Vintage Jesus, Desiring God, and Language


The following video is a clip for the upcoming Desiring God National Conference for which John Piper has invited Mark Driscoll to speak on the topic of harsh language. 

Two initial thoughts:

1. I don’t know about you, but I’m already pretty good at using harsh language. I hope that as I grow further in Christ, I will learn to control my tongue, that I will avoid course language, that I will allow my speech to be alway with grace, and that I will be an example to the believers in this area.  

2. It could be argued that Jesus used somewhat illusive language at times as well. So, should Desiring God invite Bill Clinton to teach that particular art?

My objections aside, I agreed with much of what Driscoll said in the video. At times the authors of Scripture, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, use very harsh, strong, potent, and seemingly unkind language. For instance, the Galatians 5 passage Driscoll references goes something like this: 

 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. 

The word αποκοψονται means “to cut off” and in this case (dealing with Judaizers) conveys quite clearly the idea of castration.

That aside, Driscoll’s main point is that if Scripture is God-breathed (and it is, c.f. 2 Timothy 3), and if it is graphic at times for emphasis, then there is really no problem with our using graphic language at times as well. He notes strongly, however, that this language was usually reserved for religious hypocrites. Keep that in mind.

My problem with Driscoll and this whole issue of language is that anyone could easily agree in principle with most of the content of the video above; however, Driscoll’s use of “strong” language seems to be targeted not at religious hypocrites but at the unsaved or unchurched (the type of people he is trying to attract and not the type of people he is trying to rebuke) who may think him cool for saying the things he does. For instance, in his book Vintage Jesus he writes: 

Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the “fact” she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom. Jesus was adopted by a simple carpenter named Joseph and spent the first thirty years of his life in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad. 

I was pretty sure I knew what Driscoll meant by his term: knocking boots. Perhaps this language is intended for religious hypocrites? Hmm, probably not. I didn’t think this could be a good reference, but honestly I wasn’t sure what it meant; my wife and I googled the term and wondered if we should even click on the links that came up. It’s of the basest slang possible, meaning sexual intercourse.

Here are my problems with his usage of language:

1. He doesn’t keep his own rules (using primarily for religious hypocrites, as often as God does, etc). His usage seems to be all about his persona, being a man’s man. His strategy is simple: shock the churched and try to attract the unchurched.

2. When God uses strong language in the Scripture, He uses irony, sarcasm, and pointedness, etc. While often adapting to the culture around him, Jesus never adopted the corrupted aspects of his culture. Driscoll uses elements of our culture that are base and unbecoming of a Christian.

Ephesians 5:3-4 is clear on this particular point.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather givng of thanks.

Fornication is not befitting of saints; in the same sense, neither is filthiness (shamefulnes), foolish talk or jesting (vulgar talk, crude or course joking).

There are some very funny parts in the book; his interaction with Emergent Village folks is even hillarious. However, I could never recommend the book because other parts are written in such poor taste. As Challies points out in his review, “Driscoll is perfectly capable of being humorous without being dirty.”

And, I still don’t see why Piper would invite him to address this topic at a conference, perhaps because he too has a large C painted on his chest?

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  1. #1 by Samuel Laurence Guzmán on August 18, 2008 - 7:24 pm

    Thanks for writing this. I have had a problem with Driscoll’s foul mouth for a long time. The guy just has a spirit of crudeness about him. When he opens his mouth, I don’t get the impression I am hearing from a man of God. I get the impression that I am hearing from an over grown skateboarder who is trying his best to maintain the bad boy image, while at the same time trying to fit the spiritual image of other church leaders like Piper.

    He actually reminds me very much of how I used to be before I was converted (I am NOT saying the man is not a believer). I had all the theological head knowledge, but I also had a heart of rebellion. I would say the right things to please my parents and anyone else who questioned me, but I was double-minded and two faced. I was a hypocrite. Driscoll has a lot of this two facedness about him as well. The spiritual side and the worldly-wise side. He is conforming himself to this world in the name of evangelism, and in doing so he is bringing shame on the Gospel, not to mention leading many of his followers to believe his conduct is acceptable. We have a high calling, and we should walk worthy of it. I really wish Piper, who I believe really is a godly man, wouldn’t associate with him.

