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.
And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and
My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."
Do I speak ignorance? No, sorry; I'd prefer to live in reality.
As you continue in your ministry, you will know if you are on the right track by this one standard. If you become more anger filled or more hopefull you will know the way. To turn from anger to hope is not in the nature of man, but the hopeful turn to anger quite readily. Choose the harder path!
From one delusion to another, wow, what progress !!
*Yawn* It must be sunday morning because the religious mumbo jumbo is front and center on CNN's page this morning, as it is every week.
Knowing sports stats doesn't make you bi-lingual. That's not how bi-lingual works!
I am a believer in Yeshua – yeah, that's his real name, if you didn't know. I chose to be baptized as an adult and follow Christ. I was part of a "church" for over 2 decades but recently abandoned modern Christianity after my wife died due to following a religious cult. Modern Christianity has morphed and deviated so far from ancient Christianity that even the first disciples of Christ would never recognize modern Christianity as something that began with them. Love the Lord and do good to others because that is all that is going to count when you stand before the Judge on the Day of Judgement. It won't matter what church you went to and not what you believed, but rather what you did for others.
Fictional characters do not have real names, numb skull.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
Borg is an Episcopalian theologian, not an Episcopal theologian. Get your terms correct.
Christians wearing a cross... If there ever were such a person and everything surrounding the story were true and he actually came back to earth, do you really think he would want to see a crucifix? That's like being run over by a car, coming back from the dead and seeing millions of people with you smashed on a windshield around a necklace... I'd hate cars not want it glorified.
He came to die, to give salvation, and to say that I have went through death and have been over it so do not be scared of it for I will give you the crown of life. This cross reminds us of the salvation he have been here for to offer for us. It is something that he put his most effort in and we appreciate it because it is our green card to heaven after we have been exiled from there because of our original sin.
Oh wait, this is the comment board where religious people and non-religious people bark insults and other nonsense at each other, isn't it? Never mind I have nothing to say. :(
But you've already...
Naaahhhm I dont really think so. It's more like that Christians see something and think that it is the best and Atheist see something totally different and think that it is the best, and each of them because they love each other so much want to prove their point by saying "This is better for you buddy because so and so and so ... "
The three most important words in my faith – Surrender. Study. Obey. Christ paid for my sins, I accept that and I unapologetically serve the Triune Godhead. There is an inner peace that comes from my relationship with God that makes me whole. The author of this blog does provide some intriguing thoughts... I felt I might as well add mine to the mix.
Where are they?
"my delusion makes me feel safe and serene"
I am a born again Agnostic. The more I read the bible the more I am convinced it is false.
Marcus Borg is pushing/parroting the ideals of the Emergent Church (a group of misguided, false teachers). Examples include: "'believe' actually means 'beloved' which means you can take a figurative (not literal) interpretation of the Bible" and "salvation is about the current life, not about heaven/hell." Rob Bell and his followers are on a systematic journey to "repaint" truth found in the Bible. Christians, I encourage you to know your Bible inside and out so that you do not "perish for lack of knowledge." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzvKOgCrag8
I don't know anything about Borg's association with the emergent movement, but it is an interesting move for him to accuse others of beliefs that are not in line with historic Christianity. He, just to pick one glaring example, doesn't believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, something the early church took to be foundational.
Also, I find it irritating that he claims people "don't know what they are talking about", when actually they just hold to a form of Christianity that has different emphases and is less intellectually sophisticated (in his opinion). It is fine that he disagrees with them, but it would be nice he acknowledged that their views are as much a part of the discussion as his.
Finally, since when is it news that Christians, who share common beliefs, also use a special set of terms that describe these beliefs? The article at times acts like this is something sinister, specially designed to exclude others and make one feel superior. Are baseball fans trying to form an exclusive group when they talk about a pitcher's ERA? Or are they simply using this jargon to discuss something specific to their interests?
What?! You mean people are espousing religious rhetoric without actually understanding the significance of their proclamations? I am aghast, dear sir, AGHAST to learn of such a thing! The fact is, we all just spout comfortable slogans and regurgitated ideas. Those who "speak Christian" should hear that they're saying nothing new, nothing revolutionary, nothing brilliant and nothing significant. Just like all of us who are suddenly interested in zombies, bacon, fixed-gear bicycles and the phrase "not so much". If you cut the link to the seratonin, all of that Christian gibberish debases into nothing more than a parlor meme. You are worm food.
You really pegged the bacon, zombies, and "not so much" prase. I can't stand that people make the same stupid jokes day in and day out like they were the first to invent. We get it...bacon is good. You don't have to tell us "everything is good with bacon" every other day. The fact is bacon isn't good with everything so stop saying it. Come up with new jokes and move on. Thos epeople are so annyoing and then I get asked why I'm so grumpy. I'm not...I just don't find the bacon joke silly anymore.
