19 October 2009

Cussing Again

by Phil Johnson



ussing is back on the table for debate again, it seems. Last week I was twitted by Twitterers, poked by Facebookers, IMed by chatmongers, and berated by bloggers on this subject. (Apparently there's a gang of angry people prepped and ready to throw down any time I breathe a sigh of disapproval about cussing—especially if some Christian celebrity is the one doing the cussing.)

Anyway, although we've dealt with that subject several times in the past, every time it comes up, the same tired arguments get trotted out to defend the casual use of crude slang, profane language, or perverse speech by Christians. The most popular arguments in favor of cussing seem to be 1) that to cuss or not to cuss is purely a matter of Christian liberty, not a biblical issue; 2) that cussing is necessary these days in order to contextualize our message and to prove to the world that we're not "legalistic"; 3) that compared to being disagreeable, cussing is practically a virtue; and 4) that a more lenient attitude toward cussing would prove we really do care that AIDS and hunger are killing large numbers of people in Africa.

That fourth argument is the one that baffles me most. I'm not sure why anyone would think liberalizing our tolerance for vile language and recreational profanity among Christians might ease the AIDS crisis or do more to cure poverty than recruiting more people to serve alongside the thousands of non-cussing evangelical missionaries and relief organizations who are already providing medical services, food, and clothing for sick and impoverished people worldwide. But evidently some very vocal people are convinced that liberal use of scatology is the only valid badge of authenticity for one's social concerns. Bono was a pioneer in the use of such verbal emblems, of course, but Tony Campolo is the one who brought it into the evangelical mainstream and made a whole generation of students think of cussing as practically a sacrament. Now Derek Webb has canonized the idea in a song.

We often hear people suggest that because the apostle Paul used the word skubalon, (translated fittingly as "dung" in the KJV), scatology has thereby been sanctified. Have at it. If Paul could say that, nothing should be taboo. Christians nowadays likewise try to justify even worse kinds of crudeness on the grounds that Paul spoke harshly and indelicately about the Judaizers in Galatians 5:12. (He hinted that since they believed circumcision makes a person holier, they ought to take their doctrine to the next level and emasculate themselves.) I've responded to those argumentsrepeatedly.

But notice what Paul himself said about lewd and off-color language. He classifies it as impurity in Ephesians 5:3-6, where he treats indecent language as one of several worldly substitutes for love. The Greek term Paul uses is akatharsia, a word that refers to every kind of filth and pollution—"uncleanness" in the KJV. Paul is talking about real spiritual uncleanness, not ceremonial defilement, but moral filth.

And when he gives some specific examples of akatharsia in verse 4, all of them have to do with the misuse of language: "obscenity," "foolish talk," and "coarse jesting." He is talking about the words we use, the things we talk about, and the spirit of our conversation. He covers all the bases.

Now, you might well wonder, if the context is dealing with genuine love vs. counterfeit love, how do smutty words, base conversations, and vulgar jokes fit into any category of phony love?

Think about it; those are the peculiar characteristics of worldly companionship: "filthiness . . . foolish talking . . . coarse jesting." Those are the main emblems of membership in any carnal brotherhood. Look at any of Satan's strongholds; any place where wickedness operates unrestrained; wherever you find a band of thieves or a federation of scoundrels—from the juvenile gangs that roam our streets to the old-men's club that hangs out at the neighborhood tavern. "Filthiness . . . foolish talk [and] crude joking" are always their main stock in trade. That's what will consume the leisure time they spend together. Because those are the main badges of fleshly fellowship, and that is the glue that substitutes for authentic love virtually every worldly fraternity. That is exactly what Paul is describing, and he says, Don't let such things characterize your fellowship with one another.

In order to obey the principle Paul sets forth here, we you need to be intentionally counter-cultural, because our culture values evil companionship much more than wholesome love. Have you ever considered the degree to which this is true? "Filthiness . . . silly talk, [and] coarse jesting" are virtually the trademarks of secular society. Vile language, crude subject matter, silly talk, and sheer folly are the main currency of the contemporary entertainment industry. The corrupt notion of brotherhood Paul is attacking here is exactly what most of our culture has substituted in the place of real love.

That's why movies are filled with dirty words and smutty themes. That's why contemporary comedy is so dependent on vile language and filthy subject matter to get a laugh. Situation comedies on television used to feature families and plot lines. Now they are shows about nothing dealing mainly with relationships between friends who are unmarried, unattached, and lacking any discernible direction in their lives. "Filthiness . . . foolish talk[, and] crude joking" describes about 99 percent of the content of programs like that.

Our culture insists those things are perfectly benign, but Paul says they are not. Carnal camaraderie is practically the antithesis of true, godly love. Crude language, filthy joking, and risque entertainment are "not fitting" for Christians. They have no place in the Christian's walk. Verse 12: "For it is a shame even to speak of those things which [they do in secret]." Keep those things out of your life. More than that, keep references to things like that out of your conversation, Paul says.

And notice this: he categorizes spicy talk about frivolous subject matter along with some of the most serious of all sins. Don't get addicted to that brand of language and humor, and especially don't allow that kind of companionship to characterize your own life.

Phil's signature

86 comments:

Jason L. said...

Phil,

Couldn't agree more. When we let the language of the world come out of our mouth, that will be the impression that we give those around us: that we are of the world.

Personally, I don't mind talking like a G-rated movie...if anything, it makes people notice, and might give me an opportunity to discuss what makes me different.

terriergal said...

Totally agree.

and..

(as I posted on FB)
I can't lie, I used to have a filthy mouth when I was a teenager. Then I realized that my friends, especially the nicest ones, didn't have to express themselves this way, and I felt ashamed and made a concerted effort to retrain my tongue. I still slip every so often, when really angry or frustrated (oddly enough, if someone else is in the room, I somehow have more control over letting it fly). But it is still not right and these Emergent nutballs aren't going to convince me it is just to make me feel better!

FWIW I did slip once in front of my dad who popped out when I thought I was alone, and although he was normally very strict, I was entirely mortified when I saw him, and he simply stared for a moment at me and said "looks like you have some work to do on that don't you?" "yes."

