Harsh Language in the Pulpit

John Piper 2007 – At the Passion07 breakout session you used language that seemed inappropriate to some. Will you explain why you did that?

I think if I had it to do over, I would not say it. On the one hand, I don’t like fanning the flames of those who think it is hip and cool to swear for Jesus. That, it seems to me, is immature. On the other hand, I want those hip people to listen to all I say and write, and I hope that the Lord may get a hold of them and draw them out of immaturity and into the fullness of holiness. But it backfires if one becomes unholy to make people holy. I suspect there was too much of the unholy in my heart at that moment.

Wayne Grudem on Offensive Language

Using the words commonly thought to be offensive in the culture seems to me to be sort of the verbal equivalent of not wearing deodorant and having body odor, or of going around with spilled food on our shirts all the time. Someone might argue that not wearing deodorant or wearing dirty clothes are not morally wrong things in themselves, but my response is that they do give needless offense and cause others to think of us as somewhat impure or unclean. So, I think, does using words commonly thought to be “obscene” or “offensive” or “vulgar” in the culture generally. Plus it encourages others to act in the same way. So in that way it brings reproach on the church and the gospel.

John MacArthur comments on Mark Driscoll in 2006

I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.”

Martin Luther on Harsh Language – Link no longer available.

“Filthiness”—scandalous talk—is unchaste language suggestive of fornication, uncleanness and carnal sins. It is common in taverns and generally found as accompaniment of gluttony, drunkenness and gambling. Especially were the Greeks frivolous and adepts in this respect, as their poets and other writers attest. What Paul refers to in particular is the lewd conversation uttered in public without fear and self-restraint. This will excite wicked thoughts and give rise to serious offenses, especially with the young. As he states elsewhere (1 Cor 15, 33), “Evil companionships [communications] corrupt good morals.”

Clarifying “Harsh Language” – Link no longer available.

But there is another kind of “harsh language” far different than the above. It is, as Wilson calls it, “pomo bad boy usage.” Such language encompasses sensuality, silly talk, and coarse jesting, and includes things like laughing at sin or jolting an audience with risqué images. It is unwholesome, distracting, degrading, and inappropriate. This kind of “harsh language” is explicitly prohibited by the New Testament in places like Ephesians 4:29; 5:3–4; Philippians 4:8; and Colossians 3:8. Charles Spurgeon included this kind of “lewd speaking” in his definition of “profane language,” about which he said: “I am unable to frame an excuse for profane language: it is needless willful wickedness.”


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