This story has been modified from the original version. This version contains an additional quote from Mark Driscoll in the ninth paragraph. (Paragraph begins with “Driscoll has expressed regret ….”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An in-depth New York Times Magazine feature on a controversial Seattle pastor has generated a new wave of debate about vulgarity in the pulpit.
Critics like pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., however take Driscoll to task over his use of sexually explicit language and “purely gratuitous humor” they say degrades the Gospel and the pulpit.
In a December 2006 issue of Pulpit magazine, MacArthur complimented Driscoll’s theology but said the young pastor suffers from an “infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society” and models a lifestyle “especially his easygoing familiarity with all this world’s filthy fads — [that] practically guarantees that [his disciples] will make little progress toward authentic sanctification.”
Driscoll also has gotten into hot water over the use of profanity before, at one time having the reputation as the “cussing pastor.” In that case, he repented, starting with a public apology for having become known for “good theology, a bad temper, and a foul mouth.
“This is not what I want to be known for,” he said then.
On the heels of the New York Times profile, Christian talk show personality Ingrid Schlueter criticized Driscoll for a series of explicit “sex advice” posts on the Mars Hill Church blog — material appropriate only for married couples but available to any visitor, including children. Schlueter also castigated Driscoll for linking the blog to a website, ChristianNymphos, “which features articles on how a Christian wife can turn herself into a dominatrix, the glories of an-l and or-l sex, and the use of sex toys.”
“At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors,” Schlueter said in a press release. “Those with sexual issues need to receive private counseling — not sex seminars in a church auditorium.
“For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it” Schlueter added. “Mark Driscoll is a sad product of our times. While waving his orthodox doctrinal credentials, he has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”
Driscoll has expressed regret over his abuse of language. Preaching on the Bible’s use of strong language during a 2008 Desiring God conference, Driscoll said, “I have sinned a lot. I have said things I totally regret…. I have crossed the line. I have gone too far. I am deeply convicted over sin in my past. I am being sanctified by the grace of God. What I have said will live with me forever, and I am deeply sorrowful to Jesus, and this message for me is incredibly painful because it hits on one of the great weaknesses in my ministry and some of the greatest failures of my life.”
Coarse language has no place in the pulpit, said David Tolliver, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“I am distressed to hear about what some misguided men call preaching,” Tolliver said. “Vulgarity has no place in the speech of Christians — certainly not in Christian preaching. How can Christian preachers expect to ‘speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel’ unless they vow never to ‘let any unwholesome word come out of [their] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’?”
Pastors must commit themselves to engage the culture without endorsing it, Tolliver added.
“It is important that pastors address issues like sexuality, but they must address those topics biblically and reverently — not in a way that titillates or entices,” he said.
Addressing sensitive topics like sexuality is important because both church members and unchurched people struggle with those issues, said Bret Robbe, a longtime pastor who now directs leadership and adult publishing for LifeWay Christian Resources.
“We need to learn how to address sensitive topics in appropriate ways because they are real issues in our culture and they present real dangers for people’s lives and their relationships with God,” Robbe said. “They aren’t just issues in the culture; our church members are wrestling with these issues too.
“When we debate issues like these, it helps us get better perspective of what is acceptable and not acceptable,” Robbe added. “How do we best address sensitive subjects in a way that both helps people and glorifies God?”
Giving God the honor He deserves must not take a back seat to promoting a sermon series, Robbe said.
“If a pastor is preaching or teaching on an edgy topic just to get the attention of people in the community, and not to glorify God, then he has stepped over a line,” Robbe said. “I would never endorse unwholesome speech from the pulpit or anywhere else.
“It’s a two-fold issue. We need to remind ourselves what unwholesome talk is, and we need to make sure we are addressing in a biblical way the issues people face.”