May 15, 2013 by Matthew Mason
Would that the Church of England’s bishops spoke publicly with the clarity and insight of Matthew Parris.
[T]his, in summary, is my charge against the Anglican modernists. Can they point to biblical authority for what, on any estimate, amounts to a disturbing challenge to the values assumed in both Testaments? No. Can they point to any divinely inspired religious leader since to whom has been revealed God’s benevolent intentions towards homosexuals? I know of no such saint or holy man. Most have taught the opposite.
Can they honestly say that they would have drawn from Christ’s teaching the same lessons of sexual tolerance in 1000, or 1590, or indeed 1950? Surely not, for almost no such voices were heard then.
In which case, to what does this “reform” amount? Like changes to Church teaching on divorce or Sunday observance, the new tolerance gains its force within the Anglican Communion from a fear of becoming isolated from changing public morals. Is that a reason for a Christian to modify his own morality? I cannot recall that Moses took this view of golden calf worship. Whispering beneath the modernisers’ soft aspirational language of love and tolerance, I hear an insistent “when in Rome, we must do as the Romans do. Times have changed.” Gays in particular should be very wary of that message; some of us remember when it was used against us, and such a time may come again.
A religion needs a compass. Logic alone does not point the way and religion adds to the general stick of human reasonableness a new directional needle – if it adds anything at all. I cannot read the Gospels in any way other than as declaring that this was revealed to man by God through Jesus. Revelation, therefore, not logic, must lie at the core of the Church message. You cannot pick and choose from revealed truth.
Matthew Parris, ‘No God would not have approved of Gay Bishops’ in The Times, 9th August 2003. HT: Ed Shaw0 Comments
February 7, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
Being made in the imago Dei means that we were made to be both lords and creatures; a sort of creature-god. Lords in the sense that we are images of the One Divine Sovereign who exercises total dominion; and yet we were also made as creatures, and thus we intuitively know that we occupy a place of vulnerability and dependence. And thus we find ourselves at one time craving to both be gods and to be taken care of. To be both bride and groom. To be both parent and child.
In as much as our sexuality is a facet of the imago Dei, it makes sense that our innate human impulses for both sovereignty and security manifests themsleves in our sexuality. This is why the twin idols of sex ultimately relate to a craving for security and sovereignty. When we find ourselves inordinately drawn to sex, we are either trying to achieve a sense of security or a sense of sovereignty. And while the division of this idolatry tends toward a gender stereotype, whereby men tend to desire sex for the sake of sovereignty and women tend to desire sex for the sake of security, such division is not universal.
The key to overcoming sexual idolatry, then, is to understand what one is really looking for, the true craving that lies beneath the inordinate impulse for sex. Am I craving a sense of lordliness–the sense of affirmation that comes when another surrenders the most intimate part of themselves–and thus their person–to me? Or am I craving a sense of security–the sense of affirmation that comes when I am taken care of and loved by another in the most intimate way? In both instances, the key is to recognize that both impulses are legitimate, but that they are only ultimately met in the gospel, whereby our final destiny is to be both lords and taken care of by the Lord. Sex has the unique and powerful capacity to shadow/image a picture of our ultimate eschatological hope–but it is only an image, not the real thing.
