October 22, 2014

Relating to Augustine

The Orchard, from Daphnis and Chloe, Chagall

The Orchard, from Daphnis and Chloe, Chagall

A recent discussion in the blogosphere caught my attention, especially for the issues it raises for churches, pastors, and ministry leaders these days.

It started with Derek Rishmawy’s post, “Who Are You Sleeping With?” My Conversation with Timothy Keller. Rishmawy describes going to the 2013 TGC conference and attending a breakout session with Dr. Keller on the subject of revival. After Keller taught, there was time for questions. Rishmawy asked the presenter what some of the obstacles are in our contemporary culture with regard to repentance, revival, and renewal in the churches.

Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

The author ends up seeing Keller’s point.

Just as C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity all those years ago, there are few of Christianity’s teachings more offensive, unpalatable, and likely to drive people away from hearing the Gospel than its sex ethic. Many college students and young adults don’t want to turn to God, or at least not the kind of solid God you find in the Gospel, because He has opinions on sex we find restrictive.

Culturally that’s just where we’re at.

The post goes on to say that we live in a culture of people like Augustine, the great Bishop who struggled mightily with concupiscence. The church must therefore speak boldly and confidently to the issue of sex, not in a shaming or holier-than-thou fashion but in a way that helps people see sexuality as the good gift God gave us so that we may desire to live sexually healthy and holy lives. We must not fear to address such matters, but neither should we run down the lascivious and creepy path that far too many have taken (see the article in her.meneutics this week: “I’m Sick of Hearing about Your Smoking Hot Wife”).

We do not know who God might be calling us to present with the Gospel’s call to sexual holiness. Keller’s challenge is for the Church to humbly but boldly call the Augustines sitting in our pews and local city coffee shops, bound fast in sexual sin, to turn and repent by the Spirit’s power to the true liberty of the Gospel. Only when Christians are courageous (and wise) enough to deal with our sex issues will we see ”sleepy Christians waking up, nominal Christians being converted, and hard to reach cases being extraordinarily converted”—in other words, revival.

Rachel Held Evans responded with a cautionary post. She was especially concerned that the article seemed to imply that sexual guilt was the primary reason young people have doubts about the faith. After noting that Derek Rishmawy had issued a helpful clarification to what Keller said and his subsequent post, she nevertheless thought that this perspective has been common enough that it should be addressed.

So she made the following points:

  1. The suggestion that the primary reason young people have doubts about a variety of Christian issues is because they have guilty consciences is dismissive and hurtful.
  2. Correlation does not mean causation. In young adulthood people often deal with spiritual questions and doubts. At the same time they are thinking about sex and getting involved in more serious relationships. The link between the two realities may not be as cut and dried as conservative Christians have interpreted it to be.

Evans summarizes her argument with these words:

As I’ve said on multiple occasions, most young adults I know aren’t looking for a religion that answers all of their questions, but rather a community of faith in which they feel safe to ask them.  A good place to start in creating such a community is to treat young adults like the complex human beings they are, and to take their questions about faith seriously.

Rachel Held Evans received some pushback on her article. Some of the responders thought she was being unfair to Keller and so on. I don’t really want to get into all that, but I thought one of the best comments was by Ben, who wrote:

I lead a college ministry and I want to affirm a few things: Doubts and sexuality are on the table for discussion. They are both too important to ignore. Sometimes they are related. Sometimes they aren’t. But you don’t know until you start talking and asking. I ask my students about their relationships (my assumption is that people are sleeping together) because no one else will and our sexuality has a huge impact on how we live and interact with each other and God. Anecdotally: the times in my life where I experienced the greatest doubt/most considered throwing in the towel were the times I was experiencing the most sexual un-health and loneliness. I know that isn’t true for everyone, but if that pastor had asked me that question, I would have said, “No one, but I want to.”

Everyone in this discussion had something valuable to contribute, but in the end, I think Ben said it most succinctly: “…you don’t know until you start talking and asking.”

