26 October 2006


by Phil Johnson

on't think for a moment that I regard my comments about language, propriety, and grace as good advice for others but not for me.

As a matter of fact, I'm rather surprised that no one yet has flung the whole argument back in my face: "You may not preach like Driscoll, but do you think everything you post at your blog is edifying? You don't think some of your hard-edged humor and love of sarcasm is also less than edifying? What about all the people you offend?"

Some commenters have hinted at that, but no one has really clubbed me over the head with it yet. They've uncharacteristically let me off light.

So what's my answer to that charge?

"I lay my hand over my mouth" (Job 40:4). "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). My "tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5).

Scripture is full of admonitions about seasoning our words with grace: "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6). "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).

"The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up; the words of his mouth begin with foolishness, and the end of his talk is raving madness. A fool also multiplies words" (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14).

"My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And Your salvation all the day, For I do not know their limits. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only. O God, You have taught me from my youth; And to this day I declare Your wondrous works" (Psalm 71:15-17).

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

And then there's this wonderful couplet from the Proverbs: "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent" (Proverbs 15:4-5).

The point is simple: This is a huge issue, and a major part of what the Bible has to say about the sanctification we require. Scripture is full of admonitions to guard our language carefully.

Only a rank fool would try to defend filthy talk or see how close he could come to the limits of impropriety without actually crossing the line. We (and as Frank says, "We" includes "me") need to cultivate the exact opposite attitude toward this particular transgression.

That, I think, is the whole point of James 3:1-2.

By the way, I realize that passage is not merely a caution against a list of forbidden words. It has to do with how we speak to and about one another as well as what we speak about. It rebukes me with as much force as it rebukes the people whose comments I have to delete because they are rule-2 violations.

I confess that to my shame.

Phil's signature


Even So... said...


bill melone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

To all (once more):

If Aunt Prudence, the 65-year-old Sunday-school teacher, is likely to blush at words you use or subjects you want to talk about, please don't post them here.

Mathew Sims said...

Good word of admonition. We all need it, not just Driscoll.

Soli Deo Gloria

bill melone said...

Phil, I honestly didn't think for a second that that would be offensive. Heres the basic question: Are you always offended by the generic type of joke that Driscoll offended with, or only when Christ is involved--is Driscoll's problem (in your view) more his use of jokes in the pulpit or simply his view of Christ (as understood by his joking about that aspect of Christ's humanity)?

Neil said...

Phil, an admonition like this that is being shone upon the writer is appreciated and characteristic.

donsands said...

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven." Matt 5:3

As I read this post, a thought of a time when a godly sister in Christ, who was in her 80's, came to the elders for prayer, for she was ill.
We prayed according to James 5. After we read the Scriptures, prayed, and said Amen, this wonderful saint of the Lord, rebuked us, and said we did not ask her to confess her sins.

Something how the most godly servants of the Lord, can be the ones who think they aren't.

Carla Rolfe said...


what you have expressed here is the world of difference for me, in a man of God that truly desires the Word to shine through his life, and a man who professes Christ and makes excuses to hold hands with the world.

Thank you for saying this. May it convict many hearts to a higher standard.


Phil Johnson said...

Bill Melone:

Whether this or that offends me personally isn't the issue.

1. I don't want anything posted at my blog that would not be suitable for polite conversation in Aunt Prudy's Sunday school class. Lots of Aunt Prudy's friends do actually read the blog, and they trust me to hold the line.

2. I think that standard honors Christ better than any attempt to see how filthy someone's conversation can get before other Christians finally complain that it's gone too far.

3. When there's a good reason to discuss someone's private body functions, wicked activities, or personal medical history in a public setting, I'm not going to complain about it. But getting a cheap laugh is never a good reason for delving into those subjects, and farnkly, I can't think of many good reasons such things would ever need to be talked about in the meta of my blog. Especially in the midst of a long thread about why I think filthy speech and crude subject matter should not characterize any Christian's conversation.

