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.
Don and "Jesus is Lord". Allow me to posit an alternative explaination. We Ho.mo Sapiens are one of a few million species that live on a big piece of rock hurling around a large hydrogen bomb, which is itself one of 100,000,000,000 hydrogen bombs in our galaxy, which is one of 200,000,000,000 galaxies in a cold, dark space of dimensions you or I cannot comprehend.
I'm sorry, but the idea that it's all about us just doesn't quite compute.
Team apologetics. That was a worthwhile visit. Makes a great point with a few words.
Christians are not brain dead. We only sound that way.
teamapologetic. What would you say if that is exactly what God wanted to do???? It would be unwise for you to find yourself battling with God because you don't like the way he runs things. If I was you I would say he does not exist than to fight with God because he does not operate in accordance to you "unlimited wealth of knowledge". The Bible says "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God". Also says "A fool in his heart says there is no God". It's not about me. I don't consider to know everything or am righteous than any man. But I fear and believe in Jesus. When I say fear I am not talking about "fear he is going to do something to me". I'm talking of reverence, respect and humble heart. Like Joshua said "You choose who you gonna serve but as of me and my household, we serve the living God". Thank you God for Jesus, your son through which we have peace, Joy, strength and eternal life. It's all about you my God my Lord.
Sorry. I spent years trying to find something out of the good book to corroborate any of its claims. What I found is the exact opposite. Everything debunks it.
Christianity is nothing but a mind rotting circular logic.
The bible is the word of god!
Really? How can you be so certain?
Cuz da bible done say so.
Sorry. Not buying into that bit of malarky.
You sound like a profound and original thinker of impressively nimble mental capabilities.
(DJ, that is)
It's generally unwise to assert things as true which you lack evidence for. I mean, quoting the bible isn't going to strengthen your argument much, I could retort "the bible also says that a pig's skin is unclean, shellfish is an abomination, and that rabbits chew their own cud. The idea, however, that we as humans are so important to the universe's creator that we required the bloody violent sacrifice of his son, that is to say himself, seems strangely arrogant considering how minor a part of the universe we are.
You could believe all this, but next time you think "a fool said in his heart there is no god", remember how many religions you don't believe, and how making those bland statements is not likely to sway many of us who think critically about evidence.
I love how in the Christian mindset, the Bible doesn't have to be corroborated by anything else. It just IS. "Because I said so" is not a logical argument.
Of course, they don't mind that their own deity doesn't follow his own rules. It is no wonder they are such an illogical lot. Logic relies entirely on rules, and Christians feel that they can write their own.
ANDREW, We know you do not believe now. That's ok. You are in the majority. We know few will believe. We are sorry your heart is cold to God who loves you.
The original language of Christianity is Greek. Some Christians still worship entirely in the original Greek, reciting prayers and singing songs penned in the third century, reading the Gospel in the original Greek, etc. These Christians read "anayegemenee", not "born again".
Greek was the language of the ancient Hebrews.
Dear god, I dare you to kill me. Right here, right now. I double-dare you. I challange you. I don't believe in you. I want you to prove your existence by smiting me.
I bet nothing happens. It never does. I have been issuing the same challange to the non-existent sky-fairy for 10 years. It is always the same result. Radio silence. Maybe, one day, when I am 89, he will "respond."
He does not need to prove anything to you for your are not a believer anyways. He will not kill you for your own enjoyment. It is funny that you seem to think you understand he's ways when you are not a believer at all and don't bother to realize the truth about him.
"But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Colin, God wants you to repent. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the ONLY way to the Father in Heaven.
God refuses to give evidence of his existence but demands that you believe he exists. Apparently he loves gullible people.
So, Jeus, better drink some OJ and give praise to the nearest plum tree while you're at it.
Ten years is hardly enough time to exhaust the Creator's patience. It is illogical to hate someone if you don't believe they exist. Consistency would be to admit that nothing really matters in the end and just let it go. That would be consistent. But, consistency with the truth would be to turn from your hatred of Him and submit yourself to Jesus Christ, for we will all be raised from the dead to stand before Him and give an account of our works. We are given assurance of this by Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
you understand he's ways when you are not ...