In the end, it is about relating to people, talking to them, listening to them. It’s about real conversations and real life, life in all its complexity and mystery. We simply don’t know how all these things are related, or what God will put his finger on in a person’s life to get that person’s attention. We can, however, be good listeners and love our neighbors. We can earn their trust and become friends in ways that will allow us to have honest interactions.

We might consider consulting Jesus, who has a bit of experience in dealing with doubters and sexual sinners. Seems to me he was both gentle and direct, patient and challenging, awakening faith, hope and possibility where once there was only the fog of doubt and bondage.

If we could somehow communicate him to others, not just rules and “truths” and principles we think we’ve learned about him, then maybe something similar might be awakened in our friends: a willingness to walk even though the way is dark, a hunger for wholeness and peace.

Life.

Comments

  1. “Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience” (due to fornication).

    Where to even begin with this…? My sense of the matter is that “fornication” is just as widespread as he suspects, but troubled consciences–as he himself acknowledges elsewhere–are far rarer. I suppose he means that “fornicators” are not consciously repentent, but that they must suffer from some deep, unacknowledged misgivings. What I see is a conflict between “Christian” rhetoric” and competing social norms, so that the former is widely perceived to be impractical, outdated, or just plain wrong. For the sake of comparison, recall that previous generations of Christian spokespeople wrung their hands in similarly agonized fashion over such things as French kissing or rock and roll music. We laugh at all these now, and it is roughly the same laugh.

    As for “questions about evolution or philosophy,” here again conservative Protestants have dug themselves into a hole, and made their religion into an object of intellectual contempt. I don’t see why I should think this has anything to do with sex, although for developmental reasons, such questions are likely to occur at the same age. It’s a bit like saying masturbation causes acne.

    As an indication of how more solid, mature churches handle such things, let’s look at the Catholics. How do they comment on sexual matters? Well, there are encyclicals like Humanae Vitae, and coverage of the commandments in Sunday school / parochial school, but realizing that these are often taken with a grain of salt, priests tend to lower their expectations somewhat during confession. For example, a penitant might be instructed to reflect on his/her life and the teachings of the church, but not to break up with the girlfriend / boyfriend or move out. I have even heard of an Orthodox priest (no liberals they) who instructed a young woman to give her boyfriend six months (their relationship preceded her return to religion), and then either marry him or break up with him.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience” (due to fornication).

      1) Keller sounds like he’s got a dirty mind — SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX. Is he apprenticed to Driscoll or something?
      2) I have long maintained that Christians are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else, just in a different direction.
      3) Nowadays, use of the word “fornication” is found ONLY in Christianese. It’s become an identifying characteristic.

      • DaisyFlower says:

        Headless Guy said, “3) Nowadays, use of the word “fornication” is found ONLY in Christianese. It’s become an identifying characteristic.”

        That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The word to describe sex outside of marriage or before marriage, I mean.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But the thing is the word is now associated with Fundagelical sin-sniffers and Church Ladies — who else uses it?

    • CORRECTION: It seems that the above quote (by Evans) misrepresents Keller’s views:

      http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/some-helpful-critiques-of-yesterdays-post-is-doubt-an-std

      For example, he does NOT mean to blame all, or most, doubt on sexual guilt. Also, he accepts evolution.

      • DaisyFlower says:

        Why the guy even initially tried to link sex to having doubts is troubling and weird, even if he did write a subsequent post seeking to clarify his position.

  2. Ali Griffiths says:

    I think that many of us have aspects of our lives that we do not want to change or renounce. We may feel fleeting or a more profound sense of guilt but we still persist in holding on to these areas of sin. The consequences are that whilst we are refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to work in these areas then we will always be holding back from all that God wants to do in, through us and with us.

    The questions at the moment being thrashed out in churches seem to be along the lines of:
    What should we feel guilty about? Is there anything we need to feel guilty about?

