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.
SOME OF THE MOST COMPASSIONATE PEOPLE I HAVE COME ACROSS IN MY LIFE ARE MOST DEVOUT CHRISTIANS, BUDDHISTS, JEWS, HINDUS. Being a devout Hindu myself I can say that I have come across many more such people amongst Christians than even my own Hindus!
That includes people in my native India where some of the greatest charities, finest schools & hospitals are run by Jesuit groups. Many of these facilities are free and they never ask you if you were a Christian before they serve you, or even ask you if you would like to convert (at least not openly even though they may give some Biblical material). I have never seen their service suffer if you have refused their offer! Mother Teresa was a classic case. Having said that, again in my native India (just as here in America) some of the most feared men are devout Muslims – e.g. Shahi Imam of Jumma Masjid in Delhi who once threatened that “Rivers of blood will flow if the Babri Masjid is touched. He also regularly whips up communal forces and at election times negotiates on behalf of nearly 200 million Muslims of India whose decision is communicated by Mullahs all over the country in a matter of hours during Fri. prayers.
Incidentally the Babri Masjid was built after destroying Hinduism’s most sacred temple (akin to the Kaaba of the Muslim world in Mecca!). Having said that there surely are extreme fringes in every community incl. amongst my Hindus, Christians, Jews, etc. but they are THE EXCEPTION THAN THE NORM!
To my list I may also want to add Jains, Sikhs, Zorastrians etc. I have NEVER come across a Muslim charity that helped everyone irrespective of religion, race, caste etc. Amd, even if I did find one, I will never trust them with a penny of my money unless I made sure it was NOT MERELY A PUBLICITY GIMMICK!
But can you trust that any money you give to Christian charities won't get directed into programs to you find repugnant? Many of us can't.
In the world of Christian versus Lion, how come the lion usually won.........
I'm agnostic because I'm too lazy to be an atheist
@Druid: if you're really a Druid, you're not agnostic. ;) The lions won because Christians are non-violent. Christ said "be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves," "if someone hits you on the cheek, turn and let him hit the other cheek, too," "do good to those who persecute you." It's pure pacifism. That's why the lions won. That, plus their enormous weight advantage, combined with claws, fangs, and brute strength. But in the end, Christianity replaced many older pagan religions, so that's a pretty big win, too.
In the world of Christian versus Lion, how come the lion usually won.........
Because christians were the fodder. The lions did have to eat you know.
As an agnostic, don't you have terrible anxiety over not having decided to live your life as if God does, or does not exist? It's a lot harder to sin on a fence than stand on one side of it.
Shoot, I meant 'sit'.
I do speak christian but do I speak athiest? No because I'm not a crook and have a set of rules that govern my morality.
That was pure nonsense, bob.
@Bob: "Judge not, lest you be judged." How does being an atheist equate to being a crook? Or to lack of a set of rules governing morality? Atheism is the result of rational thought, that's all. It's a result of using the good sense that most people are born with. I'm a Christian and I can say, without any irony, I thank God that there are atheists. Belief in a god is irrational by definition. It's a belief based on nothing but a feeling. It's really very little different from believing in unicorns or Bigfoot. It just "feels" right. Atheism certainly makes more sense. Rational thought is nothing to fear or denigrate.
I don't normally watch videos posted here, but this one I watched twice. Very good stuff.
I do have a question: Do you also post under a different name? (I saw the same video posted elsewhere)
"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.
I find it amusing in a way that even somebody who seems as level-headed as Borg doesn't get even this basic, fundamental misunderstanding of believers regarding non-believers.
What holds most people at arm's length isn't necessarily them "speaking Christian", it's that basis of the religion that instills an obligatory sense of needing to "save" others that turns most of us off from even listening...let alone believing what you do simply because you might tell the story a better way.
When you believe that Christians are to "usher in god's kingdom here on Earth", and in the same breath imply that that's not the reason many turn away from the religion but rather it's because too many "Christians" don't know how to tell the story properly, you are just as delusional as the rest of them.
BTW, that "spiritual elitism" is built-in to the fundamental religious structure and cannot be separated. Even the very act of believing that you must "spread the word" of your beliefs to others is an exercise in self-righteousness.
You QS wrote; "BTW, that "spiritual elitism" is built-in to the fundamental religious structure and cannot be separated. Even the very act of believing that you must "spread the word" of your beliefs to others is an exercise in self-righteousness."
How so is "spiritual elitism" a "bult-in" structure of religious fundamentalism?
The Act of wanting to "spread the word" is to me a significant misnomer for Christ told His Apostles to "Go and PREACH the gospel/Truth to the whole world" did He not? I might be splitting hairs upon this issue. Within the Lands of the U S of America, Christendom is not where a True Christian of devoted individualism need "spread the word". Such is the works of a pastor or preacher of reverend or many other such Virtuosos of the Christendom Faith. I guess what I'm trying to say is unless one is such stay away from being a sidewalk preacher when one is not truly qualified to Preach.
