Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Should Christian Authors Use Strong Language in Their Books?

What are the biblical boundaries for strong language in fiction?
I received a gentle, respectful, and heartfelt rebuke from one of my readers recently regarding the "strong language" used in my books (he gave no specific examples of the strong language so I am left to speculate about what exactly he is referring to). Here was the reader's email to me. My reply to this sincere and thoughtful reader follows (with a few expansions from my original reply).

Hello Mr. Bond, 
I am a huge fan of your books, and have enjoyed reading them with my younger brother very much. While reading your books I found that some of them use strong language. I would never want my brother to repeat such words. I do not know why you decided to use strong language. I know that the way we speak is powerful, and very important to God. It is my hope that you will prayerfully consider writing without such words in future books. Once again, I am a huge fan of your books, especially your historical fiction, and am looking forward to your next book.

Dear Reader,

I appreciate your concerns and that you have taken the time to write me about strong language used in my books. I also appreciate the fact that you are obviously taking God's will and way, as revealed in his Word, seriously, that you clearly want to please him with your words, and you want your younger brother to grow up speaking and acting in a manner that honors the Lord Jesus. By way of reply, there are several important things I need to explain to you about why I use strong language and why I am forced to portray evil deeds as well. There is a parallel to be drawn between words and deeds.

Firstly, my guide to the language I use in my books comes from the language used in the Bible, some of which is very strong language. So I do in fact use words like damnation, hell, even the word bastard (the equivalent is used in our Bibles). The Holy Spirit in the inspired pages of the Word of God, has chosen to have recorded not only evil words said by blasphemers and haters of God (Goliath's blasphemy--strong language--Job's wife telling her husband to curse God and die, and that of many others), but evil deeds committed in rebellion against God and his people, even, alas, by God's people (Herod's slaughter of baby boys, the Danite's neglect of and then dismemberment of his concubine, Judah and Tamar's adultery, David's adultery and murder--and a host of other sinful deeds committed). It is not possible for us to separate words and deeds; the Bible records sinful words and records the sometimes graphic account of sinful deeds.

Secondly, there is a parallel with strong language and evil deeds that occur in my books. Strong language used by some of my bad characters, including individual words as well as hateful and unkind things said to and about others (hateful and unkind things they say but I would certainly not want my readers to say) is exactly parallel to evil deeds done by characters in my stories, sinful deeds like murder, betrayal, and theft. Though I portray these evil deeds in my books (many of them historical facts) none of these would I want your younger brother or any of my readers to do, anymore than I would want them to use the sinful language that some of the evil characters in my books use.

Thirdly, there is a clear distinction we must draw between the words and deeds of my protagonists and my antagonists. Just as I would not want my readers to emulate the behavior of sinful characters in my books, I would not want my readers to use the strong language (hateful words, lying, etc.) that some of my sinful characters use, just as they do in the real world and just as they are specifically portrayed as doing in the Bible. Just as in the Bible when sin is portrayed, whether in word or deed, it doesn't invite us to participate. The Holy Spirit portrays sinful words--strong language--and sinful deeds in such a way that we hate sin and love righteousness. That is precisely what I want to do in how I portray sinful characters' words and deeds in my books, something that a writer of historical fiction must do if he is to write with any integrity about the history. But by the end of the book, I want you and all my readers desperately to hate sin and absolutely not want to do it or say it.  

Lastly, it is important for me to note that I do not use swear words for sinful characters who might very well have taken the Lord's name in vain in real life; nevertheless, I have chosen not to have them swear in my books precisely because swearing is swearing, taking the Lord's name in vain is taking his name in vain. It is important to note, however, that the Bible does record the words of sinful characters who are specifically taking the Lord's name in vain: When Satan tempts Eve in the garden and says "Did God actually say...," he is taking the name of God in vain, yet the Bible records his actual words. When the Bible records the sign placed above Jesus' head on the cross, "The King of the Jews," and when the Jewish leaders curse Jesus and the Roman soldiers mock him as they beat him and crown him with thorns, all this is blasphemy, taking the Lord's name in vain, swearing, yet the Bible does actually record the strong language of this swearing and cursing--and the evil deeds unfolding. I'm sure you can think of many other examples of this kind of strong language used in Sacred Scripture.
Is there swearing in this book?

I hope this helps you understand why there is strong language in my books, and equally why there are sinful deeds depicted in them. Thank you again for your message and concerns. Please pray for me as I write. I want to be intensely biblical as I write; in both word and deed, I want to write everything I write to the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. To do so, I need and appreciate you praying regularly for me.

I received another respectful objection to the use of a favorite RC fashion of swearing using Jesus' mother's title given her by the RCC in my 8th-century Anglo-Saxon book HAND OF VENGEANCE. It was my corrupt monk antagonist Elaphius who used the phrase. The critic considered it to be taking the Lord's name in vain on the basis of the word "God" being in the phrase. What do you think? Is this swearing, taking God's name in vain? Do you agree or disagree?


  1. I appreciate your response, but especially your approach as an author.

    Having read aloud seventeen of your books with our seven oldest (Sofia was born in March) children at every age and stage of childhood, we have never once had to skip a word, and there has never been a question about a word that did not lead to fruitful discussion.

    What a treasure to have so much literature that keeps them at rapt attention while never coming close to being scandalous or puerile. In fact, I'm grateful for your publicizing your response, because of the opportunity to attest to this.

    Grateful to God for you, brother,

    James Hakim
    Pastor, Hopewell ARPC

  2. What an excellent and thoughtful response. Something tells me you have spent much time and thought and prayer on this issue! How different to the willful use of profane language and, worse, to the taking of the Lord's name in vain we see and hear in today's 'entertainment'. Showing sin as sin is a world away from depicting sin as fun. I'm going to share this post.