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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Manufacturing Mole Hills

A Rant

Steve Camp continues to demonstrate his awesome abilities with manufacturing mountains out of mole hills. I can't think of another internet blogger (except for maybe David Cloud, but he isn't really a blogger) who can take one issue he happens to disagrees with and blow it out of such enormous proportions a person would think the entire hope of evangelical Christianity is on the verge of complete and utter collapse.

I am often truly amazed at such feats of hyperbole that often comes from Camp.

What is it that has Steve in a tither?

The original post can be read here, but to summarize for the reader,

Desiring God Ministries, John Piper's outfit, will be having a conference at the end of September addressing the theme of the power of words and the wonder of God. As a promotion for this up coming conference, some videos were produced to illustrate the importance of the theme. One of the videos is of popular biblical counseling guru, Paul Tripp, discussing the significance of cuss words and edification called "What Makes Bad Language Bad?".

On this video, Paul retells answering a question from one of his kids asking him about why are certain words considered bad. In answering the question, Tripp explained how some language is meant to explicitly express acts of sin on which we should not dwell. However, he explains there are certain words, though they are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, that are still ungracious and just plain crass. He then uses as an example the "s" word, and I don't mean "stupid." He repeats the word at least half or so dozen times on the video. Of course, its use is in the context of providing an answer to his kids, and now the video audience. As he continues his talk, Tripp describes how after he mentions the word his children began repeating it in various expressions. Seizing the moment, Tripp explains to his kids how the word is more than just being a crass word but one that does not minister edification to the hearer, what should be the aim of all language that comes out of our mouth as Christians.

Honestly, that is the video. But, the way Camp tears into Tripp for even uttering the "s" word (and I don't mean "stupid") with the righteous indignation of an armchair mullah, and of course beating on Piper for just having his name attached to the video, you would have thought it was a porno or something.

Now, let me be straight up honest with a few thoughts.

Could one make a case that Tripp should had exercised wiser discretion with his descriptions of language? Certainly. I for one would had cautioned firmly to modify his language so that he would not be actually using the word in the video. First there is a propriety of a well-known, reputable Christian teacher in biblical counseling using language like that, but secondly the addition of folks like Camp and his many back slapping readers irresponsibly twisting the video out of proportion will lead to unnecessary strife. But the video is hardly the vile, smutty rag Camp is making it out to be, and Tripp is hardly a "pomo" as he is falsely accused on his blog. I wasn't "offended" by it when I watched his comments in the context they were offered, and I definitely feel no need to stir up pretentious feelings of outrage against either Tripp or Piper at the behest of Steve Camp.

Further more, I have never been a big fan of Piper. I have liked some of his books from the past and he has preached a few message that have touched my soul, but he is not a preacher I seek out to hear. I know he has been the darling of the young and restless reformers for near a decade now, but he does hold to some quirky ideas which I will leave for the time being, and his preaching is too saturated with histrionics for me to truly enjoy it. Lots of people like him, I don't so much. That being said, he is hardly on the verge of apostasy for posting this video of Tripp and allowing Mark Driscoll to speak at his conference.

And for Driscoll, I am not a big fan of his either. I think he is too frivolous in the pulpit. His explicitness in his preaching has become a stumbling block for many and that is something no preacher should want to have attached to his ministry. What do you want to be remembered as when you die? An edgy speaker who pushed the barrier of appropriateness in your messages? Or someone who proclaimed clearly with out compromise the Word of God with class, dignity, and gravitas? Think Martin Lloyd-Jones, and perhaps S. Lewis Johnson. I also don't care for a lot of Driscoll's ministry philosophy. By thinking practical ministry must be altered to specially meet the needs to the post-modern, younger generations, I believe he undervalues the sufficiency of the gospel and the sovereignty of God in salvation. At the same time, however, I do believe he has been too harshly criticized and turned into a much bigger boogie man than what he truly is.

I know Camp wants to carry on like he is some sort of modern day Amos calling the Church back to godliness, but in this instance, this perceived ill is a manufactured illusion. Believe me, he has a repeated history of this sort of misdirected rebuke. I can remember, about a year ago, he was the guy who posted a blog article scolding and mocking a deacon for appropriately telling teenagers to not smoke in the parking lot of the church. (Read my response, too).

