Friday, July 15, 2005

Making Love to the Glory of God

Following Jesus and having great sex are two concepts that, unfortunately, are rarely viewed as belonging together. The hijacking of human sexuality by a sinful culture has certainly caused a raw perversion of one of God's good gifts to us. But while the world is largely responsible for contaminating sex, the church, with its ample prudishness, is equally responsible for perverting what God has to say about this powerful subject.

But John Piper and Justin Taylor have just edited a superb new book that introduces us afresh to what God has to say on this matter.

The book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, has an obviously "Piperian" bent, as is indicated by the title. Among the assumptions laid out in the first part of the text is that the act of sex, like any other human act, has as it's ultimate purpose to glorify God. Piper, along with Ben Patterson of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, do a masterful job in Part One at communicating the close relationship between the goodness of sexuality and the glory of God in Jesus Christ. For those who have read Piper's other works, the central theme of the chapters he writes are no different from all the other books he has written. But two reciprocal points presented by Piper undergird the rest of the book. First, Piper contends that "sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God more fully," and second, "knowing God is designed by God as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality." In short, this intense physical experience was created by God to point to an even more intense spiritual reality.

Echoing Piper in the conclusion of Part One is Ben Patterson, who asserts with Biblical authority an axiom that will be novel to many Christians: "Pleasure is God's idea, and God is the devil's enemy. The devil actually hates pleasure, because he hates the God of pleasure." As a result, all sexual perversion, from pornography to fornication and adultery, to homosexuality, should simply be seen as a cheap Satanic replication of God's intended design. Says Patterson: "The devil's grand strategy against pleasure is to twist it, to get us to misuse it." Patterson presents a very candid conversation in which he is transparent enough to describe his own struggles with sexual temptation, and how God has helped him to overcome them.

So what happens when God's sexual gift is misused? Moreover, what can be done to heal the deep hurt caused by its misuse? Al Mohler of Southern Seminary and David Powlison of Westminster Seminary address these questions in Part Two. Powlison provides what in my estimation is the most insightful chapter of the entire book, which deals with how sexual brokennes may be healed. Powlison's wisdom points the reader to the fact that most sexual sins have something other than sex as their root. Using examples from his own experience as a Christian counselor, Powlison unveils the multiple avenues through which Satan leads both men and women into sexual sin.

Al Mohler's chapter on the Christian response to homosexual marriage is both timely and straightforward. On the one hand, Mohler strongly contends that homosexual marriage "is a tragic oxymoron," and states that even the discussion of its possibility in the legislature "demonstrates that we are a civilization in crisis, because a great many barriers must be breached in order to put this question on the cultural agenda." But Mohler doesn't limit his challenge to those favoring homosexual marriage. He also takes dead aim at the overly simplistic rationale that is often used by evangelicals in their opposition to homosexuality (just one example of this contention: "We, as Christians, must be the people who cannot start a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage."), their lack of compassion and willingness to walk with homosexuals through the long and messy healing process, and their objection to the lifestyle based solely on the "yuck factor." The end result is a comprehensive and well-thought-out polemic for us to "speak the truth in love."

In Part Three, readers are introduced to the Biblical way that men are to view sex. Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence and Matt Schumucker each contribute to the chapter on sex and the single man. The reader will not be surprised at their basic view that "the first thing to say about sex and the single man is, there should be none!" However, the authors go further in describing how the church has often presented a truncated message on sex and singleness that has left single men physically pure, but emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. Without resorting to a new form of legalism, the authors encourage single men not only to save their bodies, but also their hearts, for their future spouses. (Wow, if I had only read this when I was 16 years old!)