It's always "the lord works in mysterious ways" when the result is not the one they like. Boring.
I am pushing seventy and I have yet to hear of a third cause for the existence of this material universe.
We have Intelligent design (the God of the Bible) and we have Blind Mindless Chance.
Which is your God/god?
Earth to Brian, one doesn't have a god. Seriously, W TF is with you bible bashers and your invisible pixies?
I feel sorry for you. You're pushing 70 and still have no knowledge in science.
There is no proof that God exists or doesn't exist. Why would anyone assume there are only two possible explanations for how life began? Much too simplistic.
From you refusal to entertain God in your equations, I can assume you guys would rather choose Blind Mindless Chance. A fitting god it seems to me
"actually read the Bible" It is one thing to say God does not exist and another to not believe in God because of who or what he does. Your argument suggests you believe God exists (I could be wrong) but you just wont submit to him because he is "evil insane god". It is obvious who will have the upper hand on this battle. You can be all disappointed, angry, hateful, insulting etc towards Him but your so called righteousness or good will is more evil than God's so called "evil action", as you put it. If you believe he is evil, you must believe there is a higher power who is good. You just don't know who that is. I'm sure you wont say human as history will proof you wrong. It is Jesus that died for the worlds. People hate God and blame him for the consequences. You hate him, don't want anything to do with him but at the same time you want to blame him for the disaster, which could hit you or this ungodly world. You can't have it both ways. If you say you hate him because he let you down after you have given you life to him, it is one thing but to hate him when you have not trusted in him at all is just not reasonable. God does not take responsibility for my actions, which could bring harmful consequences. But he has provided the Way out through his son Jesus Christ. We have the right to decide what we want to do with our life including who and what we believe in, as it is clearly displayed here. This world is a man's(mankind) world. Destined to end up where mankind leads it. Jesus is our way out. Gods plan is salvation, safety and redemption from the mess we have created and continue to love so dearly as well as from it's consequences. If you want the truth, you can't push it away. "God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten son so whoever believes in Him will have eternal life"
TESTIFY! Christianity is simple: "He came down to earth as an incarnation of Himself, to sacrifice Himself to Himself in order to forgive His people, who he had made in the image of Himself, and save them from–wait for it!–the wrath of...HIMSELF! TAAAA-DAAAH!!!!!!"
God is good all the time!! Anyone who thinks he is evil or condones their evil acts is simply playing on the wrong team.
Boy sassy, you have never read yer bible, have you.
Go read about the first Holocaust (aka the flood) or your god telling his dupes to smash babies against rocks.
Have you ever noticed that He takes care of the people who have a relationship with Him?
Have you ever noticed that He sends tsunamis and tornados often and doesn't give a flying hoot who they kill?
You said "Have you ever noticed that He takes care of the people who have a relationship with Him?"
Must not have been too many "true" believers in Joplin then. If that's how he takes care of people that he has relationships with, I'll pass. Thank you very much.
I gotta question for all U Bloggers! How many types of "space" are there?
I don't know Richard. How heavy is the wind, what color is love, or do we have our own soul or all share a soul?
It took me 30 seconds to come up with three questions as vacuous and meaningless as the garbage you just posted. Now go away.
One. It's empty. The same as your head.
These threads are so funny. IM right, No, IM right! Its ok, our finite brains can never fully understand an infinite God. The "christians" that all of you "atheists" shout down are no different than you. Sadly, many go to church for that fuzzy feeling on Sundays and know very little about God in which they claim to worship. "Atheists" have no proof ( love that word in this topic) against God and still believe in nothing with the same amount of dedication and blindness of the "christians", getting their fuzzy feeling from chiming in about how much they "know" against God. So what makes you better? Nothing my friends, we are all mess ups, fighting through some sort of hang up in our day. There are much more important things in life than attacking somebody for trying to find their way or having a certain belief. I get it, Im human, and probably not the best representative of anything more intelligent than I, let alone God. So instead of telling me "a believer" how wrong I am, how about making a case for how right YOU are? Feel free to use that proof thing you so love...