Of course, when you consider the emergents are so far off base on the gospel most of the time, controlling the tongue becomes almost a secondary issue. However these people they trot out as leaders and spokesmen should not be flinging profanity about just to make a point. I don't even like that Paul Tripp used the S word to make a point in that Desiring God Conference video. WHY was Piper ok with that?

Doug McMasters said...

A military friend of mine had this written on a plaque hung in his office:

"Cursing is the attempt of a weak mind to express itself forcibly."

I would scratch the 'weak' word and add 'sinning.'

danielabbey.com said...

it's really bizarre that so many so-called Christians are cool with cussing when it says in the Bible, quite plainly, that it is sinful to cuss. i mean, if we were talking about whether or not babies go to heaven when they die or the whether the pope is the anti-christ or not, sure, let's debate. but whether or not it's a sin to cuss? selective Bible reading is all the rage these days it would seem.

pgepps said...

I agree wholeheartedly that the use of objectionable language as a sort of identity badge is exactly the kind of superficial thing that those most likely to do it often abhor in others. As offending others in speech, trivializing the sacred, or bringing the obscene onstage are wrong (some always, some without particular circumstances), obviously we shouldn't be trying to normalize them.

At the same time, there is a difference between the vulgar vernacular, which may be too coarse for public speaking or unacceptable in certain social settings, and obscenity and profanity. There is a difference, again, between these things and "strong language," that is, language which by being *normally* unacceptable conveys accurately the extreme nature of a situation.

Christ, Paul, and others in Scripture and throughout history clearly did use strong language, and at times spoke in vulgar vernacular, without being condemned in what they excused. We'll have to work at finding the line, to find how to speak with the kind of passion which goes with "pulling them from the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" and is "with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer every man."

Johnny Dialectic said...

Even how you choose to "emphasize" something biblical can turn the whole thing into something crude. See here

michaelbrewer said...

Phil,

Is there ever a time when harsh language is fitting? I mean I understand what Paul was saying about keeping our selves free from the immorally crude speech and joking, but is there ever a time when a harsh word is needed?

I mean, you did bring up about the issue of Paul's using the word 'dung' which Daniel Wallace has something to say about that particular word, so is there ever a time that such would be appropriate?

Not disagreeing with you (because I strongly agree), but is there ever an appropriate moment for a rather strong and shockingly harsh word?

Blessings,

Michael

Jugulum said...

"And when he gives some specific examples of akatharsia in verse 4, all of them have to do with the misuse of language: "obscenity," "foolish talk," and "coarse jesting." He is talking about the words we use, the things we talk about, and the spirit of our conversation."

As people seem to agree, the big question with cussing is taboo words. (The concepts aren't necessarily taboo--there are non-taboo synonyms. The taboo applies to particular words.)

Phil, you're saying that "obscenity" in v. 4 refers to taboo words. (Here's the verse with the Greek & the Strong's numbers.)

Does anyone have further information to back that up? How do we know that "aischrotes" refers not just to talk about vulgar topics, but also to talk using taboo words?

donsands said...

"Now Derek Webb has canonized the idea in a song."

That's sad to hear.

"those are the main badges of fleshly fellowship"

That's so true. In fact, that's one of the points Clint Eastwood makes in his film "Gran Torino" in the barber shop scene.

Excellent post and exhortation. Hopefully some who think foul language is no big deal will read this, and see the truth of God's Word and be convicted.

Jugulum said...

michaelbrewer,

You mentioned Dan Wallace on skubalon. Here's the link to his word study.

A Brief Word Study on: Skuvbalon

Jon Cardwell said...

Thanks for the thoughtful insights, Phil.

Before God saved me by His amazing grace in 1985, I was a Navy deep sea diver & every other word out of my mouth was an expletive, usually of the extreme 4-letter variety... & it was so much a part of my make-up in my habitual language that I didn't even know I was saying such things. Anyway, so the day the Lord gifted me with faith by grace that I can repent, He changed my language, & it was noticeable to the other divers... that very day!

At any rate, I'm writing an article with an added dimension to the whole cussing thing but want to link back to your excellent piece.

Blessings to you, dear brother.

jon cardwell

wordsmith said...

I was just listening to your interview with John MacArthur on "The R-rated Church," and the thought came to me:

Cussers and non-cussers alike would readily admit that cussing offends at least some segment of the population, whereas no one is offended by a lack of cussing.

The question then arises: Why do emergents, et al (whom I imagine would otherwise pride themselves on their "sensitivity"), deliberately go out of their way to choose the path of offensiveness?

donsands said...

"Why do emergents, et al (whom I imagine would otherwise pride themselves on their "sensitivity"), deliberately go out of their way to choose the path of offensiveness?"

Becasue it's hip and happenin', and people will come to church where there's ungodliness, and maybe get Jesus into their lives as they rub shoulders and so forth.

stratagem said...

I have a comment that might seem out of place, but I'll explain why it fits.
I work in the secular world where a fair number of people use all manner of cuss words constantly. Even though I hate hearing it, I must confess that because I'm around it so much, I go through periods of time when I am frustrated by something and I find myself muttering these same things under my breath (not around others, but what difference does that make to God?). Then I realize how foolish this is and I repent.

Now if I'm around the worldly five days a week and it affects me, imagine what it would be like if the believers I hang with, were also using bad language.

Brothers, Phil is right: We don't need this language in our midst. We should spur each other on to good works, not bad language.

Ed M said...

I understand most of the comments posted and being an ex-cusser myself this is a touchy subject for me.

I don't cuss because I don't want to offend my christian family and also not to confuse none Christians.

Where my confusion comes in at, is who determines what words are profane. If one says society that leads to all sorts of complications. What if society determined Jesus is profane or some other word or name. Does society determine what is right and wrong???

olan strickland said...

4) that a more lenient attitude toward cussing would prove we really do care that AIDS and hunger are killing large numbers of people in Africa.

LOL!

Red Herring!

Reformed and Renewed said...

oh dear....one would hope that people would learn their lesson. what scares me is that the Lord would eventually just leave a man to the error of his ways. Or is that to arminian thing to say. At any rate, cuss words in our part of the world is also a sin. ( with painfull consequences if you are a minor) so NO to cuss words.

Kyle Mann said...

