The Pornification of the Pulpit? Part Two

Posted: March 19, 2009 in Uncategorized

Recently, Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace To You ministries and an uber-blogger, called out pastors such as Mark Driscoll and ministries such as The XXX Church for “pornifying the pulpit” (see yesterday’s blog).

Now, I do believe Phil made a number of good points.  I do think that there is a sophomoric trend within evangelicalism today to shock for the sake of shock.  For example, while I admire many facets of their ministry, I believe that the XXX Church is often out of line–“Pete the Porno Puppet” was simply unnecessary!

Generally, however, I think Phil is wrong.  First of all, I don’t believe Phil’s exegesis is sound.  For example, Phil contends that ministries cannot excuse their use of strong language by pointing to Paul’s use of the Greek word skubalon, which is often translated in English Bibles as “rubbish” or “dung.”  Many scholars have argued that the Greek word may be strong enough as to be the ancient equivalent of the four letter “S word.”  Phil disagrees.  He admits it is a strong term and probably does mean “dung” instead of “table scraps” or “garbage” but that its use in ancient literature certainly does not merit translating it as profanity. 

He may be right but it certainly is strong enough to render as “crap” (see BAGD p.932).  Is “crap” really any stronger than the words Mark Driscoll uses these days? Not really.  Moreover, the majority of Biblical scholars I have known believe it did rise to the level of profanity.  Martin Luther, no slouch at Biblical exposition, believed as much.  With all do respect to Phil, he ain’t no Martin Luther!

Furthermore, what about John the Baptist calling the crowds “brood of vipers” or Jesus calling the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”? These may not seem on the surface to contain much of a bite now but in the 1st century it was considered pretty harsh! 

Which leads us to another problem, I believe Phil’s hermeneutical approach is worse than his exegesis.  Phil equates an almost 19th century Victorianism with what the Apostle Paul would consider “dignified” in the 1st century.  I think that’s a mistake.  First of all, we have seen that Paul (as well as John the Baptist and Jesus) used “strong” language that, if used by a pastor today, would apparently draw fire from Grace To You

Moreover, I’m not sure that in applying the text today, Phil truly understands the culture, which is key to explaining Scripture in a way that makes sense to the unchurched.  At one point, Phil actually argues that since tax forms and the evening news don’t feel compelled to use “smutty talk” to get their message across then neither do pastors.  Now, please show me the crowd of pagan 16-36 year olds who reads tax forms or watch the evening news?  It’s more like Maxim and The Colbert Report

Now certainly, churches should not mirror cultural elements that are clearly contrary to the teachings of Scripture (like the photos inside Maxim!) but as I hope I have shown, strong language is not necessarily such an element!

Moreover, Phil argues against dealing with “vile topics” such as sex from the pulpit. He admits that Song of Songs is about sex but that it is written in such a way as to be appropriate for anyone to read.  Is that right? Would the original audience have heard it as G-rated poetry? That’s very unlikely. Moreover, how are we to explain the meaning behind the poetry without discussing sex? Got me?  In fact, Phil is really playing right into the secular stereotype of Christians as repressed prudes who refuse to deal with real life issues. 

Phil also asserts that one cannot be sanctified if they are exposed to these subjects or to strong language.  Really? Seriously? I have been in many of these churches and have seen porn addicted, power drinking, 30-year old adolescences become loving, faithful husbands and doting fathers who study God’s word diligently, give generously to their church & to those in need and refrain from the various sins that once enslaved them.  Experience alone simply flies in the face of Phil’s assertions.

I read through Scripture every year and am currently in Judges.  It appears that Phil would reprimand pastors for even dealing with texts such as Judges 19 in which a concubine is gang raped and chopped up! In the end, it seems that Phil sees the hermeneutical bridge of bringing the text into the 21st century as watering it down into a Pixar flick!

Phil even goes so far as to state that pastors who use course language would not have been ordained by the Apostle Paul.  Phil goes on to take Luther himself to the woodshed for his use of profanity.  Okay, so, follow the logic here…Phil believes the Apostle Paul would not have ordained Martin Luther.  Interesting.

I believe Phil is being unfair. Using many of Phil’s own points, I could argue that many of the ministers and ministries he would laud as examples of being “dignified” are viewed by the pagan culture as mean spirited, not because of their political beliefs or their politically incorrect views that Jesus is the only way to God but because of their tone.  In fact, I cannot count the number of pagans I have encountered who do not believe respect Christians and certainly do not hold them up as people of integrity, not because of their language or willingness to address sensitive topics but because of a harsh tone and demeanor.

The simple fact is that the Holy Spirit is moving in many of these ministries.  Many porn stars have been rescued from the industry by the guys at the XXX Church and literally thousands have been saved at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  These ministries aren’t perfect but they are clearly instruments of redemption that are bringing honor and glory to God.  I personally thank Jesus that they exist.

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