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.
Read John Chapter 3 about being Born Again. Jesus explains it to Nicodemus.
Salvation is also in the Bible: "For By Faith are we SAVED, through Grace, not by works lest any men may boast."
Borg clearly hasn't read the Bible or at least the Gospels and Epistles of Paul.
Ok, but which version and translation shall we read? Since they all say things slightly differently, how is one to know which version to rely on?
Read Avengers #8 page six, line three.
It clearly says "Hulk Will Smash"!
Luckily most do not base their lives around a comic book.
Why do you?
"Do you speak Chrisitian?"
No. I speak English, Scots, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.
the official language of the liturgy is Latin. I do not speak Latin.
Very few people these days do. This entire article is silly. Ask "Do you speak Latin?"
I agree. Like many other unflattering commentaries on Christianity, this article implies that all Christians fit a certain stereotype, when only a few think and speak like this. The problem is that down-to-earth, intelligent Christians are not vocal enough to convey their belief and faith and Christ's message...myself included. We need to work on this.
Mostly spot on– first thing I thought when I read that and the bit about most americans being bilingual– speaking sports or some other special interest technical vernacular. It's a bit hyperbolic, and I'm willing to extend the benefit that the author was aware that we (americans) generally only border on monolingual.
Regarding the rest, you must be mindful that Catholicism et al (Orthodox, et cetera) do not represent the entire religion– it's just a dominant sect. While Latin, indeed is the traditional language of that church, most of the specific sects mentioned post-date common usage for the language and so it would be at best a stretch to say that Latin is the language of the christian church. Let's not forget a significant portion of Martin Luther's revolt was the mandated usage of Latin– which none of the people spoke, in all official transcripts of the Bible and such. My guess is that if anything, some dialect of German would therefore be the 'original' language of that sect, but then again if we fast-forward a few hundred years it's basically on the Catholics that even have the concept– all of the rest go with native language and bicker about baptism and speaking in tongues and other such 'semantic arguments'.
-me, en,~ru,~es,~de (all fairly badly)
"They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort."
Hey, let's commend this man for saying something that we all agree upon! Of course, the phrases can be repeated over and over without understanding. The bible is a load of re-hashed phrases from earlier religions, along with a few simple ideas about ethics, and a few nonsense ideas like the "trinity". Get people to fear death by threatening them with eternal torture, they come to church and repeat the mindless phrases and.....You've a multi-billion dollar tax free industry!!
And all the little boys they can bugger!
To speak Christian?
I believe it is a language of indoctrination. Like any other ghetto slang, it is a shelter for small-minded people trying to rationalize their ridiculous, destructive and immoral behavior.
The examples provided are so clearly disgusting that it boggles the mind.
Anyone who believes his special relationship with a nonexistent savior from the Bronze Age implies a right to material wealth is so pathetic they are beyond contempt.
Instead of addressing the fraud, child buggery and psychosis rampant in the cult, they cheer each other on like drunkards at a gang Raype.
You make the same assertions like Alfred Rosenberg, who was Hitler's antichristian high priest and finally got a death sentence at Nuremberg by American judges.
I am reading Rosenberg's satanic book: "Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts" (available in English?), which is full of antichristian statements.
The same stupid cut and paste?
And this coming from a German who rails against Muslims like Hithler railed against the Jews.
Your nations history is EXACTLY why Americans ignore crazy German Christians filled with hatred for religions other than their own.
You see it is because we had to kill 27 million of you lunatics in the past, and frankly will probably have to do so again in the near future.
I look forward to it.
Mr. Demuth – as a Christian, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and it is only through the Son you get to the Father and Heaven. I say if you are right, well then, I have spent my life trying to live according to principles and a belief system that was not in fact true. But what if I am right? 80 years on Earth vs eternity is like a grain of sand on a beach. You've got all the rest of that sand to get through in a place you probably don't want to be........
The same nonesense being pushed by the indoctrinated for years.
Frankly, if your God was real, all he would ever get from me is contempt. Not to mention the MAJORITY of humans believe your God is at best a falsehood, and a worst a ponzi scheme run by old men who bugger little boys.