    I get the impression there are a lot of people who want their faith to be guilt free and also do whatever they want to do. I don’t think both stances are compatible if you are a disciple of Christ.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Maybe it’s not so much that folks just want to be guilt free; maybe they want to be free from guilt. Unfortunately, I suspect that church environments which share Keller’s worldview (i.e., we can’t reach these folks because they’re all sex-crazed sluts) don’t provide a very safe place for people for folks to explore their misconceptions and unhealthy assumptions about their sexual lifestyle, accept salvation, and learn how to live spiritually–and sexually–healthy lives.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Swear alliegance to the flag,
        Whichever flag they offer;
        NEVER LET ON WHAT YOU REALLY FEEL…”
        — Mike and the Mechanics, “Silent Running”, 1986

      • DaisyFlower says:

        You wrote, “[many church hold the view point]: (i.e., we can’t reach these folks because they’re all sex-crazed sluts) “

        And if you’re over 40, a virgin, a Christian, and considering becoming agnostic?

        It’s dismaying how celibates are never considered in discussions by Christians at all, any time conversations about sex come up. (And supposedly, Christians are all about supporting celibacy.)

  3. Asking a student in this context about their sex life is not a new thing. I think I read in one of Campolo’s books that he would do something of the sort.

    Possibly related: One blogger noted recently that so many heroes in church history had a great sense of their own sinfulness (Augustine is a classic example) but today’s Christian leaders do not.

    • Good point.

    • Here! Here!

    • DaisyFlower says:

      You said, “heroes in church history had a great sense of their own sinfulness (Augustine is a classic example) but today’s Christian leaders do not.”

      Maybe, but I’ve seen or read about the opposite situation: plenty Christian personalities and preachers who go on and on about what a worm they are, not worthy of God, what perverse sinners they are, etc.

      They are trying to sound humble by going on about what big sinners they are, but it has the opposite effect, they sound like they are arrogant.

      • Its like the war veteran who calls a talk show and expects his opinion to be viewed as more important than everyone elese'; you’ve got no right to comment unless you’ve known the horrors of war, he thinks. So these leaders think unless you’ve committed adultery like they have, you have no right to comment on Christian sexual morality! Hmmm…but shouldn’t it be the opposite? Shouldn’t only those who keep that commandment about “thou shalt not commit adultery” be allowed to speak for the church on that topic?

        • DaisyFlower says:

          @ Jose

          It’s not always spoken of in such specific terms.

          I’ve just seen Christians (sometimes bloggers or preachers) say on their blogs or TV shows that they are “great sinners.” They don’t usually delve into specific sins they’ve committed. As of late, the Neo Calvinists seem pretty bad about this, based on excerpts of their blogs I’ve seen Non Calvinists repost on blogs I visit.

          In other instances, they don’t make themselves out to be great sinners, but tell their listeners (congregations) they are huge sinners and need to forever examine themselves for their sins. Seldom is grace and forgiveness taught by those types of Christians.

          • I’ve seen it both ways, specific and generic. Normally for the specific ones its alchoholism or drug abuse. I would not say “Seldom is grace and forgiveness taught by those types of Christians” but that seldom do they acknowledge the salvation of those who didn’t live a life of hardened sin prior to conversion. I mean, I was raised in the church, baptized at 12. I didn’t live some hardened life of booze, floozies, and drugs prior to making a commitment to Christ. And to them, it seems, that makes me somehow not a real Christian. To be a real Christian in their mind you must first “make your sins strong” as Luther wrote to Melancthon.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            DaisyFlower, it’s amazing how My Total Depravity and Wormliness can become One-Upmanship.

            Jose, I think that’s because Juicy Conversion Stories are the closest thing Church Ladies can get to a porn fix and still be respectable. Vicarious Enjoyment of Sin that they are forbidden from for real but can get vicariously from listening to the Juicy Testimony.