I believe that there was a Jesus Christ. I believe that there is a superior force (God, Allah, Jehovah, aliens…whatever) at work.
I believe that much of what is in the bible is true (though much is not or at the very best TWISTED by man through the years).
What I do not believe in is MAN and RELIGION. Religion categorically robs man of spirituality because religion is man made. Man is about power and control and influence and greed and self service.
And what I can not stand is people that presume they can bless me. "God bless you"………."Have a blessed day"………"God be with you"………….."Bless you son"………….."You are blessed"……
Please…………so you have such a special relationship with God that YOU can invoke his blessings on me???
Keep your comments to yourself…………keep your religion to yourself……….basically……shut up!!!
Spirituality is a relationship with a higher being or power. It is personal, private and without judgement or hate for others. It does not seek to convert or control. It does not need a building. It does not need a group of people. Hmmmmm…..some of this may sound familiar………does the name Jesus Christ ring a bell?
Well I think you're being a little sensitive about the blessings. I don't see it as someone invoking his blessings upon me as much as someone is giving the request to God or showing that they hope God will do something good for you. "God bless you" to me is someone asking God to bless you. "Have a blessed day" is someone hoping you have a good day and that maybe asking God to smile upon you that day. "God be with you" is again someone's hope that God will look out for you. "Bless you son" sounds more like Catholicism unless it's some older man or woman that adds son on the end of anything to someone younger than them, but still it's just a hope for you. "You are blessed" might be someone's way of saying God has already blessed you because you seem rewarded in life to me. I think if you take it as someone being polite to you and you stop being so sensitive about it, then you might not be so bothered by it and you might not read into it the way you are wanting to read into it. I think it's your way of looking to be annoyed throughout the day at something. You seem to select the well-wishing by others to show how you don't care. You need to learn patience and just allow people to say polite things to you and not take it as them invoking God's blessings on you. Either way you need to relax a little and God bless you.
I have no comment on the way you have been addressing your opinion. I would just like to answer you on your two main problems with Christianity: Being washed with the blood of Jesus and Getting born Again.
According to the Blood of Jesus:
The law that was given to Moses back then said that if someone have sinned, there would not be any forgiveness unless the is blood shed for it. and that the price of sin is death. But still everyone that would die would go to Hades. Why? because there was an original sin that was inherited (you can call it the biggest one) which got Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. So God did not like the fact that all the people would just die because of what Satan have led Adam and Eve in. That's why he added his own offering that would be given for the forgiveness of this original sin which is through shedding the blood of God himself. Here I think it is completely logical because God is being just by not breaking the rule and at the same time merciful because he payed the price for us. Being washed of having it sprinkled on us or even drinking it is now all almost the same thing to say that he have gave us the money to pay for the ticket for heaven in whatever this shape of the price is.
According to being born again:
This is the rewording of accepting the Holy Spirit in you. Because you are already born with morality that would tell you what is right and what is wrong in some obvious situations but the Holy Spirit is something guides you and makes you feel like you're all new when you get baptized. I can't tell you that this is practically a new rebirth as you are saying. But I can assure you that this is practically God's spirit dwelling within the baptized person. And even though it can have control over that person (or any other) God never treats us like dogs and drags us down the way. But he shows his will in your life and you have the free will to accept it or reject it and take on yours.
And hey, we also love you guys. This is not a fight. You can better call it what each one sees that best and wishes the other to see it. That's why we're debating on this. No beggy if you do not agree with me but i would love to know your opinion.
Circular arguments, please go away :).
I think it is so interesting how people are so ready to discredit the teachings of Jesus and the living Word of God but are quick to believe anything another man said. Yes I said man. Buddha was just a regular man looking for enlightenment and Confucious was just a man that was confused. The Bible and Word of God has been proven by science and history time and time again to be true. PROOF!!!
And to 'an atheist’s perspective' a longer example of what? TRUTH!
'john' that says Jesus never claimed to be God needs to read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John where Jesus claimed to be God over and over again. Performed miracles everywhere HE went. Then HE died and CAME BACK TO LIFE!! No man has ever in history been able to be crucified or die and then bring themselves back to life. Why do you think they killed him! As Jesus said in John 1:1-4 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Then in John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Did you catch that?? The Word was God and then the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus the only begotten son of God. Why because God love YOU so much that HE wanted an intimate relationship with you that HE knew because we sin and our sin separated us from God that we where going to need a Savior. GOD foretold of the coming of Christ since the beginning when HE was in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:13-14.