When I heard Campolo drop that display of vulgarity, it didn't come off as clever or prudent, but it did come off as extremely arrogant. "I care about starving children, so I'm allowed to use profanity."

William Watson Birch said...

EXCELLENT POST! Those who vie for using crude language for the sake of evangelicalism 1) do not trust the Holy Spirit to do His work via the gospel; and 2) are merely trying to justify their carnality, IMO.

Michael said...

Why can't our brethren see this? What could be more obvious?

I thank God for Dr. Phil and men like him who won't lay aside the truth to escape uncomfortable social/ministerial situations.

William Watson Birch said...

Ed M,

Where my confusion comes in at, is who determines what words are profane. If one says society that leads to all sorts of complications. What if society determined Jesus is profane or some other word or name. Does society determine what is right and wrong???

Society has never established that the name Jesus is profane. It is highly unlikely that it will do so in the future. His name means "God saves." Hence it would be a re-interpretation of His actual name to make it profane.

Each society has set apart certain words that are labeled "cuss words." Words have meaning. People give words meaning. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34). To speak what is profane in a culture is to dishonor God's command.

There are words in other cultures that do not carry the same meaning in our culture. But it is wrong for a Christian to step into a culture's context and use words which are set apart as profane, for the Word of God tells us not to do so.

That was my $0.02 worth. It's on sale today for half off.

mike said...

Michael asked "Why can't our brethren see this? What could be more obvious?"

At the risk of sounding uncharitable, not all who claim to be so are brethren.
Some are simply not and some are, but through a lack of knowledge and discernment have become confused and distracted. When any leadership advocates limited submission to Christ, the followers becomes increasingly rebellious, as that is our default anyway.
For some time now, men have stood before the world and said “there is another more palatable road to salvation, this one requires less surrender”. It cannot surprise us that many that follow that are simply not what they claim to be.
Thank you Phil, for again giving us a mirror to hold up to ourselves so that we can all check ourselves.

stratagem said...

WWB: Society has never established that the name Jesus is profane. It is highly unlikely that it will do so in the future. His name means "God saves." Hence it would be a re-interpretation of His actual name to make it profane.

Although few in society would admit it, there are a lot of people who do consider his name to be profane. They use his name as a cuss word, for instance. I hear that just about every day; I assume you do, too.
Also, just mention Jesus in a light-hearted conversation with a stranger and see how quickly it ends the conversation or wipes the smile off their face.

If "profane" means "offensive," there are a large number of people who are offended by the name of Jesus. I think that is what Ed M. was referring to: Just because they are offended doesn't mean we stop using his name.

My response to Ed would be "don't use words that society has deemed to be offensive, unless they are words that God, thru the Bible, specifically instructs us to use."


Michael:
I thank God for Dr. Phil and men like him who won't lay aside the truth to escape uncomfortable social/ministerial situations.

Dr. Phil is a Christian? How'd he get on Oprah, then? :0

Solameanie said...

Interesting little verse in Proverbs that I stumbled across quite by accident this morning . . .

He who has a crooked mind finds no good, and he who is perverted in his language falls into evil.

But then, what does Scripture know? We've got other things to do, like ministry.

Puritan Dilemma said...

Thanks, a potent reminder that what comes out of our mouths really does matter...Jesus was not just using idle words when he said be careful with your idle words....am i being idle??? Thanks again!

John said...

I think the problem with this topic and (no offense meant) Phil's discusion of it lies in how we use our language. I think there is a huge difference between cursing when you hit your thumb with the hammer and cursing a person. Also, I think Paul's point is far less about the words used, and more about the way the words are used. I know many, many Christian brothers who were raised to avoid the "bad word" list, who express extremely vulgar "coarse jesting" in conversation. I heard a pastor once explode "what the hell do we think we are doing?" There was an awkward silence. But he had a legit point. Far more damning to me is Ed Young Jr. getting up and telling people that "god wants us to have big sex". All that to say that like all things Christian this is a heart issue. Are we (especially pastors) bring God glory with our tongue, or what? The tongue is set on fire of hell, whether you use scatology or not.

Jugulum said...

Sola,

So, that's from NASB. NRSV, NKJV agree. But ESV renders Prov 17:20 as:
"A man of crooked heart does not discover good, and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity." (NIV and NET also talk about deceit.)

Hmm... The "deceit" meaning isn't clear from the Strong's entries for the Hebrew. And NIV and NET are fairly dynamic-equivalent--but they still point to an apparent translation issue.

So, why do you think this has something to do with taboo words?

Even if "perverted" is an accurate translation, why would you assume that "perverted tongue" is about taboo words rather than vile topics?

round.tuit said...

Psalms 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Am I missing something? That's right, I believe that I cannot come close to fathoming the holiness of God, and that the Bible is the Word of God and not just a collection of words written by man. I suppose if I had a low view of God and His Word, I would enjoy getting caught up in the emergent game.

charles said...

I wanted to add my thoughts on the "cussing" issue. I believe that anyone who has a fifth grade education would know what "real" curse words are.(Are you smarter than a fifth grader?) The bible does say that our conversation should be "yes, yes; and no, no" (with no supplementary words of damnation; see Matt 5:37). That is simply another biblical example. Curse words, or graphic sensual words have no place in ministry. Brethren, can we imagine Charles Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones using such language? Selah. Charles Woodruff

Jugulum said...

Guys, cursory exegesis is not the way to go when dealing with emergent squishiness.

Psalms 19:14 -- How does this verse suggest that avoiding our culture's taboo words is part of holy speech? It certainly includes holiness of content; how does it show that holiness of vocabulary words is even a biblical category?

(Note: If we already recognize that cussing is part of unholy speech, then this verse helps communicate the importance of not cussing. But how does it teach that cussing is unholy speech?)

Matt 5:37 -- What do you mean, "words of damnation"? What part of the verse does that come from, and what do you mean by it? If you don't mean cussing, I don't follow the relevance. But how is cussing in view at all? v. 33-37 is about swearing-as-in-taking-oaths, not swearing-as-in-cussing.

~Mark said...

"Cussers and non-cussers alike would readily admit that cussing offends at least some segment of the population, whereas no one is offended by a lack of cussing."

