The Secret Language of Christianity
As a multicultural nation, the United States is home to many languages: English, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Chinese… and Christian?
This article on the CNN Belief Blog delves into the fascinating language used by evangelical Christians to identify themselves to each other, talk about key aspects of their faith and make political statements. Author Kirby Ferguson notes former President George W. Bush as being a fluent speaker of the Christian language.
“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 the 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,” Ferguson wrote.
Just like any other form of language, Christian jargon changes over time. For example, the apocalyptic event commonly known today as “The Rapture” and popularized in books like the Left Behind series, is a fairly recent concept that arose around 1850 and has little basis in traditional Christianity.
Other common Christian phrases include:
- “Naming and claiming it” Instead of saying that they “want” something, such as a promotion, many evangelicals will instead say that they “name and claim” it.
- “Getting the second blessing” refers to baptism, which evangelicals believe must take place “in the spirit” and not just through water immersion.
- “Christ follower” is currently in fashion over “Christian” when college students identify their faith.
- A more familiar phrase, “born again,” is important for evangelical Christians to identify themselves to one another.
And, similar to other languages, there are certain words and phrases that have fallen out of favor in the Christian world. Many, such as “converting the pagans” and “turn or burn” have been given up because they are considered to be too polarizing. Christian language is also dying out because of churchgoers’ involvement in secular society. The church is no longer the center of their social and intellectual world, so much of the vocabulary has been lost.
Marcus Borg, author of the book Speaking Christian, believes that many Christians even use the vocabulary to place themselves above others socially and morally. “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.”
Since most sub-cultures (music, sports, academia) have their own vocabulary and well-known references, it shouldn’t be surprising that religions do the same. Do you have any experience with “speaking Christian”? What do you think about this interesting cultural phenomenon?
Photo credit: Christian Church of the Hills