Cool Calvinists Cuss (Or Cool Cussing Calvinists)

One recent trend in some calvinistic circles is the use of vulgar and crass language.  It is not uncommon to hear cussing among younger males who are coming to embrace the doctrines of grace.  Edgy Christian artists cuss in songs and popular Calvinist pastors cuss in sermons, on blogs, and in books.  Some calvinistic seminarians even cuss between classes like army privates in the barracks.  In fact, it is “cool” nowadays to be a cussing Calvinist. (Emergents and evangelicals aren’t the only trendy Christians!)  Carl Trueman interacts with cool Calvinists cussing (or cool cussing Calvinists).

“Why is it that language that would offend most of my non-Christian friends, and that they would regard as a sign of seriously limited vocabulary and deep childishness, is deemed by some in the Reformed world to be, on the contrary, a sign of urbane sophistication and spiritual maturity?  The answer you are likely to receive when you ask is: Christian freedom.  As Christians, we are free to use such language, and doing so therefore shows what a good grasp of the gospel we really have.”

“I disagree.  First, it is clear that New Testament teaching opposes obscene talk, so the argument is fallacious at the outset.  Thus, if objecting to obscene talk is pietistic legalism, then Paul was a pietistic legalist.  But even if we set that aside for the moment, it seems to me that what we are dealing with in this instance is less the matter of Christian freedom and more that of Christian Freudom: an Oedipal [Frueudian] rebellion against older religious practices, often, although not always, those of the parents or early Christian mentors.”

“[In Calvinist circles] legitimate criticism of a legalistic pietism too frequently degenerates into illegitimate rubbishing of appropriate piety.  Thus, the F-bomb and other casual obscenities and profanities have become, for some, the trendy hallmarks of mature Christianity.  Strange to tell, talking like sexually insecure thirteen-year-olds has become the way we Christians show how grown-up we are.  We embrace what the older generation rejected in order to show that we have come of age, and to show the world that, hey, we’re not as weird as we used to be; we can be as rough-and-tumble, as hip, savvy, cool, and gritty as the rest.”

“I even heard of one minister who was proud that his son smoked at fourteen – as if this were some sign of biblical maturity and masculinity.  If one really must judge masculinity, I would suggest that something like rock climbing or surfing or marathon running – something that involves discipline, focus, physical prowess, and skill, and the ability to handle risk and/or pain – might be somewhat more impressive than smoking a cigar.”

I believe Trueman is exactly right.  Cussing isn’t cool, it’s immature and childish.  I don’t think that a Calvinist who cusses just to cuss is a consistent Calvinist (solid Calvinism includes godliness and piety). In Trueman’s words, “Let’s not trivialize the gospel by equating spiritual maturity with silliness and swearing. …Real Christian freedom [has] more to do with service of others than self-indulgence in any area of my life.”  Godliness, holiness, Christian maturity, and sanctification do not include swearing, coarse language, and cussing, but do include serving, comforting, and caring words.

Furthermore, cussing is not a matter of Christian freedom – it is sinful, as Truman noted:  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up (Eph. 4:29).  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4; cf. James 3:4-6).  The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off (Prov. 10:31; cf Prov. 12:18-19).  Foul language is something Christians need to fight against and “put off;” it is a matter of mortification: Put away…obscene talk from your mouth (Col. 3:5).

All “cussing Calvinists” (pastors and seminary students especially!) need to read chapter six of Carl Trueman’s new book, Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (where the above quotes can be found).  I’m not claiming to have a perfectly tame tongue, but I do believe that Calvinists who cuss just to cuss need to grow up and become mature Calvinists.  Calvin himself was pretty clear in his commentary on James 3: “…A cursing tongue is something monstrous, contrary to all nature, and subverts the order everywhere established by God.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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13 comments on “Cool Calvinists Cuss (Or Cool Cussing Calvinists)

  1. llamapacker says:

    I have not heard any “bombs” and really off-color language, but I have heard a lot of slang, substitute words, etc. that sometimes jolts me, but always make me think of immaturity and carelessless – and a poor representation of Jesus.

  2. I utterly agree… being somewhat ‘earthy’ is quite different from outright
    cussing – ‘Anathema Sit’ to this practice, and may God either convert,
    or ‘mature’ these miscreants – what a poor, sad witness they are for the
    glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jeremiah 6:16

    Pastor Paul K. Christianson

    • I agree mr. Pastor PK. As the young Calvinist that I am I have noticed a lot of young Calvinist from the “new Calvinist” group taking a liking in a lot of drinking and foul language. As for me, il stick with the “old Calvinist” (like Theodore Beza), I feel safer that way :).

  3. Tom Lassiter says:

    I am outraged that those who are called by Christ’s glorious name would think it is “cool” to spew out filth from the mouths that are supposed to give glory to God. This has nothing to do with Christian liberty, but it has everything to do with willful sin against a holy God!! I cannot imagine a true Calvinist thinking it “cool” to be more like those of this world, and less like Jesus. I cannot imagine a true Christian promoting this behavior!!

  4. Celal says:

    I can’t even believe this is an issue.

  5. justsinner99 says:

    Thankfully, I have not seen (heard) much of this sort of thing.

  6. Dante says:

    I heard a good deal of cussing while working at WSC. I had never heard such talk from Christians before. The verses from Eph 4 and 5 definitely do prohibit foul language.

    You may be interested in seeing Jeremy Hultin, The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and its Environment (Brill, 2008) even though there is a good deal of profanity in it.

  7. [...] eerily familiar to that of the shock-jock looking for ratings. Our friend Shane Lems has written a thoughtful post about this topic recently. It affects the way in which younger pastors sometimes dismiss the wisdom of older generations. [...]

  8. I really liked this chapter/article in Trueman’s book as well and recently posted on it too: http://wrathtoriches.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-freudom-of-the-christian/

  9. One of our favorite family sayings is, “Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” This bit of wisdom applies to many things, but particularly here. Even if this kind of language weren’t directly forbidden by Scripture, it is always a bad witness for Christ. Thanks so much for posting on such a relevant topic.

    I guess they don’t call him Trueman for nothing.

    Michael Kearney
    West Sayville URC
    Long Island, New York

  10. SLIMJIM says:

    I have to say a hearty amen! What strange times we live in–It’s weird to think of “Cussing” with “Calvinists” and I never thought the day has come where “cool” is also associated with “Calvinists”…

    • Tom Lassiter says:

      I’m right there with you on that, Slim Jim! I see this sort of “cool” behavior very often among Arminians I somrtimes associate with, but anyone who claims to understand the doctrines of grace biblically should definitely know this does not give glory to God in any sense of the word!

      • SLIMJIM says:

        “anyone who claims to understand the doctrines of grace biblically should definitely know this does not give glory to God in any sense of the word!”
        AmenI

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