he message I gave at the Shepherds' conference three weeks ago on the pornification of evangelical pulpits continues to generate e-mail and questions. (The message was on Titus 2:7-8 and was titled "Sound Doctrine; Sound Words.") I don't particularly want a drawn-out discussion of that message to dominate our blog. So I answered three or four of the best questions about it HERE two weeks ago and hoped we could move on to other topics.
But a new wave of questions followed that post. In fact, the volume of feedback I am getting seems to be increasing. Positive replies still outnumber negative ones by a very large margin, but the negative ones are getting more and more aggressive. I commented two weeks ago that only a few people had challenged my position and most of them were gracious. I can't honestly characterize the negative e-mails in this second wave as "gracious."
But it seems those who disagree with my position are the most eager to keep me talking about it. My detractors are nothing if not persistent, so today I'm going to answer some of the best questions from that second wave of e-mails:
I wish I could say I'm so thoroughly "innocent in what is evil" (Romans 16:19) that I'm traumatized when I hear vile words, dirty jokes, or the casual patois of the porn industry. Sadly, before I became a Christian I was a master at telling smutty jokes. I come from a line of Oklahoma cattlemen. I think my great grandfathers and their sons were blissfully unaware that polite society considered any words or topics off limits. I first learned how to cuss fluently in grade school while fishing with my grandfather. Then I spent my summers from high school through college working on roofing crews, where profanity flows more freely than hot asphalt.
So my problem is not that I am naïve when it comes to filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. On the contrary, I have had far too much exposure to such things to be fooled by the claim that they can be harnessed and employed as tools for contextualizing the gospel.
Incidentally, my concern about such things is not that they are injurious, but that they are spiritually defiling. Words that inflict pain on those who hear may or may not be sinful. Talk that defiles the hearers is always wrong.
1. I don't condemn "strong language" per se. On the contrary, I like robust, vivid language. What I deplore is profane, filthy, lewd, or irreverent talk.
2. Words such as damned and damnable are inappropriate when employed as casual curses, but such words are fitting and proper when we're speaking of literal damnation.
3. Can I justify calling someone a "pompous ass"? In most instances, probably not. But that's not because it's a profane expression. It is not. In that context (as well as all 90 times the word ass appears in the KJV), the term is a reference to a braying donkey.
Nevertheless, it would be fairly easy to make the case that an expression like that cannot be applied to a fellow believer without violating Romans 12:10 (and probably the spirit of Matthew 5:22). Even using such a label to describe an egotistic unbeliever might violate Colossians 4:6especially if it's used in an offhand or jeering way.
Have I been guilty of that? To my shame, yes. A too-sharp tongue is one of my besetting sins. I made a comment about that two weeks ago, near the end of that 400-comment thread: "I'm certainly not proud of every parody I have ever invented or every wisecrack I have made. The sudden rise of profaneness in the pulpit over the past 3 years is one of the things that has driven me to rethink how freely we ought to indulge in hard-edged humor."
Every culture has words that are considered taboo, or in biblical terms, "filthy." It's not merely their meaning that has caused them to be deemed inappropriate. I could give you a dozen or more synonyms for ordure that occupy varying levels of social acceptability, ranging from baby-talk expressions that are not really banned by our culture (but I wouldn't normally use them in the context of Bible teaching)to words like guano, bear scat, manure, or feces. These would include several more or less clinical terms for specific kinds of excreta.
Contemporary culture is not really as vague as some like to pretend when it comes to the question of which words are "filthy" (like the words that decorate so many hard-core rap songs) and which words are merely vivid and repulsive (like the word diarrhea.)
Scripture expressly says the former is to be avoided; Scripture itself employs the latter, but only judiciously.
Culture determines this. It's quite true that the standard may be different from culture to culture and generation to generation. But both history and literature prove that it's not nearly as fluid or as nebulous as postmodern language-theorists suggest.
1. If you had read everything on my blog about it, you would know that I have never once accused Mark Driscoll of using "cuss words." Furthermore, I have made that point multiple timesevery time someone demands examples of Driscoll's "cussing."
2. If you had given my message a fair hearing, you could surely find a more fitting way of describing it. How about "your message on Titus 2:7-8?"
ne intriguing fact stands out in all the criticisms of that message: not a single critic has challenged my interpretation of Titus 2:7-8; Ephesians 4:29; 5:3-4; or the third commandment (Exodus 20:7). My detractors' disagreements fall into two categories: 1) some complain that I don't understand the importance of contextualization; and 2) some complain that I've exaggerated the problem.
If I could ask just one question of them, it would be this: What, precisely, do you think Ephesians 5:4 forbids?