SAET Fellow Publications Posts
May 16, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
Tim Challies has a nice review of our book, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach (Crossway). He does a great job of summarizing our basic argument as it relates to premarital sexual ethics.0 Comments
January 11, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
Dr. Michael LeFebvre (a Pastor in the SAET Second Fellowship) has recently published an article addressing current translation controversies in Muslim missions in the International Journal on Frontier Missions. From the intro of the article…
“A controversy has emerged in recent years over the best way to translate certain New Testament terms for Muslim cultures, terms like “Son of God” for Jesus and “Father” for God. Many Muslims believe that when Christians call Jesus the “Son of God” it means that God physically (sexually) sired Jesus by Mary. Such an idea is so repugnant to Muslims that when they encounter it in the Bible, some refuse to read further! Christians of course vigorously deny this idea. Nevertheless, this misunderstanding is widespread in Muslim societies. Because of this and other concerns, some translators concluded that using a word-for-word translation for “Son of God” and “Father” in muslim languages communicates a wrong meaning.
In a series of articles from 2000 to 2007, Rick Brown documented alternate ways in which some translators have avoided the connotations sometimes evoked by traditional approaches.1 At that time, he suggested meaning-based (rather than formbased) translations would provide accurate meaning and avoid offensive connotations. In particular, at that time Brown proposed the use of synonyms like “Christ of God” or “Christ sent from God” along with an explanation in the translation’s introduction about the meaning of divine familial terms. As translations using non-traditional terms or phrases for “Son of God” began to appear, many missionaries, national church leaders and other Christians reacted with alarm. Subsequent writings refined the approach and addressed criticisms,4 but the controversy continued and intensified.”
This is an interesting article, and one worth reading for those wrestling with translation philosophy. The article is also a great example of ecclesial theology by an ecclesial theologian.0 Comments
December 14, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
SAET Fellow Douglas O’Donnell’s latest book is out–a commentary on the Song of Solomon. (Just in time for Christmas!) Doug has written a number of commentaries, and is an astute pastor-theologian. I look forward to picking up a copy. The publisher’s description is below:
“Our culture holds the megaphone when it comes to talking about sex today. Yet the church has maintained a reputation for keeping quiet, hesitant to teach people about this sacred aspect of life. The Song of Solomon, however, holds nothing back as it sings loudly about the holy practice of sexuality and pushes us into the conversation with godly theology.
While this biblical text has been subject to a broader range of interpretation probably than any other book in the Bible, Wisdom Literature expert Doug O’Donnell offers this comprehensible guide to help uncoil its complexities and solve its riddles. He explores the poetry, themes, and wisdom of this song from a Christocentric perspective, and gives us a profound, rich, and witty reflection that encourages right thinking and behavior.
Showing how this “song of songs” is meant to teach us about biblical sexuality and God’s heart for his people, O’Donnell elucidates on the greatest subject of all time—love.”
October 28, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand0 Comments
June 27, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
A while back I gave away free copies of our book, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach to bloggers willing to write a review. I didn’t get a review back from everyone, but here are links to those who wrote a review (plus a few others I scrounged up from the web). Thanks everyone!
Gregory Campeau–”I hope to convince you that every pastor, discipler, parent, and young adult should read, study, and discuss this book.”
Abbye West Pate–”What I found most important [about this book] is its thoughtfulness in helping us understand sex and its deep connection to the gospel….As one who has been through the throes of pre-marriage relationships with lack of sexual boundaries, I urge you to get a copy of this book!”
Eric Rubio–”In keeping with their layman’s-terms approach to their subject, the authors devote substantial space in their book to discussion of practical issues. Their heartfelt cautions about guarding one’s heart is one of the strongest facets of the practical discussions.”
Aimee Byrd–”I picked up a copy of Sex, Dating, and Relationships as soon as I read the marketing for it because it sounded perfect for this summer. I LOVE THIS BOOK! One of my biggest praises is how deeply theological it is.”
Alex Chediak–”I read the whole thing this past weekend and thought it was excellent. It puts sexuality in a proper, gospel-rich context, and has some very powerful insights on the modern dating process and the dilemmas that many singles face.”
