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.”