  4. 1. Many of the church’s obsessions and taboos regarding sex can be traced back to Augustine; therefore, discernment is needed when turning to him as a reference on the subject.
    2. Keller sounds a lot like Driscoll and his sexual sooth-saying powers (he sees you when you’re sleeping…and with whom).
    3. Ad-hominem? (Now, Junior, the only reason you could possibly question young earth creationism is because you’re hiding a sexual sin.) That fallacy could just as easily be turned against Keller: someone so obsessed with the sexual sins of others must be trying to hide something himself.
    4. Youth are bombarded with the cultural messages that sex equals love; then if they come to church, they basically hear the same message.
    5, Gospel call to sexual holiness? For God so loved the world that he sent his only sex therapist???
    6. Youth can have both doubts about faith and questions about sex without a causality between the two.

    • That last point echoes what Evans stated in her article.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      1. Many of the church’s obsessions and taboos regarding sex can be traced back to Augustine; therefore, discernment is needed when turning to him as a reference on the subject.

      I have a printed download from some years ago (credited to a “Mars Hill” with no further attribution) titled “The Christian Sex Cult.” It pointed out that Monica’s son Auggie was a real horndog in his early years and a monastic celibate afterwards, and that in neither case could he interact with women as people — only as sex objects (before) or forbidden fruit (after). And that when it came to the subject of male-female relationships and sex in general, Auggie probably was hauling a lot of personal baggage.

      2. Keller sounds a lot like Driscoll and his sexual sooth-saying powers (he sees you when you’re sleeping…and with whom)

      Or like the guy who wrote the Malleus Malefacarium, except in that case the “whom” was always the Devil or Demons. (Guy was really kinky about witch/demon sex…)

    • ” 5, Gospel call to sexual holiness? For God so loved the world that he sent his only sex therapist???”

      Yes, absolutely, and God’s “only sex therapist” condemned adultery, fornication, and divorce and remarriage for frivolous reasons, all in the sermon of peace and love called the Sermon on the Mount.

      • The subject of the Sermon on the Mount is not sex; examples drawn by Jesus reference sex, but it is not the focus. What is in focus is the insidious, pervasive nature of sin. Sex is not just physical adultury but even the lustful look at a woman. Murder is not just plunging a dagger in a neighbor’s back but even insulting or talking badly behind his or her back.

        If sex were the subject of the Sermon on the Mount, I would expect Christians to also force women to wear burkas to prevent event the slightest lustful look; however, we don’t. Instead, the Sermon on the Mount forces us to cry out “Hosanna!”. The sermon on the mount leads us to the foot of the cross.

  5. This is a very interesting issue. Wherever any of us fail to live up to the biblical standard we have to admit our wrong , but and here is the but, maybe the issue is not that our culture is overly sexualized. It certainly is but maybe the issue is that young adults have been put under very difficult demands having been told by many that they should delay marriage until they are in a career, finished in college, traveled the world etc. the drive to have sex is incredibly powerful. You certainly don’t marry to just have sex, but I’m a firm believer in early marriage.

    • Does it matter that early marriages are more likely to end in divorce? And shouldn’t young people be encouraged to finish college, travel the world, establish themselves in a career, etc. before settling down? The financial issue alone could derail everything. And psychologically, it makes no sense for a couple to rush into marriage before they really know who they are, and what they want out of life, and have some solid experience of life and relationships.

