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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Captivating Language: Vocabulary As A Means of Grace


**To be fair to all who read this, I must warn you right off the bat that this entry contains a topic with some language that some may find a little harsh, or offensive.  Some may even consider it to be downright vulgar, but that's okay.  Read at your own discretion.  - Shon

Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb's latest release has been put on hold by his record company.  If you are a fan of his music, you know by now that Webb is no stranger to controversy.  However, this time it appears that some of the content is just too much for the label to handle...(more here)

The majority, but not all, of controversy seems to revolve around one song in particular, which contains the word "shit". Much of the context of the usage is unknown, but some have stated that it is about the Christian community's treatment of certain groups of people (race, sexuality, etc.). In the light of scripture, what is it that makes the use of this word so bad? Granted, it is considered by the majority to be "offensive", but what is it that makes a stand alone word a sin?

This is a topic that I've actually had experience with first hand. At my old church, this very topic came up when we were talking about taking the Lord's name in vain and swearing.  The problem with most seemed to be a vocabulary issue on the basis that no one seemed to have a clear understanding of what either of these things truly meant. The pastor leading the bible study gave a great example of the use of  the highest of all the "swear words", God Damn. He gave the example of a seminary professor that frivolously taught students to say these words in several different languages.

"Now, which is worse? What this professor was doing, or calling something a 'God-damned lie'? The professor is teaching people to just arbitrarily throw this phrase around for the purpose of amusement.  But there may be a time when the phrase is appropriate. We have to be careful in how and when we say things.  Those words should not be taken in vain or lightly, but sometimes a God-damned lie is just a God-damned lie." 

Obviously some were offended, but you also could see the light start to go on.  This isn't about vernacular, this is about the situation. Here's an example:

The serpent tells Eve that she will not surely die if she eats of the tree of knowledge (Genesis 3:4).  Now, would it be a sin to call that a God-damned lie?  Absolutely not. However, it is wrong for me to invoke the name of God to damn someone or something.  That would be taking the Lord's name in vain and speaking where God has not spoken. It is more sinful for me to say "God wills it" when I have no authority to do so, than it is for me to utter a four letter word that may offend cultural sensibilities.

Now, before you rally the pitchfork brigade, we have to make sure that we understand these things from a biblical perspective.  Here is where most would make a case against using such language by quoting Ephesians 4:29. But we must take note of the verse, for it says clear "as fits the occasion".  Words are given in order for us to appropriately communicate or convey our message. That sentence alone would make no sense to someone who lacked the vocabulary to comprehend it (i.e., a child). So, I would have to find another way to say it.  There is plenty of strong language in Scripture itself.  One of the first verses that comes to mind is Paul speaking Philippians 3:7-11. In verse 8, we see the word rubbish being used, but this has been cleaned up over the years by translators.  The actual translation of the word is dung. That's right.  So if I were explaining this verse to someone, and I said that what Paul is trying to say there is that he counts everything else as shit in comparison to knowing Christ, would I be wrong?  I guess you could say that it all depends on who I'm talking to.  If it were a five year old, disdain would most definitely be warranted. But what if I'm sharing the Gospel with an inmate, gang member, or a biker (not of the Lance Armstrong variety)? After all, I could replace dung with quite a few words that I'm sure would offend someone: Boo-Boo, Dookie, Crap, Feces, Doo-Doo, Poop...the list could go on and on, and we haven't even touched other languages yet.  It will all depend on the understanding of the person with whom I'm speaking and what end I'm trying to accomplish (Colossians 4:5-6).  This is truly what decides whether the words we use are profane or not.


Soli Deo Gloria, 
Shon
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