4. Scripture frequently notes that certain things are shameful to talk about (cf. Eph. 5:12; 1 Cor. 5:1). Again, there are occasions when such things must be mentioned anyway, but the exceptions don't disprove the rule.

I really don't think it should be all that hard to see where I draw the line and why. Lots of people probably disagree with my perspective. My perspective is still the one that governs comments on this blog.

bill melone said...

Phil, I appreciate your response, and I agree with you (though without as strong a threshold of what vulgar is I guess). But isn't the christology/incarnation-as-insulting-to-God the bigger issue than low-brow topics?

Phil Johnson said...

Bill: "But isn't the christology/incarnation-as-insulting-to-God the bigger issue than low-brow topics?"

Certainly. To begin with, no one has said that Mark Driscoll's Christology or view of the incarnation is insulting to God. As a matter of fact, I expressly said I had no complaint about that. My complaint has to do with the joking manner in which he focused on lowbrow topics and couched his teaching in toilet humor. I'm sure if Driscoll himself (or his wife or daughter)—rather than Christ—were the subject of discussion, Driscoll would not have wanted such a discussion to be handled so publicly and treated as a big joke.

No one has yet answered that rather basic point: How is it that people defend Driscoll for speaking of Christ in such a way, when we would ALL be deeply offended if he delved into those same aspects of the church secretary's humanity? Is Christ worthy of less dignity than the church secretary?

Again: I didn't argue that Driscoll's Christology was wrong: merely that his heavy focus on and crude words about those specific subjects in a public meeting was inappropriate.

It's not a complex point I am making. No one would have questioned it a decade ago. What happened?

David said...

Part of what happened (and I stand guilty) is that our standards and convictions and sense of the Good have slowly dissolved by things we find ourselves laughing at.

Case in point: I can remember a decade ago when nearly everyone in our SS class watched Friends on NBC. My wife and I refused to watch an episode. How Christians could be taken in by a sit-com that featured the values of Must See TV night was a mystery to us. We're seeing the fruits now by Christians who just don't seem to have a problem with vulgarity in various forms, only because that's what they subconsciously (at best) accepted from our culture in recent years without discernment.

To a good extent this is over-generalizing, yes. But out of the abundance of the heart,...

Kim said...


As my teenaged son would say, you rock.

donsands said...

"What happened?"

I'll take a guess. I believe it's that the Bible is not as valued as people claim they value it.

The Scriptures may indeed be the #1 statement on the statement of faith, but is this a true value, or simply a perceptive value.

A genuine value should be evident.

Stephen said...

thanks for your humility, john. God bless you in your search for that balance.

candy said...

Phil: You asked the question..."what happened?" I stated earlier in a related comment and now here that I think the media is a powerful message. We are so swayed by the media. The media has broken down any sense of propriety. We abhor certain kinds of behavior and speech in the Body of Christ, but we allow it in our homes through whatever media we watch or listen to. The media keeps pushing the envelope, and we keep allowing the envelope to be pushed in our own lives. Generally speaking of course. Good post by the way.

James Kubecki said...

Um, in the spirit of Luke 6, shouldn't this post have appeared first? ;-)

Seriously, though, thank you for the double dose of humility and conviction. This is definitely one to bookmark and come back to...

FX Turk said...


I feel like I have to get you a cup of green tea or a pinafore or a ... a skirt or something. And suddenly I want to arrange flowers.

It's too much. Where's iMonk? I need some red meat or I'm going to need an intervention ...

Rob Steele said...

I like your style and tone and your curiously strong opinions but I have a bone to pick with you regarding words. Or rather, one particular word. It's in Rule Two: "Parameters." I don't think it means what you think it means. Many people abuse it and maybe one day it will merge completely into "perimeter" but please don't hasten its demise.

