Observations on the “Durbin Said SH*% in a Sermon” Controversy

Phoenix pastor, Jeff Durbin, dropped a few potty-mouth bombs in a sermon a few weeks ago. And by potty-mouth bombs, I mean it was PG-13. Well, by today’s standards it was PG. One would think the time has well passed for such a big controversy (eye-roll) but Durbin’s fans are still screaming about it in social media and might be keeping that up until Jesus comes back. What happened here – the controversy itself – is not of interest to me so much. But there are some observations about this controversy that should be noted.

First, I have a disclaimer. I was once brought up on church discipline charges because I butt-dialed someone about the time that I used the word [fill-in-the-blank with a three-letter word for the buttocks]. Admittedly, it was embarrassing. Also admittedly, the word ass is appealing because it’s so versatile (you have your varieties; dumb, smart, etc) and may from time to time have worked its way into my vocabulary. The Matthew 18 process led to two witnesses trying to figure out whether or not it was a swear word before ultimately rejecting the issue as frivolous.

That’s to say, that anyone who acts too horrified or grieved over Durbin’s use of the term is probably catastrophizing, including and especially myself. While I don’t doubt there are people genuinely grieved over the word ever being spoken, I surmise its the breach of pastorly decorum in the preached word that has many wondering how that would slip out in a sermon. I would also venture to guess that most people hear worse on their radio on the way to work, but we pastors should probably have higher standards than Howard Stern, nonetheless.

And this is the camp I fall in. As a politico, I’m regularly annoyed that public speakers at political events or civics meetings drop a curse word amongst mixed company. Like Durbin, it’s the politician’s way of showing that they’re a real ‘man of the people.’ It’s always cringe-worthy and I wish they wouldn’t do it.

When I first heard about the “sh*% controversy” I had the following thoughts:

1. Of course, Jeff Durbin said that while preaching. Of course, he did. He’s a totes relevant guy, very hip. He’s with it. You know, relevant and stuff. When a dude regularly preaches in a beer t-shirt and wears pants with bedazzled butts, you know he’s the type to prove his cutting edge by pushing the envelope of common decency. I was a bit surprised he hadn’t done that before.

2. I wondered how long it would be before James White was dropping the s-bomb. Let’s be honest, we have a Chester and Spike situation going on here. Since joining Apologia, the Internet’s favorite grumpy apologist has been wearing those weird jeans and sporting his new tattoo-sleeve. Of course, Durbin himself strikes me as pathetically trying to hold onto his youth, despite his glorious dad-bod torso winning the battle of dominance over his waistband (I’m not calling him fat, I’m saying his jeans are too skinny). In my estimation, Durbin only looks cool when standing next to James White, who – bless his heart – is going through some sort of midlife crisis. White has become Durbin’s mini-me and might just go the vulgar-is-cool route if his ecclesiastical Exalted Leader does, too.

I’m actually much more concerned about the over-all frat-boying of the church that Durbin is doing than this symptom of 21st Century gutterization, which is potty-talk from the pulpit. There is a certain looseness of the Christian Liberty movement, a sophomorizing and juvenilization of the clergy that’s the real problem here. The “Booze and Tattoos Debacle of 2017” was enough to show that zeal has become an apt replacement for wisdom among the Young, Restless, and Reformed. And all of this underscores the very real seriousness of Durbin recording the sin confessions of his church members to use against them if they ever criticize his leadership. The fact that Apologia Church is a Cult of Personality by anyone’s definition should eclipse the sh*% word as a concern.

With that said, the ‘Reformed’ Internet should respond to Durbin’s sh*% controversy like it should respond to the giant Jesus tattoo on his arm. They should collectively say, “What is this nonsense? Reformed people don’t do that” and then moved on to the next news cycle.

But they didn’t. Weeks later, and here we are talking about sh*%. And two classes of fanboys – those who approve of Durbin’s language and those who have committed the anathematizing offense of disagreeing – are throwing it at each other like zoo monkeys. The rest of us who find Jeff Durbin far less interesting just chalked it up to someone being a dimestore Mark Driscoll knock-off and moved on almost as fast as we heard it.

Here are the observations that we should take away from Sh*%-Gate 2020:

1. Durbin was on-point in his talk. And that point has been utterly forgotten because he didn’t control his tongue.

2. Too many people confuse “bluntness” with vulgarity. I’m saddened that we don’t see the difference. If a preacher says that a homosexual shouldn’t put a penis in his rectum, he’s being blunt; he is not being vulgar. If he uses inappropriate nicknames for “penis” and “rectum” he’s being vulgar. Got it? There’s a difference.

3. No, the Bible doesn’t use profanity. As Phil Johnson explains, the Greek ‘σκύβαλον’ (skubalon) does not mean “sh*%.” It’s used in ancient Greek medical journals and means waste or feces. That’s not vulgar (refer to #2 above). In fact, the Bible says to avoid this kind of talk (Ephesians 5:3-6).