Collin McCulloch–”Hiestand and Thomas did Christian singles, young and old, a great favor by writing this book. Their explanation of the Bible’s teachings about sex and sexual relations outside of marriage do well to clear up many questions that single Christians have asked for a long time, and they give the best answer that I have yet heard for the famous ‘how far is too far’ question.”5 Comments
June 7, 2012 by Jason Hood
[Today's post is a review by Fred Sanders of Our Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-One (Crossway, 2011), by Phil Ryken and SAET fellow Michael Lefebvre. Sanders is associate professor at Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Among his works on the Trinity is an excellent recent text, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, a book strongly recommended by Kevin Vanhoozer during last year's SAET symposia.]
I hope that Philip Ryken and Michael Lefebvre’s little book Our Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-One (Crossway, 2011) represents the status quo in evangelical trinitarianism. I think it does; written by a pastor (Lefebvre) and the president of Wheaton College (Ryken), and weighing in at just about 100 pages, this book doesn’t claim to be doing anything new or bombastic. This is not an “everything you thought you knew is wrong” book, or an attempt to revolutionize your theology with shocking new information. The authors write with passion about their great topic, but they are also calm and credible. Their book is all about “helping Christians grow in their relationship to God in his triunity” (p. 15). Ryken and Lefebvre don’t think there’s a major problem on the evangelical Trinity front, and they’re not staging an intervention. They’re not bringing the latest results out of the laboratory for the big reveal. They just think Christians need steady instruction, mostly “by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1), on this core doctrine.
There are several reasons why I think, and I hope, this book symbolizes the new normal trinitarianism for evangelicals. On my shelves I have about thirteen feet of books about the Trinity. Some of them are by ancient authors, but most of them are from the last few decades. Dozens of them are popular‑level presentations, each promising to take this hard doctrine and make it matter for regular Christians. They’re a mixed bag, these popular‑level books on the Trinity. There are a few mistakes they usually stumble into that limit their helpfulness. Sometimes the books blunder so badly that they are more likely to hurt than help. You pick them up curious, and you put them down confused, demotivated, and distracted from the gospel. I love Ryken and Lefebvre’s Our Triune God because it deftly sidesteps all those bear traps.
What are the conventional traps? Here is my idea of how to write the worst possible Trinity 101 book: Start with the warning that readers’ eternal souls are at stake if they are wrong about the Trinity, and follow that up (on the same page if possible) with the admission that nobody can understand the doctrine anyway. Then jump into a concordance-like review of the biblical evidence, starting with the Old Testament and emphasizing the most ambiguous elements of it (the plural form of Elohim, the “let us make” statements, the threefold repetition of “Holy”). Insist that these have the value of proofs. Move quickly through the New Testament’s main story, lingering only at the triadic formulas, and then camp out in the statements of the ecumenical councils and church fathers, giving the impression that everything was unclear until smart people got creative in the fourth century. Insist that majority ruled at Nicaea, so we should follow that. Suggest that everybody had forgotten about the Trinity until your book came along, and finish off with a generous exploration of all kinds of analogies for the Trinity (iceberg, shamrock, apple, egg) before admitting that all analogies are kind of limited.
None of the Trinity books on my shelf are quite that bad. Not one of them commits every error! Nevertheless, these weaknesses are pervasive in the “popular Trinity book” genre.
The good news –and what makes Our Triune God the best book to put in somebody’s hands if they’re asking for an introduction to the doctrine– is that Ryken and Lefebvre simply leapfrog over all those errors as if they never existed, and get down to the serious business of teaching the Trinity the right way. What constitutes “the right way?” Two things stand out: Ryken and Lefbvre’s presentation is biblical and gospel centered.