There now. Get up off the floor and put this meat chub back in the freezer.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think the things you have written here, Phil, are true. Perhaps they are a noble admission too. Love believeth all things. Love hopeth all things. As a pastor, I regularly say similar things as you did here, and from the pulpit. I do find it a lot harder to bring up specific offenses I know I have made and get them right with a person, private if private and public if public. I know I haven't settled it if I say something like: "I do things wrong." Or, "Yes, I sin too with my tongue, everybody does."

Colossians 2:8 talks about "voluntary humility," likely "false humility." I don't think anyone should assume someone is engaging in a kind of showy humility, because it isn't something that we can judge, but we do know it exists so is possible. I have found it to exist when someone is confronted on something particular and will not be humble about it, but will do a sort of grand admission on their own terms. As a Christian worker, I'm happy about the big admissions, but where I see the real humility is in the willing, specific admissions of particular sins with the tongue. One cannot truly be humble by engaging in specific, sinful acts with the tongue accompanied by stubborn defensiveness, but then later making the grand general admission to cover for all of those specific sins one has been stubborn about. That isn't Biblical confession. As Bob Newhart would say: "Stop It!"

Phil Johnson said...

James Kubecki: "Um, in the spirit of Luke 6, shouldn't this post have appeared first? ;-)"


Kim: "As my teenaged son would say, you rock."

That's one thing I definitely do not do.

Rob Steele: ""Parameters." I don't think it means what you think it means."

parameter (pe · RAM · i · ter): A distinguishing or defining characteristic or feature, esp. one that may be measured or quantified; an element or aspect of something; a boundary, a limit.

--Oxford English Dictionary

Sounds like the right definition to me.

Phil Johnson said...

I apologize for the flakiness of Blogger today. It's tempting to switch comments to Haloscan. Oddly enough, I can comment with Firefox at the moment, but not with IE. That's hard to explain.

Carla Rolfe said...


you asked:

"It's not a complex point I am making. No one would have questioned it a decade ago. What happened?"

Please, for the sake of us all, when you figure out exactly what it was that happened that has caused so many brothers and sisters to NOT get this simple point, let us all know?

I do think Candy is on to something there though... as society in general becomes more and more desensitized to what was once commonly understood as offensive speech (primarily through television and movies), Christian society has also become desensitized to these things.

Right along with it, "common courtesy" hasn't been common for a very long time.

Just thinking outloud.

Again, excellent post and thank you.


Norman said...

Looking just a little deeper than the "hard-edged humor and love of sarcasm": what sometimes bothers me more, and I think it is related to the same things Phil is trying to say, is that there is little regard for the person behind the action or words that are being taken to task.
However I may disagree with what blogger, preacher, emergents or TRs think, say and do, I don't find people there who are not genuinely trying to serve Christ, as far as I can tell.
Their thinking and actions have reasons. They have been motivated to do things because of background, experiences, things they have missed, etc.
If we do believe that it is the heart that governs actions and words, then the antidote to bad theology or praxis would need to be getting to the heart, not flailing with a whip.
You get to the heart by asking the why questions.
Once you get to the heart you can deal with the real issues, and the corrections occur on their own under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

It is that level I often miss, and that makes the humor and sarcasm sometimes hit hard and really hurt. I could take the hunmor and sarcasm better if I knew the person was really concerned about my heart. (and with that sentence I admit that the sarcasm sometimes hurts, because I'm not always in agreement with Pyro. There, it is said)

I have heard Keller say more than once: if you look back at yourself ten years ago, you think "wow, I sure was an idiot." Well, think for a moment of how you will look back at these days ten years from now.

Someone else - and I don't know who - said: "All theology is autobiography". I think there is a lot of truth in that, and if we want to understand someone's theology, we need to understand him or her.

And one more that always helps keep perspective for me: in the year 5000 AD theology students will be reading books entitled: The Primitive Church: 0 - 2000.

Chris Ross said...

