The Big, Big D

Bad language or abuse

I never never use,

Whatever the emergency;

Though “Bother it” I may

Occasionally say

I never use a big, big D.

W. S. Gilbert, H. M. S. Pinafore

In the recent past I have used two profane expletives in this column—in quoting others, of course—and have received a couple of negative responses.

Christians differ about this. One Christian friend of mine who teaches at a secular university says he regrets the casual and indiscriminate use of profane and four-letter words among college students today because it leaves them with no reserve ammunition when they need a strong expletive—as Shakespeare said, “a good mouth-filling oath.”

Another Christian I know who formerly taught in a Bible college feels that all expletives are forbidden to the Christian. He even extends his prohibition to such a seemingly innocuous expression as “for Pete’s sake” on the ground that it is a reference to the Apostle Peter and is therefore a profane use of Scripture.

A few years ago Elisabeth Elliot caused a minor shock wave with her novel No Graven Image: upon breaking her fingernail the heroine utters the word damn.

My own feelings and practice are somewhat mixed. Under trying circumstances when I resort to the use of an expletive it is considerably more embroidered than simply damn.

On one occasion I was visiting in a nearby church. The minister, whom we entertain occasionally, had launched into a condemnation of the heresy of original sin and was exalting the doctrine of original goodness.

Filled with hearty disagreement I muttered an eight-letter scatological expletive. My teen-age son, who isn’t keen on theological debate, declared, “Boy, I’ll never sit next to you in church again.”

One strange thing about our society is that profane expressions are more readily tolerated than earthy four-letter words. Christians seem to share this cultural oddity.

There are certain principles, it seems to me, on which all Christians would have to agree. The law given through Moses makes it perfectly clear that we are not to use the name of God in vain whether it be in prayer or profanity. James makes it clear that the Christian is not to curse another human being, because he is made in the image of God.

The question I’m asking is not whether some Christian brother will be offended if I use a profane or earthy expletive. The question is, Should every Christian brother be offended by it? To put it another way: If no one were offended, would it still be wrong? Frankly, I don’t know.

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This much I do know: the attitude often reflected by our expletives is wrong. If a missionary uses a profane word because she breaks her fingernail, the real problem is not the word she uses but the fact that for that moment she is denying that all things work together for good to those who love God.

As Jesus put it, “What comes out of the mouth has its origins in the heart.”



I appreciated very much your article in your March 16 issue by Peter Wagner (“Revival in Bolivia: The New Healing Art”).… I just want to agree with all that was written, and in case there were any readers that looked skeptically at it I want to add that my own mother went to a prayer meeting held by Julio Cesar Ruibal in the city of Quito and was miraculously healed by God. She is of Jewish descent and was in a German concentration camp at the age of fourteen. She contracted rheumatoid arthritis there, and her back has been in horrible condition ever since then. Only a couple weeks ago after attending Ruibal’s meeting she recovered complete health, to the amazement to many doctors and the massagist that used to attempt an alleviation of pain through various scientific methods.

Even though 100 people were healed in Ecuador, the Catholic populace of my country did not have much appreciation for Ruibal, and he was asked to leave. Many stories, however, were published in the first pages of the newspapers, spreading amazement and interest in the things of God in the whole country.


Wheaton, Ill.


I am calling attention to an error which appears in the first item under “Religion in Transit” (March 2). The item begins “The American Baptist homemission unit paid $20,000 to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.…” The item should read that the property was purchased by the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains. The Board of National Ministries of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., to which I assume you have reference, was in no way involved in the transaction. A loan was secured from the American Baptist Extension Corporation just as loans are secured for many transactions, but in no way was our national office involved in the process.


American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains

Denver, Colo.


It has been brought to my attention that my name was listed in a paid ad in one of your fall issues. The ad referred to a World Bible Conference in Jerusalem March 6–14, 1973. The ad carried a Key 73 emblem. In that I never agreed to speak at the conference nor gave permission for my name to be used in connection with this Key 73 project, I would appreciate your mentioning this to your readers. In my opinion Key 73 is a compromise program in which a true Bible believer could not possibly participate without being a part of that compromise.

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Indianapolis Baptist Temple

Indianapolis, Ind.


I was delighted to note Cheryl Forbes’s review of Elva McAllaster’s Strettam (Books in Review, March 30), a fine work which I understand is now to be translated into German.… Strettam is not a delightful book, if taken seriously. But it is wonderfully well done, with a few irregular passages. Realizing the author’s breadth of understanding of modern literature, both secular and sacred, I imagine it was the publisher’s wish to dignify its trade book line which led to the designation of “novel.” … Dr. McAllaster probably conceived of the book as a fictional tract in the great—and much neglected today—tradition of tracts.