First, on the biblical front, Our Triune God has only four chapters to cover a lot of ground. So instead of skittering all over the biblical witness, gathering here a verse and there a verse, the authors settle into a few key texts. Chapter 1, “The Saving Trinity,” explores salvation in trinitarian terms by examining Ephesians 1, that inexhaustible text that Warfield said “should never be read in church: it should always be sung” (p. 38). Chapter 2 does go broader (more on that shortly), but Chapter 3, “The Practical Trinity,” focuses on John 13-17, “where Jesus teaches his disciples to relate to God as triune.” Chapter 4, “The Joyous Trinity,” is an interesting survey of key points in the gospel of Luke where the evangelist “does not show us the Son only, but also the Father and the Spirit in their Trinitarian relationship with the Son” (p. 96). While Ephesians and John are likely suspects for trinitarian theologizing, Luke’s gospel has not always been recognized as such. By the time Ryken and Lefebvre have finished their tour of it, though, the profound trinitarianism of Luke shines out clearly. In Luke 10:21, Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father…” The authors comment:
Because Jesus is God the Son, his joy is a divine rejoicing. It is a perfect joy, unspoiled and undiminished by sin. But here his joy is especially intense because he is rejoicing in the revelation of the Holy Spirit and in the secret, saving work of his Father. Luke is showing us the joy at the heart of the universe, the rejoicing that takes place within the Godhead, where God is both the subject and the object of his own joy. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit glory in one another (p. 106).
The payoff of investing in Paul, John, and Luke is great. Readers can see that the trinitarianism of the New Testament is not scattered around the surface of the book in a few proof texts, but is actually organically there (really there!) in the main themes of the major authors.
Second, on the gospel-centered front, the whole book is “not only theological but also biblical, and therefore practical” (p. 15). It traces the mystery of the Trinity as a mystery of salvation, of union with God in Christ, and of cultivating communion with God in the fellowship of the church. The Ephesians chapter shows that salvation is administered by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. The mystery at the epicenter of the universe –namely, the triune being of God—is also the heart of our salvation. Our redemption is Trinitarian in its structure (p. 20).
The John chapter argues that “the believer’s relationship with the triune God calls for application in everyday life” (p. 70), and shows “the specific ways Jesus instructs us to respond to each of the three Persons in our daily Christian lives” (p. 71). The Luke chapter takes us back into the life of Christ, his command to take the message of salvation to the world, and climaxes, in appropriately Lukan fashion, with gratitude for the gift of the Holy Spirit in person (p. 113). This book keeps its eyes on the gospel at all times, and uses the doctrine of the Trinity to keep bringing readers back to that central point.
Chapter 2, “The Mysterious Trinity,” is not devoted to any one particular biblical witness. Instead, it clears the ground for the rest of the book, removing a couple of stumbling blocks that some readers may have. First, it takes up the charge that Trinitarianism seems logically contradictory, arguing briefly that there is no strict logical contradiction in conceiving one being who is three persons. “In reality, the difficulty that people sense and generally think of as a logical problem is actually an analogical problem” (p. 40). That is, there aren’t any other three-personed beings to offer as examples. Dismissing the quest for analogies in one tidy page, Ryken and Lefebvre instead ponder the fact that “reality is full of strange phenomena… difficult to come to grips with, not because they are untrue or illogical, but because they are unlike anything familiar to us” (p. 46). The second stumbling block the authors remove in this chapter on mystery is the question of “whether New Testament Trinitarianism is consistent with Old Testament monotheism” (p. 47). This question opens up the whole field of the Old Testament’s witness to the Trinity, and the authors do provide a very helpful 15-page overview of Old Testament evidence (pp. 51-66). But crucially, they first clarify expectations. What are the Old and New Testaments, after all? Ryken and Lefebvre give a brief meditation that ought to be mandatory reading for preachers and teachers:
The Bible records a story whose main character (God) is revealed to us as the story is told. Every new twist in the plot reveals new complexities of and new insights into the great Protagonists’s character. We must be careful, therefore, not to expect the clear vision of his triune nature encountered in the New Testament (only after the incarnation and Pentecost) to be as clearly presented in the Old Testament. The vagueness with which God’s inner-plurality is described in the Old Testament records is not a problem for Trinitarianism –so long as the evidence of his inner-plurality is really there (pp. 50-51).
Our Triune God could of course be expanded to include a lot more information. But what it does, it does very well. The authors made all the right decisions about getting the main points across, and they have a cheerful confidence that readers will know where to get further instruction (they rightly recommend Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity as the next step, especially for an introduction to the development of trinitarian doctrine; Letham wrote the foreword to Our Triune God).
