Sunday, November 18, 2007

Coarse Joking

...and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. Eph 5:4 (NASB)


I read and heard it repeated numerous times that, upon his deathbed, W.C. Fields was caught reading the Bible. (Fields was known for his disdain for pretty much any type of religion.) When asked if he had reconsidered his opinion of religion he reportedly replied: "Just looking for loopholes." (Hold that thought for just a sec.)

The topic of profanity or "coarse" language has been the topic on at least two blogs I've read in the past week. Apparently, there are plenty of Christians (and pastors) these days that see nothing wrong with what many classify as profanity. Mark Driscoll, Senior Pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle has been called "the Cussing Pastor," a title according to Tim Challies, Driscoll "seems to feel is both funny and well-deserved." Althought I've never heard him use profanity, descriptions of Driscoll sound similiar in content to others I've run across on the internet.

So what does that have to do with W.C. Fields?! I think the drive behind the "cussing pastors" and those who agree with them is this idea that the Bible is full of loopholes.I've heard more times than once: "The Apostle Paul used the "S" word (cf. Php 3:8)! Or comments such as this one:

Don’t you find it the least bit absurd to think that documents written ~2k years ago by mostly Jewish men in ancient Greek would contain in them a list of English words that are forbidden?
It's this whole idea that because the Bible doesn't SPECIFICALLY forbid SPECIFIC words, then the door's open. Or if we can do enough linguistic gymnastics, we can claim that Paul was as much a potty-mouth as the next guy. Besides, "they're just words, right?"

Even though Paul didn't give us a list of words (similar to George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on Television--which I won't repeat here), he is obviously making a point about SOMETHING when he refers to "coarse joking." James makes a similar appeal as to the language we use (James 1:26) Both writers, it seems, have something--either specific words or phrases in mind, don't you think?

One individual I was discussing this topic with stated:

...the key difference in “coarse joking” would point to the purpose of the conversation, and not the individual words chosen (going back to using particular topics specifically for the purpose of titillation or “for the hell of it”, which would fall under this description).

I doesn’t seem at all like Paul is suggesting that there are a specific list of “coarse” words, but that it is the topic of conversation which is being addressed and the manner in which the topic is being addressed.

I'm sorry, but that sounds like the biggest bunch of gobbledy-gook aka bovine excrement I heard in a while.

Why must there be a "loophole?" Why is is necessary that we supposedly have the liberty to use words that others may find offensive, simply because "Paul didn't give us a list?"

20 comments:

Rick Beckman said...

Keith, thanks for this post; it has been an issue I've been wrestling with as well.

One of the things I've wrestled with most, however, is the subjectivity of language. What is crude and/or vulgar to one person or group may be normal or "soft" to another.

Forgive me if I push the limit too far with this, but it's perhaps one of the most innocuous example I can think of... Would it be wrong to refer to breasts as "boobs"? Very few people I know -- Christian or otherwise -- find the term offensive, and the term itself implies nothing more than the object it describes.

Would using such a word be in danger of being sinful? Or should our references of sex acts, body parts, and so on remain strictly "scientific"?

I realize that there isn't a detailed list, and we certainly do not want to risk being legalistic by creating rules where the Scriptures do not.

I'm simply offering up the above as a few ideas I've had on this topic.

God bless.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Rick - I think it would be wise to avoid those common references to body parts that seem careless and demeaning. We are supposed to avoid even the "appearance" of evil, not just the actual sin itself.

I have been asked many times in 32 years if I were a Christian simply because I did not swear or use crude language. Even the world recognizes something about clean language.

Rick Beckman said...

Henry (or is it Rick?) - Where are we told to avoid the appearance of evil?

That's awesome about being recognized by your speech. I can't claim your years of experience, but I can report the same recognitions, despite occasional uses of euphemisms in place of more scientific terms (by myself and others of the faith).

Which brings me back to my first comment, there isn't a set list of rules, English is a very diverse language, and what is "crude," "base," or "offensive" varies by generation, location, clique, and so on and so forth.