Camp cites Ephesians 4:29 as the passage Tripp violates, but he did no such thing. If one would consider the context of what he actually said in the video and why he said it in a responsible manner like the disclaimer at the beginning of the video tells the watcher to do, Camp's complaint is just plain misguided and is needlessly stirring up division when none should occur.

Ephesians 4:29 speaks to an established pattern of conduct and speech. In other words, a person who is marked out as having a foul mouth. This conduct and speech, though, is more than just cuss words. It directly speaks to edifying speech, and a person can have unedifying speech with out the use of cuss words. Mark Driscoll, I believe it can be argued, fits this category. Even though he doesn't use specific cuss words his sermon illustrations and other content in his messages are often times corrupt words as explained by Paul in Ephesians. I can think of several fundamentalist preachers who could easily fit into this category. Many in the KJV-onlyist crowd certainly fall under Paul's warning.

Paul Tripp's video when he uses the "s" word does not, however; and I think Camp making this an issue is much more damaging to the Body of Christ than a cuss word uttered a few times for the sake of explaining proper edification. In my opinion, Steve owes these guys an apology for overreacting.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Kim said...

Fred, you just made my day. You said exactly what I was feeling but couldn't put words to. While I certainly do think that Tripp may have used some restraint in telling the story while still making his point, I don't think he's the new Post Modern Christianity's answer to The-Joker-a-la-Heath Ledger. It just came across in the post and in the comments ("backslappers" was very appropriate) that Tripp, by making this one video has totally discounted himself as a Christian, and I don't think that's the case. It just came across as a little too "finger-pointy."

10:23 AM, September 18, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...

Fred,

I entered the discussion over there and backed out when it got out of control.

My beef is, why bring Driscoll into the conversation at all. He did not say it, Paul Tripp did. This seems to me to be Guilt By Association which is rampant in fundamentalism. (I am not saying you are doing this)

What was telling to me is that Piper, and Driscoll were tarred because of Tripp's statement. My question is why stop there? Why selectively tar them. Sincalir Ferguso, and Bib Kauflin and others are going to be there? That was my point that was totally ignored.

It seems that every time anything 'bad' happens a new game of 'Six Degrees of Separation' begins and we try to trace its origin back to Mark Driscoll. I have no problem that some dislike him or his preaching, but I do disagree with assigning everything that is evil and base to him.

Thanks for giving me a soapbox to rant on. By the way, none of this was directed to you :)

12:16 PM, September 18, 2008  
Blogger Carl said...

I dunno, Kent Brandenburg (http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/) seems to be able to make mountains out of molehills while misrepresenting someone else's viewpoint of which he disagrees. Case in point, Dan Wallace seems to be Kent's obsession but much of Kent accuses Wallace of is simply untrue. So mountains out of molehills isn't as hard to find among Christian blogs as one would think.

5:56 PM, September 18, 2008  
Blogger Carl said...

Also, fwiw, a lot of the KJV-Only bloggers seem to be able to make mountains out of molehills...even trying to make mountains out of...nothing. :-)

5:58 PM, September 18, 2008  
Blogger MSC said...

Fred,
I agree with your assessment of Camp and the modern day prophet syndrome. He has definitely made more out of this than he should have. However, on the other hand I disagree with your assessment of the Tripp video. I think his argument was flawed. He said that the standard of wholesomeness in the use of words has nothing to do with vocabulary per se but whether or not a particular word brings grace to the hearer. I agree up to this point. But then he says that if the 's' word could bring grace to the hearer in the right context he would not be afraid to use it. He obviously thought the context of the video justified its use considering how many times he used it. If he laughed so hard at his children's use of it I guess that brought grace to him as well.

He is correct that the Bible does not supply an actual vocabulary list of approrpriate and inappropriate words, that is because every culture has its unique words that fit the categories of "unwholesome" (Eph. 4:29) or "filthy" (Eph. 5:4). Thus, I believe there will always be certain words that are unwholesome and filthy in a given culture in a given time. The 's' word is clearly one of those words in our culture. It does not matter whether your intentions are good or not, the denotative and conotative meanings (which are pretty narrow) of this word carries with it a vulgar and unwholesome meaning if words mean anything.

I challenge someone to give me a context in which this word would bring grace to the hearer where a less vulgar word with the same basic meaning would do but in a much more appropriate way. Phil Johnson's argument about the meaning of skubalon in Phil. 3:8 is a case in point. I do not believe Paul chose a word that had the vulgarity that Doug Wilson has sugested the word to mean. That would violate his teaching elsewhere.

