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.
Christians are welcome to speak whatever terminology works for them amongst themselves. However, I have had smug evangelical Christians attempt to humiliate me by "speaking Christian" in such a way as to make it clear that I'm not one of the elite and thus not worthy of respect. Then it's not holy, it's just snotty.
So, then ask them to speak Human Secular-ease.
it's not snotty; it's ungodly, and mainly American though i don't want to blame America, but it's our own pride which Americans are full of ...
A good editor would have struck the word "Christian" every time it appears in the article and replaced it with the word "Protestant."
This was a very subversive video- sounded great, and nice production value, but utterly wrong about the heart of Christianity. And if people have "trouble" with Jonah being in a whale for 3 days, then I would guess those same people would have trouble believing in the virgin birth and in Jesus being crucified and raised from the dead anyway? This video misses the whole point and distills Christianity down to "good feelings and feeling right with the world". I want to say a whole lot more, but don't want to waste my life posting a longer comment that will probably be criticized anyway.
'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.'
-----Seems MANY Christians today, inc Mr Pompous BORG (GREAT NAME LOL) are wrong according to the New Testament:
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Weymouth New Testament (One of the oldest versions)
Afterwards we who are alive and are still on earth will be caught up in their company amid clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
The minute I hear the adjective "awesome," I back up two steps. I don't judge at that time, but am keenly aware that I might be talking to a religious nut full of that right wing fervor that always begets (oops) fascism.
Religion begets fascism? You might want to check your history – fascism is typically associated with either lack of religion, or faith in a "superman" human leader.
Religious people don't use the word "awesome" any more than the non-religious.
Search4Truth is 100% correct. Fascism, socialism, and communism are all associated with ATHEISM.
that always begets (oops) fascism.
THAT is projection of a problem you have yourself.
Right on Dakota! I agree; hearing people speak this silly christian-talk is repulsive.
The risen Christ dwelt on earth with His twelve disciples for about 40 days before He was taken up into the clouds. A lot of what He taught His disciples during that time ended up in the letters to the churches in the New Testament. He promised them that He would return in the same manner as they saw Him go. He also told them that He was going to prepare a place for them that where He was they would be also. The whole plan of God is to return this earth to its original purpose and man plays an important role in His purpose. I believe prophesies in Revelation, Daniel, Thessalonians and many others are meant to prepare us for a period in history when we will need to be saved from our own destruction. The rapture (I prefer evacuation) will not be a secret catching away. A careful study of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24 should shed some light on the subject, but only if we abandon our long held beliefs that evangelists must preach the gospel to the entire world before the end can come. Angels have that privilege according to Rev. 14:6-12. The angel message or gospel is very explicit and time sensitive. We haven’t as yet entered a period of history when we are warned not to be marked for the purpose of buying or selling. When and how the angels appear is not known, but it is proclaimed that every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth will get the message at the same time. In Matthew Chapter 24, Jesus outlines the other events in chronological order until He comes again with His angels and evacuates all of mankind who believed the angelic message and refused to be marked for economic purposes. How He takes us to safety is His business, He can whisk us off in a UFO if He so chooses, or He can ship us off in an ark. If a person knows what God is doing in this world and where He plans to take us according to His Word it makes me wonder how we humans can’t put two and two together?
"...it makes me wonder how we humans can’t put two and two together?"
A lack of decent math and science education in our schools.
Jesus is a myth stolen from the life of the Buddha.
I do believe you should study your own book more often. The book of Matthew does not contain an ascension story at all. The book of Mark claims that Jesus was received up into heaven the very same day that he was resurrected. Luke actually agrees with the previous book (although at a completely different time of day). Then we have the book of John, which tells of nine days after Jesus was to have risen from the dead, and yet has no mention of an ascension at all. The forty days to which you referred come from the book of Acts. Please don't claim these mythologies to be factual when the discrepancies throughout the book are overwhelming.
Keep in mind that "any belief worth believing is worth questioning" and that when it is advocated that you can't question a belief, then that belief becomes questionable. Otherwise nothing can be ever trusted as true / valid.
Are you SURE? I might have a question about that?
JWs are not Christians...they are heretics.
Jehovah Witnesses are considered Christians??? When they don't even believe in Christ nor the cross and the Resurrection or the Trinity which are at the foundation Christian faith. Interesting take on Christianity but not necessarily true.