  2. #2 by emergent pillage on August 19, 2008 - 8:51 am

    I’ve listened to several of Driscoll’s sermons in podcast, and have found them to be good. I’ve noticed little if any use by him of words that I would consider off-color or profane.

    Concerning his humor, there is perhaps some cause for raising the eyebrows. Sometimes he really seems to try too hard.

    I must disagree with Guzman concerning his desire that Piper not have anything to do with Driscoll. It is hard to say what would have happened if this or that had not happened, but considering Driscoll’s break from the emergents, I can well imagine that his associationn with such a Piper to have been by-and-large a good thing for him.

  3. #3 by Jeremy on August 19, 2008 - 12:38 pm

    I have listened to a lot of Driscoll. Much of it has been a great blessing to me. However, I do agree with the criticisms of his language. He is trying to attract a group of people who are crass and crude and tends to approach them in a crass and crude manner. I can see why he does this, but that doesn’t mean I agree. My great criticism would be that he tends to be the Don Imus of preachers. He wants to tick people off to make them listen to him. It works. That doesn’t mean it’s justified. That said… a lot of the criticism he receives is imbalanced (I’m not specifically accusing you, Dave, but speaking of general criticisms I’ve read). As his ministry has matured he has tended to steer farther away from his previous harsh language (not always but increasingly so). Personally, it is a breath of fresh air to hear his humility about past mistakes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ve6LoCrveU) and his bluntness in dealing with sin. I do not endorse him, but I can appreciate him.

  4. #4 by clearly on August 20, 2008 - 5:54 am

    “I do not endorse him, but I can appreciate him.”

    I think that’s where I’m coming from too. After reading most of his book, I think more of him. He stands for the gospel — Philippians 1 has to be in effect here. I will rejoice.

    However, I am concerned about guys our age, with our backgrounds, thinking that guys like Driscoll are who we should fashion our ministries after. Sure, he stands for the gospel and doesn’t have a legalistic bone in his body. I like that. However, I hope that guys our age keep our heads on our shoulders in the area of personal separation, understanding that it (p.s.) has ramifications for the gospel too (Phil. 1:27, etc).

  5. #5 by Jeremy on August 23, 2008 - 5:30 pm

    Josh Harris was doing a church planting seminar in the SG pastor’s college recently. He led off with, “First of all, keep reminding yourself that you are not Mark Driscoll.” Good advice.

  6. #6 by Raquel on August 29, 2008 - 10:41 pm

    If “harsh language” like knocking boots (which, btw, is a quote straight from my generation) is what your biggest complaint is… ummm… I’m not sure what to say. You’d never heard it because you’re not 30-35 maybe? It offends you because you had to look it up and other people who talked about sex on the internet were crude? Someone’s surprised by this??

    And (I can’t beleive I’m sticking up for this guy) he’s reaching out to people that no one else is reaching while remaining amazingly Biblical – not as a fake ploy to lure people in, but just by being his jock self and being honest with the gospel.

    Honestly I’m surprised that you’re spending your time nit picking like this. Usually I really dig what you have to say, but this one’s over the top.

  7. #7 by clearly on August 30, 2008 - 5:30 am

    Raquel,

    Knocking boots is just an example, one that shouldn’t keep us from losing sight of what the issue is. The issue is language, and it is important, especially for a pastor. Paul told the young pastor Timothy to be an example of the believers in the areas of his words/speech/logos, in his conversation/manner of life, in love, faith, and purity. Our speech matters to God; Ephesians 5 (quoted above) makes it clear to me that sexual crudeness is not acceptable regardless from which generation it comes.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you think I’m over the top on this one; keep in mind that I write from a fundamentalist perspective.