I applaude those who crucified him, and commit myself and my sons and daughters to doing the same if he ever returned.
I can imagine, by your impact the US will become as corrupt as Germany became at the time of the Third Reich by the impact of Rosenberg!
I don't hate the Muslim people, but their wicked Islam. I admit that I want to destroy the Islamic doctrine.
The history of Islam is a history of aggressive war and murder. Islam is similar to National Socialism (Hitler's doctrine). Every reasonable man is obliged to fight against the Islamic doctrine, because it harms the mankind.
I repeat: I don't hate Muslims. I wished, they would all convert to Christianity right now.
I will never harm an ordinary Muslim. Christ commanded love.
I look forward to YOUR war crimes trial.
I also look forward to seeing you and yours hanging from the end of a rope.
Go walk aroud Aushwitz before you EVER attempt to preach to an American.
We should have nuked you then, but I am confident we will get around to it.
Born again? What a nonsense!
We got not born again, but born from above by sacramental baptism. In most areas of lile the US are most advanced, but concerning the issue "how to become a Christian" there is seemingly absolute darkness.
We get born from above by water and Spirit!
Jesus has borne our sins on the cross. This we must believe, but the releasing power of Jesus sacrifice is dedicated to us by sacramental baptism, where we die and rise together with Jesus (at baptism all balks of time and space are removed by God's eternal power and the sacrifice of Jesus is made present).
the church down the street has a different interpretation of this so called "borne again" semantics battle... How do you, in your own mind justify to yourself that YOUR interpretation is the CORRECT ONE?? I don't understand how someone can have such little modesty in regards to their opinion... Lets go beyond the church down the street.... How is it that you're correct and yet millions of Muslims are wrong, millions of practicing Hindus are wrong, milions of Jews are wrong, I could go on and on... Do you even realize how much arrogance and vanity it takes to believe that YOU have the right opinion on matters such as these?? I feel sorry for you
We are decanted by the Ultimate Opener into mineral water from The Source ®.
is that kinda like Coors Beer.... Brewed from Rocky Mountain Fresh Springs??
I speak English, I think Christian – there is a difference. Talking Christian is nearly as bad as listening to Islam. They are beliefs, not activities, hobbies, or holidays. 365.25 days a year the only people you'll see praying at least once a day are the Islamist. They are firecy faithful to their belief. As the past teaches us that the Christians' can be pretty loud and boystris. I'm Christian and will remain one for the remainder of my life, but here's A few this I WILL NOT DO, I WILL NOT SPEAK ISLAMIST, DISAVOW CHRIST but rather disavow all the Bible say I should not follow. And since the Bible says I should ONLY FOLLOW CHRIST, all others are false profits. There, problem solved!
You are the problem "In America". Do the world a favor and look up tolorance. No matter which imaginary friend you look up too, there are a increasing number of us, that think both Christians & followers of Islam, are equally as misinformed, and equally hateful.
It is quite possible that Christians aren't usually seen praying once a day because of fear of being persecuted (not sure if that is correct word, but I hope you get the meaning). In a sense all Christian beliefs are being irradicated from the public, i.e. no Christmas trees, no public prayer, etc. It is a wonder if they are going to get rid of "In God We Trust" and "Under God". Muslims pray without fear because they know that we fear them. I am no expert and what I have said may not make entirely a whole lot of sense. I am a Christian and will forever remain one, but I believe more Christians would pray more publically and perhaps be more enthusiastic about their religion if they didn't have to face all this essentially anti-Christian sentiments.
"When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people, he says."
I've been saying this for years. Christianity has been hijacked. Christ taught inclusiveness. Most of today's Christians have turned it exclusive. It is a way for their low self esteem minds to show how much better they are than everyone else. Most Christians have forgotten exactly what it is that Christ came here to teach them.
I thought Christ came only to minister to the house of the lost sheep of Israel.
Essentially He did, but He taught the 12 apostles during His time in Israel and their mission was to spread the word throughout the world. You might have heard about the time when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, some time after Jesus was crucified. The Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak other languages and I believe the courage to go out and spread Catholicism.