Modern literature treats sin—usually refusing to call it that—as a cataclysmic affront to man and God. Strettam sees through this egotistical ploy and puts sin in its proper place, our daily lives. As love is a moment-to-moment transformation of human lives, sin is the moment-to-moment degradation which we have tried to dramatize out of existence.


Greenbelt, Md.

Reading Cheryl Forbes’s review prompts me to say that I sincerely hope it may stimulate readers who have not yet done so to read this probing and keenly perceptive book.… The term “novel” to designate this fictional study of the town of Strettam, its inhabitants, and all of us may be mildly misleading. But whatever one may expect to find, if he reads the book with the thoughtful attention it warrants he can scarcely avoid finding himself—his “own mirrored image”—somewhere along the way and emerging with, at the very least, a new self-knowledge. He may even be surprised to discover he has been perceptibly changed in some small or larger way, or—as happened to me—that the foundation for a new inner life has unexpectedly been laid. Whether or not he chooses to permit further building to take place upon this foundation is, of course, the essence of the problems of facing up to and overcoming one’s shortcomings—and what the book is all about.


Annapolis, Md.


I liked very much the poem “Sing the Lord, Wisely” (March 30).… With the present public emphasis on nature, ecology, and environment, we live in a time when there is a great opportunity for preaching, using, as did our Master, the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, or owls in emerald and mice in the corncrib as illustrative material. A great opportunity, that is, if we can do it and remember to sing the Lord. I am amazed and appalled at the number of people who share with me my love of nature and the out of doors, but who lift their eyes to the hills and believe their help comes from the hills, rather than from the “Lord who made heaven and earth.”

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Hillview Methodist Church

Boise, Idaho

I so enjoy the good poetry that appears in your pages.


Wheaton, Ill.

I especially liked the poems on “Three Prophets” by Nancy Thomas in your April 13 issue. They were good!


Effingham, Ill.

In response to recent criticism of the poetry printed in CHRISTIANITY TODAY I would like to make the following points:

Because any true poem stands on its own—a unique experiment in communication—to arbitrarily impose any given form on a poem is to rob it of the freedom and spontaneity out of which it grows.

In good poetry, brilliant and original images (analogies) spark from the paper to our eyes and brains to ignite a new view of truth or life for us. The form, be it couplets or free verse, is at that point incidental so long as it does not impede the flow of ideas. Form is nearly always the tool of idea. To get upset over the use of free form poetry in CHRISTIANITY TODAY is to miss the essence of the poetic process. Much great poetry has adhered to strict forms. But in good free verse form is present—inward rhythms and/or rhymes governed more by breath stops, the weight of the words, and the rounding off of ideas than by an externally imposed structure.

Please keep your CHRISTIANITY TODAY poetry editor. And give him (her?) a raise. Your poetry is superb.

Wheaton, Ill.



Your report in the April 13 issue concerning both the spirit and content of my action is not true (News, “Backing Their Man”). I did not order another meeting of Grace congregation in a fit of anger over our parish’s nomination of Jacob Preus for the presidency of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The request for a special meeting to rescind this action came from members who were distressed over the immediate campaign to exploit the action of our Voters Assembly. After careful, prayerful deliberation with our Board of Elders, I personally asked them not to go ahead with a special meeting and then asked the petitioning members to lay aside their request. My purpose was to try to put into practice in our small corner of the vineyard what we are asking for in the Missouri Synod at large these days—healing, reconciliation, and a brotherly spirit of mutual ministry instead of the opposite. We’re far from perfect here at Grace, but we’re growing!

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Grace Lutheran Church

River Forest, Ill.


Great! “Is Prophecy a Jigsaw Puzzle?” (Books in Review, April 13) is just the kind of book reviewing that is needed. Bob Ross should also be asked to do some more writing of his own on this theme. I would enjoy reading his efforts to deal with the problem he stated so well—the need for evangelicals to interpret the prophetic passages of Scripture. Ross states, “the biblical prophetic critique spoke to the sins of the Gentile nations, to be sure. But the prophet as a man of God speaking within the covenant community was always concerned primarily about the spiritual life of the people within the covenant community.”


Christian Church

Tonganoxie, Kans.


Thanks for “Why Don’t They Respond Like Whites?” (April 13). Obviously, Joseph Ryan has “paid his dues” in order to write so perceptively about communicating with blacks. My own experiences in cross-cultural communication validate his observations. Now that some clues are available, let more of us white folks swallow our fear and go to our black brothers and sisters to learn. God is waiting to enrich our lives through them … at least that is what happened to me.


Wheaton College

Wheaton, Ill.

I am a black graduate of Southern Bible Training School and Dallas Bible College.… From 1967 until 1972 I ministered in a Bible church in Dallas, Texas. Now I am senior pastor in Portland, Oregon, for a Conservative Baptist church. I have a burden for missions, especially for blacks in North America.

