The Gospel Coalition and their bloggers have been cranking out valuable content for a while now. TGC’s official position is that their bloggers are free to express a variety of opinions. As Carson says, “Opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of TGC.”
However, TGC states its purpose as follows: “We seek to support the church by providing resources that are trusted and timely, winsome and wise, and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” If they want their articles to be “trusted,” “wise, and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ,” it is long past time for TGC to exercise greater editorial oversight over its online content.
A great example of this is a recent article entitled “The Real Problem with 4-Letter Words,” by Karen Swallow Prior, published January 4, 2021. Most of the article is fine, but there is a single line that is critically flawed. This would be a small problem, except that this was one of the lines that was selected to be highlighted. Furthermore, it was the line that TGC decided to use for their Facebook post.
From an internet content producer’s perspective, it makes sense for TGC to highlight this line. It is the most controversial and inflammatory line in the article. It is the precisely the best line to incite people to read the article. It is the Christian version of clickbait.
And it worked. The line was the reason that I clicked on the article out of annoyance. It is also the reason I bothered to write this blog post – complete with a hyperlink back to Prior’s article – guaranteeing some more clicks and views for TGC.
What is this fatal line? Well, here goes: “The gentlest euphemisms for taking the Lord’s name in vain should give greater offense than the coarsest sexual term.”
Of course, there are Christians who, upon reading this line, would immediately agree with a hearty “Amen!’ But many others would smell something a little off.
I find this line to be a classic example of a “weaker brother” statement. As Prior herself discusses in her article, the heart is what really matters. Certainly, if in a person’s heart he intends to blaspheme and instead uses a euphemism to thinly disguise his intent, this is probably equivalent to blasphemy in the eyes of God.
However, I suspect that most people who use such euphemisms are not intending blasphemy at all. They are merely using empty expressions to convey emotions like surprise or frustration. The words mean nothing really, so the words themselves are not inherently blasphemous. The intent of the speaker is not to blaspheme. So where is the offense?
It is hard to find direct biblical support for Prior’s assertion that even the “gentlest euphemisms for taking the Lord’s name in vain should give greater offense…” As I already mentioned, Prior sounds like a weaker brother (or sister).
This is the type of issue where our direction should come from the significant discussion in Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. To paraphrase Romans 14:2, “One person believes he may use a euphemism, as long as his heart is in the right place, while one who is weak thinks euphemisms are offensive no matter what.”
Of course, in these passages there are strict warnings given to the stronger brothers to avoid giving offense. This would apply to euphemisms. Stronger brothers should take the initiative to refrain from using euphemisms around those who might take offense.
On the other hand, Romans 14 also has instructions that apply to the weaker brother. The weaker brother should not judge someone who takes advantage of Christians freedom in good conscience. The weaker brother should not usurp the place of God as master and judge. The stronger brother is answerable to God for the euphemisms he utters in good faith.
For the weaker brother to follow these instructions, he must have enough flexibility of mind and humility of self-reflection to recognize matters of conscience as matters of conscience. He must recognize that his offended conscience is not the law of God. His opinions on questionable matters are not to be used as the standard for Christian living or as a whip to flog stronger brothers into compliance. There is no need to burden the consciences of others with your own guilt feelings.
Furthermore, I believe it to be foolish in the extreme to publish such an opinion in a blog post on a website that purports to provide “resources that are trusted and timely, winsome and wise, and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” To paraphrase Romans 14:17, “…for the kingdom of God is not euphemisms, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And to directly quote Romans 14:22: “Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
I am not shocked to discover a TGC blogger writing such a statement. After all, no human being can be perfectly aware of all of their blind spots, and no theologian can perfectly practice theological triage.
What shocks me is that the TGC editors would allow it to be published on their site. TGC supposedly is an effort to promote gospel-centered unity, but allowing a blogger to post such a strong condemnation on a matter of conscience is, according to Romans 14-15, the opposite of unifying. It is divisive and destructive. (Note that Prior does not politely discuss the pros and cons of using euphemisms, but rather directly condemns their use as greatly offensive.)
Unfortunately, though, I am really not shocked. This is something I have seen becoming common on TGC’s site. I often notice their authors offering hot takes on controversial issues and stating their opinions rather dogmatically as if they speak ex cathedra.
TGC is not a closed-room discussion for theological elites who are able to debate issues rationally and biblically without taking or giving offense or unduly burdening one another’s consciences. No, TGC operates a website viewed by unbelievers and new believers and believers still growing in discernment.
The editors of TGC need to take the initiative to filter out these types of statements. Carson’s disclaimer does not absolve the TGC of responsibility. They cannot claim to be providing trusted resources on the one hand and then claim no responsibility on the other. Their readers want to be able to trust their content. Therefore, the editors need to edit.
Prior’s article would be largely fine without that one line. It should have been deleted from the article before publishing. And certainly, that line should never, under any circumstances, have been used as clickbait. That is completely on the shoulders of TGC.