      • Gerald,

        I think your thinking here shows part of the problem. As for early marriages ending in divorce, I would say that has little to do with the age of those married but more with the culture of marriage in our day. How else can we explain the fact that folks used to marry much earlier but divorce much less? Anyway, more importantly, you make marriage sound like something one only does after they are finished having fun in life. Who would want to do that kind of marriage? Who said you can’t go to school and be married? Who said you couldn’t get established in a career and be married? And what fun would it be to travel to exotic locations or romantic locales if you had no one other than yourself to share them with? As for your last statement about folks rushing into marriage before they know who they are, it just doesn’t make sense. First, I could say that all this navel gazing and self actualization is one reason divorce is so high. “Oh my spouse is limiting in x way so I have to divorce them to reach y.” Second, I have found just the opposite to be true, that folks who grow together will grow together. Certainly non of us are who were were when we were 20. Heck, I’m 35 and not even who I was when I was 31. At what point do I decide I have sufficiently grown enough to know who I am enough to marry? Consider two small trees. Take them when they are young and bind them together and they will grow together. Take two old trees and try that and one of them will break if bend at all. Last, so you do marry someone and they change. There is no infidelity, it just turns out you have become opposites in your likes dislikes, pursuits, aims, and hobbies. What do you do? I would suggest that you remember your vows and do your duty.

        • Josh in FW says:

          +1

        • it has a lot to do with the simple fact that inheritance is caput in america due to property tax so families accumulate less wealth. everyone is brainwashed into thinking their kids must leave the house at 18 immediately…partly caused by their house being small due to the previous generation thinking the same way, which in turn is the result of property taxes and the death or inheritance tax and shrinking inheritances, combined with income tax which only began in 1913. When families could accumulate wealth over time, they had bigger houses, the kids could get married and still live on the family land. things were very different. marriage is screwed up in large part because our economic situation is screwed up, and that’s screwed up by the income tax system which started in 1913 and all the programs for the dreggs of society that it is used to prop up.

          • Actually I see more kids staying in their parents home well into their 20’s and beyond, in some cases due to our current economy, but in others as a sort of protracted adolescence. Our 2 younger sons, ages 22 & 26 still live with us, work full-time, and pay a small amount of rent. I enjoy having them around.

          • “Actually I see more kids staying in their parents home” — partially because they are awaking to a reality which the babyboomers obscured: that prosperity is generational. That when you kick your kids out at 18 you cause them to be poor forever, and for their kids to be poor, and their kids. I’ll admit I’m only 30 and I lived at home until 26. Got out of college at 23/24 and got a job, paid for my own food and maybe my share o the water bill, but got to save on rent. It was horrendous of course for me. But otherwise, I would have no savings today. It is the reality and I don’t think many older people have the money sense to understand it.

        • Depends on the definition of “early marriage”. Late teens is TOO early. A couple years into the 20’s is early enough IMO.

          BTW, all excellent points Austin.

    • DaisyFlower says:

      @ Austin
      People don’t have a choice on when they get married. I’m early 40s, wanted to get married, but never have been.

      Please don’t assume everyone is putting off marriage until they reach some milestone. Got one marriage proposal early 30s, had to break up with the guy. Got no other proposals.

      I thought surely I’d marry by 35 at the latest, but it did not happen for me. I did not deliberatbely choose to put marriage off for career, travel, or anything of that nature.

      Most churches (except perhaps the kooks who are into patriarchy), actually discourages marriage for any Christian of any age.

      If you are a Christian single who tells other Christians that you are wanting marriage, the typical Southern Baptist / evangelical / fundamentalist responses are:

      “You are making an idol of marriage,” “be content in your singleness,” “We can’t encourage match-making of social events for singles at church, it will make church a meat market,” or “just keep trusting the Lord for a spouse!”

      No tangible help is given Christian singles who want marriage by churches.

      And dating sites like eHarmony don’t work. Don’t even toss that advice out there. That, or the chest nut: “Volunteer! Go serve others, that is how I met my spouse!”

      Not all of us still not married over 35 years of age did not choose to be single this long.

      BTW, I don’t think it wise for people today to get married before 25.

      • “People don’t have a choice on when they get married.” That’s only true if you’re concerned about whether or not it will last.

        “Most churches (except perhaps the kooks who are into patriarchy), actually discourages marriage for any Christian of any age.” REally? I have heard the nonsense about waiting for the Lord to send you the right person and all, but I don’t think its intended seriously. Its just part of the standard denial that we have anything to do with our lives and that God controls it all, which is again not serious but just part of a tendentious attempt to pay lip service to God and sound like they are giving him all the glory for everything; they don’t mean any of it.