Jesus as the true God-man–embodies this dual identity perfectly. He is the true Son of Man and Son of God — simultaneously creature and creator — the rightful lord of heaven and earth who yields himself in vulnerability to the Father. And it is being made into the image of this God-man that we come to find the perfect realization of both of our innate impulses to be both sovereign and secure.1 Comment
October 24, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
John Paul II on Birth Control: When Mastering Our World Compromises our Capacity to Master Ourselves
I’ve found myself enormously helped by John Paull II’s Theology of the Body. And I think I’m correct in stating that all of the SAET Fellows felt a similar appreciation for the Pope’s book this past symposium. His notion of sex as the “gift of self” is paradigm shaping. Further, John Paul II ably shows that sex, marriage, and children are held together by a natural and theological unity. Our society’s attempt to separate sex from marriage, and then marriage from children, has resulted in not only the breakdown of the family, but has fractured our entire culture. So there is much in John Paul II’s work that a conservative Protestant can celebrate. But like many other Protestants (and Catholics!), I’ve always been unconvinced by the Catholic distinction between artificial and natural methods of birth control. However my reading of John Paul II has introduced me to a line of reasoning that I had not before considered. But first, an overview of the Catholic position and the typical objection to it…
The Catholic position acknowledges that sex within marriage has a purpose beyond procreation, and that it is legitimate to “space,” or even cease, to have children depending on a appraisal of one’s personal obligation to God, spouse, family, and culture (in that order). In other words, the Catholic church doesn’t insist that every act of sex within marriage be an intentional attempt to conceive a child, nor does it try to dictate how many children a family should have; from a Catholic perspective, there are legitimate reasons why a family might stop at two or three children. What’s more, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is 99% effective when used properly. Given the effectiveness of NFP, and the fact that not every act of sex within marriage need be an attempt at procreation, one reasonably wonders why it matter which method of birth control is used. What’s the problem with using artificial means of birth control to “space” children?
Key to the Catholic response is that martial sex should always be “open to life.” Presumably, the logic here is that artificial methods of birth control are less open to life than NPF. But statistically, this isn’t obviously the case. Both NFP and artificial means of conception are equally effective when used consistently. In what sense then, is it “open to life” to have sexual relations at a time of the month when it is virtually certain that the wife is infertile? Using NFP, it is quite possible that a couple could permanently eliminate children from marriage all together, while another couple might use artificial means of birth control to space their seven children. Which couple is more truly “open to life”? Enter John Paul II.
In his discussion on birth control, John Paul II embraces, but then goes beyond the “open to life” argument. He observes that humanity is endowed with the twin capacity to master nature and to master himself. The capacity to exercise lordship in both domains is a necessary component of what it means to be made in the image of God. A problem arises, however, when our mastery of nature eliminates the need for us to master ourselves. Commenting on Humanae Vitae, John Paul II writes,
“The problem lies in maintaining the adequate relationship between that which is defined as “domination….of the forces of nature” and “self-mastery”, which is indispensable for the human person. Contemporary man shows the tendency of transferring the methods proper to the first sphere to those of the second…. this threatens the human person for who the method of “self-mastery” is and remains specific. It — that is self-mastery — corresponds in fact to the fundamental constitution of the person: it is a perfectly “natural” method. The transposition of “artificial means” by contrast, breaks the constitutive dimensions of the person…” (TOB, 123:1)
In other words, artificial methods of birth-control (i.e., “dominion of the forces of nature”) compromise “self-mastery”. Unlike artificial methods of birth control, NFP requires 7-9 day period of abstinence each month. This calls for a measure of self-control within the marital relationship that artificial methods are able to skirt around. This weakening of the need for sexual “self-mastery” compromises the spouse’s ability to give freely of him/herself since, “Man is a person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself. Indeed, inasmuch as he is master over himself he can ‘give himself to another’ ” (TOB, 123:5). From the perspective of John Paul II, artificial means of birth control do not encourage, but rather discourage, a man (or woman) from mastering himself sexually. Thus a man’s ‘gift of self’ to his spouse is less developed, and thus less prone to be freely given, but rather is more easily constrained and compromised by his lusts.
There is a force to John Paul II’s line of reasoning. As any married man (or woman) knows, marriage does not mean an end to the need for self-control in the sexual realm (despite what many unmarried Christian young men naively hope). A man who can’t master his sexual passions before he is married will not easily master his sexual passions after he is married. No living human being — a wife not least — is able to satiate the lusts of a carnal man. NFP (it is reasonably argued) encourages the spousal relationship to grow up and mature into a sexual adulthood, whereas artificial methods of birth-control may indeed contribute to a perpetual sexual adolescence.
Whatever one might think about this issue, it is certainly true that growth in self-mastery maximizes a spouse’s capacity to make sexual relations truly a personal “gift of self to the other” rather than simply a means of satiating one’s own carnal desires. To the extent that NFP encourages self-mastery, and artificial conception discourages it, there is a need be thoughtful about this issue — especially in a culture that has virtually denied the need for self-mastery as it relates to sexual desire.