Ignore the atheists. Their stoopid motto is "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence."
That's a load of hogwash.
The bible is true because the bible says so. The bible wouldn't lie.
Team Apologetics 100
As my being a "secular" Christian Fundamentalist, I do so admire your rather quaint phraseology ptting a "Christian" as an "Atheist" anthology! May your journey down the path of disembarkation send you swiftly into the otherly Place that only the Gods do know! Oh, almost forgot, GOD, HE Knows! :-)
I think Team Apologetics is really representing Christians well. I can't stop laughing after reading his "arguments".
This video was completely stupid. Talk about trying to wrap up a couple of thousand years' worth of ideology in a pretty little three minute video. Don't tell me what to believe or how to believe it. CNN + religion = fail.
Don't tell me what to believe or how to believe it.
Oh the irony! Thus spake the gullible child who has been brainwashed into accepting a Bronze Age tribal war-god.
Explain yourself, "Team."
and to kimble Jesus died (if there is any truth to the storyat all because he got on the wrong side of the Pharisees and the Romans at the same time.
Actually, no. The Romans wanted nothing to do with the death of Jesus. Pontius Pilate actually insulted the Pharisees for opening Jesus into their city with open arms one day and comdemning him to death the next. He then washed his hands of the situation telling the Jewish people he wanted nothing to do with their bloodlust.
This is what Christains sound like to the rest of us:
Yeah, there are stupid Christians out there. Just like there are stupid film makers who can't write joke or properly light a green screen set to save their lives (souls..?). Just like there are stupid people who've never actually read the bible and yet feel the need to post stupid and wrong statements about Christianity on the CNN news blog.
to Ritamweep, I'll pass that morality thing along to my slaves since the bible doesn't proscribe the ownership or beating of slaves(or my wife for that matter)
And yet again, you are wrong. The bible talks at great lengths about these things. I tell you what, why don't you go read the book, then get on a public forum and talk. You'll probably look a lot less stupid.
yo: You had Hebrew slaves in Egypt? Was one your brother Joseph?
Wait is that Christain speak?
To ARB ok small correction , Samantha the witch wiggled her nose, jeannie folded her arms and gave a sharp nod and blink. Man! that's how this crap gets started!
Hello I like your video and will watch for more. One thing I would like to say is Salvation, is not something we can work for it is a gift from God. When we confess our sin to the Father in Jesus Name, We will be forgiven, and Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. Its a free gift to us , the Father gave the Son Jesus, and Jesus forgives us, and fills us with the Holy Spirit.
Thank You for writing about God He should be in the News more, for He is Good News. The Gospe is Good News and is for all people.
God Bless You
You sound delusional.
linda, come to our pink flamingo party. Details here http://gaychristian101.com. All se-x is welcome.
This kind of bunk reinforces my belief that Christians are patronizing creeps forever shoving their beliefs at other. It is harassment.
Christ Jesus died so that each of you, including those of you who love to pretend that you are superior to those who believe in Christ, could spend eternity with Him. He paid the price for the GIFT of your salvation. He gave His life willingly for you. YOU get to choose whether you accept that gift or refuse it. Eternal life or Eternal death. Thankfully, I have the former.
So God sacrificed himself to himself in order to save us his creation from hell (a place he created). This all coming from the God who preaches unlimited forgiveness but is still willing to send people to hell. How is that logical to you?
"He came down to earth as an incarnation of Himself, to sacrifice Himself to Himself in order to forgive His people, who he had made in the image of Himself, and save them from–wait for it!–the wrath of...HIMSELF! TAAAA-DAAAH!!!!!!"
Why would I want to spend eternity with a jewish man? Thanks, but no.
That's right. The supposedly almighty god can't think of a way to forgive a couple people for disobeying him other than sacrificing himself to himself. That's the most asinine story I've ever heard. I can never understand how any intelligent human being can possibly believe such crap.