        “Not all of us still not married over 35 years of age did not choose to be single this long.”

        I’m only 30, and I didn’t intend to be single this long. However, I could have gotten married if I didn’t care about it working out, I’m sure. Its the fact that I bought into the idea that marriage should be for life that prevented me from getting married. But that idea is a good idea even for a secular person, considering the monetary mess caused by divorce!

        • DaisyFlower says:

          @ jose

          Yes, really. Yes, they really mean it. Some Christians genuinely believe if you have “faith in the Lord” and are willing to “wait for God’s best” and just “pray for a husband” that God will magically drop a husband into your lap by the time you reach age 30 or 35.

          There are many idiotic or naive dating and marriage bon-mots thrown at Christian singles, even ones as old as me, age 40+.

          Churches say they worry about Christians not getting married at all or not until they are older, but they offer no practical assistance to actually get singles married.

          Conservative Christians and churches actually discourage us singles who want marriage by telling us (and this is common from Christian lay persons, Christian blogs, from preachers) that wanting marriage is “idolatry.”

          We unmarried Christians over the age of 30 are often given cliches by Christians and preachers such as, “be content in your singleness” or “Jesus is all you need.”

          It is also often insultingly suggested that if we singles have not married by age 25 – 30, it’s because we must be fat, ugly, we are homosexual, or we have “baggage” or hang-ups, even though none of this may be true of us.

          • I’ve never heard of marriage idolatry, but I feel you on the last paragraph.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Yes, really. Yes, they really mean it. Some Christians genuinely believe if you have “faith in the Lord” and are willing to “wait for God’s best” and just “pray for a husband” that God will magically drop a husband into your lap by the time you reach age 30 or 35.

            So you heard that one, too?

            Except the male version of it goes “God will magically drop a wife on your doorstep.”

            As for Marriage Idolatry, someone on a long-ago IMonk thread coined the term “Salvation by Marriage Alone” to describe the attitude.

      • “No tangible help is given Christian singles who want marriage by churches.”

        The only help I would expect from a church on finding a mate is the following: that members actually follow God’s word.

        If that were the case, churches would provide a dating pool in which dating does not mean having pre-marital sex with a bunch of different people until you get tired of it and decide to settle down with the last one you snogged. It would mean that everyone stayed a virgin until marriage, and you could ask out any single woman at church knowing she is a virgin (unless divorced of course) and that she is not going to expect to “get laid” on the date. But the churches can’t even provide something this simple, so what value is there in them? They are altogethr worthless in modern society.

        • DaisyFlower says:

          @ jose who said “It would mean that everyone stayed a virgin until marriage, and you could ask out any single woman at church knowing she is a virgin (unless divorced of course) and that she is not going to expect to “get laid” on the date.”

          Why all the emphasis in your post on a woman being a virgin? Your presumption is highly sexist. I find the opposite problem: many men, Christians included, expect a woman to have sex with them.

          @ jose who said, “The only help I would expect from a church on finding a mate is the following: that members actually follow God’s word.”

          No, older singles need help in this area. Your suggestion is vague and fuzzy.

          I am 40 and a virgin. Being a virgin did not get me a husband. I’ve seen lots of Christians who have pre marital sex yet marry other Christians, so having sex before marriage does not result in a loss of marriage.

          Plenty of single Christians already “follow God’s word” and it did nothing to land them a man.

          Churches need do things such as set up social events across multiple churches where singles can meet and mingle. Single women need to meet single men so they can chat, strike up friendship, then, if there is attraction, start dating, and perhaps marriage will result.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Why all the emphasis in your post on a woman being a virgin? Your presumption is highly sexist.

            Probably because Jose is male and from a male’s POV the emphasis is “asking out a single woman”. I wouldn’t call it sexist so much as just being worded from a male POV.