The bible(not capitalized on purpose) is either the perfect word of God or its not... There cannot be any in between... Why?? If it is not, then it leaves room for personal interpretation... If the bible is intended to be a "road map" of sorts on how to live your life, what good is it if the meaning can be translated hundreds of different ways? That would be like having a road sign that says – STOP – but only if your interpretation of STOP means apply your brakes... To me stop might mean just simple yield to oncoming traffic... NO – obviously we have clear cut directives in our everyday lives... Why does the bible get a pass on this??
And, the New International Version and the Catholic bible both released new updated translations this year. Interesting how the "infallible" word of God changes so frequently.
Marcus Borg, Episcopal theologian, needs to go to a good seminary and get sound doctrine. The work "trinity" is not in the Bible either, but that does not mean it does not exist.
Yes, lets make up anything we want, because you can't prove it dosen't exist! I'm going to start small: Jesus wore striped socks everybody! You can't prove he didn't, so lets assume he did!
Ha ha ha ha! Nice one Jackdaw. I suppose the guy would have used the rapture, but since the author of this piece already blew that one completely out of the water, there's no way he could try to argue that one.
Striped socks... Sure I can go with that. But did he wear golf shoes and plaid pants like a golf pimp?
The word "trinity" is not in the Bible, and it also does not exist. God is one.
I finally figured out why religion was created!!!
^^ people thousands of years ago knew that for the hands down best reading anyone on earth could do on a monday morning at 9am in the 21st century.....CNN religion blogs! i love this stuff, watching everyone point a finger like they are the almighty knower of all knowledge and the other side will suffer for the error of their ways, just because a journalist did what they were supposed to do i.e. write a provocative article. Normally you would have to pay top dollar to witness bloodbaths like these! half the time i dont even read the article the comments are so much more entertaining. Now back to the action...
This guy is spot on. Too many of us christians think we know truth from a translated version of both Hebrew and Greek, but never take the time to find the real meaning of key words that form our doctrines.
kikicat5 on August 30, 2011 I luv my fteuaibul shiny long flowy black hair n_n its my most fteuaibul asset n_n (bit egotistic?? <3)
Everybody want to go up to Heaven, but none a' them want to die..
Let's die to ourselves and our selfish nature now? Allow Love to live...
@William, tolerance is a good thing. You should embrace it. Those terrible things happened because other people did NOT embrace it. If you dont, then you are no different from them.
YOU BE TOLERANT.
I intend to cook eat and kill my enemies, in that order
I'm looking forward to the time when we've all evolved passed giving media attention to adults with imaginary friends and the "magical" books they choose to live by, causing division among humanity.
I look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It's coming, I think. It won't be fast, and I'm not sure I'll live to see the day, but atheism and agnosticism are rising quickly in our culture.
I/m looking forward to the day when we are all decent and respectful to each other because that's the right thing to do, not because we are going to be rewarded at the end.
It will never happen.
Not sure I agree with above. It speaks of Literal meanings when even people who take the bible Literal know the difference between the Literal meanings and what is to be read as allegories, examples, and just stories to help you with your own life.
The old testament is a history of how even people chosen by God do the wrong thing over and over when they rely on their own way and not waiting or calling on the Lord. It shows just how wicked a heart can be; Jesus is the only one who stands worthy of Life eternal and only he can offer it to those who want it.
Jesus forgives it all; except unbelief. Now that is Literal and through out the bible it is implied, spoken of, and told in stories and fables. Some verses may try and dis-way the reader from believing this but as a whole there are more verses throughout that confirms this. Stick with Jesus tightly, but be cautious of his "fan club."
Why do you capitalize "Literal"?
Why do capitalize God?
I wonder... is "Behead those who insult Islam" considered 'speak[ing] Muslim'?
It is considered speaking radical Shiite, not Sunni. There is a vast difference.
Its all materialistic, true EXOTERIC living, and nothing Jesus would have taught to the original disciples. The only real christian was murdered and his message of change was hijacked by a religion. And they wonder why "many will be called, but few chosen", ESOTERIC LIVING NOW!
I don't think you understand the word "esoteric".