Last night I attended a Bible study (we call 'em fellowship groups) and the passage we looked at was James 3, on the tongue! After having been in the 'Fed Up' meta fray here at Pyros for two days, it was good to hear the Lord speaking on this topic Himself. I certainly needed to hear it, but I think it speaks to the Driscoll situation too. James concludes his discussion of the tongue by describing wisdom from God:

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."

Sharad Yadav said...

Yesterday I almost decided to join the fray on the Driscoll rant by posting a comment with pretty much exactly what you said here - verses and all. There's a hefty rebuke to ME for trying to do the Holy Spirit's work and generally being an unceasing voice of protest. Thanks for posting it. It's really good to hear you say - not because I need vindication, but because in all of our disagreements it reminds me that the same Spirit works in you as in me (Eph. 4:1-5).

By the way, I realize that passage does not allow us to minimize real differences or say that they don't matter, or that important doctrinal matters shouldn't be carefully debated and defended. It rebukes me with as much force as it rebukes the people who I sometimes demonize - which, like the above - I confess to my shame.

Kim said...

Kim: "As my teenaged son would say, you rock."

That's one thing I definitely do not do.

Sniff, sniff. Oh dear, I'm so offended.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

"No one has yet answered that rather basic point: How is it that people defend Driscoll for speaking of Christ in such a way, when we would ALL be deeply offended if he delved into those same aspects of the church secretary's humanity? Is Christ worthy of less dignity than the church secretary?"

Candy touched on part of the problem, (desensitizing influence of the media) but I think that the larger problem is rooted in what is passing for preaching in too many evangelical pulpits. If more pastors preached on the beauty and excellencies of Christ, our Prophet, Priest and King; Christ in all His glory and perfections, rather than "Jesus as my co-pilot," a theraputic helper, or a friendly companion who helps make life better; then more Christians would be offended by such coarse talk and fewer people would defend it.

Steve said...

It's not a complex point I am making. No one would have questioned it a decade ago. What happened?

I think both CandyinSierras and Carla have touched on elements that answer your good question, Phil. Without question media is a desensitizing influence...and as it continues to spiral downward in the areas of the spoken word and respect (and a lot of other areas), it's going to continue to lower society's threshold of what's acceptable and what's not.

At the same time, the church, in its seemingly noble but horribly misguided desire to make the church a more comfortable place for the lost, has de-emphasized the convicting elements of God's truth.

The desensitizing effect of media and society in general can wear down our convictions if we let it...and the de-emphasizing effect within many churches today leaves a lot of believers with underdeveloped convictions.

This wearing down and underdevelopment ultimately leaves us with more and more toothless saws in the church.

Solameanie said...


Please do be careful about offering Phil things like green tea. You're going to cause him to fall off the wagon again and head to Starbucks, and then Pec will have to issue a citation.

Remember, the Domino Principle is alive and well!

Rob Steele said...

Phil, regarding "parameter" and the OED, I think you've latched onto the the last two words in the definition and misunderstood their connection to the word being defined. I think what you mean is "boundary" or "limit" but those are not synonyms of "parameter", though I admit the OED makes it look like they are. They are connected but it's more subtle than one being the same as the other.

But even if I'm wrong and parameter means boundary or limit, you shouldn't use hifalutin Latin and Greek amalgams like that when a humble Middle English word expresses your idea more clearly and directly. It ain't proper.

MSC said...

What happened?

If I understand Rom. 1:21-32 correctly, when a people engage in rebellion against the Creator, idolatry and truth exchanging for lies, God gives them over to lust, impurity, degrading passions and a depraved mind. It is a people who are given over to racking up God's wrath.

I suggest our culture in under God's judgment. Just consider Rom. 1:26-27 in light of the current trends. Unfortunately, where the culture goes, too often there goes the professing Church. What makes Driscoll so disconcerting in my mind in the straddling fence syndrome. He wants to be Biblically faithful and yet co-opts too much cultural garbage in his language so as to appeal to his audience. He's attracted a lot of attention for his cleverness, but hasn't he poisoned the message?

