Posted by: reformbama | March 9, 2009

Sound Doctrine, Sound Words (Part 1)

New Article from Pulpit Magazine
Sound Doctrine, Sound Words (Part 1)

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(By Phil Johnson)

The following notes are from Phil’s Shepherds’ Conference seminar on Friday morning.

This morning I want to look at two verses in Titus 2—verses 7-8. This is an admonition from Paul to Titus, his friend, partner, protege, and true son in the faith. Titus is one of the unsung heroes of the early church—a young pastor whose faithful support and constant behind-the-scenes labor made him extremely precious to Paul. Paul writes to Titus with these instructions (Titus 2:7-8): “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

I chose that text, frankly, because I’m deeply concerned about the tendency of so many pastors lately to employ profanity, crude and obscene words, vile subject matter, carnal topics, graphic sexual imagery, erotic language, and filthy jokes. Most of you, I know, are aware of the trend I’m talking about. I’m tempted to call it the pornification of the pulpit. The justification usually given is that coarse language and sexual themes are the tools of contextualization. It’s a way to make us sound more relevant. Lots of voices in the church are insistent that this is absolutely essential if we want to reach certain segments of our culture.

The apostle Paul said otherwise, and that’s what I want to look at in this hour.

When I was considering what subjects might be important for a group of pastors and church leaders as large and diverse as this, I couldn’t get away from this issue. The New York Times Magazine recently did a feature article on Mark Driscoll in which this was a major theme. “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?” was the title of the article. Here’s the lead sentence: “Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on [an] evangelical Christian ‘family friendly’ . . . Web site.”

So this is a subject almost everyone (including the New York Times) is already talking nonstop about. And yet it seems to me that people in the evangelical world are not thinking very biblically about it. What language and what kind of subject matter are suitable for the pulpit in a worship service? What gifts and what virtues qualify a man to be a pastor? And what should stand out most prominently when someone analyzes our style of ministry? What would YOU want the New York Times to focus on if they did an article analyzing your style?

A decade ago (in our circles, at least), no one would have considered those to be very tough questions. But now evangelicals are obsessed with this issue, and frankly many are very confused about it. It amazes me how many young men in the ministry today are utterly enthralled with smutty talk and lascivious subject matter—and they insist this is a positive trend.

I’m also appalled at the number of good men and Christian leaders who privately say they don’t really “approve” of “filthiness . . . foolish talk[, and] crude joking”; but they feel we need to overlook those trends and keep silence in public—so that the delicate fabric of evangelical unity isn’t torn asunder by a controversy over words. Frankly, I think this whole issue probably would not be controversial at all if a handful of respected Christian leaders were willing to step up and deal with the matter boldly and biblically.

Sadly, evangelical tolerance for shenanigans in the pulpit has undergone a monumental change in the past couple of decades—and not in a healthy direction. The most overtly lewd and profane kinds of foolishness have found their way into the evangelical repertoire under the rubric of contextualization.

Now, I face a serious practical dilemma here. In one sense, I’d like to show you some examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about, so that you understand that I am not exaggerating. On the other hand, most of these things are so thoroughly inappropriate that there’s no way I would ever drag them into our worship center.

But I’m pretty sure most of you are aware of some of the kinds of things I am talking about. Here’s a handful of more-or-less sanitized examples: There’s a group called xxxchurch who say they are targeting porn addicts and people who work in the so-called adult entertainment industry. They sponsor a booth at the major porn conventions—where they say they are doing evangelism. They hand out Bibles and wear t-shirts stenciled with a deliberately ambiguous slogan: “Jesus loves Porn stars.” And the centerpiece of their display is a 15-foot inflatable phallus. They have painted a face on this abomination and given it a name. Now, xxxchurch isn’t some obscure anomaly I dug up out of nowhere. You will find links to their website from literally hundreds of churches who support and promote what xxxchurch is doing.

Trends like that abound in the evangelical world. It is suddenly very popular to preach sermons in which the pastor graphically describes private acts of perversion in language borrowed from the porn industry. There’s a group of young women online who blog about the intimate details of their sex lives under the guise of trying to help Christian women spice up troubled marriages.