4. No, the sh*% word does not somehow “drive home a point.” No one will be convinced as to the veracity of your argument because you used profanity…no one. That’s stupid. And might I add, it makes you a lazy communicator.

5. Reformed fandom is obnoxious. We are treating apologetics as though it were a team-sport. Some are on #TeamDurbin. Some are on #TeamNotDurbin. The jersey they’re wearing is affecting their judgment. We are to judge such situations with impartiality (1 Timothy 5:21).

6. Whether or not the word is helpful or wise should be seen in the obvious fact that we’re talking about the word sh*% and not talking about Durbin’s point. But as Durbin himself as illustrated throughout his ministry, he is seldom concerned about making decisions that are helpful or wise, insisting instead upon what is fashionable. And the students become like their teacher (Luke 6:40).

7. The incessant asking, “Where does the Scripture say you can’t…” should really stop being asked by anyone who claims to be Reformed. This is a question for Arminians who hold to the Normative Principle, not the Regulative Principle. On top of this, basic maturity should lead someone to understand that just because you aren’t forbidden from doing something (if your argument is the Bible doesn’t forbid such speech) doesn’t provide a reason to do that thing. Thoughtful people make a thoughtful decision based upon what they ought to do, not what they can do.

8. Durbin could have quickly extinguished this controversy by saying, “I got kind of carried away there. My bad.” Everyone would have moved on with a snort and chortle. Instead, here we are.

Can we please stop talking about sh*% now?

10 thoughts on “Observations on the “Durbin Said SH*% in a Sermon” Controversy

  1. As long as it’s not blasphemous, what’s the problem? What’s crude in one clique may not be in another. On Mars Hill, Paul talked to the Greeks in their vernacular with their methods of thought. And what about 1 Corinthians 9:19-23  “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  (20)  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  (21)  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  (22)  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  (23)  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

    Mike Yaconnelli said the s-word in a lecture probably more than twenty years ago to prove the point that you can’t let yourself be paralyzed by words. Society today in practically every demographic hasn’t listened.

    1. I believe the article states succinctly what the problem is:

      1. “Corrupting speech” is not exclusive to blasphemy alone and…
      2. We’re sitting here talking about sh*% instead of substance.

  2. It’s worldly talk.
    We are not supposed to be worldly.
    As one who has been overexposed to this language and struggles to overcome it’s influence, I so appreciate those who refuse to use it.

  3. I like Durbin. He’s not perfect as a teacher or human, but he’s done much to advance the kingdom. I’ll give him a pass on this one.

    1. “Downgrade happens when someone we like does something stupid or sinful, and instead of correcting them, we defend them or ignore it” – Dissection of a Downgrade, JD Hall

  4. This article seems to nail the perspective I agree with on this issue although it seems to jokingly use the same word Durbin used unnecessarily (for example, the last line of the article).
    How is this not as much an issue as Durbin’s use of the word?
    Durbin used the word for a spectacle and here its used as course jesting.

  5. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying that it may minister grace to the hearers.”
    An apostle named Paul once sent those words in a letter to the church at Ephesus. He was concerned that they be above reproach in their speech as well as their actions.
    Many today do not have a proper understanding of Christian liberty. They liberty mean they can do what they will because grace will cover it. However, Paul asked the Romans, “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” And to the Galatians he said, “use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh.” So, we cannot use our liberty to sin.
    Paul also told the Corinthians, “all things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful but all things edify not.” His meaning is this: sure there is nothing ceremonially unlawful for me, but that doesn’t mean it furthers my growth in Christ or builds up the believers. If it doesn’t bring you closer to conforming to the image of Christ, or building up others, don’t do it.

    Lastly, pastors are to be “an example of the believers, in word, in lifestyle, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” What example is a pastor setting who unnecessarily uses language that does not edify the sheep? What example does a pastor set for those who struggle with drunkenness, if he pushes and publicly imbibes alcohol? He will lead those who do not believe it to right to drink alcohol into sinning after his example (whatever is not of faith is sin), and for this he will give an account to God.
    One could say, “if cussing or drinking alcohol makes my brother to offend, I will not cuss or drink alcohol as long as the world stands.”
    This is the heart of true Christian liberty and of Christ. I am free from the power of all behavior except that which Christ commands of me. Everything else can be set aside for the edification of the saints and the winning of lost souls.

  6. I’ve found that some of the guys I listen to, who are solid believers, tend to give him a pass on this and other times more recently he’s used foul language for one reason or another. It’s heart breaking indeed, but then I’ve respect for Durbin after the way he treated Tim Hurd and it was found that he was recording private counseling sessions, though I was never really a fan. As for James White, I use to listen to him from time to time, but not anymore. I’m glad guys like JD Hall, MacArthur, Lawson, and Begg have stood the test of time and haven’t given in to the latest and greatest fads within the so called “Christian” culture.

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