What I find so odd, is that so many don't see it. Are we poisoned too?

donsands said...

Another thought hit me calvdispy.

Some like Driscoll and Erwin McManus comes to mind, also are reacting to the Religious Right. A knee-jerk reaction perhaps.
Mark seems to be a reactionary kind of guy.

I could be wrong. Just a thought.

Jason Robertson said...

I love the fact that rebuke your accusers before they actually accuse you. That is why you are the Great Pyro!

I have been watching this debate silently -- because I agree with both sides. How is that the pyroteam can be right on both sides of an issue???

I agree with the attitude of Frank and the attitude-checks of Phil. I agree with the tell-it-like-it-is of Frank and the tell-it-forcefully-but-above-reproach of Phil.

Sometimes I want to "give a tongue lashing" like Frank but resolve to "hold my tongue" like Phil.

Well, you get the point. I want to thank both of you guys for taking on both sides of this argument and helping us find that position of wisdom.

Your less than stellar Fide-O friends,

Phil Johnson said...

Rob Steele: "I think you've latched onto the the last two words in the definition and misunderstood their connection to the word being defined. I think what you mean is 'boundary' or 'limit' but those are not synonyms of 'parameter'."

The rule as worded says:

But keep within the parameters of Christian civility

Substitute all the elements of the OED definition:

But keep within the distinguishing, defining characteristics and features—the elements, the boundaries, and the limits—of Christian civility.

Seems to me the meaning (though not necessarily the syntax) captures exactly what I meant to say.

REM said...

Aunt Prudy,
I hope you can handle me saying booyah to this post because our brother Phil was spot on. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello there Pyromaniacs!

I highly enjoyed this edifying post among the wonderful others y'all post. But on this one I felt compelled to respond.

I'm most likely going to be considered a "rank fool" for my defense of "filthy" language. I have made a half-extensive post on the topic - http://truesage.blogspot.com/2006/07/return-of-king.html - and thought that might help you see my perspective.

I'll sum it up for all the readers anyways.

What people define as "cursing" or "filthy language" changes from culture to culture. True, scripture condemns the crude discussion of certain topics, and it says we are not to be vulgar. Many "naughty" words become so because of the topics they are associated with and not by what they mean themselves.

A quick jump to a conclusion in my comment for sake of limited time is that the words (i.e. what people call "cussing" or "filthy language") themselves aren't bad, but how they are used that's wrong. For those who get offended by the talk, it becomes more of an issue of the "weaker brother/stronger brother" discussion (see Romans 14 for reference to that. I also posted on that - http://truesage.blogspot.com/2006/08/hammer-falls.html -).

What "cussing" comes down to (in my humble opinion) is how use the words (i.e. whether we're hurting people by them or using them compound vulgar topics. And in those cases, it doesn't truly matter what language we use. It's what we talk about and how we say it that matters) and whether we offend people by using such language around them.

In a nutshell, that is my stance on cussing.

I truly appreciate Pyromaniacs and do my best to read it if I can find the time. I also loved this post's general message about watching our language and guarding our tongues and all.

God bless!

-Cameron, the Advocate

Craig Schwarze said...

I thought I should share parts of an email I received last night. Not sure which of the 3 threads it is most appropriate for - probably this one.

I asked anyone to send me examples of Driscoll's "cussing", and someone who listened to his sermons every week sent me a couple of examples from a while ago.

The words weren't bad - nothing an Australian would think twice about! But would certainly be considered cussing in some quarters.

("Cussing" is not what we call it in Oz - we call it "swearing". See, I'm translating this into American as I go.)

My correspondent tells me that Driscoll recently shared the following story

...he was asked by a fellow elder in his church what he'd like to be
remembered for. Mark answered something like "as a guy who loved
Jesus and who helped to plant a lot of churches". The pastor retorted
"well, you're quickly becoming known for your temper and your foul

My correspondent tells me that his language has been a lot cleaner since then.

