4:12).
These distinctions would not matter, nor would this article, if the Body of Christ was One in mind and action. The Catholic Church is the only Church that can historically, traditionally and logically make the claim to teach Christian Truth- which is why CNN wants to hate it out of existence.
Instead of listening to me, scrutinize Catholic and Non-Catholic sources, and ask yourself- If Christ wanted us all to unite around a book, then why doesn't it work?
"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." -John Henry Newman.
The Eastern Orthodox and Coptics, of course, contend that it's Catholicism that's the heresy. Going back a notch further, the Jews think ALL Christians are heretics. Probably the Zoroastrians think the same about the Jews.
Why is it, do you suppose, that God never comes down and settles all these disputes once and for all? Why O why? Whatever could the explanation POSSIBLY be?
This just reinforces the idea that all religion is a form of cultism – particularly Christianity IMO.
Those who hate America are coming out of the closet, more and more.
Why would you try to destroy a country founded on religious freedom?
Please stop propagating the myth that atheists are not patriotic. On the contrary, our love for the actual, scientific, evidence-based truth makes us all the more passionate to promote reason and logic. Supersti-tion no longer deserves the reverence it once was accustomed to receiving; science has come quite a long way in discovering how the world works. More and more and more atheists are coming out of the closet because they LOVE the United States of America and desperately want to save the nation from fundamentalist zealots of any stripe.
Religion is a cultural relic of the past that millions of people still cling on to because of brainwashing childhood indoctrination and severe lack of education in the sciences.
It is nothing less than a matter of national security (can't get much more patriotic than that) to lift the burden of supersti-tion from the masses and free them from the vice of religion. If we don't get back on track to educate our future generations to lead the way in science and engineering, the U.S. is going to be relegated to third-world status while other civilized nations leave us in their dust.
If anything, it's the religious zealots that are destroying America, one useless prayer to their pretend sky friends at a time, while the remaining scientific insti-tutions struggle mightily to bear the overbearing burden of a nation obsessed with woo.
This video is rediculuse. They are 1st not taking the ancient greek and hebrew and Latin that the Bible was written in! whose meanings are solid. 2ndly They say it "puts you through some exhausting mental gymnastics" wich it doesn't. If God is real, and can do everything the Bible says he can (including make everything), then it's not hard to believe he can part seas, or walk on water, or keep a man alive in a whale. 3rd MOST OF THE B
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14 NAB)
So I asked but I didn't get. What part of anything don't you understand? It's all a pack of lies. Go ahed ask for something
It ain't what you say, it's what you do that really matters. George W Bush was a perfect example.
Why are all CNN "belief" articles nothing but negative toward Christianity? We all know the agenda, but you'd think they'd get the hint with the falling ratings. I won't be clicking on any more "un-belief" articles.
"Prayer Sustains Family from Tornado to Hospital"...clearly negative toward Christianity. For that matter, how exactly is this article negative toward Christianity? C'mon people, leave your kool-aid at the door.
You can't be serious. Most of these CNN belief blog articles are OBSCENELY pro-Christian, to the point of often being downright offensive, especially to non-believers. I find it irresponsible that a major news organization like CNN even has this belief blog, given what usually appears to be a right-wing theocratic agenda to keep the gullible masses ignorant. If someone actually thinks that this religiosity blog isn't religious ENOUGH, please seek professional psychiatric help.
Those voices in your head telling you to pray, pray, pray, ummm, well, they're VOICES IN YOUR HEAD. This is known as DELUSION. Again, best advice is to seek help. No, really, it's NOT a good thing. Makes some people go crazy, fly planes into buildings, blow things up, hurt and oppress others. It's really nothing to look up to or admire. Sorry, but peaceful religion has become an oxymoron over the past few thousand years. Read a history book someday (a real one, not a Christian revisionist one). Humanity's past is bloody, and religion is often at the heart of the cause. That is a FACT, and while you may choose to ignore these things called facts, you might be interested in knowing that you cannot make up these things called FACTS, either. Yes, religion has done some good along the way, and some of the earlier scientists were religious and even church-funded, but science has since been able to explain much of how the world works. Supersti-tion will inevitably lose its place in society and be looked back on just as today we look back at ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek mythologies, except centuries and millennia from now it will be referred to as ancient Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mythologies. Think about it, you know it's the most likely way this will turn out. Why not accept the situation now for what it is and join the many other non-believers who are actually trying to make a positive difference in the world, instead of just trying uselessly to pray away our current crises?
