Preach Dirty to Me
The debate over profanity in the pulpit. Is Mark Driscoll being relevant or reckless?

For a couple of years now, long-time pastor and theologian John MacArthur has been critical of Mark Driscoll's use of crude language in the pulpit. In the end, MacArthur believes Driscoll has crossed a line, and it's time for him to step down from ministry. MacArthur's comments have ignited a heated debate in the blogosphere (as you might suspect).

At the 2009 Basics Conference last month, another long-time pastor and theologian, John Piper, fielded a question about this debate. Piper, who along with Driscoll, is a card carrying Calvinista, offered a measured and thoughtful response. While strongly disagreeing with Driscoll's language and dismissing the necessity of swearing to be relevant, he does not believe the Mars Hill pastor needs to resign. You can listen to Piper's response here.

In related news, Ed Young posted a video on his blog yesterday about pastors using profanity.

In the video Young says:

We must be very, very careful not to offend anyone with bad language. The Gospel is offensive enough without having to throw in the "hells," and the "damns," and the "sucks," and the "I'm screwed," and the "crap" every other breath.

What do you think? Is cussing in the pulpit ever justified?

June 02, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 95 comments


June 25, 2010  5:47pm

What bothers me more is how many of my Christian brothers and sisters text OMG or say "Oh My God!" over things that have nothing to do with their God. There was a time (according to my great-grandfather's journal) when a Christian would reprove a brother or sister who took the Lord's name in vain. I hear pastors say this phrase in their sermons or Sunday series, and this truly concerns me more than if they use the word "crap". Such words are vulgar and usually demean the user,but they are used so frequently that it is difficult for anyone under 30 to recognize it. Context is important. "I count it all crap in comparison to what I have in Christ" the hyperbole sends a message. It is even understandable when young Christians use such words before they have grown in Christ. However, the Holy Spirit does not conform us to the world. He conforms us to Christ. There should be a difference in the walk and talk of the maturing believer. We try too hard to fit into a world where we do not belong. It is right and proper for our brothers and sisters to reprove us if we have become too careless. And I think it is wise for us to listen to them and allow their words to correct us and adjust us.

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June 25, 2010  2:35pm

When did using colloquial language become a transgression? I was expecting a rebuke for pastors throwing out the F word from the pulpit, I actually wasn't sure at first if Ed was being sincere. Do we actually believe that when scripture discusses not being conformed to the world, Gods intent is to keep us from using words like "crap" and "sucks"? Is "shoot" ok? How about "doggone"? I suppose to be on the safe side we should fit four thus' and 2 thou's into each sentance. I posted something because I was a bit shocked, but the more I think about it, I don't believe this deserves a discussion.

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February 21, 2010  5:27pm

what ever is contrary to GODS word is to be laid down.are we not suppose to be new creatures in christ? aren't we suppose to strive in spirit to be like HIM?? ithink the answer to any question is simple would christ say that? would christ do that? And there we find our answer.GOD bless and may peace be with you

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February 10, 2010  5:32am

Lately I have heard the words sucks, screwed, and crap in the sermons at my church and I told my pastor that I find it offensive and distracting. I asked him to consider removing them from the preaching. I am not very conservative in my language. In casual conversation I use those words at times and I hear others using them and I don't really think much about it. I would prefer not to use those words because I think there are better ways to express a point. But I can't really say I have made cleaning up my language a priority. So maybe it is very hypocritical of me to ask that the people preaching clean up their language. If so I want God to convict me. But I guess the way I look at it is in terms of boundaries. I think using those words in Sunday morning service is a boundary violation. You don't preach a sermon in your boxer shorts and undershirt. But it is perfectly appropriate attire for Saturday morning at home with your wife. For me personally I find the words sucks, screwed and crap offensive in a sermon. Sucks and screwed both have sexual connotations but when they are used in a sermon the point that is being made has nothing to do with sex. So to me there is no point in it. It detracts from the sermon and causes my mind to shift to something else. As for crap I just think there are better words that could be used to illustrate a point in a sermon. Again thinking about crap kind of detracts from whatever point the preacher is trying to make. That's my two cents and I certainly wouldn't leave my church over it. But I did make my preference known. I do think we have to be careful not to judge the person who is using the language or make an assumption about why they are using it - unless they tell us why.

