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The Secret Language of Christianity

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?

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Photo credit: Christian Church of the Hills

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173 comments

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9:15PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

cont....But I don't think Gingrich was fool enough to claim that God told him to do any of that stuff.

I don't know the state of Bachmann's relationship with God, but I doubt she has been asking him to vet her speeches and off the cuff comments. You are wise to be wary of her as a candidate. I can't tell if she is just ignorant and immature in her faith, or ignorant and immature as a politician, or both.

Thankfully, even though I'm unsure of the state of Perry's heart and motives, God has answered our prayers for rain, anyway. Three days in a row, now!!!!


Being in such company must make him want to take an antiacid..or maybe a good hard look at the people making all these claims, anyway!


9:14PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Yvette - when people don't know the Bible, they don't know when people are speaking for God or whether, as you suggest, God is simply very chatty.

Scripture says: God hates divorce, but allows it due to the hardness of our hearts. Human marriage is supposed to be a picture of God's fidelity to us...and He would never cast us aside if we had Alzheimers. I listened to a clip of the show you mentioned, and Robertson sounded compassionate on the man's dilemma, and that IF he was going to pursue another relationship, he should get a divorce. Divorce wouldn't be my choice. I watched my mom stand by my dad for a decade of senile deterioration until his death. I know it is possible to stand by your spouse if you choose to, even when your beloved is screaming at your to get out because he doesn't know you. But I'd be lying if I said it was easy for her to cope with that. God got her through it, and blessed her in it.

Nowhere in the Bible are we told to withhold tax money, even if we don't adore the people in power. In fact, we are to "render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar." And I haven't heard any republicans justifying their tax policy based on scripture or audible voices from God.

God is happy to let the quenching rains or prosperity to rain down on both the good and the evil, and he knows that there will be people who pose as his children who do not behave like his children. Like Gingrich. But I don't think Gingrich was fool enough to claim that God tol

6:28PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Can we all agree God is a very chatty fellow? He tells Robertson to dump wives when they have Alzheimer's, he tells House Republicans to insist on giving further entitlements to the wealthy by not making them pay any of their taxes, and he even let Gingrich open a Tiffany's account to give all of his wives, mistresses, and passing back seat fancies, a few baubles. He tells radio talk a certain radio show host how to get off drugs after he was busted for using his maid as a drug dealer, he lets Bachmann know she shouldn't lift a finger to help kids being bullied to death in her school district, he shares insider info with Perry AND he still doesn't like him enough to let it rain in Texas. Whew. Give God a rest. Being in such company must make him want to take an antiacid..or maybe a good hard look at the people making all these claims, anyway!

6:13PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

being Christian means having a personal relationship with God who is Jesus Christ. having this relationship with God thru the Holy Spirit makes one realize that the bible is the inerrant word of God. the bottom line is all goodness comes from God who gave his son Jesus to die for us so that we could be saved from our sins. sure there will be so called Christians who whore, pedophile, kill others verbally whose reputations who dont measure up and we can read of these in the press. but there are also many true Christians who serve others faithfully thru love unconditionally. unfortunately this group doesnt get much press, if any. your relationship with Christ is like your relationship with your spouse. you love them even though their relatives are doing time for crimes committed. likewise you love Christ even though other "christians" are behaving badly or outside God's command to love him,our neighbours and ourselves.

4:13PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Your preaching to the choir.

3:38PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Scott H to Elaine G. - Catholic molestation charges? Hoarding literally millions of dollars worth of art and real estate? Evading taxes? Repressing science? Oppressing women? Facilitating violence against LGBTQ people? Completely flaunting Constitutional Law? William G to Elaine G - Evangelically pushing personal belief and 'ungodly' moral codes on the rest of the world peoples and governments. Churches paying tributes to the their financial and moral leaders. You turn around and call it godliness. As for forgiveness. No church can replace GOD by giving forgiveness for sin. Every person must love GOD and all of his creations enough to fully forgive themselves and all transgressions against them. In that moment of true forgiveness you can actually be one with GOD, a spiritual sharing of unconditional love. I am certain that a church can NOT do this for you. One of my brothers was an evangelistic church preacher. I was unable to help him prepare for spiritual fulfillment. If you would give this some serious thought, maybe I can help you. Religious dogma is standing between you and GOD.