This modest little book is a sign of great hope: the new normal in how evangelicals approach the doctrine of the Trinity. Apparently there is such a thing as evangelical trinitarianism: biblically articulate, gospel centered, and unharassed by side issues. It’s small and accessible; get it into as many hands as you can.4 Comments
February 2, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
Ambrose once said, “The condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body….Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul” (On the Duties of Clergy, I.18). Indeed it is. And nowhere does the voice of the soul speak louder than in our sexuality. Sex carries such significance in our lives because it was ordained by God to point toward that which is most significant—Christ’s relationship with the church. Thus the misuse of sex damages us in ways that other bodily sins do not. As the Apostle Paul states, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
For too long pastors and Christian leaders have neglected to provide definitive instruction about the appropriate boundaries of premarital relationships. Telling singles that the Bible has nothing explicit to say about premarital sexual activity beyond its prohibition against intercourse is an unacceptable fulfillment of our pastoral responsibility. Sexual ethics are simply too important. We must say something. And as I have labored to show in these posts, the Scriptures have more to say about premarital ethics than many of us have been led to believe.
While “thou shall not make out” is not as explicit as “thou shall not commit adultery,” the Bible does indeed offer us a clear sexual ethic: sexual activity is to be reserved for the marriage relationship. When we combine this sexual ethic with an intuitive understanding that sexual activity includes more than sexual intercourse, we can confidently conclude that all forms of sexual activity—even sexual forms of kissing—must be reserved for the marriage relationship.
The reigning premarital sexual ethic of evangelicalism is muddled and unclear. The pressing need of the moment is for evangelical pastors and leaders to articulate a clearer, more pastorally responsible premarital ethic—one that is biblically authoritative, theologically robust, and sufficiently objective. And that is the very thing we’ve tried hard to do in our book.
For all the posts in this series, see below:
- Sex, Dating, and Relationships, Part 1: An Introduction to the Problem
- Sex, Dating, and Relationships, Part 2: Theological Foundations
- Sex, Dating, and Relationships, Part 3: Thou Shall Not Make Out?
February 2, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
Given the cultural dynamics of the ancient world, New Testament proof texts on premarital sexual ethics are in short supply. In a culture that prized female virginity, utilized arranged marriages, and often practiced cloistering, the authors of the New Testament had no need to be overly specific regarding chastity rules for premarital relationships. Simply put, the reigning ethic—even in the pagan culture—was, “keep your hands off my daughter.” Thus we cannot expect the Bible to offer us a detailed list about which activities (e.g., fondling, kissing, oral sex, etc.) are permissible in premarital relationships.
Yet despite the lack of an explicit statement about “how far is too far” in premarital relationships, the New Testament does offer us a clear sexual ethic: sexual relations are to be reserved for the marriage relationship. Adultery (Romans 2:22), homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9), prostitution (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), and polygamy (1 Timothy 3:2) are all explicitly condemned in the New Testament. Additionally, the New Testament uses the term πορνεία (sexual immorality) as a “catch all” term to forbid all extra-marital sexual activity. As has been shown by New Testament scholars, πορνεία is properly understood against the backdrop of the Torah, and thus adultery, fornication, bestiality, incest, homosexuality, and prostitution—all condemned by the Torah—fall within its semantic range. We find a working example of this basic ethical framework, specifically as it relates to premarital sexual activity, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-9. Discussing celibacy and marriage, Paul writes,
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (ESV).
Here Paul is responding to a series of questions posed to him by the Corinthians. Many at Corinth viewed celibacy as the ideal Christian state. Even married individuals, it seems, were attempting to live a celibate life. Paul notes his own commitment to celibacy and agrees that celibacy is indeed ideal for increasing one’s capacity to serve in Christ’s kingdom. Yet Paul recognizes that the ability to live a chaste and celibate life is a unique gift from God—one that God has not given to everyone. Given the ever-present temptation toward sexual immorality, Paul instructs those who have a strong desire for sexual intimacy (i.e., “burn with passion”) to fulfill that desire within the context of a marriage relationship. The implications here are clear: the marriage relationship is the only legitimate context for sexual activity. Given the clear teaching of the New Testament, the church—broadly construed—has historically viewed sexual relations as appropriate only within the context of a monogamous, permanent, heterosexual marriage.
