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.
Spiritual Snobbs? No doubt where this CNN writter is coming from.
Everyone has a belief no matter how much they claim not to have one. It takes a strong belief to spew hate and contrive misinformation against different faiths. There is an entire community that believes there is no god and the bible is a fairy tale. It is the opposite of a faith based community. This belief system has many denominations just as the faith based community has many denominations. One denomination believes there is nothing after death or before birth. A Christian can no more comprehend that as say an atheist can comprehend the God of Hebrews. Some go so far as to deny Jesus ever existed. Some denominations think there is something out here they just don't know what. Yet one thing for sure it is not the God of the Bible but could be a Buddha like being etc.. Either way it boils down to two basic conditions of the human mind and heart. Jesus as in all that related to life and spirit made all things clear regardless of faith or no faith.
There were two criminals crucified with Christ one on the left and one on the right. One continued to ridicule, spit and curse Christ in keeping with the rest of the crowd while the other said "don't you fear God even when you are dying? we deserve this yet he has done nothing wrong. Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom"
Regardless of denomination it is easy to see the difference between these two criminals. Neither side can deny where they fall. One side will be with Jesus and the other not. What is so wrong with wanting everyone to be in a better existence? Neither criminal was forced into their position and both will receive what was in their heart and on their mind. Fair enough?
See "fair enough" above.
Bald is not a hair color.
You are like all the others with an STD. You want to be the same as everyone else, but you can't.
Admit you are infected with Christianity, and stop trying to infect others.
I would say Agnostics come the closest to having no belief. They neither assert that God exists or doesn't exist, and that either idea is possible; we just don't have enough information to determine the correct answer.
I think it varies on the denomination. I'm a Christian and I have never heard of any of the phrases the author mentioned.
"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."
-Not exactly. John Nelson Darby did not invent the term “Rapture” which is cited in the OED as early as 1768. He was, rather, the first to suggest the Rapture would occur before the Tribulation, after others had always supposed it would take place during the Tribulation.
“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.”
-Not exactly. Those who don’t believe Christians will be taken up to Heaven before the Tribulation begins believe they’ll be taken up halfway through the Tribulation, and will still not have to endure the suffering of non-believers. All Christian teaching has always taught that Christians will rise to meet Christ and will not have to endure the Tribulation.
“Christianity’s goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better,” he writes.”
-Not exactly—while it's true Christians are taught to care for the people of the world in order to lead them to Salvation, he’s still referring to the Rapture here. And when the Rapture occurs, Christians will indeed “escape from this world” as it will finally be enduring its total and complete destruction. When our work is finished on earth, we have the promise that we will not have to endure the punishment and torment non-believers will face during the Tribulation.
I appreciate your take or interpretation on the Christian narrative.
Still -0- proof that any of this will happen, but still appreciated your interpretation.
In order for the "Rapture" occur, various items in the Book of Revelation must take place first:
Putting things in proper perspective:
"Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books". Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." 
Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."
THANK YOU, PENNY! Very well said, and very true. The rapture, as we call it, it something we all look forward to and long for! And whether the others, or anybody, understands it or not, doesn't make it untrue So many try to understand the Bible and what it says, when the only way to really come to any understanding of it is to know the Author. When you personally know the Author, He reinforces the Truth of all that is written.
The Rapture is NOT a scriptural teaching. Be careful of the "traditions of men"...
In order for this "rapture" to realistically take place some sort a cataclysm must unfold. WWW-3 perhaps? Influenza of such an epidemic the likes mankind hsa never seen? A meteorite the size of Texas punneling from Celestial Heaven? All these questionable variants have and are and will be upon the mindset of past, present and yet to come Cultures of Society.
You Said: " The rapture, as we call it, it something we all look forward to and long for! "
You do realize that what you are looking and longing for would mean in the highly unlikely even that you are correct, that billions of people will burn in hell forever, according to your mythological narrative...?
Is it... oh well, too bad for the non-believers... ya' had your chance...? Unless you are a Calvinist, and it really didn't matter in the first place as God already pre-determined who was going to heaven and hell.