I don't think I am better than Christians. I know quite a few and they are nice people trying to live like Jesus and do not think it is right to hound other people about it. I don't even talk about my beliefs unless asked or under provocation. Some Christians will not shut the fvck up even when you ask them to. I am very left wing except when it comes to Fundamentalists. As they harass people all the time, threaten others including their children with heII. They believe in corporeal discipline of their children. Overall, I cannot stop anyone who tells their children, along with a backhand to the face, that they will go to heII for being bad. Sterilize them.
Reply: I am with you all the way with Jesus Christ as He is also my Savior and I am waiting for Him to call His church home because that is my hope. Yet, when Borg relates to "Speaking Christian" I can relate to his definition of this. For it has been my "walk with Christ Jesus" that provokes me to "talk about Christ Jesus" and that means to me as to His testimony that He has given to me as a Christian. What that says to unbelievers is that they can not only hear "The Talk" but they can see "The Walk" and that is the fruit of the Spirit is our walk with Christ. There is a book, The Christian atheist, by Craig Goreschel that explains this in detail. He was a "Christian atheist" who came to know the Lord personally and became a "walker" and a "talker" thank you for listening. Beth L.
Hmmm, kind of weird that the name of the guy that wrote "Speaking Christian" is Borg. However, in this case it's not Resistance is Futile; it's essential.
God’s word sets the standard of what is moral or immoral. However, man had his hand in the addition or omission of books, and any changes that may have been made ‘for the good of the Church.’ The Bible is the best guideline for moral living that we had. Now we are finding other books or scrolls, from the time of Jesus, and metal plates with God’s message before the time of Jesus. Scribed by Gods chosen people, the Jews who left Jerusalem before is was destroyed. Stories of Moses, slaves, and the coming birth of our Savior, Jesus. The stories are from the plates that were translated into the Book of Mormon. Brought to America by those Jews that left Jerusalem. There is evidence of DNA found in America, not the Inca, but America. We are saved thru Jesus, our Lord, not good works, you do good works because, you believe In Jesus. This from a rebel Methodist. So if you are not a closed mind, what do you have to lose? Your soul?…
Kill those who work on the Sabbath. Kill disobedient kids. Kill gays .... etc. That's how moral the Christian religion is.
We should get together and compare websites. Here's mine http://gaychristian101.com. I think you'll relate to it.
You are the very picture of ignorance. There were moral codes before the Old Testament. There is nothing new in Christianity. Nothing.
Neither in 2000 years has anyone been able to disprove the Bible – and many have tried.
Nonsense. The bible even disproves itself, by not being internally consistent.
Have you even read the Bible?
Dude, it's been thoroughly debunked. No First Holocaust (aka Flood). No Exodus. I could go on.
Did you have a revelation from God or was that your Anthroplogy Professer that informed you of that?
LOL!!!!!! Mike, you are a gullible fool.
Now that you mention it... I don't think anyone has ever disproved Mother Goose, either...
Too many fools on this circuit. I am a well trained Physicist and I know about the history of the earth with evidences from [Geo]chemistry, physics, biology and the like and yet know that they all have holes and are "not proofs" of anything
Could you tell me in your professional opinion then why I should believe in God? Because certain sciences haven't been perfected to answer every question?
Wheeeee! Trolling is fun!
The reality is that every field research and science debunks the bible.
Sorry. You can spew all the nonsense you want but we are not buying.
You are just another half-wit theist, pretending to have a scientific education to bolster your credibility. What is your degree, where did you earn it, and where have you worked in science?
Dear Knowlegeable, I am sorry to hear that you think that you know it all, I am sorry to hear that you know everything except the truth of where you are coming from. I do hope that one day He gives you the opportunity of knowing His word from a book called The Bible, starting on knowing how to be humble, would be a good start for you, I am not trying to say that you are doing something wrong but just to give you the best advise that a person that cares for the soul of a brother in Christ......Love You
Call me crazy but i'll take the mountain of evidence that is demanded in order for a theory to be accepted over the complete lack of evidence that is religion. My perception of reality needs to have some hard facts backing it up.
Since you improperly capitalized "physicist", and don't know the plural of "evidence" is not "evidences", we can only conclude you are a fraud.
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.