Real Christianity mainly died when the Church decided to change the meaning of the Bible. They added text to support their view of things and removed text that disagreed with what they wanted the sheep to believe. There is nothing new in Christianity that is not found in other religions.
esoteric is "internal" exoteric is "external", as a student of Gurdjieff's 4th way esoteric practice, I'm not confused about that.
Stupid bible beaters.. If you like religion, please kill yourself now!
That's Funny. So religious people should kill themselves says the Atheist? Well if all the Atheist killed themselves it would be a very small percentage of people missing. You guys are truly a dying breed. Your materialistic worldview has blinded you from the Truth good sir. Repent and Believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However I found this Article to be very good. People need to stop being "religious zombies" and study the history of their Faith before just signing up for a Faith not understanding the substance. I mean the majority of Christians in America can't tell you where their Bible came from, who put it together, and the whole 9. It's that type of ignorance that destroys the realiability of the person sharing their faith. That's why you get what we call Christianese language.
The Kingdom of God takes by force though and weeds/tares are being exposed. Thank goodness.
Grace and Peace,
Make no mistake, gay Jesus will return. Go to our website to learn more http://www.gaychristian101.com
Suffering succotash Sylvester! did you eat the tweety bird? Calling atheist materialistic and few, ...now that's funny and incorrect. ALL Mankind is materialistic and few ...in the larger scheme of the universe, not your mindset.
Nothing new under the sun – such liberal garbage should be trashed! Remember the New Word Order religion is here – you are watching and reading it's doctrinal statement. Beware!
Pad your walls and do some real research on your imaginary belief system. Seriously. RESEARCH. It's not a bad thing. Start with Horace for instance. Get some therapy too... you sound angry. I feel sorry for you.
Your religion is dying so you are attacking whatever is replacing it by spreading fear. You look like a psycho-pants.
Jackdaw, it's what they did in the beginning to crush all prior religions. Why wouldn't they try the same tactics today? A leopard never changes its spots.
yes reverend – trash it so the truth stays hidden... Its what leaders of all faiths of done for thousands of years... Hmmmm, how do we keep our flock indoctrinated and make sure they question nothing we tell them?? I got it!! Let's burn the books that disagree with us and keep everyone in the dark!! That will work!! Well guess what Rev. – welcome to the internet and the free flow of information it provides... I have to ask you and all leaders of faith who profit from the fear of others – What's it like watching the damn break around you, trying to stick your fingers in each hole, only to realize that there is now way to stop it... Your faith – like so many blind, archaic faiths of the past is dying... And its dying on your watch...
@Rev. Tom Newton,
Saying , "There is nothing new under the sun" Sociologically spaked is a Truth. But for One to say that Today's Time' Sciences are nothing New is a falsehood. :-( My favorite saying is; "Of GOD, By God men are AS gods" in the Totem POle Vernacular so to say! :-) Don't ya just Love the written WORD? :-)
Marcus Borg does not believe in the resurection so it is no surprise that he doesn't believe in the rapture. The biblical doctrine of the rapture is clearly in the Bible so to say it was not taught till after 1850 is just stupid. I know the word "rapture" isn't in the Bible, but the doctrine is and the word is a good description of what will take place.
I do think some people use "Christianese". But when you are around your friends you talk like them. I am around my Christian friends most so when I am around my non-christian friends I am careful not to throw those phrases around unless they are asking questions and then I will explain what they mean.
The "name it, claim it" stuff is bogus and is NOT biblical.
The concept of the Rapture only came about during the civil war when people's bodies were decimated by the new tools of war. Prior to that people were buried pretty much intact and the view was that they would be raised from the grave. However, with the dead missing major portions of their anatomy due to amputation, this view was no longer agreeable. Our beliefs change over time. Those who hold that theology is never changing miss all that history has brought to their beliefs.
You do realize that as soon as you use the argument "it's just stupid", anything else you say sounds silly?
Is it not "written" in the clouds, as in Job and many other verses of the KJVB? Are we to confess upon Christ's Written Words? Can you tell me TYLMN what you understand about that written of what Christ Himself hss spoken? :-)
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.