You Said: " And whether the others, or anybody, understands it or not, doesn't make it untrue "
And... whether you understand it or we don't understand it, doesn't make it 'true.' right...?
I have studied the New Testament numerous times and I can in NO way understand where this idea came from that anyone gets to avoid the tribulation. I don't see how half a verse from one book of the New Testament and half a verse from a completely different book can be slapped together and called a doctrine. And even when I've read the half verses together, nothing suggests that anyone gets to skip out early.
The way I see it, we have to be strong enough in our faith to be able to stick it out to the end.
Christian is a cult language used to rationalize hate, child buggery, fraud and bigoted hateful deluisions.
It is time to crush the Bronze Age haalucination before more innocents die.
Wako, Narway, Aushwitz, Ruby Ridge, Jonestown. How long will this cult be permitted to kill innocents?
you can't be the original demuth....demuth could at least spell reasonably well
Wow, what a misspelled load of hooey!
Good thing for you that they don't require you to have your facts straight before you post.
Waco? The government attacked and people died.
Ruby Ridge? The government attacked there, too.
Norway? The guy has already admitted that he's not a Christian, so that example doesn't fly, either.
Auschwitz? "Hitler and his final solution to the Jewish problem" is to blame there. He was into the occult in a big way and believed in Germanic mythology. That example doesn't work.
Jonestown? Jim Jones was not Christian. His church worshipped him as absolute sole authority on earth.
That's an EPIC FAIL for you, loser boy.
I speak gibberish
I speak giberish
I appreciate John Blake including some of my comments in this post. Blake has tapped into an important conversation ... about conversations with and among Christ-followers. However, it is important to remember that language unites cultures and sub-cultures. We all have favorite phrases, metaphors and quotes that we frequently use within our families, for instance. So. of course church communities will have the same. What is important is that whether in another country or amidst another sub-culture group, we care enough to endeavor to speak their language in order to exalt Christ and serve his Gospel. The Apostle Paul said, "I become all things to all men that by all means I may win some." Language is a gift and a tool. We need to use it wisely and compassionately; not to alienate, but to communicate.
Also – I believe that Borg's dismissal of the term "The Rapture" is an overstatement. Several Christian denominations and theologians defend the belief in a "catching away" of believers. But, I will discuss that further in my blog this week at Patheos.com – http://bit.ly/kIWbUp
You Said: " What is important is that whether in another country or amidst another sub-culture group, we care enough to endeavor to speak their language in order to exalt Christ and serve his Gospel. "
Who is "we"...?
By reading the comments on this Blog it seems very obvious to us that people need to learn more about the gayness of Christ . The truth of Christ’s gayness is coming out more and more each day. For a better understanding of this scriptural verse we invite you to visit our website http://www.gaychristian101.com
His old man was gay as well.
He advertised as a man who works on other mens wood, and we thought he meant carpenter.
This article reminds me of an anthropologist bumbling around a foreign country barely understanding what is going on and then writing up a smug report purporting to explain them to academia.
I was raised evangelical, am not anymore but I can tell you that he uses these words, but has no concept of the layers of meaning that they have. The meaning is not literal, it is spiritual, emotional, metaphorical, rooted in parables, bible verses and deeper evangelical concepts. Nor is the intent is not to have a secret code language, no moreso than Buddhists who talk about dukka, or Muslims who talk about haram. They are just words whose meaning exists in the deeper context of the religion.
Here's a word of advice, if you want to understand evangelical Christians, rather than reading a half-cooked article on CNN, talk to one or go to their services. Evangelical christianity can't be boiled down to a few words, it is a worldview. It is lived and experienced, not conveyed in a news article.
You Said: " The meaning is not literal, it is spiritual, emotional, metaphorical, rooted in parables, bible verses and deeper evangelical concepts. "
So... open for 'interpretation' yes...? Hence the ~38,000 denominations of Christianity all with their own interpretation on the bible verses.
as usual, it's Christians making up their very own religions for each one of them. Each has their own version of God and not surprisingly, this god likes exactly what the believer does, giving him the illusion of having divine approval for everything they do. Each Christian is so very sure that those "others" aren't TrueChristians, but none of them have any more proof that they are. No doing miracles just like Jesus, as Jesus supposedly promised, nothign to show that their god is any less imaginary than the next.