I don't like that there are pastors who are being vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. Likewise, I am careful with my speech around those who may be offended thereby. Yet I am careful not to apply to myself or others a list of "Do Not Utter" words, as I'm sure you can understand.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

I Thess.5:22 - Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Does it not seem obvious why the use of base references revolve around body functions and body parts? It is the world's idea of smugness.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Appropriate picture for this time of year Keith.

But anyway, I often wonder what Driscoll and other "potty-mouths" think they are gaining by using "coarse language"? Should we not seek to be above the culture instead of at eye-level with it?

Baxter said...

Interesting conversation going on here. It's funny, Keith, but all I had to do was see the title and I knew it was going to be interesting. BTW, I love the picture you decided to use...perfectly fitting and hilarious! I guess if these people who advocate saying certain words is acceptable, that’s going to have to be between them and God, but I certainly wouldn’t want them as examples and mentor’s of my children. The reason we are where we are today is because God drew a line and man kept moving that line from the standard of righteousness that belongs to Jesus. Take bathing suits for example. Woman AND men used to wear full coverings for their swimsuits. They eventually got shorter and tighter. Okay, well, we’ll accept that. Then, okay, let’s show the knees. Okay, the thighs! Okay, stomach but no belly button! I’m drawing the line! Push the envelope a little further…where are we now? You can walk on beaches and see “Christian” men and woman in barely anything and it’s even acceptable to where a thong in PUBLIC! Why? Because someone kept pushing the envelope and we as believers rather than standing up for moral purity decided it was easier to join them than fight them. And that’s what is happening with these “emergent” churches and this fight to lower the standard of righteousness to conform with the patterns of this world. If you go to the dictionary and look up a lot of these words in question you will probably find the descriptive word… “vulgar”. But I am sure there are a lot of words today that have CHANGED in description because they have become more widely “acceptable” as they evolved over time because someone kept “pushing the envelope” as they did with many moral principles to the point that our senses are no longer exercised to discern good and evil. Why would anyone want to be apart of that erosion of righteousness, morality, and purity? 1 Cor 5:6 ¶ Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump {of dough?}

Prov 22:11 He who loves purity of heart {And} whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.

1 Tim 4:12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but {rather} in SPEECH, conduct, love, faith {and} purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

Titus 2:6 ¶ Likewise urge the young men to be sensible;
Titus 2:7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, {with} purity in doctrine, dignified,
Titus 2:8 sound {in} SPEECH which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

1 Pet 4:11 Whoever speaks, {is to do so} as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves {is to do so} as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rick Beckman said...

Henry, we'll have to agree to disagree on the "appearance of evil" thing; I don't recognize "appearance" as a good translation there and prefer instead most versions' "forms of evil." The various forms of evil are defined for us in the Scriptures; appearances of evil are wholly subjective -- I spent a few years as an ardent KJV-Onlyist and used that verse to beat quite a few practices over the head with no other biblical basis than "an appearance."

Still, it's difficult to make black and white what is and isn't coarse. In some groups, "boob" might be coarse; in others, it may be the norm, just as "stones" were once used for the male organ. It doesn't seem any more coarse than referring to a man as a guy or a boy as a lad, in my opinion (and it is only that, admittedly).

Keith said...

It's been a busy day, so I've had to put off commenting, but to briefly jump in here:

Benjamin: IMO, it's simply "shock value." It's also exegetical gymnastics--i.e. looking for the loophole again. Those guys will ALWAYS find a way to justify something they want to do.

Rick Beckman: There is no doubt that some words today do/don't carry the same meaning they did in the past. But I have to go back to my comment/belief that Paul had SOMETHING in particular in mind when he wrote those words. The same principle still applies today.

We went through Matthew 23 yesterday in Sunday School, and although we would certainly want to avoid the legalism of the Pharisees, I think sometimes we err too far the other direction. In order to avoid being legalistic, we become to permissive. Paul contended that all things are not beneficial just because they are permissible; I think that's how we need to look at it.

