The rise of profanity in the pulpit

The rise of profanity in the pulpit March 19, 2024

The “Conservative Dad’s Real Women of America” 2024 pinup calendar features female influencers and aspiring politicians. What makes the calendar newsworthy is that the models are posing in what the New York Times calls “old-school images of sexiness—bikinis, a red sports car, a bubble bath.” The article documents the use of profane speech and sexual innuendoes by conservative political figures as well.

What especially bothered me was the reported escalation of vulgarities by pastors in their sermons and writing. This despite the clear biblical command: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4, my emphasis). As John Piper comments:

Crudeness is the sludge that accrues when the fountain of Godward thanks dries up.

What causes this “fountain” to dry up? The answer is more relevant to evangelical Christians than you might think.

Why Earth’s tilt is so important

Today is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The season will actually arrive at 11:06 p.m. EDT with the arrival of the Vernal Equinox. At that moment, the direct rays of the sun will shine down on the equator producing the effect of equal day and night.

From that point forward, the direct rays of the sun will migrate north of the equator, with hours of daylight steadily growing longer. They will finally arrive at the Tropic of Cancer, which is latitude 23.5 degrees north. This will be the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. They will then head south and the days will grow shorter once again.

Right now, you’re no doubt asking why you needed to know any of this. Nothing you just read is actually relevant to your life. These facts don’t change anything about your day.

Or so we think.

It turns out, the earth’s spin axis tilt of 23.5 degrees, which makes possible the changing seasons I just described, prevents temperature extremes that would render our planet uninhabitable. In addition, this tilt appears to be optimal for life to develop and thrive. And it has been essentially constant, likely due to the stabilizing effect of the moon, which is crucial for the development of advanced life.

This is just one of many examples of the “anthropic principle,” the fact that the current structure of the universe and the constants of nature are arranged precisely in a manner that permits life on our planet to exist. In the minds of many scientists, these constants are far too numerous and far too precise to be coincidental.

Rather, they furnish evidence of a Designer who fashioned our universe precisely as the Bible says he did.

The problem of a gift we cannot lose

Now comes my question: How much credit can you and I take for anything we’ve discussed today?

My query is motivated by a professional observation an investment banker once shared with me: the first generation creates the wealth, the second generation conserves it, and the third generation loses it. This is true to human nature: when we receive a gift we didn’t deserve, we typically acknowledge it with gratitude and seek to use it well. Then we take it for granted as though we deserved it. Then we abuse it until it’s gone.

This pattern is especially threatening for evangelical Christians in America today.

Yesterday we discussed the fact that we should fear the Creator more than anything in his creation. One primary way we “fear” and revere God is to acknowledge that he is in fact our Creator and that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

Of all his gifts, our salvation is the most precious, of course. The eternal life purchased for us by Jesus on the cross saves us from an eternity in hell for an eternity in paradise. We evangelicals especially focus on the fact that this gift is freely given by grace (Ephesians 2:8–9) rather than the result of our good works or merit. And we know that since we cannot earn our salvation, we cannot forfeit it, either.

Here’s the problem: A gift we cannot lose is a gift we can take for granted, then a gift we can abuse.

Whether it’s profanity, or political slander, or pornography, or premarital or extramarital sex, or any number of other moral issues plaguing the evangelical church today, we are tempted to live like the lost people we are called to win. And they are watching.

“My worth to God in public”

The paradox is that those of us who emphasize the grace of salvation should of all people be the most motivated to respond with godliness. Not so God will love us, but because he already does. Not so he will bless us, but because he already has. Anyone who truly grasps God’s grace must respond with gratitude that empowers personal and public holiness.

This is what happens when, to use John Piper’s phrase, the “fountain of Godward thanks” erupts in our souls.

Oswald Chambers noted: “My worth to God in public is what I am in private. Is it my master ambition to please him and be acceptable to him, or is it something less, no matter how noble?”

What is your “master ambition” today?

NOTE: “What does it mean to be a Christian?” If someone asks you that, how will you answer? The gospel of Matthew is a primer on discipleship, and my latest book seeks to help you better understand just how essential it is that we truly understand—and act upon—Jesus’ call to discipleship. Request my cultural commentary on Matthew today.

Tuesday news to know

Quote for the day

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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