I once heard a sermon that began with the speaker telling the congregation that we should only use the word “awesome” when speaking about God. It was said as an aside – before he began, he wanted to make sure everyone was aware of how much it bugged him when people say, “That movie was awesome!” – because it was used to describe something pagan like entertainment.
A few Sundays ago, I heard a different but equally irksome sermon that was based on a super gross analogy: God’s efforts to bring us into spiritual maturity, so claimed the speaker, are much the same as a parent’s efforts to get children to stop peeing and pooping their pants. You know, like stop being a child and grow up! The illustration came right on down to: Jesus wants you to stop pooping your spiritual diaper. This was actually said at one point during the sermon and no one was joking.
I don’t think this delicious mental image, which I had the pleasure of acting out only about an hour and a half before, is harmfully un-Biblical. It’s definitely gross and maybe mildly offensive, but I don’t think anyone is going to be burning in the hellfires of damnation for using it.
I actually found it so ridiculous that I ended up cry-laughing for about 20+ minutes imagining God’s holy CNAs coming down from on high to remove my spiritual diaper, wipe my holy backside, then put on a nice clean diaper. Maybe size like 20 or something? I’m not familiar with what size of disposable underpants I should be wearing at this point.
So these twin beauties of a church service rose some questions. You can silently answer any or all of them as you read.
1. What the heck is appropriate from the pulpit? (I mean beyond the obvious, like swearing, racist comments, or vividly describing the details of your sex life.)
2. As church-going Christians, do we have a responsibility when we hear something shady?
3. If we trust our pastors/speakers, do we take whatever they say as truth, even if it’s just their opinion?
4. Is it okay for pastors/speakers to express non-Biblical, personal preferences without some sort of disclaimer?
I personally find the word “awesome” pretty harmless, and using pulpit time to complain about it bothers me on several levels.
Speaking dictionarily (yes, I made up that word, but it sounds so right), the Oxford English Dictionary defines “awesome” as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” Aren’t there are least a few non-God things that are extremely impressive, daunting, or worthy of great admiration? I’m thinking of this gorgeously purple sunset I once saw. Or the fact that humans have grown inside my body. Or maaaaayyybe even eating an incredibly well-executed hamburger. All situations that have inspired some sort of awe, whether towards God, the way He rolls, or the hamburgers that He hath given us.
From a more Biblical perspective, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says that “awe” or “awesome” is almost never used in the Bible for anything other than to refer to God. Sooo mostly, the word is all about God, but on a few occasions, it’s not. And in the original Hebrew and Greek, “awe” most commonly translates into “fear.” So it’s not exactly the “awesome” of today, is it?
In America in 2013, when my friend informs me that she got a great job and I’m like, “That’s awesome!” I definitely don’t really mean, “Your announcement has inspired great fear while filling me with a combination of wonder and dread!” So did I use the word incorrectly and therefore commit a sin?
I mean, really – Does this honestly bother God? Must I make sure that any adjective I use in day-to-day conversation matches the original, Biblically-intended meaning? Just thinking about it exhausts me.
And to what standards, if any, should we hold our speakers to? As a student of a secular institution, I am required to provide sources and solid backing on every fact I submit in a paper or as part of a discussion forum. If I make claims that I can’t support with some sort of reputable evidence, my grade suffers. Now I’m not suggesting we start a letter grading system for every sermon we hear, but shouldn’t those who speak from our pulpits have at least the same level of integrity I’m required when I write something for school? Because speaking God’s words from the pulpit seems to be an awful lot more important than my latest psychology paper.
I’m not saying that every single point and scripture should be deeply and thoroughly explained. If that happened, church would last for like 12 hours and then I might miss Mad Men, which means I’d probably have to stop going to church all together. (You guys, I’M KIDDING. I don’t even have cable TV. I can totally watch Mad Men online whenever. Bam.)
But I think that, because of the respect and admiration we have for those with pulpit-level authority, we sometimes hear an opinion and take it for granted that God agrees.
So is that on us or them? As church-goers, we must weigh and consider the words our church leaders speak and take them back to the Bible for ourselves. So maybe the “awesome” guy shouldn’t have masqueraded his opinion as Biblical truth. But it’s just as much my job to think critically as it is his job to be speak the words of God, not the words of Bob. (His name isn’t really Bob, but that’s the closest man-name I could think of that rhymed with God. “Words of God, not words of Ry-Ry-Pumpkin-Pie” didn’t seem to have the same flow.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue, even if you disagree with me on every point (but if you disagree about the hamburgers parts, our relationship may not survive).
It’s good to get that off my digital chest! How’s your summer been so far? I’ve watched inordinate amounts of lady TV, made lots of “sidewalk rivers” with my kids (basically just a bunch of water on a sidewalk), and rejoiced in the glories of air conditioning.
This entire post, by the way, is my opinion.