Baxter: You have essentially described the "frog in the kettle." Couldn't agree more.

Henry (Rick): I think you and I are pretty close on this one. I stated on another blog (you may have already read it): "...I will choose to take the extreme road of avoiding the use of those words altogether– in or out of context. In doing so, I don’t run the risk of being offensive to anyone. (Incidently, I do plenty to offend them in other ways; I don’t need to give them more ammunition.)"

"I’ve NEVER had anyone tell me I’ve offended them because I DIDN’T used words such as s***, h***, d***, etc. (”Man, I’d believe you if you just used more profanity!”)"

All commentors: Thanks for stopping by and sharing. It's always fun to have some company.

Rick Beckman said...

Keith: You'll get no argument whatsoever from me that Paul of course had something in mind; the Holy Spirit inspired no instruction that He did not intend to, after all.

However, being overly strict is just as damaging as being overly permissive -- if not more so (see the Pharisees & scribes, for instance).

Just stirring the pot and offering another perspective, while enjoying the company as well. :)

Keith said...

Rick B: I realize it's a stretch, since we're going from ancient Greek to Americanized English, but I would have liked it if Paul had provided a list and be able to put this whole mess to bed...didn't happen, probably never will.

I'm with Ralphie. "Lifebuoy" soap tastes bad. I'll just refrain from words that might get me into trouble (if that's possible). 8^)>

Ken Silva said...

"that sounds like the biggest bunch of gobbledy-gook aka bovine excrement I heard in a while."

Indeed it is Keith; and even further, it is ludicrous this is even an issue. It's really this simple:

The new evangelicalism and the emerging church argues from the standpoint of the world - "What is crude and/or vulgar to one person or group may be normal or 'soft' to another."

While the obedient Christian who should be striving for holiness (means: God-like-ness) argues, along with the inspired Apostle Paul, that as disciples of Christ (i.e. Christians) we should forget -

what lies behind [the standpoint of the world] and [be] reaching forward to what lies ahead [Christ-like-ness, because we are to] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

It should be obvious to those who have eyes which see that "the upward call" is not to get back into the pigpen of pagan culture and runt with the pigs (see-Matt. 7:6).

nacotaco said...

Hi Keith I stop by weekly to read your blog and comments just to see whats going on in God`s world!.... My 14 year old son will cuss and I am so shocked I just want to bend him over my knee and paddle away! How can christians be salt and light when we sound like the world? I don`t cuss because it brings me down to his level and I lose my authority....when I hear cussing ..vulgar language....I always assume they don`t know Jesus. So sad to read about your Dad`s health issues.....it`s a difficult thing to go thru......hope your Thanksgiving were filled with terrific memories......

Keith said...

Nocotaco said: when I hear cussing ..vulgar language....I always assume they don`t know Jesus. I lot of people don't like it, but I assume the same thing. You're right about being "salt and light."

Rick Beckman said...

And therein lies the problem with trying to define "good language" and "bad language"; Scripture does not grant us the privilege of judging salvation by others' speech, yet whenever we create speech standards, we inevitably will judge, however insignificantly, the salvation of those who don't reach our standard.

Jesus tells us the world will know us by our love for others; if they have to know us by our speech, perhaps it's because we're not loving like we should?

Keith said...

Rick: I've asked the question numerous times. I realize that Paul doesn't give us a specific list, but what exactly does he have in mind when he says there should be no "coarse joking?" He has SOMETHING in particular in mind, but what?

Rick Beckman said...

I believe that whatever we say which is injurious, hateful, disrespectful, and so on -- things which reveal a heart which is injurious, hateful, disrespectful, and so on -- should be avoided.

Referring to body parts by way of euphemism, using slang or the vernacular of a culture, and so on do not reveal a heart which is calloused against God or others; it simply refers a heart which uses certain words to refer to certain things.

In other words, I firmly believe that it is a worse offense to call someone "fool" than it is for someone to slang and euphemism to refer to the body and/or its acts. Where would it end, after all? If "flatulence" is the only acceptable word, would "mastication" also be the only proper word for "chewing"?