The article 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 interesting. We Catholics are constantly being "informed" that the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception wasn't "invented" until around the 1850's. In fact, the Church had thought about, prayed about, meditated about and discussed this issue from the early centuries of Christianity. It made official teaching – dogmataized – in the middle of the 19th century. As it turns out, then, the rapture is a doctrine of men.
It's *all* a "doctrine of men," pal.
I heard also that the whol trinitarian concept was made up by the churches. As well as believing JC "is " God. Verses the
son of God and that God is spirit. And knowing all of what he then created.
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then, we who are alive and remain shall be CAUGHT UP (the Latin phrase gives us the word rapture) together to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:16-17, written around 51 A.D. by Paul, the Apostle, and preached around the world. Note quite 1850)!.
"And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengence on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe..." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; written about 51 AD, not quite 1850)!
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are in it shall be burned up. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for an hasting unto the coming of the day of God, in which the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:10-12, written about 66 AD, not quite 1850).
"In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." (Jesus Christ, recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14:1-2, about AD 85, not quite 1850).
Get the point?
"And now, little children, abide in him, that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming." (I John 2:28, written between 90 and 95 AD, not quite 1850).
Somebody has gone off on a "post modern, post Christian, secular humanist world view and misinformed us. How could CNN have anything to do with that? Is anyone else surprised?
I am the Messiah...and I commit you all to the looney bin..
And it shall be called, "Good."
Ban religion. Deport believers. Problem solved!
That could be considered a Fascist statement. Deport believers? It shore ain't tolerant, now is it? Fascist, I'd say.
'Ban religion. Deport believers. Problem solved!'
Thats along the same lines as Hitler, very good. I LOVE how you lunatics expose yourselves.
Stacy, may everyone read your response and just skip the article. You may have a few typos to clean up, but your Bible-based essay is quite excellent. You have obviously walked with Jesus long enough and seriously enough to be humbled by His glory.
Please tell me that comment is meant to be funny. Like when somebody says they hate the word "ain't" so you start saying it to them as much as you can. Otherwise it is just sad how unaware you are.
The most radical Christian to the most radical atheist has been known for years to cherry pick lines from the Bible to get their point of view across. The truth is that those who are in consistent study of the Bible, those who humbly put aside their "feelings" and "reasonings" and agree to open their minds and have a contrite heart, are the ones who over time are those who have the greatest understanding of the written word.
are you st. peter?
Hallelujah! Finally, someone has confessed the obvious -it must be the end of days – can't believe that the media has had a second coming and has finally noticed all this evangelical double-take end-of-the world revisionism. Lets pray that this stops as it is so ungodly. As for politicians -I am convinced that they are scions from hell. Or at least the fundamentalists are.
Ever consider what a non-fundamentalist would be? It would be someone who accepted any idea as equal to another, that there is no right or wrong, everything is relative (to something), and religious thoughts should not be dogmatic–just open to individual interpretations. So....if you're going to be non-fundamental, don't you have to give fundamental ideas equal credibility to others? If not, you've just become a fundamentalist. It's just that you are an anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist. Think about that. You'll get it one of these days! Believe me.
Why is something inaccurate published? Who's the Boss? What's going on with this?
He's calling "Christianese" what is actually a compilation of the very different particular "catch phrases" of a variety of denominational beliefs. "The Second Blessing" and "Name and Claim", for example, are distinctive ONLY of charistmatic beliefs; those phrases, in fact, reflect beliefs considered non-Biblical by most all mainstream Christians. You always get this when an 'outsider' (to anything) writes an article as if they were part of that group. And BTW, the rapture was NOT invented in 1830, it is a theological bent that's referred to all through the Bible just as the actual word Trinity is not mentioned. Not much research put into this article.
Emma, great response! I hope everyone will re-read what you wrote. If it weren't so sadly misleading, it would be humorous to hear non-evangelicals try to talk about what various subsets of evangelicalism believe or what we mean by what we say. And yes, this author needed to do a lot more research. For the most part he's just parroting the biases of his tradition. One thing he's right about though, is that many of us are jettisoning the word "Christian" in favor of things like "Christ-follower" or "Jesus-lover". But this has little or nothing to do with politics. It stems from the fact that so many people in this culture, especially in the South, label themselves as Christians just because they go to church or because they're not Islamic or Jewish or some other religion. Through our word choice we're trying to emphasize the relational and transformational aspects of biblical Christianity and distance ourselves from the dead religion of nominal Christianity.