Bottom line, the words themselves are just as important as the heart and the desire to bring grace to the hearer. I suggest that the 's' word by its very nature does not bring grace to the hearer in any context. So why use it at all?

Two more points. Why the disclaimers at the beginning of the video if there was no concern for offense? If DGM thought this video would undoubtedly bring grace to the hearers was the disclaimer necessary? Secondly, why have all the blog commenters on this issue (so far as I have read except Wilson) used 's' or some other shorthand to describe this word? If the context is appropriate why the restraint? That seems a little telling to me.

11:55 PM, September 18, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Carl

I believe you are correct that there are many bloggers out there who make mountains out of mole hills on just about any subject. I would imagine I have also in the past if I were to take the time to sit down and review what I have written on my blog. I point out Steve, however, because he has a notoriety as a public figure that gathers to him more attention than your average blogger, say for example Kent. I think many young and restless reformers look up to him as a mouth piece for their ideas and convictions, and because Steve wears a mantle of sorts identifying him as a self-appointed culture prophet, what he writes and says cannot be over looked especially with the authority he speaks to many of his reading audience.

Scott

You wrote:

I disagree with your assessment of the Tripp video. I think his argument was flawed. He said that the standard of wholesomeness in the use of words has nothing to do with vocabulary per se but whether or not a particular word brings grace to the hearer. I agree up to this point. But then he says that if the 's' word could bring grace to the hearer in the right context he would not be afraid to use it. He obviously thought the context of the video justified its use considering how many times he used it. If he laughed so hard at his children's use of it I guess that brought grace to him as well.

(Fred) I do not believe that is what he is saying at all. After watching the video again, I believe he was clearly saying that if in our culture such a word could be used to minister grace he would use it, but because such language can't, we are not to use it. I did not take away from that video a license to use cuss words if and only if they minister grace in a particular context. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

You continue,

Bottom line, the words themselves are just as important as the heart and the desire to bring grace to the hearer. I suggest that the 's' word by its very nature does not bring grace to the hearer in any context. So why use it at all?

(Fred) Well, in this particular instance, I saw him using that word as a means of illustration for his kids and now, us, the viewing audience. The point of the video as the disclaimer stated, was to illustrate discernment, especially with the use of our language. Stating the actual word rather than saying "The 'S' word," at least in my opinion, shocks the viewer in considering the point he is making. People seem to be bothered by the actual speaking of the word, and thus missing the point of what the video was stating. Additionally he uttered "God Damn" as well, but interestingly the restless and young reforming disciples of Camp aren't even mentioning that curse word.

Two more points. Why the disclaimers at the beginning of the video if there was no concern for offense? If DGM thought this video would undoubtedly bring grace to the hearers was the disclaimer necessary?

(Fred) I can't speak for them directly. If I had to venture a guess, it would be to stay off irresponsible criticism like the stuff Camp and others have been saying. Plus, I am sure they have in mind the whole weaker brother issue as well.

Secondly, why have all the blog commenters on this issue (so far as I have read except Wilson) used 's' or some other shorthand to describe this word? If the context is appropriate why the restraint? That seems a little telling to me.

(Fred) Speaking for myself, I take great pains to keep any form of profanity off my blog. There could be lots of folks who wander on to my blog due to a google search or what ever who would stumble upon this conversation with out any meaningful context. If they see "esss, aysh, I, tee" spelled out, they could draw a wrong conclusion about what I am all about. Plus, I want to avoid the sensationalism Paul was attempting to get across.

7:07 AM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Kim said...

Steve wears a mantle of sorts identifying him as a self-appointed culture prophet, what he writes and says cannot be over looked especially with the authority he speaks to many of his reading audience.

Self-appointed being the operative word.

9:01 AM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger MSC said...

I think his basic argument is a good one, but even as you pointed out it was probably inappropriate to use the word. In my mind that basically nullified the argument. You brought up the concern that by using the word he created unecessary srife in the Christian communinty, something that could have been avoided had used a little more judgment. And therin lies my problem. Was more grace communicated in using the word as he did or would more grace have been communicated had he used restraint? He could have made his point perfectly well by alluding to the word and everybody would have gotten it. Maybe he thought that by using the word it would communicate the point more powerfully. Perhaps it did, but at the risk of creating unecessary controversy and strife. That is not bringing grace to the hearers IMHO.