I’m not prepared to be dogmatic about this issue, but the Pope has given me something to think about.
August 16, 2012 by Jason Hood
Thanks to Alan Jacobs for pointing to this interesting piece from the Guardian, which argues that marriage and children help us oppose the culture that manufactures and traffics “exercises in the disposability of humans.” @ayjay highlights the conclusion of the piece:
Consumerism now wants you to be single, so it sells this as sexy. The irony is that it’s now more radical to attempt to be in a long-term relationship and a long-term job, to plan for the future, maybe even to attempt to have children, than it is to be single. Coupledom, and long-term connections with others in a community, now seem the only radical alternative to the forces that will reduce us to isolated, alienated nomads, seeking ever more temporary ‘quick fix’ connections with bodies who carry within them their own built-in perceived obsolescence.
The solution: Get radical, get hitched, demand commitment from partners and employers. Say no to the seductions of the disposable singles market.
July 21, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
We live in a time when sex has become has become radically depersonalized. This is undoubtedly related to the depersonalization of the body that began with the demise of Aristotelian teleology during the dawn of modernity. (But before we fall into the customary habit of making Modernity the favorite whipping boy, it should be noted that pre-modern and medieval notions of the body weren’t fairing much better). Regardless the cause, the body is now largely viewed in the West as a “mere” material object, a possession, a tool; it is no longer viewed as extension of the person. This general depersonalized view of the body, leading in turn to a depersonalized view of sex, has been compounded by the advent of birth control and the (seeming) ability of our culture to separate sex from children. (As a side note, this hasn’t worked out. Out of wedlock births hovered right around 5 percent until 1960—which marked the advent of the pill. The percentages have risen steadily every year since 1960 so that as of 2009 over 50% of children born to mothers under the age of 30 are born out of wedlock. We thought the pill would help us separate sex from children, but all its done is separate children from marriage. It’s been a colossal disaster for our culture.)
The net effect is that sex has become in our age primarily a past time, a hobby. It is viewed primarily as a recreational activity that two people (or more, in some cases) engage in — just one of the many recreational options available to us. A favorite for some perhaps, and rather low on the list for others; but the extent to which it is valued by our culture as an activity among other activities is only a difference of degree, not of kind.
And even many Christians have bought into this recreational view of sex. We mark our difference from the world not by offering an alternative understanding of the ontology of sex, but merely its context. In other words, we think our notions of sex are distinct from the world simply because we insist that this particular form of recreation be set within the context of the marriage relationship. But fundamentally, we still tend to view sex primarily as a form of recreation. A divinely given one, perhaps. A unique and special one for married couples, perhaps. But still primarily a form of recreation, even if sanctified.
The one exception is perhaps when we view sex as a means of procreation. But realistically, this accounts for very little of our overall perspective on marital intimacy. In the majority of instances that Christians engage in marital sex, they are very much trying not to have children (this is true even of those who practice NFP, and are, on the whole, “open to life”).
But this is not the Scripture’s notion of sex. Sex is not fundamentally a means of recreation, but a means of personal communion. It is more akin to a conversation than an activity. It is an exchange of selves that witnesses to the life giving communion between Christ and the Church. And what makes it such, is the way the Scriptures tie together the body and the person.
In Romans 12:1, Paul instructs the believer to “offer your bodies” as a living sacrifice. The metaphor employed by Paul harkens to the Levitical sacrifices, when a man would present his offering at the altar as a gift to the Lord. And it is worth observing here that Paul certainly intends the offering of our bodies to be an offering of ourselves. As Augustine writes, “And this also is the sacrifice of the church celebrated in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God” (City of God, X.6). The gift—in this case, the body—contains and communicates the giver, or it is really no gift at all. God does not want us to offer our bodies, as something distinct from our person. He wants us to offer our bodies as an expression of our selves.
We know this is true, because of the way Christ offers his own body to us. In the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus clearly personalizes his body. “I am the bread of life” and “the bread that I give is my flesh”; and again “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” To eat the bread is to eat his body, which is to eat him. All of which is to posit a deep personal connection between the person of Christ and the body of Christ. (As John Paul II has said, we don’t just have a body, we are a body.) Thus in giving us his body, Christ gives us himself.