Great response, Emma.
Well put. I do believe in seeing the coming of the lord. It will be in the next 50 yrs. Or at least for me. I will not be here in 50yrs. They will cover their ears and stomp their feet to avoid hearing the gospel. Jesus is the only way to escape the coming rath of God on man kind. His son came into this world and they like the author of this story excepted him not. They would rather try and be the light rather than surrender to it. Good luck with that.
Your own comprehension must eclipse that of us mere mortals. I've always believed in a matriarchal based-society to begin with.
"Name and Claim" is circa 1985
Borg has a lot to learn about the Bible and Christianity.
Yes, he does, and I'll guarantee that he would say the same thing. If you don't, you are dead wrong. The most knowledgable Christians know enough to doubt what they know. Only the ignorant think that they have it down pat.
Hearing Marcus Borg, himself a champion of heterodoxy, comment on what "contradicts historic Christian teaching" is every kind of rich!
Examine your faith and you almost assuredly will find heterodoxy. If you don't, you quit thinking years ago.
It's more like every kind of wrong.
Truth is, if Jesus Christ and what He says in the Scripture is true–then lots of you guys have got real trouble ahead. I can see why you refuse to believe it. If you believed it, you'd logically have to do something about it, and that would mean a big change of lifestyle for some. Not willing to do it? Just keep saying to yourself, "It isn't true, it isn't true, it isn't true, it isn't true..." Maybe if you can't see it, it isn't there! Or, maybe not.
That's just the point. Militant Christians do not think for themselves and do just parrot in word and thought what they are taught. It would be pretty scary to have one of them as President.
The issue is in the first 5 sentences. The fragmentation is due to focus, and the focus is due to tunnel vision. I could claim I own a Mercedes, but I know that just because I glued a Mercedes hood emblem on the car it is not a Mercedes. In the same way, these sects of Christianity often focus on specific passages to the point of forgetting or neglecting others. It's the same fact with Muslim sects, Buddhist sects, atheist sects, etc, etc, etc.
The unique nature of a christian such as myself, having studied the text I believe in is that I see the uniqueness of the christian belief system to all other religions including humanism and evolution. I also understand the stories, their nature, the gleaming truths they reveal and I understand that those truths are apparent through means other than the text I read. That is correct, all those Christians waiting for my "blasphemous" words to ring true, here it is. You can be brought to the same realization and truth without reading the Bible. I would amend that statement with "It's just harder that way", but honestly, I have been in churches that have preached more fallacy than truth. And most of the fallacy lays groundwork for silly (if not destructive) reasoning and interpretation. Thankfully I have knowledge of certain facts that reveal such fallacies and therefore can discount and avoid falling myself.
The purest rational for growing your individual walk in a faith is a personal experience that no one can discount. This is not the forum for me to talk of my personal experience, but suffice to say that if you had an experience similar to mine, you would not be able to discount it for the simple explanations of "reason" when those same questions generated by the same "reason" reinforce the experience and the impact it has had on my outlook on life, and my ID. As for "speaking christian" I live with that fight every day. It seems so silly that so many people who claim to believe what I believe have such trouble describing it outside of specific phrases and rhetoric. I do wish everyone could have a personal and internal experience like what I had, without the physical trauma that comes from my experience. There is something wonderful in the realization I don't have to be perfect, just responsible, constructive and supportive.
KenC. covered the basic root beliefs, if other beliefs or countering beliefs are present in a person, then they are not properly representing themselves as Christian. Keep in mind that "loving the sinner" is not just an emotional attachment, but a call to being a responsible person. Sometimes Love is in giving, sometimes love is in discipline, but love is never in harm.
"Thankfully I have knowledge of certain facts that reveal such fallacies and therefore can discount and avoid falling myself.
I do indeed hope you never intend to stumble again.
Christianity was started by Someone named Jesus Christ. Seems to me that He was what you'd call a "militant Christian." After all, He preached about sin, salvation, heaven, hell, demons, love, redemption–all those "militant" ideas that you object to. He went so far as to say that He is "the way, the truth, and the life" and that "no person comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:7). Pretty militant, I'd say. Makes sense, I reckon, that His followers would also seem "militant." We need to reinvent Jesus and see if we can't soften Him up a little bit.
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.