I feel. led to share this with my team
$$$$ is all Christian Churches care about, Greedy bunch of Hippocrates.
would you call long hair Christian Churches Hippycrates?
Oh... you know that was a groaner ! It was soooooo bad that it did make me chuckle. :D
OMG! You atheists are crazy! you are completely looney tunes!!!!!!WAAAAAAAAH!!!!!
Well, now that you mention it, Bugs Bunny makes a heck of a lot more sense than Billy Graham...
*sigh* I wonder sometimes why more "Christians" don't try acting like Christ. So many of them seem quite the opposite.
"True" Christians don't Preach to others, they discuss and put questions about Christendom's ongoing activities and ask their Preachers queations regarding their views/perceptions about the Bible. At least They should and such should stop trying to be love-letter chrstians or sidewalk preachers. Leave the preaching to otehrs to the real thing Preachers! :-)
I think the writer of this article loves to profile people. All Lutherans are one way, all Pentecostals are one way, all Baptists are one way. In reality I don't think he has a clue of what people believe and of course how could he.
I think there is a definite agenda on just about every article on this particular page and it isn't to put Christians into a good light.
For all Christians out there who don't hate and don't act crazy and don't want to slam people; they just happen to be Christians because they love Christ for what He did for them and therefore want to follow Him, good job.
Hello G, My Christianity is rooted firmly in what Christ Jesus was said to have spoken and also His deeds done. Could you help me in understanding what He said, saying, "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:21 the word "within" does can also be the word "inside" for in a somewhat of a search I found the word erros or erron is the word "within and/or "inside". Could you Gayle expound upon my understanding?
A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribblin the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.
~ C.S. Lewis
Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.
~ D.L. Moody
There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.
~ G.K. Chesterton
There are those who hate in the name of Jesus, many would call them "Christians."
Believer, you seem to be quoting many Christian writers. Do you have any original thoughts?
Thank you ever so much for tearing a quote from Chesterton completely out of context. How about this one, O Cherry Picker of Quotes?
"For they are like unto whited sepulchres, which are beautiful without and full of dead bones and unclean things within."
There are those who love people/humanity and call their love an all-embracing hate for all religions.
(And that actually makes rational sense.)
The atheist can appeal to nothing absolute, nothing objectively true for all people, it is just mere opinion enforced by might. The Christian appeals to a standard outside himself/herself in which truth and qualitative values can be made sense of.
The atheist appeals to his fellow man, living by the golden rule. Do unto others as you wish for them to do unto you. Respect the earth and your fellow inhabitants.
Frankly I find it somewhat unnerving that there are so many people who apparently only behave because they fear punishment from an invisible man in the sky.
And how do you know that James? Are you saying that every Christian is a bad person on the inside?
"truth and qualitative values can be made sense of."
I've read the bible, and I see a lot of contradictions and impossibilities. If there's truth in there, is a relative and changing truth
If truth is objective then it transcends even God and He isn't needed to tell us.
If God determines Truth then it is arbitrary and not objective. (just like our own)
If truth is objective then it transcends even God and He isn't needed to tell us.
If God determines truth then it is arbitrary and no more "right" than we.
A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.
Cut the spamming, please. Either that or heed the words of the Lord when he told believers to pray in their closets and let the hypocrites pray in public.
If you consider the fact that I commit to what I say and do as I believe, I ironically speak Christian more than most self identifying Christians do....
I agree with you... too many Christians speak a good game but their lives don't show what the say is in their hearts. Yes I am a Christian and yes I say I am a Christ follower. Jesus has redeamed my soul and I'm heaven bound. I don't do the preachy talk and I know I fail at times. Jesus is the lover of my soul and I try to love him back. Thank you and God bless you.
Any relation to John, John the Piper's Son? Just kidding John "Guy"! How about Georjie Pourgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry! Nah Now Rick,,,, Behave! OK? ok :-(
You may not realize it, but you are doing the 'preachy talk' in your comment...hate to burst your bubble.
AND THERE WERE in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And 'lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them. And the glory of the Lord shone 'round about them. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not! For behold! I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY, which shall be to ALL people. For unto you is born, in the City of David, a saviour, which is CHRIST The Lord!!!"
The Gospel of the Lord
Hermione: Ancient Egyptians used to worship cats, you know.
Ron: Yeah, along with the dungbeetle.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
A Savior born in the city of "David"? I thought it was a city called Bethlehem,,,,,,,,,,,,,, My Bad!!!!!!!!!!!
HAHAHA you think you're funny!?!? Even these fictional characters (Hermione, Harry, and Ronald) are Christian! Remember them telling each other...
Hermione: Happy Christmas Harry!!
Potter: Merry Christmas Hermione!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Bethlehem *IS* called the City of David in the bible :)
So, we are talking about the same place where our Lord became man by the power of the Holy Spirit....
Yes, it happened in that little manger where oxen feed on hay, somewhere in Bethlehem.
There was no room at the inn.