The very material reality of the gospel is that we give ourselves to Christ through the offering of our bodies to him as a sacrifice, and he gives himself to us through the offering of his body to us as a sacrifice. We do not render to Christ a disembodied obedience, and he does not grace us with a disembodied love. And most fundamentally, it is in the free, mutual, and sacrificial exchange of our bodies that we give ourselves—our very persons—to each other—Christ to us, and we to him. Thus the body is, for every human being, the incarnation of the person, and the means by which we express love and fidelity.
In as much as the body was created by God to serve as the means by which we offer ourselves to the other, sex is not fundamentally a form of recreation—a mere pastime among pastimes—but is most fundamentally an exchange and communion of persons. It is, as John Paul II puts it, the “gift of self to the other.” In as much as the body is indeed the means by which we communicate our person, there is no other deeper form of personal intimacy than that of sexual intimacy. Considered in the ideal, the bodies of the husband and wife come together in form of loving communion so profound that their love is itself manifested in the creation of a third distinct body—a third person. The child is the living incarnation of the loving communion that exists between the husband and wife, and the visible manifestation of their “one flesh” relationship. (We are reminded here of the Edwardsian, Augustinian and Thomistic notion that the Holy Spirit is the personification of Love that exists between the Father and the Son).
This is not to say, of course, that every act of sex produces a child, or that every act of procreation is filled with intimacy. But it is to say that sex, when considered in an ideal state, presents us with a picture of profound personal communion that has potential to be creative, to actually produce the imago dei. No other form of bodily communion can come close to achieving this.
It is this mutual exchange and communion of persons via our bodies on a human level that offers us a picture of the mutual exchange of persons on a heavenly level. Or again, the profound personal/relational communion that occurs when a husband and wife come together bodily is a picture of the even more profound personal/relational communion that takes place when Christ and the church come together spiritually. As the Apostle Paul informs us, the “one flesh” union of the husband and wife, “refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:29).
So in sum, the bodily/sexual union within marriage is meant to convey the deeper personal union of the husband and wife, which in turn is meant to convey the even deeper personal union of Christ and the Church. To divorce bodily union from personal union, or personal union from it’s typological telos of Christ and the Church, is to embrace a reductionist view of sex that can never satisfy.
All of which is to say, Christian sexuality re-personalizes the body in the face of a culture that has made a radical attempt to depersonalize it.
July 16, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
I don’t typically post my sermons or lectures, but I think this is a really important topic. If you’re interested in how one might present a sermon that follows the basic outline of the second chapter of our book, here you go. The first twenty-three minutes of the sermon offers an exegetical and theological rational for why sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage, and the last twenty minutes addresses the question of boundaries in premarital relationships.
Also, if you want to read my attempt at a robust theological/exegetical defense of the position advocated for in the sermon, see here.0 Comments
July 10, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
John Paul II views the shame that attends the Fall as a result of the fact that the man has lost control of his own body. It is a “breakup of man’s original spiritual and somatic unity.” Theology of the Body, 28.2-3.
This follows Augustine, who argues that when humanity sinned we lost control of creation. This lose of control necessarily includes includes the lose of control of our bodies, inasmuch as they are part of creation.
The rebellion of our bodies is the first sign that we have lost sovereignty of the world.0 Comments
April 23, 2012 by Jason Hood
One of the leading arguments for acceptance of alternative sexualities is the argument from trajectory: later parts of the biblical story overturn earlier pieces as the Spirit speaks to the church (“continuing revelation”). For example, the Ethiopian eunuch would once have been excluded (for race, sexual abnormality, etc), but now he is included. The early church had to discern by the Spirit the temporal nature of the Law (Acts 15), so that circumcision, diet, calendar and like legislation were no longer determinative.
In the same way, some are arguing, we need to hear the Spirit’s voice guiding us into a new dawn where we can accept…well, it depends on who is speaking…some want us to accept merely gay covenant relationships,while the majority want us to accept gay, bisexual, and gender-change, or serial monogamy, and the discouragement of fidelity/chastity for young people. (And we could–and some would say should, and I can’t see a logical argument against this on the logic of progressive sexuality–add polygamist and other sexual practices and approaches to sexuality.)