I recently saw a bumper sticker that said "Religion is the reason the poor don't kill the rich". I guess it does serve a putpose.
Religion of Islam forces the Rich to give out Poor dues from his annual earrings or investments as Charity and Zakah....bases so it seems it is correct the religion is holding the poor from killing the rich...!
@Muneef: If Islam forces the rich to give to the poor. Why are rich Muslims so obscenely rich when there are so very many Muslims who are dirt poor (starving in Africa right now)?
It is things like this that makes me grow antipathy for CNN, it is a complete joke. It is a scary future for the U.S.A if the neo-liberal world order takes over.
I challenge this author to write such a disrespectful condescending piece about Muslims.
please point out where the condesention is in the piece.
For a better understanding of Christian Terms such as Born-Again we invite you to read the articles ‘Born of God’ and ‘Judging ~ Born Again’ on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca
Our latest article ‘CNN Belief Blog ~ Sign of the Times’ also speaks of the 128 million so-called Born-Again Christians.
All of the other pages and articles on our website will explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9. It is unfortunate that man in his natural state is unable to understand the Word of God, in fact he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned: meaning to be able to discern between darkness and light (1 Cor. 2:14,15, Acts 26:18). On our website we explain what mankind must do to be reunited with God. The Bible is true and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
There is a natural body and a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). The only thing that separates the Natural body from the Spiritual body is the Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1:4). To repent means: to change spirits and to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan, whose spirit mankind is of (Luke 9:55), unto God (Acts 26:18). This is not an interpretation.
We depict the natural body and the spiritual body on top of every page on our website. The spiritual side represents the Tree of Life. A Tree signifies a person and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil refers to a person that is able to discern (judge) between darkness and light (1 Cor. 2:15; Acts 26:18).
Many people search the Bible for in them they think they have eternal life, but when we bring them the Scriptures they don’t believe us (John 5:38,39). Confused? There is no need to be confused any longer. For a better understanding of the mystery of God we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website.
So, before mankind will be able to understand the Word of God, mankind requires to be converted and transformed by God (not by any religion) and only then mankind is able to understand the Bible, as it is God (John 1:1).
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These distorted messages are provided by individuals that do not agree with our views on certain issues. One of the issues is posted on the Current Events page of our website (top item). These individuals go by the User Name of Observer, LOL, Expert, etc., etc. and their goal is to control the dialogue of this forum with their distorted and vile messages. As a result they have turned this Blog into a total scam.
The only thing I love more than Jesus the Magic Jewbaby is spamming.
Your website is thoroughly discredited by the sheer HYPOCRISY of committing abominations like lying while ignorantly picking on others for committing "abominations".
You can't tell other people the truth when you can't even tell yourself the truth.
True Christians know that God is great. Our task is to establish, maintain and improve our relationship with Him as much as we possibly can. We also have a task of trying to make believers out of non-believers which is becoming harder and harder as time goes on, and articles such as these do not help out in the least bit. Before you can say that there is not a God, or that God does not love you, read the Bible. Read it, and use your heart and soul to make as much sense out of it as you can. Try to pray to God! Don't pray for materialistic things. Try praying for a sign to show you that He really cares about you and watch what happens! If He doesn't answer on your first prayer, pray to Him again, and again- the more you pray to Him from your heart, the stronger His love for you becomes. When He answers your prayers, do not be afraid or blind to His love! You can't say you don't believe that this plate of food is bad before you try it right? Well, you can't say that God is bad before you give Him a chance either!
Why I know That There is a God and That He Loves Me
A Personal Testimony.
Allow me to share a story. Not too long ago doubt was creeping into my head about the Lord and then a miracle happened.