~I love that!

Frank Turk said...

Coupl-o things:

- I'm not an ex-cusser, and I think Phil is right. I cuss, I am ashamed of it, and I seek God's help in overcoming that sin in me -- and it puzzles and vexes me that others who have the same vice want to call it (at worst) not-a-vice.

- I disagree about the use of "skubalon", but I think that even if it means the exact same thing as the saxon word for doggy detritus that doesn't give us full-on liberty to usse the saxon word, because ...

- ... we have to recognize that "cussing" is not just about one word or another: it's about the intention which is expressed in that word. When we define "cussing", it's a little minimalist to say "words which offend". Let's try something a little more intellectually-defensible like "words used exclusively to convey vile contempt." That speaks to the motive and the methdo, not just the letters arranged in order as found in a dictionary.

I'm a cusser, and it shames me every time. Every. Time. If you do not shame that shame for yourself, the problem is not me or those who are offended.

stratagem said...

... we have to recognize that "cussing" is not just about one word or another: it's about the intention which is expressed in that word.

Yeah, exactly. Whenever I express the "words" that we call cussing, it always always always comes out of a heart that is filled with rage. Sometimes (usually in my case) it is rage directed at a situation or a mechanical device, but sometimes people. I'm not sure it really matters anyway what or who it's directed at: We all know what the Word says about temper, anger, and rage, correct? SIN. To be repented of... yes, hard to do, but to be ceased. PERIOD!

Heath Norment said...

Phil,
Great post. Although I've been subtly aware of pulse of culture in regards to conversation, I had no idea of the true reality. But it makes so much sense to have it articulated in this manner: "Carnal camaraderie is practically the antithesis of true, godly love. Crude language, filthy joking, and risque entertainment are "not fitting" for Christians."

I've been going to seminary this semester for my first year of grad school, and I work as a server in a local restaurant to pay the bills. Unfortunately, there aren't many true believers where I work, and after having read this post I see that not even I reflect God's love or holiness with my speech. I have many friends there, but no real depth in conversation with these friends for the most part. Our dialogue is basically "carnal" and "wordly". And I don't even curse! However, I'll mess with some of the guys or talk sports and do what most guys do in conversation with each other: seek to entertain and amuse. But seek to show love and concern? Color me humbled.

It's unfortunately SO EASY for me to have the mental tendency to be like the Pharisee who is thankful for not being like the others around him (or so he thinks) only to realize that I'm really no different and in humility respond, "Father, have mercy on me, a sinner". What a great, practical, and humbling post for a Monday, thanks!

Paul said...

The Apostles made it clear that the spirit of our age would be "lawlessness." Specifically, that means a refusal to follow scripture by those who profess belief in God as well.

round.tuit said...

Jugs, I am a first generation Christian, and a simple person. It appears that you are caught up in the emergent word game and are attempting to do the work of the Holy Spirit. This goes deeper than mere words.

Ed M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed M said...

William B,

"Each society has set apart certain words that are labeled "cuss words." Words have meaning. People give words meaning. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34). To speak what is profane in a culture is to dishonor God's command."

And hence my problem... Words have meaning and People give words meaning. And what if the culture decides to change the meaning of a word or evening deem a word profane. "Ass" was not profane at one point in time or even used in the fashion its used today. "Damn" was not profane at one point in time. And like someone else mentioned, the name of Jesus is slowly moving towards to be profane/offensive in many peoples eyes.

I believe that all of the scriptures stated in this thread have to do with the heart/intention behind ANY words being used. But considering as someone else has stated you will more than likely find someone who is offended by certain words and you probably wont find anyone offended that certain words weren't used. For this reason I choose not to use such words.

My problem is with what it seems as most evangelical's reason for not cussing. "The culture deems it as profane". Is a very week argument and doesn't get to the heart of the issue. Which is the "heart" of the person behind the words.

stratagem said...

Paul - Amen. For an illustration of where we now live, watch the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." My own observation is that America is now Potterville, through and through - or worse. Cussing is just one small part of it, for sure.

It is depressing to me when I hear how shockingly even grade-school kids cuss these days. Potterville.

round.tuit said...

That which is acceptable to God is the issue. There is a prominent inclusive message being proclaimed. When a low view of God and His Word is present, cussing does not surprise me - especially when dealing with those of the same camp who deny the virgin birth, the resurrection, the existence of hell...

Paula said...

jon cardwell said, "Before God saved me by His amazing grace in 1985, I was a Navy deep sea diver & every other word out of my mouth was an expletive, usually of the extreme 4-letter variety..."

Raise your hand if one of the first things God convicted you about after you were saved was your potty mouth....

((((((waving)))))))))

Bobby Grow said...

Phil,

I totally agree with you on this! One argument you forgot, which is the one I hear the most, is:

That disdain for cussing is actually a product of Victorian sensibility and high-browness. It has nothing to do with scriptural mandates on holiness.

Of course coupled with the rest of your arguments. I've just come to the conclusion that the folks, hipsters, who argue this way, are just immature (most of them are twenty somethings) Christians; who have enough theo knowledge to be dangerous, I'm hoping they grow up sometime soon!

Jugulum said...

Round, I don't know what you mean by "attempting to do the work of the Holy Spirit."

I want to clarify: I'm not trying to prove that cussing is OK--I'm trying to dig out more of the meat of the argument. (I have some Christian friends who swear, and I want to be able show them in Scripture that cussing is unholy speech.)

I absolutely agree that vulgarity goes deeper than mere words. That was precisely my point. Vulgarity has to do with the heart, with the meaning, with the intent of the communication.

Someone could talk about honorable things--Christ, marriage, etc--in horrifically profane ways, without ever using a cussword. You don't need a vulgar word to be vulgar.

At the very least, when Psalms 19:14 talks about our speech being acceptable to God, it doesn't just mean, "don't use certain words". It means that the content of our speech should be holy. (Someone can't weasel out of this verse by saying, "I didn't use any naughty words when I blasphemed!")

I'm asking you: Why do you think holy speech in this verse has anything to do with certain vocabulary words, instead of being aimed at vulgar content?

If someone comes to this verse without already knowing that cussing is bad, how does this verse teach that certain words are unacceptable to God?


