The 9Marks BibleTalk podcast is one of my favorites, and in the most recent episode Jim Hamilton makes some excellent points about Christian speech. He observed that David’s praise of Saul and omission of Saul’s faults in the lament found in 2 Samuel 1 is a model for how to speak of flawed historical figures. That application is too broad. The book of Samuel as a whole (as well as other biblical historical books) provide a model for how to talk about flawed historical figures—and they don’t omit the evil they have done alongside the good. In fact, in some cases, due to the theological point the author is making, they may minimize the good and highlight the evil (the coverage of Jeroboam II in the book of Kings would be a case in point). In other words, the genre and intent of the piece matter. A high school textbook, for instance, may omit the adulteries of JFK or MLK because they are not germane to a survey of American history. However, biographies of these two men would appropriately mention these sins.
However, I think Hamilton’s observation does apply to how Christians speak of the dead at funerals or around the time of their death. I recall Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore, in the first chapter of Strong and Courageous critiquing other Christians for saying kind things about Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the occasion of her death. While I agree that Christians should be careful about how they praise a figure like Ginsburg, it seemed gauche to insist that when Ginsburg died that the only thing “strong and courageous” Christians would do would be to criticize Ginsburg. This passage would indicate that upon the death of an important public figure like Ginsburg, the biblical thing to do would be to praise them for the good that can be said of them.
Later in the episode Hamilton warned about Doug Wilson’s defense of intentional use of obscene speech. He gave an example of Wilson misinterpreting a passage as if Jesus was speaking an obscenity when Jesus was doing something quite different. Deny Burk recently gave an excellent message in which, as a faithful shepherd, he sought to guard the people of his assembly from this false teaching.