    On the one hand I can appreciate that the gospel is being preached to folks who may never listen to a guy like me. On the other hand, I can’t appreciate his language; it’s a direct and open disobedience to Scripture and it reflects poorly upon the gospel.

  8. #8 by Raquel on August 30, 2008 - 7:34 am

    “Keep in mind that I write from a fundamentalist perspective.”

    Your argument, as a whole, seems a bit on the legalistic side – I don’t know if that has anything to do with fundamentalism or not. I’ve heard that same text being used to say that cussing is a sin. Really? Do we, as Christians, have to stretch the Bible to have it cover playing cards and dancing as well? Cussing is just plain impolite.

    However, what you’re talking about doesn’t even make the cuss ‘o meter. It’s less than a cuss word. Honestly if you were in my house, Clearly, I would make sure not to say anything that might offend you or trip you up (including knocking boots). BUT (before you use this as a reason to slam Driscoll again) I encourage you to really think about what you find as offensive and a “direct and open disobedience to Scripture.”

    These are gnats, Clearly. There’s got to be something else for you concern yourself with.

  9. #9 by clearly on August 30, 2008 - 7:55 am

    “Your argument, as a whole, seems a bit on the legalistic side…”

    It may be; but let’s talk about legalism after we talk about the Scripture I have mentioned. How do you handle Ephesians 5, specifically verse 3? The word “jesting” in the KJV or “crude talking” in the ESV — how do you take it? It literally means vulgar talk. How else do we apply this? If cussing and sexual joking are not vulgar talk, then what is?

    I haven’t mentioned cards or dancing nor do I feel that I am stretching the Bible. I am trying to accurately apply God’s words to every sphere of life.

    I don’t think our speech/personal conduct are gnats. I believe they have an affect on the gospel we preach; in Philippians 1:27 Paul tells the Philippians to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel, to live lives that make the gospel look as beautiful as it really is. I am only addressing it on my blog because Driscoll is gaining influence in my circle of friends. I want to make sure that we at least discuss this in light of what the Bible teaches.

  10. #10 by Raquel on August 30, 2008 - 10:15 am

    “How do you handle Ephesians 5, specifically verse 3?” (vs 4)

    The verse itself gives the antidote to what it’s speaking to. The opposite? Thanksgiving.
    The following verse says that anyone who is “sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

    So, following through with your argument, because Driscoll used the term “knocking boots” when explaining what the town may have been thinking (all negative) about unwed Mary getting pregnant and claiming that it was the Holy Spirit, he is neither thankful nor does he hold an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ. But, had he used the word sex or sexual intercourse, that would make him a-ok?

    “If cussing and sexual joking are not vulgar talk, then what is?”
    I think it’s using “colorful” words to give voice to the evil in our hearts (although I’ve heard people use Christianese {rather than expletives} for the same purpose).
    However, I don’t see Driscoll doing that in the example given. If he were to talk about wanting to sleep with another guy’s wife and then chuckle with his friends about how hot she is (with a lot of expletives in between) with a wink to his son, then I’d say that you had a case. That would be the opposite of thankfulness, of the gospel, of representing Christ and what He stands for. “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

    It just isn’t there. The kind of motive, heart, and impurity that I beleive the chapter is aiming at… it just isn’t there. Lemmie put it this way; have your circle of friends lost “ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus” by listening to Driscoll?

  11. #11 by clearly on August 30, 2008 - 10:44 am

    “The verse itself gives the antidote to what it’s speaking to. The opposite? Thanksgiving.”

    I don’t think we can assume that vulgar speech is simply the opposite of thanksgiving, i.e. complaining. We must remember that the old man vs. new man motif plays a huge role in these epistles, especially this one. As such, the language of the old man was characterized by vulgarity, obscenity, foolish talk, and corse joking; that is to be put off (old man with his deeds). The new man, must put something on, namely thanksgiving. Mortification (put off) is incomplete without the replacement principle (put on); the replacement will not always be equal and opposite in a strict sense. However, it will be opposite in the sense that the former way of speech was bad and not pleasing to God but the new way is pleasing in his sight.