What makes one euphemism "okay" and another "not okay" except for arbitrary decisions by members of the culture that they're going to be offended by certain things?

I do agree we ought to, as James ably taught us, control our tongue and what we say; the Proverbs hammer the issue home.

But when we get to the point of subtly judging the salvation of others based upon their use of words that we wouldn't use ourselves, I think we've overstepped our bounds a bit.

Have a great night.

Keith said...

Rick Beckman said: I believe that whatever we say which is injurious, hateful, disrespectful, and so on -- things which reveal a heart which is injurious, hateful, disrespectful, and so on -- should be avoided. I agree...and in light of your statement, although the Apostle may not have written an explicit/specific list, it seems a "list" DOES exist.

You and Paul obviously have particular words in mind, but in light of the fact that words do change in meaning from culture to culture and from time to time, the Apostle saw fit to leave us to our own wisdom. You and I both know what words we are talking about. And it appears you and I, out of heartfelt desire to not be "injurious, hateful, disrespectful, etc.," refrain from those words.

As far as "judging the salvation of others based upon their use of words..." Maybe the word "discern[ing] would fit better. I'm not so much saying that ANYONE that uses ANY of "those words" isn't a Christian, either. Peter had a laspe in his vocabulary when confronted about his relationship with Jesus, but it was temporary. I don't get the sense that Peter was prone to coarse language. On the other hand, I read the account of Peter's denial, and I am persuaded that those who heard him--at least for the moment--did not associate him with Christ...based on his words.

We're not as far apart on this one as it may seem. I would put this conversation in the "don't be a stumbling block" category.

My big thing is emergents and the like defending the use of foul or coarse language, when the majority of them would never step into a pulpit (or public conversation) and use some of the same words they defend.

Thanks for the dialog.

Rick Beckman said...

Keith, you're right -- we are more in agreement than not, which is always A Good Thing so far as brethren are concerned. :)

Those in either the Emerging or Emergent movements, I cannot really vouch for; my exposure to it is admittedly limited.

What I have gleaned from the "Emerging" movement -- which definitely has its pluses, as seen in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (edited by John Piper) -- is that while we should definitely not cast a stumblingblock in front of our brethren, when we do engage a particular culture, we shouldn't expect our own cultural mores upon them but should rather be whatever it is we're engaging. That may involve using more technical terms when speaking with scientists, fishing terms with fishermen, geek speak with geeks, urban slang with urbanites, and so on.

I believe that we can do those things without falling into sin, provided we use discernment in how we use the terms -- even scientific language can be used in a sinful way, and I believe that even the "slangiest" phrases can be used to glorify God, especially if such is normative of the culture (in other words, for them, it wouldn't even be slang, really).

And no, thank you for the dialogue and for allowing this space on your blog for it. :)

thebeef said...

i think i would agree with beckman on this one. definitely language should be appropriate for the company that hears it. lest we offend. i would just further that by saying it seems that this (like most of the new testament) is driving at matters of the heart. In one sense it doesnt matter what you do, but the motive of heart. and one sense the outside actions can determine the condition the heart is in. the two are absolutely connected. i think that there just isnt enough (in this context) to determine what exactly is the point on paul's brain. i just dont see it in the text. i would also like to add, i have a few pastor friends that when i have been around them in a casual setting among others (who are of the same mind as i) have used cuss words. and no one was offended. simply because we knew the intention of their heart was not malicious or being licentious with grace. I would say that i believe a pastor that would stand at the pulpit and drop the "f-bomb" in Sunday morning service would be quite inappropriate. For that particular application of cussing i personally would find it difficult to be edifying to the flock. just some thoughts i had... sorry if im a day late on this post as well. im going backwards through all the posts...

Keith said...

thebeef said: "sorry if im a day late on this post as well." No problem. Feel free to look around and comment. I always enjoy the company.

re: this post, sometimes a hard and fast answer is really tough. I tend to err on the conservative side.

Have a great week.