Thus far we have broken no new ground. Nearly all evangelical pastors and ministry leaders agree that sexual activity should be reserved for the marriage relationship.  But it is here that evangelical sexual ethics begin to flounder. Our problem is not that we have failed to recognize the New Testament’s prohibition against premarital sexual activity; rather we have failed to fully reckon with the reality that there is more to sexual activity than intercourse. Oral sex, fondling, and mutual masturbation, for example, are all sexual activities. It is inconceivable that the New Testament’s ethic—in as much as it is an extension of the Torah—intends to leave room for such activities outside of marriage. Once we embrace the biblical ideal that sexual activity must be reserved for the marriage relationship, the question, “How far is too far?”—a perennially vexing question for singles—is easily answered. If an activity is sexual, it is to be reserved for the marriage relationship.
Yet for the sake of clarity we must press this farther. Beyond the seemingly obvious activities above, there is real confusion among evangelicals about what constitutes sexual activity. There are a wide array of physical activities that are inherently non-sexual; holding hands, a kiss on the cheek, a peck on the lips, hugging, walking arm in arm, etc., are all non-sexual activities. While sexual arousal may indeed accompany such activities, the activities themselves are not inherently sexual. But there are other physical activities that are exclusively sexual. It is these activities (at least) that must be reserved for the marriage relationship. But how are we to tell which is which?
Perhaps the most objective way to determine the sexual nature of an activity is to consider it against the backdrop of the family relationship. Within the context of family relations, there are certain physical forms of affection that are inappropriate (fondling, oral sex, etc.). And the reason they are inappropriate is precisely because such activities are sexual. Thus we can quickly intuit which activities are sexual by considering an activity within the context of the family relationship. If an activity would be sexually inappropriate to do with a biological relative, then that action is clearly of a sexual nature. Or again, the activities that we intuitively exclude from family relationships because those activities are sexual, are, in fact, sexual activities. To clarify, note here that this way of identifying sexual activity is not primarily concerned about what I would (or would not) do with my mother, but rather about what is deemed to be generally appropriate between biological relatives. While a particular man might never hold hands with his mother (given the interpersonal dynamics of their relationship), that same man would not view it as sexually inappropriate for a mother and son to hold hands. If Genesis 26:28 is any indication, even ancient pagan cultures have distinguished between sexual and non-sexual activity via the context of the family relationship.
This criterion becomes enormously helpful when considering appropriate premarital boundaries, particularly as it relates to one of the most common activities in contemporary dating relationships: passionate kissing. Many (perhaps most) Christian dating couples regularly engage in passionate kissing. And for the most part, evangelical pastors and leaders have not provided definitive, biblical counsel here. Clearly some forms of kissing are non-sexual. Fathers kiss their children, and sons their mothers. But there are other forms of kissing that men reserve exclusively for their lovers. And the reason they do so is because such forms of kissing are sexual. When we consider passionate kissing against the backdrop of the family relationship it quickly becomes clear that passionate kissing is not merely affectionate, but sexual. Under no circumstances would it ever be appropriate for a brother and sister to engage in passionate kissing. Thus we may properly conclude the following:
1) All sexual activity must be reserved for the marriage relationship.
2) Some forms of kissing are sexual. Therefore,
3) Sexual forms of kissing must be reserved for the marriage relationship.
The logic of the above is, I believe, inescapable. In order to legitimize sexual forms of kissing in a premarital relationship, one would need to, 1) provide a cogent rationale for why passionate kissing is not sexual; or alternately, 2) legitimize at least some sexual activity outside of the marriage relationship. The first is counter-intuitive to the way human sexuality actually functions. The second runs counter to the ethic of the New Testament.
The objective definition provided by the family test is not the last word on sexual purity. There is, of course, more to purity than how one behaves with the body (Matthew 5:27). And every “objective” boundary can be worked around by sin-inspired creativity. But in spite of its limitations, it does provide a solid framework for clearly identifying which bodily activities are inherently sexual. Humans are embodied beings; as such, we need an embodied ethic. While it may be a sexual act for a particular man to look at (talk to, etc.) a particular woman, it is always a sexual act when he does something with her that would be sexually inappropriate between blood relatives. To be sure, there may be good reasons to refrain also from non-sexual acts of intimacy outside of the marriage relationship. If Jesus condemns even the look that leads to inappropriate sexual desire, how much more the touch (sexual or not) that leads to inappropriate sexual desire. But while wisdom may often call for a more restrictive posture than what is required by the family ethic, it never calls for less.