THE SINGLE GREATEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRACTIONERS OF ISLAM & ALL OTHER RELIGIONS IS that even while our religious texts may have some discriminatory or even hateful references to people of other faith, WE DISOWN THEM & SURELY DON'T AT ALL LIVE BY THEM, Muslims don't have that LUXURY. Either they accept everything in their Holy Koran, the Haddith etc. or RISK BEING THEMSELVES LABELLED INFIDELS with resultant consequences!!!!
aka, you pick and choose what you like in your religion, decidign that your god didn't "really mean" those parts you don't like. Nice way to have some "divine" truth there. :P
Get your facts right!
Who are you talking to?
If any man among you seems to be religious and does not bridleth(bits for a mule,horse etc) his tongue; he deceives his own heart (kidding himself) and his religion is vain. Next question
I enjoyed reading this article, especially about the historical beginnings of the rapture concept. I think we Christians do often speak in ways that would confuse or discourage non-believers or new believers.
I agree with your post MidwestGirl. I, too, am a Christian, and when I first started attending a church about 10 years ago, I was very intimidated by some of the church-goers because of this language that I didn't understand. Believers need to speak in plain English, and not show off, in order to portray their best for new and potential believers. They just seemed to be showing off to me. Either that, or they were too naive to see.
The saying that "people perish because of lack of knowledge" sums up so much when it comes to so many that call themselves Christians..people want everything in the world to be microwaved "popcorn" quick therefore the make up of so many in the church have become just that "popcorn" christians..they want a quick sermon, they want a quick prayer, and then they expect God to give them a quick answer..but until people start to read and study for themselves there will always be these zombies inside these churches and these pimps behind these pulpits....check it our http://www.pimpreacher.com
A couple of thousand years ago, this article would have been written by a member of the Sanhedran or Rabbi or other teacher of the law. In John 9, a man cured of blindness was shouted at by the teachers, “You're too ignorant to know what you're talking about.” Jesus, as usual, does an end run around the scholars. Jesus was more interested in the language of the soul. This article is irrelevant.
On the Belief Blog, CNN always stays true to their M.O.
1. Pick controversial topic. This is the B.B. so that's not too hard.
2. Pick some shmuck that obviously doesn't have a clue about what he/she is writing about.
3. Turn out a totally misguided, misinformed, one-dimensional story.
This story is utter nonsense, from the Ti-tle all the way through to the last "period". How can you write a story about Christianity without even bothering to mention even a few of the BASIC doctrinal concepts that form the very foundation of Christianity?? Words like...Sin, or Repentence, or the Cross. The way this story is written is akin to writing a story "about" Football that mentions the tail gate parties, the various jersey colors, etc but wouldn't say anything about the BASICS of the actual sport itself. Totally devoid of any substance whatsoever.
I find it repugnant that in the article the "name it and claim it" false doctrine is lumped into the idea of REAL Christianity. This is not in the Bible ANYWHERE...period. This "health and wealth" garbage was dreamed up completely by apostate individuals who seek to try and use God as their personal "Genie in a bottle". All the Eddie Long's, the Creflo Dollar's, and the Benny Hinn's. The false doctine these guys spew out isn't REAL Christianity. Most (if not ALL) of the truly devout followers of Jesus in the Bible were dirt poor people. I find it almost UNbelievable that people who would have even a casual understanding of the Bible could buy into the idea that you can "believe" God for a new house, or a Bentley, or ....(fill in the blank). It's ludicrous. But, unfortunately (and the author proves this point) this is what most people think of when they think of Christianity. And this demontrates the spiritual vacuum that many many people live in. You could tell em almost anything and they'd believe it.