I can’t fully engage this argument at the moment, it’s a big hermeneutical issue (see William Webb, discussed here by Hiestand), but here are a few thoughts. Apart from other weaknesses, this approach presupposes that the Story itself has elements that are a problem to be overcome. But the weaknesses actually belong to the human condition, not the Story (which may stoop to address us as we are, but never leaves us as we are).
After all, the Ethiopian eunuch no doubt read this passage:
For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4-5)
Paul and others appeal to “one family” language that undergirds the removal of laws that divide, and the pre-circumcision status of Abraham as justified, so that what God began with all humanity Adam is beginning to come true in the Last Adam, and one can be right before God without the marks of Torah.
From such vantage points the problem is not the Redemption Story but our own brokenness, rebellion, and uncleanness. According to the NT there are two determinative points about the story of sexuality:
(1) the Story is grounded in Genesis: one man, one woman (Matt 19:8).
(2) The story ends not with sex, but with the union to which sex points (Matt 22:30; Eph 5:25-32, Rev 21:2).
Sexual desires (whether heterosexual, same-sex, or other) will never have the last word over our identity and destiny, unless we rebel and make it so. Then our sexuality belongs not to the apex of redemption, but the nadir of tragedy.2 Comments
March 19, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
Speaking stereotypically (and in keeping with the typological aspects of our biological constitution), men view love chiefly through the lens of respect and trust, and women view love chiefly through the lens of sacrifice and security. Thus a husband feels loved when he is respected and followed; a wife feels loved when she is prioritized and protected. This relational dynamic holds true for sex as well. Men tend to approach sex as a means of meeting their deep emotional need to feel respected and trusted. Women tend to approach sex as a way of meeting their deep emotional need to feel prioritized and protected. And indeed there are few things like sex that can simultaneously meet these deep emotional needs. In a healthy sexual relationships a man offers himself—his very life (i.e., his seed)—to his wife, and she joyfully receives him by surrendering herself to him, by opening to him and allowing him to come over her and into her. The wife’s free and joyful surrender affirms her husband’s desire to feel “lordly” and sovereign. The surrendering of the most secret part of her body, and the opening of herself to receive him, communicates to her husband that she trusts him, respects him, and is yielded to him.
In the same way, sex offers the woman a unique capacity to feel protected and loved. She is affirmed in that she finds the deepest, most vulnerable part of herself cared for and protected. A woman’s delight in sex is not chiefly to dominate or experience a sense of sovereignty, but rather to yield the control of her body—and thus herself—to another who is stronger than herself, and who uses his strength as a means of protecting her and prioritizing her happiness.
The fact that men and women tend to approach sex in this way corresponds to the deeper meaning of our gender, in as much as we were made to image Christ’s relationship with the church. Christ is the husband over the church, and he tells us that he knows we love him when we trust him and obey his commands (John 14:21, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 1:6). He calls us to surrender to him, to yield ourselves to him and to open ourselves to him, that he might come and make his home within us. When we surrender to him and open ourselves to him, we are communicating to him that we love him, and trust him, and respect him. And the Church, for her part, feels loved by Christ in that he lays down his life for her, and makes her happiness his own (Ephesians 5:25-28). She offers the whole of herself to her heavenly husband in the deepest way possible and finds her sense of peace and security in the fact that she has yielded herself to one who is greater than her and able to protect her. Thus the sense of sovereignty and security that men and women feel during sex are legitimate and appropriate aspects of sex, for both senses convey the deeper typological meaning of the sexual relationship.
However, the corresponding sense of sovereignty and security that attends the sexual relationship must not be viewed as the chief end of sex. Like our comments above regarding bodily pleasure, a sense of sovereignty and security are not the goal of sex, but the gifts of sex. When a man pursues sex fundamentally as a means of achieving a sense of sovereignty, he warps sex into something less than the gift of self to the other. Likewise, when a woman pursues sex fundamentally as a means of feeling safe and secure, she reduces sex to something less than the free gift of self to the other. Sex takes on an inward, self-absorbed turn and no longer functions as a means of self-giving, gospel reflecting love. As we’ve seen above, sex is fundamentally to be a free exchange of selves. It is to be an “others” centered affair.
