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I have a beautiful wife, an infant son & a schnauzer. viva la tex-mex. Words that describe or excite: Missional, Glocal, Lead, Innovate, Initiate, Create, Risk, Community

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cussing Pastors, Blue Language, and the Dirty Word


There has been an ongoing debate in my mind for quiet sometime about language. What exactly is crude language, coarse jesting, and foul language? What constitutes cussing? There is most definitely a Biblical mandate for "watching your language." So how do I as a Chirst follower, father, husband, pastor and gen-Xer determine what is and is not appropriate language? Is it hypocritical for me or just prudent to use different vocabulary with different groups of people?

Don't get me wrong! I am not advocating anything here I am just pondering (to some they will see no difference I am sure.) I have grown up among my peers, Christian or not, to find "sucks," "crap, crappy," "freaking, freakin'," and then maybe a few others to be acceptable. However, most people in older generations might have problems with some or all of these words. I admit I have used them from time to time in preaching to students. To say things like "I know sometimes you feel like life sucks" or "Maybe you believe that Jesus does not care about the crappy deal you got when your parents split up." I have been in ministry 14 years and I can honestly say I have had only one complaint. But I do not gage orthodoxy or orthopraxy based on complaints, whether many or few.

What are you thoughts?

For further threads on examining this Biblically and culturally look at some of these articles and sights. There is much that I have found helpful in thinking through these things. My biggest question is who or what makes a dirty word dirty in the first place? What is profane?

There is the continuing debate about Mark Driscoll, known by some as 'the Cussing Pastor.' Latest that I know of in the attack on Driscoll is John McArthur.

Others that have discussed Mark Driscoll are Tim Challies and Phil Johnson. For me the larger question is "Does Driscoll preach Christ and Him crucified?" In writing, in sermon, and in his blog Driscoll confesses his tongue can be a problem, he is repentant and claims he is trying to do better. He claims he has men (elders) who hold him accountable. Do we need bloggers and other preachers to judge his heart and his motives when they have no personal knowledge or contact with him when oiher qualified men do, such as Piper and C.J. Mahaney. Of course Piper recently slipped, and then apologized.

Dr. Peter J. Leithart, professor at New Saint Andrews College, has several outstanding posts on coarse language, etc. Including Skubalon which is the greek word Paul uses that some claim can be translated with a word stronger than crap, vulgar language, how Christians should talk about sex, and obscenity.

I hope this will be a lively and biblical discussion! Speaking of biblical here is the main passages to consult: Ephesians 5:1-12.

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4 comments:

frostburgpreacher said...

My mom always told me that I could never use a word unless I heard her say it. My mom nor dad never used vulgar language in any way. But one day my mom was talking about someone at work, I was not yet a teenager, and she called him a mule. I looked at my mom and said, can I say that now? Mom rolled her eyes.

The problem is that what is vulgar toady is not what will be vulgar in the future. What used to be vulgar is no longer.

As a dad I find myself not saying some words in front of my kids, crap, sucks, and I am sure a few others that I might say in front of others. Personally, cussing was the hardest habit I ever had to break and sometimes it comes back and haunts me.

Personally, what I have heard of Driscoll is not vulgar as much as it is honest. For instance at the Creative Church Conference at Fellowship he was asked where he gets his illustration from by Ed Jr. He responded with something like from everyday life. Then he gave an example of when he was studying about Jacob wrestling with Jesus. Driscoll was telling his son about the story and his son responded with something like, Dad I know how Jesus could have kept it from going all night, Jesus should have kicked him in the nuts.

Most people at the conference laughed their head off, as did I! But, I promise you in my church I would never tell it like that because too many pacemakers would malfunction, but I am sure in some places and with certain people it would work.

What I like about Driscoll his lack of self-righteousness, unlike some who criticize him, and his honesty about his struggle.

More later, maybe

Webb Kline said...

When one ponders all the humanitarian injustices for which so many churches have turned a blind eye to, it seems that there are a lot more pending crises on the Lord's heart than someone struggling with a few cuss words--especially if those words are directed toward some of those injustices.

I always liked what Tony Campolo once said in front of 85000 Christians at a Creation festival: "30,000 children died last night because of malnutrition and malnutrition-related disease and most of you here tonight don't give a sh**. What's even worse is that there are a lot more of you here who are more alarmed that I just said sh** than you are that 30,000 children died last night."

There are simply more things important to me for me to get too bent out of shape over someone's language.

Shawn said...

Okay, I've finally formulated a decent answer to the question. I think there are many who would not like my answer because they want things to be a little more black and white, but this is one of those issues that is just a little gray.

First, the Bible clearly gives instructions about speech. Paul writes in Eph. 4:29, "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

So, what constitutes foul or abusive language? Abusive language seems to be the easier of the two. It is language that is not good and helpful to the person that hears it but is damaging or detrimental. Abusive language may have some bearing on the actual words that we choose, but it seems to have more to do with the intent of those words.

So, what about foul language? What is it? The third commandment's instructions against taking the Lord's name in vain seems to at least speak against using the various names for God in a flippant manner (although you know I understand this commandment to be addressing way more than speech).

But what else constitutes foul language? The Bible does not give a list of foul words nor does it give guidelines for what constitutes foul language. The only source of defining what is acceptable or unacceptable language, then, what is popularlu acknowledged as falling into those two categories.

So, my answer is, we have to use culture and convention as our guide. What is the predominant view within a given culture and the conventions of a society about what is foul language? So, how do we determine that in America in the 21st century? What are the established societal norms for language? The best guage I can find for that is movie and television ratings and radio usage. If a word is bleeped from radio or television or if its use is sufficient to give a movie an "R" rating, then society has obviously deemed that word as unacceptable for all audiences. I know I will probably get a lot of flack for that, but that is the only way I can determine of finding what constitutes foul language for society as a whole.

Second, you have to take into account the conventions and culture of the particular group to which you are speaking. The conventions and culture that would guide Mark Driscoll in speaking to a group of twenty- and thirtysomethings in Seattle is vastly different than those that would govern speaking to a diverse group in rural Texas. The conventions and culture that guide speaking to a group of teenagers would be different than speaking to their parents. (By the way, this, I believe is simply being missional in a good way.) So, the general principle I have given about using media as a guideline might be more or less restrictive depending on the audience.

Finally, there are certain subjects that I believe the Bible defines as sacred and should be spoken about in such a way that reflects that perspective. For instance, Heb. 13:4 says to guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy. There is an abundance of language used to speak about sex that does not treat it as something sacred, and I think that could readily be defined as foul language. There may be other subjects for which this would apply. I just can't think of any at the moment.

Let's just be honest, though. The Bible does not give a whole lot of detailed instruction on this matter though. So, I could be wholly in the wrong. I learned a long time ago to speak loudly where the Bible speaks loudly and to speak softly where the Bible speaks softly. This is one of those soft areas, so I think it is unfortunate that the discussion is actually becoming a dividing point for some Christians.

Anonymous said...

I found you by googling "cussing pastor"
I've listened to Mark's sermons via podcast for a year(2008) and there has been no cussing, unless you count "You suck at tithing" to be cussing.
So maybe this is old news and he's changed.
He is doctrinally sound and I appreciate that.