As a Christian, let me clear it up for ya. There is no Christian "speak". It's not some secret club where you have to be able to know the secret knock to get in the door, or know some mysterious password. To suggest this only servers to futher the idea that Christians are somehow an elite group of people that seek to exclude everyone. Maybe there are some groups that try to do that, but these people aren't practicing REAL Christianity. Real Christians are meek, humble, gentle, caring, patient, genuine. Real Christians don't view church as a country club. They view it as a light house where ALL are welcome. Real Christians know that we're ALL sinners, everyone of us. They don't go around all pious acting like they've got it all figured out. The only thing Christians have figured out is how hopeless the "human condition" is apart from a one on one relationship with Jesus Christ. You can sum up EVERYTHING that's different between a Christian and a non-Christian with this statement...
"A Christian is someone who has recognized their need for a savior (Jesus Christ) and has personally invited Him into their lives and surrrendered control to Him".
All the other differences mean squat!!!
You pretty much proved one of the authors point... You think you know everything, speak for everyone and beleive that your narrow-minded view of the world is the only possible way.
I think we must have read the article a little differently, maybe I infered a tone; but I think the article was actually trying to say the same thing as you. The author mentions the phrases that you're agains, and describes the practices and "name adn claim" mentality- but he doesn't advocate them, in fact he seems to be recommending a reduction in christian colloquialisms. So, maybe just my read, but I think you may be in violent agreement with the author.
"You pretty much proved one of the authors point... You think you know everything, speak for everyone and beleive that your narrow-minded view of the world is the only possible way."
That was the author's point??? I'm sorry, I thought that nonsense was about how Christians are supposed to have some kind of special lingo so we'll know who to exclude and who to let in. I don't claim to everything. Never have. Maybe YOU missed the point of MY post. I came right out and said I don't think Christians have it all figured out. We do however understand one thing though. If we(humans) die in our sins we're lost without hope.
If you've got a problem with that message, I'm afraid you need to take that up with the One who wrote the Book.
Christian speak is not a language. It is a way, for professed Christians, to communicate so they may influence the misguided and easily used who might believe that Christianity makes everything right.
Christians need to realize that we weren't sent here to judge. We are here to show the Love of Jesus Christ and bring other to him through our actions. Condemning them does nothing but bring us down. Sure, we've gotten bad a bad rap through news and more, but don't let the actions of few speak for all, and don't twist what we say for your own personal glory. Live your life how Jesus would expect you to and don't let others talk you out of it. Speaking through parables or stories are fantastic ways to give an understanding of what we believe and how we are to act. If they don't listen, move on to those who will. Blessings to all who accept him and peace to those who don't!
I would have to say that the given examples from the Bible do not hold any airetll theological significance for Christians. Jesus has dissolved all the requirements of the OT laws and ritiuals by his passion work. As a result the Mosiac law has been superseded by Jesus which Paul clear relates in Galatians. I wonder if some better hermeneutical methods are required in order to have a better understanding of the issues involved in the texts and their broader context, the historical and cultural context also. The common arguments about strange laws like not sowing different seeds in the same field' and the above example of blended cloth' had important significance in within their proper cultural and theological understanding. One simple reason then behaved like this was it made the people of Isreal different because many of the religious practices of the nations around them had some of types of things as part of the cults practices. God wanted them to show who then belonged to by doing the opposite. Don't NZ'rs like to wear certain coloured clothing to show where their loyalty resides? Why then can't they wear unblended cloth for the same reasons? Also if I read it as a 21st century secular person then without any background then one can come up with a weaker interpretation of the text. Yet we read different types of genre for example and have different expectations and interpretations of them. Do I read the news paper in the same way a comic book? Of course not. The Bible is a challenging book and needs some homework being done when interpreting it. The issue of airetllism needs to be addressed. It seems to be used because the culture has been conditioned to view it as something associated with ignorance and to be feared. The Bible does have airetll statements, but the content and context will aid one with where the meaning lies. It is not full of airetll statements, but this type of thinking seems to show the type of presupposition might need to be reevaluated.
What a waste of time... and someone actually got paid to write this trash?
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.