Pastors and ministry leaders have been sending a mixed message about premarital sexual activity. On the one hand, in keeping with the sexual ethic of the New Testament, we’ve clearly articulated that sexual activity should be reserved for the marriage relationship. But on the other hand we’ve largely ignored—or actually legitimatized—sexual forms of kissing. We are in effect saying that while sexual activity is not permissible in premarital relationships, sexual activity is permissible in premarital relationships. If the preceding sentence doesn’t make sense to the readers of this post, it’s not making sense to singles either.
At its heart, the New Testament ethic calls for premarital relationships to be completely non-sexual. Sexual forms of kissing fall afoul of this ethic, likewise any activity that is sexually inappropriate between blood relatives. Simply put, if an activity is inherently sexual, it is to be reserved for the marriage relationship.
 Etymologically, πορνεία referred to prostitution or fornication, but was frequently used more broadly to denote any and all forms of sexual misconduct. For an analysis of the use of πορνεία in the New Testament, see Raymond Collins, Ethics and the New Testament: Behavior and Belief (New York: Cross Road Publishing Company, 2000), 80-83; William Loader, Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the Key Texts (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2010) 71-76. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2007), 73. The terms ἀσέλγεια (sexual immorality, impurity) and κοίτη (sexual immorality, lasciviousness), also function as general terms denoting sexual misconduct, but are used in the New Testament with less frequency. For the full range of terms denoting sexual misconduct, see the entry in Louw-Nida on sexual misbehavior (88.271-88.282).
 My brief reconstruction here follows the standard interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7, i.e., that Paul is addressing a form of asceticism. For interpretations along these lines, see Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Louiseville, KY: Westminster, 2004), 77, and Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, S. J., SP (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999), 253. Contra this reading, see Barry Danylak, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010). In either case, my central point above remains valid regardless the extent to which the ascetic question is resolved.
 Only in relatively recent times has this sexual ethic been questioned. The contemporary rise of homosexuality, combined with a post-modern way of reading texts, has raised questions about the church’s traditional sexual ethic. For a detailed analysis of the New Testament’s sexual ethic, see Collins, Ethics and the New Testament; Loader, Sexuality in the New Testament; Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex.
 The Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality offers us a standard evangelical articulation: “Sex outside of marriage is never moral. This includes all forms of intimate sexual stimulation that stir up sexual passion between unmarried partners.” Quoted in Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, 370.
 Even non-sexual touch can arouse sexual desire. Further, physical affection (whether sexual or not), makes a statement about one’s intentions, and often creates misplaced expectations. For a discussion about the mixed messages men and women send to each other via non-sexual interaction, see my Raising Purity, 53-100.0 Comments
January 27, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
One of the more vexing issues facing pastors today is the question of premarital sexual ethics. Simply put, we pastors are not quite certain how to counsel singles and teens regarding appropriate sexual boundaries. Of course, we clearly teach that sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage. But beyond this, there is no consensus among evangelical clergy about where the boundaries should be drawn. Instead we tend to push the burden of this question back onto singles. One pastor typifies the counsel regularly given by evangelical clergy:
“You may want me to tell you, in much more detail, exactly what’s right for you when it comes to secular boundaries [in dating relationships]. But in the end, you have to stand before God. That’s why you must set your own boundaries according to His direction for your life. . . . I want you to build your own list of sexual standards” ( Clark, I Gave Dating a Chance, 108-09).
But do we really mean to say that Christian singles should “build their own list of sexual standards?” Certainly this can’t be right. Is oral sex permissible? Fondling? Mutual masturbation? Passionate kissing? No one seems to really know. Certainly Christian singles don’t know. And the confusion here is no small matter. There is every reason to suspect that our lack of clear direction regarding premarital boundaries is putting singles in a precarious position. The September/October 2011 edition of Relevant Magazine includes a remarkable update regarding evangelical sexual ethics. In the article, “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It” author Tyler Charles, drawing upon data gathered by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, informs us that forty-two percent of evangelicals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine are currently in a sexual relationship, twenty-two percent have had sex in the past year, and an additional ten percent have had sex at least once. Assuming the accuracy of Charles’ data, this means only twenty-percent of young evangelicals have remained abstinent.
