Friday, September 5, 2008

Chuck Swindoll and Questions of Language

I just watched Chuck Swindoll in person last night speaking to the students of Wheaton College. He is an excellent speaker and I have listened to him for years. He mentioned that this has been a tough year for him, so I thought I would search to see the problems he had been wrestling with. The only thing I found was questions about some of his language and illustrations. See the article called: Chuck Swindoll Dropped from Radio Network for “Crude, Vulgar, From the Gutter” Language

The Question at Issue
The question at issue here is one I have wrestled with recently at my church. How much should we go along with social norms in order to relate to society and influence them to do better versus how much should we strive for a high level of purity and lead by example?

This is not an academic question for me. I have eight kids, we home school and we do not watch TV. So one of the major external influences on the habits my kids learn is from the church.

My Answer
My answer is that we have decided to attend two churches. One church is excellent in that it teaches kids to act properly and respectfully (mostly home schooled families like ours go there). The other church is excellent in that they attract non-Christians and those in need of Christian growth (they have a good youth outreach and church for homeless on Sundays).

In a way, that is like what Young Life does. They have Young Life meetings for non-Christians, then Campaigners meetings for Christians.

One of the main problems with the church in our society is that Christians mostly do not stand out from good non-Christians any more because we don't make distinctions between the two groups (I'm sorry to say that if someone attends church and believes in theory that Jesus is God, but is not committed to actually doing all that He says, then they are not Christians).

The words used by Dr. Swindoll, while technically vulgar, are today not generally considered vulgar by a large segment of Americans. So, I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with Dr. Swindoll sporadically using "common" terms accepted by a large segment of society as a demonstration that Christians have freedom to talk using the common vernacular.

But I do have two problems with that tact. One is that the forum he said it in. Since that forum was intended for Christians and not non-Christians there should be no need to use such common terms in order to "connect" with the listening audience.

The other problem is that if he continues to use that common language over time, he will lose the ability to lead by example to more pure use of language. He may be using only minimally vulgar words, but others could use that as precedent to speak in even more vulgar terms.

When Paul talks about "becoming all things to all people" in 1 Cor 9:19-23, he is specifically talking about how he handles the interaction of law and grace with Jewish Christians and Greek Christians. So that verse should not be used to justify going to the least common denominator in our increasing secular society in order to reach non-Christians.

This is just one instance of the larger question of what the Church should be and how it should relate to society.