"I am the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Thou shalt have no other monsters before Me. (Afterwards is OK; just use protection.) The only Monster who deserves capitalization is Me! Other monsters are false monsters, undeserving of capitalization."
(from the Loose Canon of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster)
Yes, at times I find myself mildly amusing. Though I will say, how are characters in Harry Potter in anyway christian? Did you see them go to church, talk about jesus or get baptized? I think I missed something.
Warning from ti.tle page: Don't be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!
[ 118 ]
Verse 1: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies. [ 4 ]
Verses 2-4 (?): In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic lonelin.ess.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away. [ 118 ]
- First Book of Bokonon
I never knew that! Thank you Christmas for enlightening me on that!
My base-roots understanding with complete clarity the KJVB and its' many "revisioned" Gospels leaves me tongue tied and my pig-headedness toward those who Squawk incessantly without End toward Christians whereupon many lowly christians begin to squawk back leaves me with a rash!
"Of GOD, By God men are 'as' gods" or so goes the Totem Pole! :-)
You idiot, @Christmas, the City of David is Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. Stating thoughts without checking facts – true christian doctrine.
Really? David was Jerusalem? Bethlehem than is? I am SOoooooooooo Confused,,,,,,,,,,,,:-(
I'm really surprised this article has gained so many posts, especially angry posts from a bunch of christians. I mean, I know for the most part they're an angry bunch, but this seems right down their alley. They can use this article to show people that even when people think they're christians, they're really not. It's how most of them defend the religion anyways nowadays. If a christian does something bad he/she is no way a representative of christianity and furthermore doesn't get to be a christian. amirite?
This Blog is in dire need of a Numerologist to enumerate and then "Re-Generate" a second book in case the 1st book is confiscated by the Pharisees! Kahchoopeesh? :-)
Does it not seem odd that CNN would have an entire section of its website devoted to religion and yet there is not a single religious writter, producer or publisher associated with it?
In fact, it would appear all three men associated with it are at least agnostic, if not outright atheists. And most certainly, Stephen Prothero is anit-Christian. Here is the latest example via twitter: sprothero is on twitter
"My Take: Breivik is a Christian terrorist. Pretending otherwise is wishful thinking of the most dangerous sort." http://t.co/jIXcHrr
In researching these 3 men: "CNN's Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero", it would appear they are all atheists. I guess that is why FNC is crushing CNN. FNC at least employs religious people in their religion departments, proving once again, they are more "Fair and Balanced".
He isn't an athiest like the rest of us.
He preaches peacefull co-exsistance.
The rest of us want you all dead.
Who are you to tell other people what they believe? Just because you are unsure of what their beliefs may be does not mean they aren't a jew, or a christian or whatever. Also, you want fair and balanced? I think the most fair and balanced articles are from people who write on a religion that is not their own, you're just angry because the articles don't evangilize christianity and how great christians are all the time and it doesn't sync to your worldview that christians can be hateful and intolerate. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it true friend.
In other words, men of science should never be permitted to discuss religion, because it angers the zealots.
I suppose you only want Klansman on the Civil Rights Council and Men on the Equal opportunity council as well.
Yes, they are very anti-Christian but they do post positive stories about Islam. That may be just because they don't want to get blown up.
"In other words, men of science should never be permitted to discuss religion, because it angers the zealots."
No, in other words anti-theists only spew lies and hatred towards religion so it is odd to have them do all the CNN opinion writing in the religion section.
BuddyR: And it seems like theists are fond of issuing empty proxy threats in the name of their god to scare people into belief
Balance well the scales of measurabilities; an80. :-)
Which part of Prothero's tweet is untrue? It doesn't sound biased to me, it just sounds factual.
I speak Christian: "all other belief systems are wrong". "i'm just telling you the good news". "wait till you die, you'll be sorry!". "jesus needs cash". "i'm moral and noone else is"
While your posting maybe considered a bit intolerant and harshly overgeneralized by some, I can't help but think that you about summed it up pretty good.
Thanks for the chuckle. :D
Make no mistake, g a y Jesus will return. Go to our website to learn more http://www.gaychristian101.com.....
Pat said "I speak Christian: "all other belief systems are wrong". "i'm just telling you the good news". "wait till you die, you'll be sorry!". "jesus needs cash". "i'm moral and noone else is"
That's not speaking Christian that is speaking human. You believe Christianity is wrong...so your belief system is right. You are just speaking what you believe is the truth or your "good news"... wait till all these Christians die they will all see how stupid they are... all human causes need cash... oh and the last one...morality: Christians actually believe that not one of us is moral...no not one. The ones who believe they are the moral police are just as mistaken as you are about what Christianity actually teaches about morality.
Very good for the most part. A couple of corrections though. In the first three phrases, you're actually speaking "Bible". In the last two phrases, you're speaking what is otherwise known as "gibberish".
Meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing
1. "all other belief systems are wrong".
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
2. "i'm just telling you the good news".
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
3. "wait till you die, you'll be sorry!".
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
3 out of 5 ain't bad.
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.