Even if the survey’s data were wrong by half (see DeYoung’s comments), the numbers would still be concerning. And as a pastor, I am indeed concerned. In my own experience, I see a significant amount of confusion and compromise among Christian teens and singles, particularly as it relates to premarital sexual ethics. Sometimes Christians flounder because the Church fails to address crucial issues; sometimes they flounder because the leaders of the church address crucial issues wrongly. Both the former and the latter, I believe, are at work here. On the one hand, evangelical scholars and theologians have devoted a paucity of attention (if any) to the issue of premarital sexual ethics; we’ve left it to popular-level books to plumb the Scriptures teaching on this matter. And when pastors do speak explicitly to this issue, we send a confusing and mixed message. We’ve told Christian singles that it’s fine (or at least might be fine, or at least we can’t say it’s not fine) to prepare the meal, set the table, put the food in their mouth, and chew—just as long as they don’t swallow. We’ve left the door open to sexual foreplay, while insisting that singles refrain from consummating that foreplay. In essence, we’re telling Christians singles that it is (or might be) permissible to start having sex, just as long as they don’t finish. It is little wonder then, that many Christian singles—while largely agreeing that intercourse should be reserved for marriage —find themselves unable to live out their own ideal.
Does the Bible really have nothing definitive to say about premarital sexual ethics, beyond a narrow prohibition against sexual intercourse? Can we construct a theology of sexual relations that informs the question of premarital sexual boundaries? What implications would a more objective view of premarital sexual ethics have for contemporary dating relationships?
Answering the above questions is the aim of my new book, written along with my friend Jay Thomas, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach (Crossway, 2012). The book comes out at the end of February and is written at a popular level, targeting Christian singles between the ages of 18-35. (I thought about doing a provocative book trailer, but decided against it. I can see it now… Did Ghandi believe in dating? Really?). Anyway, while the book won’t be as controversial as Bell’s book on Hell, it will, I’m certain, generate some discussion among those who read it. Jay and I worked hard to offer a biblical, objective premarital sexual ethic that is consistent with a larger theological understanding of sexuality. The conclusion we reach is pretty counter-cultural even within our evangelical sub-culture. By way of teaser, let me give the punchline: making out between unmarried men and women is a sin, and represents the first stages of sexual immorality.
I’ll be using the next few posts to lay out the basic argument of the book, in anticipation of the book’s release. Stay tuned.2 Comments
October 13, 2011 by Jason Hood
Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (Crossway, 2011). Reviewed by Ryan Patrick O’Dowd.
[[See the series introduction here.]]
In his introduction to this book, Sidney Greidanus admonishes the church for its failure to read and preach Old Testament wisdom literature. Greidanus shows that when the biblical sources churches use to equip God’s saints are inadequate, the health of the church suffers. Douglas O’Donnell’s book is a creative and engaging introduction to these lost texts and a much needed book for a church long deprived of biblical wisdom.
After a short introduction, O’Donnell provides six sermons on the first and last chapters of each wisdom book. These sermons are followed by a chapter on hermeneutics and homiletics and two appendices that help preachers to preach wisdom and poetry. O’Donnell’s aim is twofold: one, to inspire love for the wisdom literature, and two, to motivate and guide preachers towards preaching good sermons from these books. I have written two reviews in order to comment on both goals. In the next review I will point to elements in O’Donnell’s methodology which demonstrate that the church’s struggle to preach wisdom literature today goes beyond the genre or our theological method. This first review examines the content of O’Donnell’s sermons.
O’Donnell’s sermons on Proverbs emphasize moral application. He shows that wisdom is interested in giving us a particular guide for day-to-day life in the world, inspiring us to be grateful for the gift of wisdom. O’Donnell explains that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, meaning that true wisdom can only be had if we start in the right place and aim in the right direction – an obedient faith in the covenant God who is the source of all wisdom.