I want to remind you: It was Phil Johnson who said (in the earlier arguments that he linked to) that the issue in cussing is taboo words. It's words that have been marked by the culture as profane. It's not what the word means; every cussword has a synonym that's not profane.


Now, Frank made a good point: It's not just that cusswords are taboo, or that they "offend". It's that they convey vile contempt. If cusswords really are objectively sinful to use, that's probably at the heart of why.

But if so, that needs to be a central part of the argument.

The Nutshell:
We can't just point to a verse that says "use holy speech" or "don't let your speech include obscenity". We have to show that according to the Bible, certain vocabulary words are unholy & unacceptable.

Or, we have to show that in the English language, these words are used exclusively to convey unholy, vile contempt. (It needs to be more than a personal opinion or theory.) And that aspect of cussing needs to be highlighted, when we rebuke fellow Christians for swearing.

Joshua Cookingham said...

I recall that Keith Green sang a song with a similar theme...but no language.

Also, the way Derek Webb sang those words jsut made them seem gratuitous. He was too casual about it....

round.tuit said...

btw - Tony Campolo has been riding the same high horse for many years. What is this life about - bringing glory to God or exercising freedom/pushing the envelope? Campolo's tongue revealed his true message.

Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

There is no such thing as safe sin.

Jugulum said...

Frank,

On swearing as "words used exclusively to convey vile contempt."

If swearing is a problem because it involves contempt--what about cases where contempt & revulsion is appropriate? Like talking about dead self-righteousness? Or false teachers who lead people astray from the gospel?

Oh... Was that your point? We don't have full-on liberty to use it willy-nilly, because it communicates vile contempt?

Craig and Heather said...

Um. Is the "emerg deterg" for the washing out of dirty mouths?


Wonderful post and certainly not applicable to emerg only. I think many of us are tempted to use off-color language at times. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to avoid the exposure to it, so it is one more temptation that we must guard against.



I am reminded me of:

Matthew 15:11-20 Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man...... But the things which come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man.
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies;
these are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.


The ability to un-apologetically speak (or listen to) language that openly dishonors God is indicative of an unhealthy heart condition.

Surely, those who profess to be Christian leaders should understand that the tone which they set will be mimicked by their followers? Perhaps Jesus' warning to watch for rotten fruit would apply.

Indulging one's sinful desire to be rebellious and then using "biblical examples" in order to justify such behavior is very dangerous ground upon which to tread, IMO.

Heather

trickynikkit said...

Ok, this is all well and good, but is that your justification for calling someone in Christian music who talks about the things that matter, who is as bold, creative, and revolutionary as Derek Webb "an angry, crude-mouthed bobble-head" ?

Wow, that's a bit rich, as far as I can see, regardless of this issue, he's accomplishing a lot by discussing these issues and raising concerns Christians SHOULD have but most don't. Who are you to dismiss him?

Maybe you lost the point. The song is called "What matters more." So, "tell me, brother, what matters more to you," cursing to catch attention and make you realize how grave the issue is or Derek's message, as Biblical or more than yours, of truly reaching out to the ones many Christians oppress and suppress?

Craig and Heather said...
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Craig and Heather said...

trickynikkit,

I'm not familiar with Derek Webb (does he claim to be a Christian?).

Christian's are not called to lower our standards in order to express our frustration at the lack of "social justice" in the world.

While it makes me nervous when people start tossing about "proof texts" I think the simple instruction in Ephesians 4:26-27 is more than sufficient to cause any professing believer to carefully weigh our words--even if "cussing" is not the issue.

Be angry, and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the Devil.

If the guy isn't a believer, God calls those who refuse to acknowledge Him "fools". And regardless of a godless man's desire to right what is wrong in the world, he is building on a faulty foundation which will, eventually collapse.

H

round.tuit said...

Jug, I vividly remember a time when I knew nothing of God and was void of a conscience. It is true, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. I am tired of hearing of 2nd, 3rd...generation "christians" who are rebelling how they were raised.

Jugulum said...

Heather,

Yes, Derek Webb is a professing Christian. He used to be in the group Caedmon's Call. The album in question also includes a song called "The Spirit vs the Kick Drum", with sentiments that would be right at home here at TeamPyro.

"I don't want the Father, you know I want a vending machine /
I don't want the Son, you know I want a jury of peers /
I don't want the Spirit, you know I want the kick drum"

(The "kick drum" thing is explained here--basically, don't confuse a moving beat with the movement of the Spirit. Don't confuse good emotion in music with real worship.)

Jugulum said...

round,

Yes. If you're saying, "Don't depend on the power of your argument to bring conviction to your friends--the Holy Spirit will do it", then I agree.

And the Holy Spirit also uses the Scripture to convict. And He tells us to handle the word of truth rightly (2 Tim 2:15).

I'm not going to tell someone, "This verse means you shouldn't swear," if it doesn't say that at all.

stratagem said...

OK, I finally looked up the lyrics to the Derek Webb "what matters more" song. Was I supposed to be impressed that the message of that song was so profound that it excused his bad language? If so, then I'm missing it.

Actually I don't see where he expressed a single original thought in that song.

Solameanie said...

Jug,

I make no claims to being a biblical languages scholar. However, I think when you take Scripture as a whole, it's pretty obvious to me that whether we're talking vile words or deceptive words, all are beneath people who are supposed to be ambassadors for the Lord in this world.

Typically, the Emergent gymnastics seem more designed to "what can we try and get away with" versus "how can we best honor the Lord and His Word?"

Folks, this shouldn't even be an argument. It really doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out what bad or evil language is. However, as we see now on almost a daily basis, Emergent-types love to create arguments and ambiguity over everything.

I'd love to see them lying in an emergency room with a life-threatening condition only to have the ER doctors begin an argument over what a cardiac infarction really means.

Solameanie said...

Excuse me, I meant "acute myocardial infarction."

Jugulum said...

Solameanie,

Eh? Seriously? "I can't point to anything in particular, but it should be clear from the whole of Scripture, and if anyone doesn't see it, they're just playing squishy Emergent word games"?

It is not a question of whether vile language is beneath God's ambassadors. It's a question of whether "vile vocabulary word" is even a Biblical category at all.