It was 3 years ago and 50 members of my church were enroute to a bible camp in the Blueridge Mountains of Virginia. They were traveling in a chartered bus. As they sang blessed hymns to the Lord, Satan was up to his old tricks. You see, the bus driver was an atheist socialist and that day his coffee mug was filled with vodka. As the bus wound up through the switchbacks, the driver became progressively drunker. Then it happened. It was that day that changed this poor sinner's life forever. Entering a particularly tight switchback, the besotted driver finally lost control of the bus and it plummeted 1500 feet down into a ravine where it exploded into a fireball incinerating the flock. The only survivor that fateful day was a young boy who was thrown from the bus by his father seconds before it hit the bottom.
This young boy suffered severe brain damage from hitting a rock head first and will have to wear a football helmet and drool cup for the remainder of his life. But his survival proved to me that miracles do happen because God does exist and loves me. The Lord caused that accident to bring me back to his flock.
Praise Jesus! Just open your eyes to his miracles and you will see him everywhere.
What the f@#k is it with you people always assuming we HAVENT read the bible?
News for you: there's no god and no jesus, and the bible is a steaming pile of self-contradictory BS. Now stop trying to sell us on you stupid god story and p!ss off already.
God and unanswered prayers.
my, you people are screwy with all your bible banging, the louder one bangs his bible, the more lies spew forth from his mouth...
You don't get it. I have read the Bible and I don't believe it. I have heard all of the Christian claims and I don't believe them. Don't start in with that "read it with an open heart" nonsense...you should read everything with an analytical mind. Many of the Biblical claims have been proven wrong and those that haven't have no evidence to back them up.
Oh, and please don't proselytize; it's rude and off-putting. I have made my decision and unless some hard concrete evidence comes along I will not convinced otherwise. I will not be convinced by "personal testimonies" or emotional pleas or anything of the like.
"This young boy suffered severe brain damage from hitting a rock head first and will have to wear a football helmet and drool cup for the remainder of his life. The Lord caused that accident to bring me back to his flock."
So you actually THANK God that a young boy suffered brain damage to bring you "back to his flock". That sure says a lot about you and I don't think there's anything there for you to be proud of. What a disgusting and disgraceful way to endorse your religion!
I was wondering how long it would take before somebody took "Pastor Bobby" and his little fable seriously. Not all that long, it seems. Another validation of Poe's Law.
Back when I was a christian and drifting away I did all of that stuff, gave your god every chance and absolutely nothing happened. I finally decided to read the bible cover to cover 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.
Just would like to call attention to 1 Corinthians 1:10 – "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." . . . Let us come to an agreement people; it's time.
You first need to accept Thor as your personal god.
thank you, Kim, brilliant example!
What example? The word Thor in Arabic means "Bull" so is like saying worshiping the Bull...? Or that thing with a hummer hummering every head?
Well the 3,000 different, divided sects of the Christian church certainly put that verse to the lie
The more posts I read by "folks of faith," the more insightful and valid Nietzsche's The Antichrist seems.
"There are people who want to make men's lives more difficult for no other reason than the chance it provides them afterwards to offer their prescription for alleviating life; their Christianity, for instance." -Friedrich Nietzsche
"The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from ancient Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum." – Havelock Ellis
The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad. – Friederich Nietzsche
After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands. -Friedrich Nietzsche
It almost seems like ancient Jerusalem actually WAS an insane asylum...
I don't really understand the point of this article unless it is simply to pander to the crybaby atheists.
You don’t understand this article because you don’t understand the atheists are not like those who believe they are someone they are not.
The point, Mickel, is to show that most people who call themselves Christians, actually don't know what they are talking about. They tend to take certain passages and use them in their own way without using the entire context to make a point. On top of that they tend to take false doctrine and make it into a lifestyle without actually knowing the true meaning of the words they are speaking.
I am a Christian, and I think that the article raised a number of good points. I fail to see how it panders to atheists....
Well, that was a very Christian remark
@GeePi You are a very small person.
Stan, you have such a puny pen-is.
It's true that man cannot honor his word. History shows that eventually he fails, and then modifies meaning to accommodate his error. However, it's not a great leap for me to believe that the 'Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." You just have to choose whether God or this man, Kirby Ferguson is capable telling eternal truth.
I'll opt for God. Thank you!
No man is capable of telling the eternal truth before he could realize the ultimate truth within.
Keep calling his name.
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.