The argument is clear and persuasive in this chapter, though I would have taken the discussion a bit further. Because O’Donnell views wisdom almost entirely within the categories of salvation and morality, he does not address the way wisdom speaks to vocational and cultural issues like aesthetics, architecture, education and politics. Note, for example, the wisdom Bezalel had in building the tabernacle (Exod 31) – wisdom of skill that knows the material properties of God’s world. Joseph and Daniel are given wisdom to govern and to interpret dreams and Solomon’s wisdom applies to a range of tasks from administering justice to building the Temple.
When O’Donnell comes to his next sermon on the valiant woman in Proverbs 31, he again focuses on her moral and spiritual character. But Proverbs 31 also provides lengthy illustrations of her accomplishments in agriculture, commerce, parenting, textiles, and social justice. O’Donnell generically calls these her “industrious work,” referring briefly to Ruth and Boaz as people of character like the Valiant Woman and Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 8. But he doesn’t explore these connections. Had he done so, he might have opened up the way back to Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 8, who saw all the events of creation. Wisdom affirms the goodness of all the human vocations in this world, not just being a good wife.
O’Donnell preaches with an explicit indebtedness to the tradition of Reformed theology and so I was surprised that he did not make use of the excellent Proverbs scholarship by Raymond Van Leeuwen and Al Wolters. Not only do they share his Reformed heritage, but both show how Reformers like Luther, Calvin, Brenz and Melanchthon all saw the wisdom literature celebrating God’s whole creation, and with it, every dimension of human activity in the world.
O’Donnell’s two chapters on Ecclesiastes describe what he calls “the futility of our work in this world,” warning us that our work adds nothing new to this world unless it is “in the Lord.” In other words, work is futile but can be redeemed in Jesus the Messiah.
This raises important questions: how do Christians in a fallen world balance the message of the futility of work with the goodness of work imagined in Proverbs 31? And what does it mean for Jesus to redeem work? The sermons don’t tackle these questions and I suspect that all pastors struggle to connect the physical resurrection of Jesus’ body with its specific application to our life in this world today. In Colossians Paul tells us that Jesus’ resurrection begins the process of reconciling everything in the heavens and the earth. He then prays for God to give his church wisdom so that we can bring the power of his resurrection to the world (compare Phil 3). Simply put, wisdom is our guide to embody his renewing grace, peace, forgiveness and healing in all the broken places of the world: offices, schools, banks, hospitals, studios, and homes. But we must first link wisdom to creation for this wisdom message in Colossians to make sense.
In his sermons on Job, O’Donnell avoids the common error of moralizing Job’s story and concluding that Job suffers because he has sinned. Such a move is shortsighted, as O’Donnell notes, because the narrator and God both strain to reaffirm Job as an upright and righteous man. No, this book is about the mystery of a just God who introduces punishments into the life of a holy man.
I was a little surprised that O’Donnell did not place this mystery in the context of the created order, as Job does in his first complaint about his suffering (3:1-10). Here Job specifically reverses all the terms of light, life and goodness in the six day account of Genesis 1. Job’s friends immediately defend God and accuse Job of sin; but they are misguided. God’s response confirms that Job was on target from the beginning, answering Job’s complaint with a long series of questions that demonstrate the mysteries in the created world (chapters 38-42). The point is that justice and suffering in Job are not just abstract ideas detached from life on earth. They are visceral realities of the order of the universe that extend from human affairs to the sun, moon, clouds, rain, and soil.
Though O’Donnell’s approach does not place suffering in a theology of creation, his excellent sermon on Job 42 nevertheless fits with this interpretation. He argues that if Job is righteous, then there must be much about our human path in this world that remains a mystery to us: life exceeds our understanding and wisdom must know its limits! God does not give Job a rational explanation after all; instead he points to his power in the physical world as a reminder that his thoughts are not our thoughts. The story ends with Job repentant, but the mystery left open. O’Donnell shows that this mystery is only resolved in Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Indeed, the death of the righteous One and his rising again save us from our judgment and restore the whole world with a power that is beyond our imagining. But that does not always lessen the anguish of suffering in our long wait for his kingdom to come at last. Job is a long story that encourages a long wait.
O’Donnell’s book is easy and useful reading, despite what I think is sometimes too narrow a focus that does not address the connections between creation and wisdom. I am increasingly convinced that if wisdom sermons are going to have significant staying power, they will do best to delve into the roots of wisdom in the tangible, created world.0 Comments