I agree, it shouldn't be about what we can get away with. That's partly why I'm not tempted to start swearing, even though I'm still trying to figure out how to mount a solid Biblical case against it. There's at least the issue of causing weaker brothers to stumble, and the issue of needlessly bringing offense--which can damage the Body of Christ, even when the action itself isn't sin.

However, the cause of Biblical orthodoxy is not helped by defending traditional assumptions with weak or incomplete exegesis. (And I do think some of these arguments are weak.) Nor it is helped the dismissive assumption that challenges to your arguments all come from squishy emergent relativistic licentiousness. The Word is weighty; we do not testify to its worth by using it frivolously.

stratagem said...

How about "Jesus didn't cuss - why should you?"

Craig and Heather said...

Thanks Jugulum. I don't really stay informed about most aspects of popular Christian music.

(The "kick drum" thing is explained here--basically, don't confuse a moving beat with the movement of the Spirit. Don't confuse good emotion in music with real worship.)

Interesting (ironic?) that we could apply that same line of thinking to the urge to break out in a rash of cuss words whenever there is frustration over a situation.

H

olan strickland said...

Matthew 12:33-37

I was saved at age 31 and had done more than my share of cussing. The Lord cleaned that up!

I worked for a supermarket and interacted with lots of people. One of my co-workers cussed around me continually hoping to get under my skin. One day he asked me if his cussing bothered me to which I replied, "No. I don't have to give an account for what you speak - you do", and I pulled out my Bible and showed him Matthew 12:36. He said that gave him the "heebee jeebees." I don't know if that was cussing or not :)

Frank Turk said...

Jugulum --

If you'll accept my apology for treating you like you are vile and beneath contempt for the discussion last week about the church, I'll chat about cussing.

Otherwise, there's no sense in pretending there's a civil discourse here.

Craig and Heather said...

Matthew 12:36 is one of those "haunting" verses that brings out the Arminian in me.

Truly, the taming of the tongue is a lifelong endeavor. And I always end up wondering whether my account be overdrawn when God opens His books?

It always brings me back to begging Jesus to hide me under His blood.

heather

Michael said...

Flabbergasted!!

I followed one of the links. It wasn't until author Dave posted a response comment that I worked out he was serious. I thought the whole article was a satire!! Don't swear at McDonalds in case you offend someone, but at church, it's fine.

Ai-yai-yai yai-yai

Doug Masters,

I would keep weak in the quote, but keep sinful in the background awareness.

Swearing is often an attempt to colour language with emotion and force when the person does not have the vocabulary or articulation to pull it off - weak intellect? Weak verbal skills? how to put it nicely...

Swearing is also a bad habit, fairly easily corrected (compared to smoking etc) if someone is serious about it. - Weak will.

I think the funniest use of swearing (in that pathetic way) is when the expletive that is supposed to add force is so overused and emptied that it has to be repeated or augmented with another expletive. Sometimes actual meaningful words that contribute sense to the sentence are less than 50% of a normal conversation.

Michael Hutton

Jugulum said...

I was puzzled by this apology, so I started writing this comment (even after I sent Frank an email about it). I just got the reply, but it's bugging me to see Frank's apology sitting there in public view. So for public consumption:

1.) I don't know what bad treatment you're apologizing for. I wasn't here for the church discussion last week. I think you mixed me up with someone else. (In fact, in our last interaction, I apologized to you, because I got a bit charged.)

2.) If you did treat me poorly, I would absolutely accept your apology.

3.) Of all the people I don't really know--Internet people--you're one of my favorite. I appreciate your love for the body of Christ, and your convicting calls on how we do church. Multiple times, I've been convicted toward true Christ-like service & love. They're like love-taps upside the head. (You're also one of my favorite people to wrangle with. Even when I think you're going off into the woods, I expect you to come back with some good meat to chew on.)

Michael said...

My two cents added to the actual argument is this:

Why do you want to be at the cutting edge of the vulgarisation of culture?

Why not be at the cutting edge of the sanctification of culture?

All the back and forth about who's really offended, which words are really bad or just a little bad etc etc slip into the background a little as I consider perspective as we decide which of those we want to be.

Michael Hutton

Jugulum said...

Whoops, it wasn't clear: From Frank's email reply, it does look like he mixed me up with someone else in last week's church discussion.

Chris said...
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Chris said...

I think the real issue Phil is trying to get at in this post is not so much a matter of which words constitute cussing, or which circumstances seem more or less justifiable environments in which to cuss, but rather how gravely sinful and offensive to God's holiness it is for those who claim to know and love Christ to intentionally be as worldly and carnal as they can, whatever the particular manifestation of such carnality.

However, is this not the over-arching problem with all things emergent, and with their blind apostate leaders: that they insist upon trying to join God, in unholy union, with their own worldly perceptions, desires, and practices whilst also remaining dogmatic in their insistence that the sins they advocate in their agenda are somehow acceptable before a Holy God.

Well, true believers should not be surprised at the increase of the antics among those who oppose Him within the church, like these blatant examples of worldly mouthes (even from pulpits), as God will continue to harden their hearts as they shake their fists at His holiness, wanting nothing of it in their own lives. Hence, cussing is the only language these people know because this world is clearly all they know; they do not know God, despite their Christian titles. I think the whole cussing issue should be the last, most clearly pronounced marker that a huge percetage of that which is called "Christian" out there (churches, authors, ministries, colleges, radio personalities) is nothing of the sort! They couldn't make themselves clearer.

Pray for their souls, that they might encounter the true and living God of scripture in humble submission to His holiness and sovereignty.

Sir Aaron said...

Michael:

"Swearing is often an attempt to colour language with emotion and force when the person does not have the vocabulary or articulation to pull it off - weak intellect? Weak verbal skills?"

I have often made this argument and I am usually met with derision. Of the acquaintances that I know who cuss as part of their normal vocabulary, I find they lack the ability to express themselves except through the use of three of four cuss words.

"Why do you want to be at the cutting edge of the vulgarisation of culture?"

Supposing that the current words being used by people such as Driscoll are no longer considered cuss words, why is there such emphasis and proactive encouragement of the use of such words?

John said...
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Solameanie said...