I don't know how far you go. Should you be worried about if someone on the on the other side of the country listening to your podcast is offended? It is impossible to please everyone - someone will always find something to criticise.

Additionally, I get the impression that a number of Driscoll's critics will not be happy unless he looks and sounds like a 1930's baptist preacher. That is, they'll say "It's good that Driscoll doesn't mention the toilet anymore. Now, about those jeans..." and so on. He will never win.

I do wish someone had engaged with the Spurgeon parrallels. At one point Spurgeon said "No baptist preacher in the country will own me." Why was that? Were all the baptist preachers enemies of the gospel? No - but Spurgeon was so different, so big, so shocking that people could not cope with it.

We all imagine that, were we in 19th century London, we would be in the minority of Christians who supported Spurgeon. But it is at least equally possible that we would be in the majority of Christians, shaking our head at the disgrace he was bringing on the pulpit.

Lindon said...

Carla wrote: Please, for the sake of us all, when you figure out exactly what it was that happened that has caused so many brothers and sisters to NOT get this simple point, let us all know?"

It's Bill Clinton's fault.

Seriously, I am continually amazed at how many Christians watch TV. I mean lots of TV. I know I sound like a granola snob but the truth is I cannot handle too much popular culture. I am too weak. I am the only person at church or among colleagues who has never seen Desperate Housewives or 24 or the z files or whatever. People think I am weird.

Now, I am seeing sermon series in many churches that reflect popular culture. 'Desparate Households' is the most recent one I saw advertised at a mega church.

How can all of this help but permeate our everyday thoughts and speech?

It is bad enough what word pictures can do... like visualizing Frank in a pinafore! Oy.

Phil Perkins said...

I have long appreciated your ministry and quoted you. I have never found anything you have written here offensive in any way whatsoever, but if you feel you have, then it is good to say so.

However, I would like to make a balancing comment. It is depressing to me when I see just how little anger is expressed at false teaching in our churches. I teach at a small Bible school and have a job, too. I really don't mind showing my students (who become my friends) the disappointment, shame, and, yes, anger at the heresies welcomed into our midst. Perhaps this reticense to speak forcefully against such heresies as the Emergent is why they seem to be tolerated--even flourish. We aren't allowed to call a liar a liar.

I really believe that if Paul or Jesus were here today, and if one or both of them encountered Emergent teachings being tolerated, they would be very insistent on exposing and removing them right away. I'll bet Paul or Jesus would get in trouble for being mean.

I find many of my students asking where have the preachers that preach with authority gone. I think they have been whipped into effeminancy.

If you love your flock, a wolf will make you angry.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

donsands said...

"If you love your flock, a wolf will make you angry"

Amen brother.

But this is an anger with tears.

"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! ... For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross" Phil. 3:2,18

Steve Sensenig said...

Phil, I am determined not to stir the waters anymore here -- apparently being viewed as a fly in the soup -- but I really felt the need to tell you how much I appreciated this post and what seems to be the heart behind it.

Thank you.

I'll get out of the soup now...

Phil Perkins said...

To donsands,
Yeah, maybe I should be working on the tears part.

In the love of Christ,
Phil Perkins.

donsands said...

Me likewise.

I do pray the Lord would balnace my anger out with grief. Of course, it's His grace and truth alone through faith where our hearts are shaped.

Grace and peace.

Phil Perkins said...

Here is some encouragement that will balance out our anger AND our grief when we see false teachers come:
1. God always wins in the end, right? Every word of God is teseted; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. --Prov. 30:5. I have seen victories in my little corner of the world, such as Brian McLaren's books being pulled from a local Christain store.

2. Paul assures us in both Acts and I Cor. and Jude tells us , too, that false teachers come in to separate the real from the fake--purifying the church.

That perspective keeps me sane.

Comforted by God,
Phil Perkins.

donsands said...

Encouraging thoughts indeed.

God surely is in complete sovereign control.