Sexual Idolatry in Marriage
It is at this point that sexual idolatry can be as much a problem for married couples as it is for singles. An idol is something we worship in place of God, something we look to for a sense of ultimate meaning. To the extent that a husband needs his wife’s respect and affirmation—to the extent that his identity is tied up in her approval of his masculinity—he is unable to give freely of himself. He has made an idol of her. Christ enjoys and desires the affirmation and worship of the church, but he does not need it for his sense of self-sufficiency and worth; he finds this in his relationship with his Heavenly Father. In the same way, the husband is to give freely out of the overflow of who he already is in Christ and God.
Likewise, the wife’s “need” of her husband is to be merely a reflection of her true and real need for her heavenly husband. Just as she submits to her husband “as unto the Lord” so too she is to “need” her husband as unto the Lord. She places her trust and hope in her earthly husband as an expression of her ultimate trust and hope in her heavenly husband. If her earthly husband fails her, this is not a cause for despair, for her true hope is in Christ.
When a wife or husband demands to be affirmed (whether sexually or otherwise), they have made an idol of the other. They have ceased to view marriage as an image of a higher reality, and are instead trying to make it an end in itself. When a man becomes angry, bitter, or despairing over his wife’’s lack of sexual affirmation, this is clear indication that he is viewing her as idol to be worshiped, rather than a person to be loved. Pain and hurt are legitimate—indeed Christian—emotions. But anger, bitterness and despair reveal that we have misplaced our hope.0 Comments
March 17, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
The sexual relationship was designed by God to involve bodily pleasure; sexual intercourse cannot take place without it (at least as far as it concerns the man). Indeed, married couples are told in Scripture not only to engage in sex (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), but to enjoy and delight in sex (see all of Song of Songs, as well as Proverbs 5:18-19). Pleasure is not a mere “add-on” to sex, a mere accidental property that does not constitute its true nature. The bodily pleasure of sex points beyond itself to the relational pleasure of marriage, and—most ultimately—to the spiritual pleasure of Christ’s relationship to the church (Ephesians 5:32). The spiritual union between Christ and his bride is marked by deep joy, and it is fitting that the image of this union be likewise marked by a deep corresponding pleasure. Thus we need not be ashamed about our enjoyment of the pleasure that attends sex.
Yet while the sexual relationship invariably includes bodily pleasure, pleasure must not become the goal of sex. Pleasure is legitimately celebrated in sex, but only as a bodily joy that points typologically toward the deeper personal joy of the giving and receiving of the self. It is right that the interior, spiritual joy of self-giving and receiving should have a physical correspondence. But the latter only has meaning when it is an expression of the interior, and only then as it point to Christ and the church. To isolate pleasure away from this native context is to render sex less than what it was meant to be.
To view sex principally as a means of obtaining pleasure is like viewing food chiefly a means of obtaining pleasure. It is good and right that eating be attended with pleasure, and it is good and right that we enjoy this pleasure. But it is not good and right to eat principally as a means of obtaining pleasure. That’s called gluttony. In the same way, when we pursue sex principally as a means of obtaining pleasure we reduce the other person to a mere object to be used, rather than a person to received and loved. We do not give ourselves as gift in order to find pleasure, but rather we find pleasure when we give ourselves as gift.
However, we need not press this into an overly principled application. The Apostle Paul instructs married couples not to refrain from sexual relations lest it push one’s partner toward sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). A spouse must not deny his or her spouse their conjugal rights under the guise of an idealistic view of sex. Because of sin, sex within marriage will never be free of inordinate desire. And beyond this, in the same way that we occasionally (and legitimately) enjoy food as a means of pleasure rather than sustenance (i.e., dessert, a cappuccino, etc.), it is not wrong to let pleasure occasionally be the focal point and motivation for sex. But the pursuit of pleasure must not be the predominant motivation that governs the marital sexual relationship. If your spouse is feeling used, rather than loved, it is quite possible that you are viewing sex principally as a means of bodily pleasure, rather than a means of self-giving and receiving.0 Comments