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June 23, 2009  6:31pm

Does our preaching call our congregation to holiness, or does it lower the benchmark by its example? Colossians 3:8 calls us to live above the world’s standard: “rid yourselves of ... anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” One of the great problems in Christianity today is that we frame our questions as to how close to sin we can get without going over the line? A Christian sex-therapist wrote that most questions he receives are about “how far” can a couple go? The question then begs, if there is a line to cross, and we are always looking at how close we can come, are we then in a sense asking, “How far can I stay away from God without crossing the line?” Further, “Are the Pharisees “the people saying the rule should be no cussing in preaching?” Or, are the Pharisees, “the people trying to determine the limits of how far the rule of cussing can go?” The question is not about what is culturally relevant, it is about holiness. Hebrews 12:14 â€" “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Does preaching with cussing in your sermons reflect the Lord and His holiness? Or, do unbelievers ask, “what’s the difference between them and me?” Is our behaviour in everything we do holy? 1 Peter 1:15-16 â€" But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Holiness draws us closer to God and further from the world’s standards.

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Rev. Jason P. Peterson

June 17, 2009  1:17pm

I seem to remember that Moses brought ten commandments down from Mount Sinai, and one of them was not, "Thou shalt not say $#!# an awful lot." (insert the "crude language" of your choice.) If the language is sexually impure, intended to hurt someone else, disobedient to parents, or harmful to another person's reputation, then it is sinful. Otherwise, it's just a word, and each minister is free to use the wisdom God gave him to choose the words that fit his context. Granted, the occasion will be rare that it is appropriate to use the "seven words you can't say on TV" (or at least that you couldn't in the 90s) from the pulpit on Sunday morning. I have never done so myself in a formal sermon. On the other hand, when I work as chaplain at a race track, the vocabulary is different, and I would not feel restricted from using the language of that culture if it seemed fitting.

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June 12, 2009  12:31pm

As a mature Christian, after you read the MacArthur vs. Driscoll fray, haven’t you gotten that same weary feeling of a typical dad or mom, who at the end of a dreary nine-to-five day, takes off from a ready-to-drop job, only to find the two sons grappling with each other at home. The noise and haste of the world outside has so worn you out that you just heave a sigh and, with tears in your eyes, ask both: Why can’t you love one another? Let’s refresh, once again, our memories with having truth without love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Indeed, Jesus’ words pierce like a two-edged sword: “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:35

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Mike Paddy

June 12, 2009  11:46am

I dunno...i guess I feel like there are more important things than discussing the language habits of some pastors. I also think that there is so much said in the Bible about the power of words and how we use them that we are to careful, watchful, even silent rather than misusing our language. How about...we let God sort it out, when all things will be revealed....2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

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stephen jones

June 10, 2009  6:17pm

I'm more concerned that the pastor of a church would condone filming a YouTube video while driving. Eyes on the road, dude.

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June 10, 2009  8:49am

Ok, I would like to weigh in and say that swearing is not wrong. Inappropriate uses of any word in any language can be deemed as wrong and usually it is the abusive use of strong language that is deemed wrong. A word cannot have intrinsic wrongness to it - it is the motive, spirit, context, strength and purpose of a word used that gives it meaning. Four letter words mean what they mean because of the meaning we ascribe to them, which changes generationally or from language to language. Swearing is not wrong, it just can be. I believe the abusive use of language is wrong, crass language is unecessary and dirty or crude talking is foul. Are they wrong, no - because there are contexts where they are appropriate. Strong use of language is necessary in certain contexts - Christ said to call one a fool is to damn them to hell, but didn't he call someone a fool after that. Didn't he use strong offensive unacceptable language in public in regards to Pharisees and privately at times with his disciples? Swearing isn't wrong.

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