2:44PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

@ William G - "The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves."- Plato, Greek philosopher. "The penalty good Christians pay for not being interested in church politics is to be governed by people far worse than themselves."- William G

I didn't want to ignore your main point, btw. You are right, exactly, in what you say.

There are biblically mandated principles for selecting and getting rid of church leaders/elders/deacons, etc. If churches don't heed those guidelines , they will certainly end up in trouble. Our local church is super thoughtful, prayerful and careful about leadership decisions - and practice transparency - which is why we end up with leaders who servants, who continually seek to empower the individual members and small groups with whatever they are called to do in the community. I can't relate to your description of church leaders at all, not on a personal level.

And I can't judge other people's pastors since I don't know them. Ditto for the televangelists, even if I don't care for their style....until I find out they are having affairs or doing prostitutes or dipping in to the church coffers for personal use. Apparently, these organizations do not always have accountability and transparency....and power went to their sinful, arrogant heads when they stopped listening to God and started doing whatever felt good in the moment. Even so, love the sinner, love your enemy, love

2:08PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Now it is back. Sorry for the duplication.....cont....

Many Christians have accepted the relationship, but declined the fellowship....so of course they don't behave well. They are still operating out of the sinful human nature that taints all good intentions. People are really good at deceiving themselves.

It sounds like you gave up before you even realized what Christianity was all about. But it is never too late.....

2:07PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Wow. The first part of the post showed, and then disappeared. Interesting. Well, let's try with the next bit.....

Cont...purpose to study Scripture in the original languages and in light of whatever we know of culture and history, and who mind their p's and q's when it comes to expressing what could be accepted as probably fact (and why) vs their own opinion and speculation.

I do refute what you say about "all christian leaders." Your description does not fit any pastor that I have had, nor any believer I know. None of them have tried to tell or imply that they are pious and perfect. None have tried to frighten me into obeying church laws.

There is no such thing as a "christian nobility." You were sold a bill of goods. Since there is no such thing, they didn't actually have the right to say whether you were, or were not, a Christian. But I'll ask you this: do you understand that you are a sinner, like the rest of us, and stand in need of forgiveness? Do you understand that God predicted and provided a means for permanent forgiveness (to replace his command for annual Days of Atonement) in Jesus Christ? Do you understand, and accept the gift of forgiveness for all you have ever done wrong, and all you ever will do wrong? Have you stepped into the new relationship being God's forgiven child, (your relationship status with God), and into an ongoing following/seeking/conversing/obeying relationship with Him (your fellowship with God)?

Many Christia

2:02PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Cont...purpose to study Scripture in the original languages and in light of whatever we know of culture and history, and who mind their p's and q's when it comes to expressing what could be accepted as probably fact (and why) vs their own opinion and speculation.

I do refute what you say about "all christian leaders." Your description does not fit any pastor that I have had, nor any believer I know. None of them have tried to tell or imply that they are pious and perfect. None have tried to frighten me into obeying church laws.

There is no such thing as a "christian nobility." You were sold a bill of goods. Since there is no such thing, they didn't actually have the right to say whether you were, or were not, a Christian. But I'll ask you this: do you understand that you are a sinner, like the rest of us, and stand in need of forgiveness? Do you understand that God predicted and provided a means for permanent forgiveness (to replace his command for annual Days of Atonement) in Jesus Christ? Do you understand, and accept the gift of forgiveness for all you have ever done wrong, and all you ever will do wrong? Have you stepped into the new relationship being God's forgiven child, (your relationship status with God), and into an ongoing following/seeking/conversing/obeying relationship with Him (your fellowship with God)?

Many Christians have accepted the relationship, but declined the fellowship....so of course they don't behave well. They are still o

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