C.J. Mahanney, President of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, MD, concludes Part Three with an authentic and transparent look at a man's view of sex within marriage. Using the Song of Solomon as his primary teaching tool, Pastor Mahanney combines his scholarly mind and pastoral heart with his experience as a husband of more than two decades, and the result is a godly wisdom from which every husband will benefit. Principally, he speaks of the sex act as one of service to one's wife. Mahanney reveals the "elephant in the room" by addressing the "extremely common tendency for husbands to find satisfaction in lovemaking sooner than their wives." From 1 Corinthians Mahanney asserts that if a husband is having sex in a way that is honoring to God and his wife "I will take my thoughts captive during lovemaking, disciplining my body in order to focus primarily on giving to my wife sexually, rather than only receiving from her." Mahanney also speaks of the dichotomy between the sexual fantasy world hopelessly aspired to, and the reality of God's gift, and courageously calls Christian husbands back to reality in some quite humorous ways. Mahanney also speaks candidly (although not graphically) about his own experiences with his wife, and with the wisdom of a father speaking to sons, shares with younger Christian men how they can be servants to their one flesh in the bedroom.

In Part Four, Carolyn McCulley, media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries and a single woman, speaks in a straightforward way to other single women. Acknowledging the role of radical feminism in how single women now approach the subject of sexuality (and admitting that she herself was at one time an avowed feminist), McCulley laments the result: "When I read articles about the spreadsheets college women keep about their sexual activities, or when I watch how the Christian men I know struggle to avoid the parade of barely dressed women before them at a mall or restaurant, or when I have to turn over all ten womens' magazines at the grocery checkout because my nieces can now read the soft-porn headlines, I find I am more than shocked; I am deeply grieved. This is what feminism has done to improve the standing of women? It's a very poor trade-off, indeed." The alternative McCulley presents is a countercultural revolution of female sexuality. The rest of the chapter addresses practical ways that this can be accomplished, including relishing in the gift of singleness, and dodging sexual snares at the office. Along with the other contributors, McCulley offers her own personal experiences along with Biblical counsel to single women who desire to honor God and their future husbands with their bodies, and who want their bodies honored by others.

Carolyn Mahanney, the wife of C.J. Mahanney, concludes Part Four by speaking to married women on how to glorify God in the sex act with their husbands. She offers practical, Biblical principles of "Grade A passion" that, like her husband's teaching, commends an attitude of servanthood in the bedroom. Chief among these principles is that of training the female mind to anticipate sex, based on Song of Songs 5:10-16. For those who have lost their sexual passion and desire for their husbands, Mahhanney gives encouragement, stating that "God is able to renew your sexual desire, empower you to change, and revive you with hope."

The final part of this work contains information regarding how sexuality has been viewed in two different epochs of church history. Justin Taylor, Executive Editor of Desiring God Ministries, speaks in detail of Martin Luther's reform of marriage, and Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Wahington D.C., sheds new light on the popular perception of how the Puritans viewed the act of sex.

In a sexually broken world informed more by radical sex education and Cialis commercials than the Word of God, the church has often been guilty of giving simplistic and anemic answers to the question of human sexuality. The authors of this book present a view of sex with the comprehensiveness and authority of the Scriptures themselves, and the result is a fully-orbed presentation of God's view of sex. And who better to speak to this powerful topic than the One who invented it? Maybe you have a perception of Christianity as overly-pruddish and ascetic, or maybe you are a victim of the combination of Satan's sexual snares and your own bad choices. Let me beg you to do an Amazon search of the reference below, because this book will point you to the right answers, and more importantly to Christ, who is the end-all, be-all answer to all things!

Piper, John, and Justin Taylor, eds. 2005. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


Dave said...

Hey, check out this weekend and the next, from 2-4 on Saturday, Kimme and I are hosting a study on Sexual intimacy in Marriage. The study is based on the book: Sheet Music. You guys are welcome to come and check it out.

I think this issue is one that the church has pretty much handed to the world. NO information is ever discussed within church walls. Real struggles (like lust, porn, etc.) are really covered. And when a Christian couple experiences problems, where do they go with this being the case? No where, and remain in pain or dysfunction. Or, to porn sites full of erroneous information. :( The church has to be a part of the sexual conversation in this world with more than, "marriage is for man and woman."

My 2 ¢.

Joel Rainey said...

Dave, Thanks for the invite. Wish I could be there.
You are right! Our silence on this issue is at least partly the cause for the continuation of sexual brokenness in people's lives. This is an area where I really believe we have failed to preach the "whole counsel of God," simply because of the "blush factor"
Dude, what a look! Are you ticked-off, or constipated? :)

Dave said...