Jug,

No desire to be weak or squishy, and above all no desire to mishandle Scripture. I'm a bit surprised you'd say that.

I didn't look up the Hebrew when citing the verse, and really didn't think it was necessary. This isn't the only time this issue has been discussed here and elsewhere, and in general when this issue is discussed, the usual and/or appropriate Scriptures get cited. Why do I need to go into a lengthy dissertation? When Scripture talks about corrupt speech, filthy talk, coarse jesting etc..are we really that brain-dead that we don't know what that means?

Most cultures have their obscene, vulgar and profane words, and their meaning/intent is unmistakable. It seems to me that the heart intent of Scripture is plain that our speech is not to go in that direction.

I'll tell one little amusing anecdote. I had to fill the pulpit one day at a local United Methodist Church. The day I was there, an elder in the church was sitting in the sanctuary discussing sheep farming with another man and used the profane word for manure. I was surprised, but let it pass and said nothing. A few weeks later, I ran into this elder at a gas station and politics was mentioned in passing. I said that I thought some of our Illinois politicians were "in bed" with other groups of concern, and this elder winced like he was startled. He said in complete seriousness, "I'm surprised a pastor would talk that way." Well, I'm not a pastor, but that's irrelevant. Funny it would be okay for him, but not for me..and what I said wasn't something typically seen as profane.

Nevertheless, I do try to be careful with my speech these days. I have no desire to bring shame or reproach on the Lord.

Phil Johnson said...

Trickynikkit: "this is all well and good, but is that your justification for calling someone in Christian music who talks about the things that matter, who is as bold, creative, and revolutionary as Derek Webb "an angry, crude-mouthed bobble-head"

Well, no. My "justification" for that comment is that in the video in question, Webb did, in fact, assume the persona of an angry, foul-mouthed bobblehead. His own record label certainly recognized that and knew it would be problematic. They asked him not to do it, but he did it anyway. I'm sure you have heard of the controversy that ensued. It's quite famous.

I realize, of course, that Webb did it in the name of art, and as everyone who listens to the NAE knows, every vile thing from excrement to porn is deemed artsy nowadays.

Obviously I am not as awed by the artistic merits of this music video as you are (my critical tastes are more in line with the producers who tried to tell Derrick Webb his swearing was a bad idea). But I would be the first to confess that art is not my forte. I'm willing to give Derrick Webb all the credit he deserves for his "art."

But the "angry, foul-mouthed bobble-head" remark was not some random phrase I pulled out of thin air in order to be insulting. That is the part he plays in that video. Watch it and see for yourself if you don't believe me. Being offended about it is rather like some Devo fan getting piqued at someone who describes that band's headgear as upside-down flower pots.

RichardS said...

Matthew 12:36 "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment." (careless = idle, useless)

If every careless word spoken will have an accountability, then what of every vile word.

If every careless word spoken will have an accountability, then what of every use of God's name that is not in reverence and love.

If all who have been baptized in His name bear His name (not to mention that humans are made in His image), then all of our words bear on His name in some degree.

1 Corinthians 10:31 "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Using crude and vulgar language does not manifest the glory of God.

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum:

I think it was you who asked whether "culture" is the absolute arbiter of acceptible language. (I read the thread this afternoon at baggage claim, and I can't recall infallibly who said what).

All I have tonight is my iPhone--not the best tool for long replies, so I'll try to answer you more thoroughly later, perhaps with a full post. But here's a short reply to tide you over:

Abraham Piper raised a similar question at his blog last week.

The answer, of course, is that "culture" never determines where the bar of biblical morality should be set. And yet one of the principles of biblical morality is that if something offends the moral sensitivities of a culture, then whether culture's standard has a biblical basis or not, we should respect the culture's scruples--unless there's a very clear reason, rooted in some higher biblical principle, to offend the cultural standard. (Even Wal-Mart & McDonald's undertand that it's bad to offend others' moral sensibilities, and that's why their employees aren't permitted to cuss in the presence of customers.)

That's what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9. He is advocating respect for a culture's taboos & traditions, not giving a rationale for tattoos and eyebrow studs.

There are times, of course, when obeying God might mean disobeying cultural customs and taboos. But the general biblical principle is that such standards are to be respected insofar as it's possible.

You confuse things by equating our culture's contempt for the name of Christ (not a new phenomenon, by the way) with every culture's tendency to regard scatological words as "filthy" and therefore inappropriate for polite society. The latter is a judgment Scripture encourages; the former is an attitude the Bible condemns.

Jugulum said...

Sola,

As for weak & squishy, don't make my criticism broader than I did. I said:

"However, the cause of Biblical orthodoxy is not helped by defending traditional assumptions with weak or incomplete exegesis. (And I do think some of these arguments are weak.) [bold added, italics are original]" That's "some".

And "squishy" was my word for the stereotypical emergent argument style, not for yours or Phil's or anyone else's here.


This is what I definitely thought was "weak".

I thought Phil's use of Eph 5:4 was simply incomplete.

Hence my question: "Does anyone have further information to back that up? How do we know that "aischrotes" refers not just to talk about vulgar topics, but also to talk using taboo words?"

I suspect there's a good chance that it does--but I can't present it as the teaching of God's Word without being confident that it does mean taboo words. And questioning whether "obscenity/filthiness" refers to filthy content rather than filthy vocabulary choice doesn't strike me as terribly emergent, squishy, or braindead. It's a reasonable question--and the answer shouldn't be that hard, if it does refer to taboo cusswords.

Yours was a reference to Prov 17:20--which might be about deceitfulness, and not vulgarity at all. If it refers to vulgarity, then I have the same question as on Eph 5:4. (As I asked in my first comment to you!) If it doesn't--then yes, it turns out to be a weak & cursory argument, though I don't mock you for going by the NASB translation. I just hope you can see that there's a real question about your verse--and one that will show up quickly, when someone who doesn't already agree with you tries to examine it.


Now, I have no desire to be braindead. (If you were surprised at "weak & squishy", how do you expect me to react to "braindead"?) And I'm aware this has been discussed before. That's precisely why my first comment was a simple, respectful request for further information backing up the idea that "filthiness" in Eph 5:4 includes taboo vocabulary. And that's why my first comment to you was similar.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

No, not me. I think you're remembering Ed M's comment. (No problem. Kudos, typing that comment on iPhone!)