As for the atheist that claims that atheist know more about the Bible than so called believers must not be talking to true believers founded on the Word. Because I read my Word not as a book for good reading but because it is the living word of God. Because it is Gods truth and love letter to me. But I don't just read my Bible to seek God but I talk to God and hear HIS voice and know truth from untruth. That is what HE created us for. INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. I would not have a good relationship or even a relationship at all with my husband if I never talked to him and if I did not hear him talk back to me. God wants to talk to you but only when you receive the true Way that HE has given in JESUS then will you be saved and be able to have a relationship with HIM. That is biblical. God Bless You all and I pray for you those that have a hate for Jesus or just don't care. Because even those that say they don't believe in God are making themselves to be god. Because then you chose what is right and wrong, truth and untruth. Or those that believe in science don't you see that is your religion. That is the way you have chosen. In the end when you die you will be judged by God and if you have you didn't ever accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in your life then because of the sin that is before you, unfortunately for you that will lead you to the wide path of destruction. But God doesn't want that at all. That is why I take the time to tell you JESUS LOVES YOU so much that he laid down HIS life for you. Died a brutal death and beared the sins of the world even though HE himself had never sinned. Conquered death so you could have everlasting life when you believe in HIM. I will pray for you that your eyes will be open to HIS truth and then you will see when you believe. :)
Kinda like how christians were so ready to discredit the scientific TRUTHS of Galileo, DaVinci, and every other scientific mind of the Dark Ages (It was known as the Dark Ages for a reason).
Thank you for proving the article correct.
You have been brainwashed.
Arguing with people like that is pointless. He's either a troll (if so then it's a rather amusing one) or s/he's beyond reason. They don't get that atheists aren't atheists because they "hate Jesus", but because we can no more believe in God than we can believe the sky's pink with yellow stripes.
Though I will answer your question simply because I find you so darn amusing: A longer example of "Christian-speak".
And the winner of the "longest comment in an internet article" award is....
Totally agree and support what you have said. The only two positive replies that I find until now are of (Ryan) and (An Atheist's Prospective). But I still see that the points you are trying to make a little unclear. I think what you mean is that there is no Bible and there is no God and we still give you guys biblical proofs that you do not even believe that they exist. Thank God we at least reached a conversation here. I remember that at one point of time I was almost out of the faith like you guys are now and that I started to think of Christianity as of stories on papers for some long time. Until God have shown me something that have happened in my country. Have you seen the appearations of Saint Mary last year in Egypt. First it did happen because scientifically anything that is witnessed by more than 500 people must be really physically seen. Another thing is that after the appearations have happened over this very poor church, and a lot of people did not believe in it, we said ok. We can say that this is not true if any of the Muslim nations or Mosques was ever able to make the same amount of light (which was almost like the light of the sun on 12 pm but it was technically 12 am) and make the same moves (because when St. Mary actually appeared in one of those time she carried the cross of the doom of the church and put it over her head). And nobody said a lot about that story any more. From here I had a turning point that told me OK then everything here must be true in some way. My job is to find this way. And until today I have not had a question that was not logically answered about the bible.you guys are welcome to ask any and I would do my best to answer.
The only thing you ever get out of a Jesus freak is a sermon...Fruit cakes...!!
Personally I don't dislike Christians, any more than I dislike the everyday Catholic in the pew.
My problem is with their leaders.
Leaders who speak of the vileness of others even as they proclaim God loves everyone. (And commands them to do it as well.)
Leaders who claim they are victims of discrimination even as they discriminate themselves.
Leaders who demand respect for their beliefs even as they denigrate the beliefs of others.
Okay guys. Nobody have answered me yet or even questioned any of what I have said. Why are you so off topic at replying to this comment. Can someone hold a real conversion with me for a second. I would be really interested to know what you guys think about us and about our belief but what I have seen from all the comments until now is just saying nothing that we can really argue about. For any one that says that he hates all Christians and that the leaders are the problem, I would argue with you about that saying that you do not have to follow the leader. You can read the Bible, if you have any questions ask a leader or anyone else if you would like. I personly think that speaking about God is a serious subject that if you are not 100% sure of, then you should do research and read and talk to people about it because it's not that small of a thing and it can be something that would determine an eternal position u might be in later on.
@Orthodox Believer – The flaws and fallacies inherent in your “faith” are innumerable, so I’ll just go with one of the easiest: your Jesus loves everyone unconditionally, but if we don’t submit to his rule we’ll burn eternally in hellfire. The only way to salvation is through Jesus, but what about babies born on the other side of the world who never get that chance? What about people born in Muslim or Hindu or Jewish countries that never get to hear the message of your faith? Your all loving, all forgiving Lord doesn’t love or forgive them enough to spare them an eternity of torment? Your entire faith is the basic carrot-and-stick philosophy. Do as you say and you get an eternal reward. Dissent and you’re eternally punished. What a childish and downright stupid way to look at the beauty of existence.
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.