Why I Put Cursing In A Supposedly Christian Book

I have already received a good number of emails from random readers of Every Bush Is Burning, and most of them have been incredible. It’s overwhelming to see the Holy Spirit using this story to speak to people in moving ways, and I am grateful beyond words for that.

I did get one email recently, however, from a person who was very unhappy with some of the language in the book. (For the record if you haven’t read it, there is some PG-13 language.) This person was, to quote, “perplexed and disturbed” that I as a pastor would allow cursing in a “supposedly Christian book.” The person said they were confused because if the book really was for non-Christians, then they would surely be perplexed as to why a pastor would allow cursing–and if it was for Christians, then they would be offended.

I was thankful for the person’s willingness to contact me and to be honest, I knew that this would come eventually. Seven years ago I probably would have said the same thing. So, because I assumed there would likely be others who had the same question but may not ask, I decided I would post some of my response to the email here on the blog to share where I’m coming from (it’s slightly modified for length & clarity). If you read it, I’d love for you to comment and let me know if you agree or disagree. (Genuinely, I want to know). Here goes:


First off, I just want to thank you for approaching me directly with your concerns. I appreciate that. I’ll try to keep this as succinct as possible.

The simplest answer to your question about the language is that I wanted the story to reflect real life and real people. I had a friend that read an early draft and one of the things he said was, “Jack is a non-Christian, a rough-around-the-edges kind of guy–it seems like he would almost definitely cuss. I think that would make his character ring more true.” Over time, I began to agree with him. I do think it adds an element to the characterization that makes it more authentic, and it would have been wrong for Jack to say “dang it” or “dad gum”. It just wouldn’t have been believable. I don’t know how many non-Christians you know, but in my experience, many of them do use rough language (as well as a lot of Christians I know). In other words, real people are messy. Very messy. I lead a Recovery ministry and if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that. When people are honest about their issues and struggles, it’s ugly. Even me, when I’m honest about the heart-level issues and broken motivations I struggle with. So I wanted the book to reflect that reality. Not to be too obscene or drastic (I made an intentional effort to keep everything PG-13), but to be real.

Because the book is primarily directed at non-Christians. They are who I’m most concerned about. I knew it would upset some Christians, and I’m a people pleaser so I don’t love offending people, but I felt it needed to be done. If I started making concessions for the Christian who is offended, then I think the book would have begun to lose a lot of it’s power and authenticity to the most important intended audience. Because if you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one.

You may disagree with me, but in regard to Christian art, here is what I think has happened: Christians have demanded clean, family-friendly books, movies, music, etc….stories and music and books that are not gritty or messy but clean, tidy and righteous. A lot of Christian art is kind of like a Thomas Kinkade painting–very pretty and nice, but not realistic. Therefore, it’s entertaining and inspiring to some Christians because it’s exactly what they want. But for those outside the church, or even my generation? It can be off-putting. It doesn’t ring true because it doesn’t reflect reality. Most Christians I know close to my age do not read Christian fiction or watch Christian movies for that very reason. Some of this art is useful and serves a purpose in the church, but if you tried to use it as a missional tool to start conversations with culturally savvy non-believers? It would not be pretty. For many it would be seen as too tidy, unrealistic, and probably cheesy.

So, the bottom line is–my intended audience is those people. The ones who don’t want anything to do with church, who won’t hear a sermon, who think Christians are out of touch with reality. It truly is a missional novel that is intended to start conversations with those people, and I’ve already been able to have some really incredible conversations. So for Christians who are offended, I would ask for as much grace and understanding as possible, to really think about the possibility that our culture needs some gritty, messy, missionally Christian art that hopefully will resonate with people who are far from Jesus.

This is a secondary reason, but another thing is that I wanted to tear down any unnecessary barriers between people and Jesus. Growing up in the religious South, I felt like a lot of people thought that the essential message of Christianity was: behave. Stop cussing and drinking and then you’ll maybe be good enough for God to like you. Which is religion as described in the book–the direct opposite of the gospel, that the grace of Jesus meets us where we are–that we can’t clean ourselves up and earn salvation–but that it is freely offered to us in Jesus. And if we really get that, then our hearts will change to want to obey Him.

Let me know if you have any follow up questions or want to talk more…thanks again for your reply and I hope you are well!


So, that was my hope for putting some potentially offensive material in the book…to be a voice directly opposed to any messages they may have gotten to “Clean yourself up and then maybe we can talk about Jesus.” I’m not saying all “Christian” art should be gritty, I’m just arguing that there should be room for it.

And I’m not trying to start some kind of “Cussing Is Cool” club or anything like that, but frankly, I think it’s crazy that our Christian culture has gotten to the point where a made up non-Christian character can’t say a cuss word in a story if it has a Christian message.

Not only do we expect real non-Christians to adhere to our morality, we demand the same of fictional characters as well.

Okay, I’ve yapped enough for now.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Should a fictional non-Christian character be allowed to curse in a novel with Christian themes? Comment below and let me know. I think this is a conversation worth having.

(Also, if this post interests you, check out this great post from Mike Duran entitled “Let’s Stop Being So Easily Offended”).

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