Joseph A. Ryan … [failed] to make certain distinctions. The groups he used as examples are real, I am sure, but do they in fact represent what black Christians are actually like? My experience says not so at all. In all honesty, identical white groups could be found. We would not dare consider them the norm for white evangelicals.

I suggest three things which I feel will help remove the problem of interracial communications.

First: Biblical standards must be applied to black Christians. The high standard of the Word of God determines the rule of life for all the saints of all times. Nothing more or less should be required or accepted.

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Second: The sound principles used in evangelism on foreign fields should be used to turn people on foreign fields from their religion to biblical Christianity. Should we not recognize what is not Christian in a black church in America? The failure to separate blacks by “theology and practice” accounts for the easy expression “they.”

Third: I call attention to a very good editorial in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, January 5, 1973, “The Making of a Revolutionary?” The article tells how white political liberals supported Angela Davis. In conclusion it is suggested that efforts be made to giving evangelical training to this country’s young blacks.…

The Word of God is the key to unlocking black culture barriers just as it will in any culture. The barriers of communications will fall when the Word of God is allowed to link black Christians with white Christians. We are one in body of Christ—Christ is our one head.


Berean Baptist Church

Portland, Ore.


Lawing’s cartoon “What If …” (April 13) with Paul’s imagined but unthinkable statement, “Men of Athens, we have come not to impose new religious concepts on you but to hear your insights into the unknown god,” was the funniest cartoon I have seen in years and was, in itself, worth the year’s subscription to CHRISTIANITY TODAY.


Cleveland, Ohio


I am astounded to see the listing in the opening paragraphs of John V. Lawing, Jr.’s “Sleeping Saviours and Apollonian Christs” (The Refiner’s Fire, April 13). He is illustrating the great religious activity of the centuries from 1700 to 1900. He notes that “midway in this period the American early missionary enterprise began,” and then says that Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians founded missionary boards. He overlooks the fact that the earliest and principal missionary boards in this period were founded primarily by New England Congregationalists, the great home-missionary societies of the New England states, and the pioneer of all American foreign missionary societies, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Lawing writes well and his page is interesting. But he surely needs to be reminded of some of the cardinal landmarks in American church history!


Executive Vice President

United Church Board for World Ministries

New York, N. Y.

“The Refiner’s Fire” is potentially a great contribution to American thought. May one hope for a clearer flame than burns in the April 13 essay on art? The paragraphs about painter Edward Hicks reflect an incomprehensible (and, to the thinking Christian, surely an intolerable) attitude from an art critic: to see painting as “trifling, insignificant” is “in the right perspective”? Incredible. Unthinkable. Yes, and insufferable, if I may venture to say so.… Christians have been commanded to love God with all their minds. For human beings with minds that are capable of producing paintings, surely to love God with one’s mind is to produce paintings. For human beings with minds that are capable of responding to sculpture, painting, drawing, and the other arts, surely to love God with all one’s mind is to use the capabilities of one’s responding mind. Will the Christian who closes his mind to line and texture and color and design (as maker or as viewer) stand under judgment for letting his God-given mind be more stunted than it was intended to be?

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Another query: In what sense are we to understand that a viewer is “puzzled, and afraid of such reality” as Tanner’s annunciation presents? Is this a condemnation of Tanner or of the viewer?… More crucially, the essay seems to carry a self-limiting twentieth-century provincialism and a regrettable religious provincialism in going to art asking only for documentation of religious history and for a strengthening of one’s faith. May we hope for future essays on art that will understand more of what art is really all about?


Professor of English

Greenville College

Greenville, Ill.


In your articles about Underground Evangelism (News, April 13, 27) you mention several times my name, repeating allegations of this organization which are not true.

1. I am not an Underground Evangelism “foe.” I have no other foes than Satan. I love every man, even the Communist torturers. I love the leaders of this organization. Love obliges sometimes to critical attitudes to the beloved.

2. I don’t have a mission to Eastern Europe but to the whole Communist world, which is wider than Europe.

3. Underground Evangelism says that it is contemplating legal action against me. They spread Bibles in Communist countries; they would do well also to apply the Bible’s teaching. It forbids Christians to bring other Christians before court.…

Brother Bass speaks about a Wurmbrand rumor mill. He forgets that he and all his directors have signed a declaration in which they say that they have revised their former attitude of adversity against me in light of Ephesians 4:31, which forbids bitterness, clamor, evil-speaking, and malice. If they would not have been guilty of these things, they would not have had to revise their position in the light of this verse. I have forgiven them.

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Jesus to the Communist World

Glendale, Calif.


The editors of The Hymn—quarterly publication of the Hymn Society of America—appreciate the excellent article “Songs of the People” by Alec Wyton (April 13). We would very much like to pass this statement on to the society’s 2,000-plus members—it strengthens the society’s philosophy and purpose.


The Hymn

New York, N. Y.

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