9:15 AM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Daniel said...

I only followed the discussion to the point where Camp entered into it. At that point, I had already gone to watch the videos to see what all the hoopla was about. I didn't bother coming back to see the rest of the discussion. Notwithstanding, I don't mind Camp's gusto, it is just that it often comes inflated by a zealous urgency that isn't always warranted, and he seems to have a nasty habit of being somewhat strident if you don't think things are as bad as he reports them to be.

Which isn't to say I favor Camp's opinion on the issue over anyone else's. It is just an observation I am making.

Personally, I have thought about it, and concluded that certain words carry scatological meanings that their synonyms do not. Given that this is so, I am inclined to stay above all reproach by simply using alternative words - words that do -not- carry any scatological meaning.

Yet my public or private vocabulary, or yours, or Paul Tripp's is not really the issue is it. The issue is whether we are engaging in judgment or discernment.

If I am right in my opinion, then I am right, not because I am clever, but because God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, has penetrated the eclipsing shell of sin in my life, and through the cracks and holes, the light of illumination has wakened within that shell something that refuses to use certain words.

If God is cracking someone else's "sin shell" in a different way, such that the same light that illumines one thing in me, has yet to penetrated the same point in them - who am I to blame? God? Them?

We want to blame them don't we? I mean, we want to say - look, clean up the potty mouth - I did it, and so can you! But that is a sort of pride speaking - we feel that our opinion is spiritual, and right - and that because it is spiritual and right, we are justified in expecting the same opinion from others who make the same profession - except we forget that it was not we who opened our own eyes, but God - and we fall into a sort of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality for others, even as we proclaim ourselves to be saved by grace from the same.

I don't like to hear Christians use the "S" word. I don't like to even think it in my head. My duty as a believer is to explain why I don't like it - and to draw attention to the damage it can do, and to trust God to do the rest. Conviction of sin is the work of the Holy Spirit, and not the prophet. Sometimes we forget this.

9:31 AM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Daniel, that was extremely well stated. I particularly appreciate the way you explain Camp's position on matters.

9:35 AM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

There's good prudence, and bad prudence.

I listened to the discussion at Steve Camp's.
Both sides made some good points, I thought.

I kept going back and forth.

Some seemed to be self-righteous though, and that's on both sides. That's the sin that Christ hates. And we need to confess it, and ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit to overcome it.

Here's the quote I thought was a good one for those who were discussing to take to heart, before they commented: "Don't imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he won't be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who's always telling you that, of course, he's nobody. Probably all you'll think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him, it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He won't be thinking about himself at all. There I must stop. If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you're not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." --C.S. Lewis

Actually I used about half of the quote. But I think Lewis makes a good point for us all.

12:16 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Mike-e said...

I just wonder why Camp doesn't have bigger fish to fry than this? This is just my personal thought, but I wonder how Camp lives in today's world? I work in a warehouse, where cussing is literally a second language to proper english. Obviously, I don't like that, but if I fumed every time I heard a cuss word and were as repulsed by it as Camp seems to be, I would have erupted long, long ago. But I don't. I deal with it. I'm much more concerned with their souls than their mouths. And as far as the church, i'm much more concerned with its current postmodern state than a prominent teacher uttering the "s" word to use as an example. After all, had he not said the actual word, his students may have thought he was referring to the word "stupid" ;-)

7:57 AM, September 22, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

In fairness to Steve: Like I stated in my post, I do think there is something uncomfortable with a prominent Bible teacher using a profanity in a public, internet video, even for illustration purposes. It is one thing if he kept this discussion on a private level with his family in which he used the actual word. It is quite another thing to make it public in an uncensored way. He could have used the same story and used code word for the actual profanity. On those grounds, I would stand with Steve.

However, I think you are correct to say that Camp should pick bigger fish to fry. Not only is his comments irresponsibly reactionary, they are inaccurate as to what Tripp was saying, and they certainly falsely accuse him of "postmodernism," as if he used cussing like an emergent Ann Lamott. This sort of blogging apologetic is more harmful in my mind than Paul Tripp using a slang word for manure.

Fred

9:41 AM, September 22, 2008  

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