    You wrote, “So, following through with your argument, because Driscoll used the term “knocking boots” when explaining what the town may have been thinking (all negative) about unwed Mary getting pregnant and claiming that it was the Holy Spirit, he is neither thankful nor does he hold an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ. But, had he used the word sex or sexual intercourse, that would make him a-ok?”

    I don’t think you can go there either. Paul initially makes the point that the type of conduct above is not becoming of saints — therefore it shouldn’t even be manifest in our speech in an unbecoming fashion. I think his tough words are a warning (remember this is written to Christians) — a warning to live out their new position, a warning that such behavior is indicative of their old life style. He said something similar to the Corinthians, but added such were some of you, but now you are washed…etc.

    I think your final question is terribly reductionistic. Does listening to Garth Brooks cause you to lose ample cause to glory in Christ? Nah, but they could be eating some more expensive steak, better prepared, and with less fat.

    Raquel, it’s obvious that we have different applications of this Scripture; I feel like you are trying to explain it away and too narrowly limit its application to simply complaining or lack of thanksgiving. However, I trust that our interaction has caused us both to pursue God’s Word with an attitude of obedience and submission.

  12. #12 by Raquel on September 1, 2008 - 9:45 pm

    “I think your final question is terribly reductionistic. Does listening to Garth Brooks cause you to lose ample cause to glory in Christ? Nah, but they could be eating some more expensive steak, better prepared, and with less fat.”

    Can you explain that a bit more? You lost me a bit.

  13. #13 by clearly on September 19, 2008 - 12:47 pm

  14. #14 by yo on October 22, 2008 - 12:30 pm

    for the record mark driscoll has already humbly admitted that he has gone too far at times with his language so will you guys please stop nitpicking at every single word that comes out of this mans mouth? He is not perfect and is still growing as we all are. The main thing is that he defends the gospel and christian doctrine very accuratley and biblically. I also don’t think there is a list of good and bad words but rather a list of good and bad intentions. Letters and sounds are not evil in and of themselves, it is rather the intentions behind these words that God cares about most =]

  15. #15 by james parker on November 29, 2008 - 3:21 pm

    The “knocking boots” comment is vintage Driscoll: crude, and offensive to women (as his description of cheerleaders as “eye candy”). All this reminded me of the “Sex…” book by Matthew Paul Turner. That such gutter filth should be published by “NavPress” causes ones ears to tingle. Nowadays, “Christian” (?) publishing, on the main, is in the toilet, indeed!

  16. #16 by Phil on October 7, 2010 - 6:03 am

    Mark Driscoll seems to be the rock star of young fundamentalist who want so badly to be “cool”. As a result, we have a bunch of skinny pimple-faced wannabe Driscoll preacher boys walking around trying to be witty and blunt. They don’t sound humble (as much as Driscoll likes to talk about how he’s become more humble). They don’t sound intelligent. And they most certainly don’t sound like they are exemplifying the love of Christ.

    And by the way, you were very gracious in your example of Mark’s language. I was able to read a transcript of one of his earlier sermons that he preached before he became the fundy rock star that he is in which he used sh*t at least 4 times that I counted, d4mn a couple of times, and some various other swears and crude connotations. Even in a very recent sermon, I heard him exlaim, “What the h3ll are you thinking?” to his congregation. Although, he’s got nothing on some of the fundamentalist I’ve heard preach way before he was around (i.e. – Phil Kidd, especially when he preached about rebellious wives and pants on a woman or the time he preached about separation and he titled his sermon, “Some Asses I Don’t Plow With”). Cursing just seems to run with the territory in some fundamentalist circles. I don’t think it’s any different with Driscoll.

    In a way Driscoll is just a fundamentalist who wears ripped jeans while he preaches, curses, drinks beer, listens to Death Cab for Cutie, and throws jabs at Bob Jonesy people. But deep down he’s still a fundy, or at least he acts like one (the stereo-typical fundy that is. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular).

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