I just reposted my main question to you, in my comment to Solameanie.

Jugulum said...

But PS: I would amend what I said in my first comment.

"As people seem to agree, the big question with cussing is taboo words. (The concepts aren't necessarily taboo--there are non-taboo synonyms. The taboo applies to particular words.)"

Frank's comment was a good addition--that it also has to do with their use as expressions of vile contempt. (Though I'm still mulling over whether it's accurate to say that they are excusively for expressing that.)

Christian Haiku said...

The sin of cussing
No different than the others
Judgment, for instance
-ChristianHaiku.com

DJP said...

I never thought this day would come. I have a standing policy not to dispute with my blog-brothers.

But this cannot stand. It must be said. I must say it.

Phil Johnson is WRONG.

Whew. Whoa. Hang on, got to catch my breath. Wow. Whew.

Okay, where was I? Oh, right: Phil is wrong.

When?

When he says this: "But I would be the first to confess that art is not my forte."

No? What are those graphics, which just about everyone who talks to me about Pyro mentions with an admiring smile?

Art.

And particularly, what are the Po-Motivators?

Art.

There you go.

Now, brother... take it back. No use denying it. The world knows the truth.

Phil Johnson: Artiste.

truthinator said...

There you go again, Phil. You are using truth and logic to teach when we all know that the important thing is to be illogical, tolerant, and even un-Biblical when necessary to placate the fleshly motivators of the lost lemmings... ;-)

Look, these rebel pastor dudes, new mystics, emergents, and so forth are only wshowing what they are really made of. From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.

Some years ago (and continuing), I began to pray about people being revealed for who they really are. This has indeed begun to happen. The 'cussing' preachers are simply revealing their true nature.

Thanks for spreading inconvenient truth...

T.

www.truthinator.wordpress.com

Cadis said...
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Solameanie said...

Jug,

I really didn't mean to imply that you were brain-dead. My frustration is with the culture (in the church) in general who wants to argue about stuff like this and defend inappropriate language.

Anymore, when I hear the word "culture," I think of the fungus growing in a petri dish, and not art, music, literature or anything else of dignity.

round.tuit said...

Jug, Wake up. (Romans 13:11-14, 14:12-13) I am not sure if I can take you seriously. It appears that on one hand you are suggesting that a book of sinful words is needed, however, I also sense that the word to follow from you would be legalist.

I stand by my statement that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. I also believe that our goal ought to be to bring glory to God and not to be offensive or how far the envelope can be pushed.

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum: Hence my question: "Does anyone have further information to back that up? How do we know that 'aischrotes' refers not just to talk about vulgar topics, but also to talk using taboo words?"

I don't think anyone is saying a word per se can be evil--as if expletives had the property of bad magic or evil juju. I'm not suggesting that cussing is bad because these words are like a "negative confession" in abracadabra form. That much should be clear.

The sense of the word aischrotes is "filthy" or "obscene," and it comes from a Greek root that speaks of "shame." It's a broad term, not a specific one. But the context makes clear what Paul means: nothing obscene or (as my mom used to say) "dirty" should come out of our mouths. ("Let it not even be named among you"--v. 3).

The fact that he is talking about what comes out of our mouths is clear from the immediate context, which speaks of "foolish talk" and "crude joking."

It's pretty hard to see how anyone could simultaneously obey this command and yet employ words that are themselves generally deemed obscene, filthy, or shameful--especially if the speaker is employing such terms for their shock value or as crude or demeaning exclamations.

Only a few words are universally deemed obscene in English, and I don't need to provide a list of them. There are, of course, several other words whose propriety is debatable. They may be ambiguous in meaning or regionally classified as either "filthy" or perfectly acceptable--or various shades in between. (A few words we commonly use in a perfectly innocent sense in the US mean something obscene in UK usage. When I'm in the UK or writing for UK readers, I avoid those words in any context.)

We don't need to discuss the merits (or demerits) of individual words here. I have no interest in expanding the short-list of obscene English words. If you can use a word or expression while dealing with a customer within earshot of the boss and no one bats an eye, it's probably OK to use in almost any context.

But if either the language you use or the substance of what you say glorifies some sin like fornication, minimizes the evil of such sins, treats something wicked as fodder for a joke or entertainment, or abuses the ears (or mind) of your audience in an unholy or unloving manner, then you are violating the substance of this commandment.

In short, the concern I am raising is not a dispute about words per se. It's not sounds and syllables that concern me, but a pervasive attitude that reflects a casual apathy (and in some cases an arrogant pride in one's own "liberality") toward filthiness in general.

Solameanie said...

This doesn't necessarily meet what would be called a biblical test, but I've found that it can be pretty reliable. If the word you use would cause your mother or grandmother to wash your mouth out with lye soap, or would get you fired in a place of business dealing with the public, that's a pretty good indicator.

In former days, I used to challenge Christians who defended a "free tongue" to use those words from the pulpit or Sunday school lectern. They would generally blush, hem and haw, and then try to say why it wouldn't be appropriate there.

That doesn't work anymore, since pastors and Sunday school teachers are doing their Lenny Bruce/George Carlin routines on live mic these days.

Jugulum said...

Round,

I think we must be having a lot of trouble communicating. I'm not sure what you think I've arguing. (For instance--you said you stand by what you had said about the Holy Spirit. So it sounds like you think I disagreed that the Holy Spirit, when I actually just said that one way the Holy Spirit brings conviction is through the rebuke of fellow believers who are rightly handling Scripture. And I'll be really surprised if you disagree with that kind of direct Biblical teaching. 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 2:15). If I was talking in a confusing way, I apologize; if it happens again in the future--with me or someone else--I'd encourage you to ask people to clarify.


Phil,

Thank you very much for that answer. Good meat to chew on.



I also wanted to post this additional link from Dan Wallace. He posted an entry called Pauline Scatology on the Parchment and Pen blog, but it was lost when their databases got corrupted last year--so I couldn't find it when I looked on Monday. But here's a link at archive.org:

Pauline Scatology, Dan Wallace