In a group this size, it’s likely that some of you may even have links to organizations and resources like that on your church websites. If so, shame on you, and you need to rethink what you are doing. Strategies like those invariably employ purposely suggestive images and speech that is calculated to be erotic. And I have no doubt whatsoever that they lure Christians into a culture of porn and carnality. I know for a fact that they are deadly stumbling blocks for people who have been saved out of that lifestyle. To claim that it’s necessary to use deliberately seductive strategies such as those to draw people to Christ out of a culture that is already obsessed with everything erotic is a lie. It also ignores the reality of what has actually happened to the evangelical movement over the past decade.

Likewise, to claim that filthy language and purposely coarse words are essential for reaching people with the gospel is ludicrous. But that is exactly the argument that is being made. Here’s a typical comment I found posted in a Southern Baptist discussion forum where this was the topic under discussion. The guy who wrote this seems to be a youth pastor or college minister. He says:

Any Christian who says the words on the FCC’s “dirty word” list are bad . . . is judging (and hence pushing away) millions of the lost simply because they . . . use different syllables. . . . God gives us no list of “abusive” words . . . . In a discussion with a “sinner” in a bar, the f-word often simply means “very”. I have won many people in [our community] to Christ dropping the f-bomb, and that is no lie. . . . Any word can be used abusively, and any word can be used to glorify God.

Really?

Have you ever wondered why the IRS doesn’t publish tax forms in the language of the gutter? Of course you haven’t. because no one really believes that’s a necessary or legitimate form of contextualization.

Todd Friel points out that you can watch the 11:00 news on any television channel in Seattle, and you won’t find them using porn-slang and gutter-talk to communicate the daily headlines to their viewers. And none of their viewers are demanding for the news to be translated into cuss words so they can understand what is being said. Why is that? If that kind of contextualization is so essential to communicate a message to people in what is supposedly “the most unchurched community” in America, why don’t the secular news media know that? Could it be that talking dirty is not really as important as some stylish evangelicals are telling us it is?

This approach to “relevance” has swept the evangelical community in a very short time. Just three years ago we were discussing the pros and cons of Rick Warren’s 40 days of Purpose. Today the latest rage in the evangelical community is “40 days of sex”—or some variation on that theme. Ed Young, Jr., Pastor of the third largest church in America, got nationwide news coverage for his church because he gave a series on sex with a giant bed as a prop on the platform. He sat on that bed and announced that he was issuing a “seven-Day Sex Challenge” to the congregation. Here’s how the Dallas Morning News reported the story:

God may have rested on the seventh day, but the Rev. Ed Young wants married couples to have sex all week long. Once a day. Beginning this Sunday. The call to action will headline Mr. Young’s Sunday sermon at Grapevine-based Fellowship Church. He plans to deliver his challenge while sitting on a bed.

I think Ed Young actually got that idea from a Florida church where the pastor issued a 30-day sex challenge. Apparently, 30 days turned out to be too rigorous, so most of the churches that have followed suit have down-scaled the demand a bit.

But suddenly that kind of eroticism from the pulpit is all the rage. Time magazine noticed the trend and did a major article about it six months ago, titled “And God said: Just Do It.” I see a different story almost every week about some church sponsoring a series on sex or a sex challenge of some kind. Part of the trend involves putting up suggestive billboards around town. The billboards tend to outrage even secular communities, and that’s one reason this trend keeps making the news. Every church seems to try to make the ads more sleazy than all their predecessors. In Kenosha, WI, just last month, the secular school board informed a church they couldn’t use school property for their Sunday services anymore because the school board looked at the flyer the church put on doors all around the community—and the school board thought the flyer advertizing the pastor’s series on sex was too pornographic.

Let’s be honest: No one really thinks this kind of thing is absolutely necessary to reach our culture, and I’ve never heard anyone even try to argue that these trends are having a sanctifying impact in a society that is already sex-crazed to the point of gross perversion.

So why is this so pervasive? It’s clear, for one thing, that there are lots of people in the evangelical movement who really want to be at home in the culture. And too many pastors are enthralled with the idea of being cool in the eyes of the world.

Let’s be candid: to a very large degree the whole notion of contextualization has been commandeered as an excuse for carnal minds poisoned by overexposure to smut. Some people just love the sound of filthy words, and they and feed their egos with the shockwaves that kind of language generates. The more the church wants to be like the world, the more that attitude will dominate.

(To be continued tomorrow)

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