            Plenty of single Christians already “follow God’s word” and it did nothing to land them a man.

            And from Jose and my POVs, that would be stated “nothing to land them a woman”.

            Churches need do things such as set up social events across multiple churches where singles can meet and mingle.

            Back when I was involved (unsuccessfully) in the Christian Singles Scene, most of the purely-social events for “meet and mingle” were all DANCES. Like something out of High School.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “You are making an idol of marriage,” “be content in your singleness,” “We can’t encourage match-making of social events for singles at church, it will make church a meat market,” or “just keep trusting the Lord for a spouse!”

        Usually spoken by those who married at 18.

  6. It gets worse.

    Christian “Death ’till us part” marriage isn’t taught in the wider Church anymore. What you have is Marriage 2.0, something known as Serial Monogamy. Two people stay together until they get bored with each other, then move on. As long as the forms are respected, and the people are “remarried” properly, there is no great outcry from the Church. Widespread abuse of the annulment process among Catholics shows that the pathology is just as common there as it is among the Prots, and I don’t want to lift the sewer lid on the Orthodox practices.

    It’s no wonder young people think of marriage as adult dating.

    We are battling uphill against hormonal birth control which has effectively separated sex from reproduction, and has finally allowed women to indulge their baser instincts in a way men have always had permission to do, at least from their biology, and the result ain’t pretty.

    I wrote a blog post about this four years ago, when Mike was still around and the kerfuffle surrounding his Great Evangelical Collapse was still percolating.

    I remember some fundie/evie Church-lady types [of both sexes] clucking their disapproval about our modern Gomorrah on the radio, and a caller asked them why, with divorce so prevalent, anybody should keep sex within marriage anyway. The F-E types were gobsmacked. The best they could come up with was “The Bible says so”, a response that I considered about as effective as stuffing toilet paper into the holes Katrina made in New Orleans’ levees.

    We got some smart Christians here. Can you all come up with something better than that?

    • Mule. That blog link is spot on.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Can you point to any specific examples that demonstrate that the principle “marriage is a lifelong commitment” is not taught in the overall church anymore? Your conclusion does not seem to be reflected in the core beliefs or values of most mainstream Christian faith traditions, the many discussions I’ve had with Christ-followers from several denominations, or the teachings I’ve heard from the pulpits of various denominations.

      As for the caller situation, there is plenty of evidence from the fields of gender studies, relationship education, and counseling psychology, to demonstrate that sexual activity outside of a committed relationship tends to create a) false expectations of what committed relationships are, b) a lack of awareness about a partner’s needs and feelings, c) a sense of mistrust regarding relationships, and, if there are children d) a handover of these unhealthy values and feelings from one generation to the next. Those ladies didn’t have to crack a Bible to make that argument.

      However, if they did, they would also find evidence that marriage as a lifelong commitment is reflective of our relationship with God. If the caller did not acknowledge that God was real, and had real expectations of how we are to relate to Him, then “the Bible says so” would be a futile statement. However, professed Christ-followers have a unique understanding of marriage that differs from the rest of the world, so we cannot have a conversation with nonbelievers that is the same as our conversation with believers.

      • Josh in FW says:

        “professed Christ-followers have a unique understanding of [insert topic] that differs from the rest of the world, so we cannot have a conversation with nonbelievers that is the same as our conversation with believers.”

        Well said. This is the idea I try (and often fail) to explain to many of my friends in regards to political discussions.

      • Great thoughts!

      • Marcus –

        You’re right. The “official teachings” haven’t changed. But nobody’s feet are ever held to the fire on them. Indeed, I don;t even think that would be possible. The reason is clear. Our churches would empty in a flash if we made traditional Christian Marriage 1.0 – one man, one woman, for life, no buts an ecclesiological issue. So we preach the unchanging sexual standard officially but unofficially make all kinds of allowances so we don’t hurt anybody’s feelings. This wink and cover approach is now being extended to the shenanigans in the youth group, where if anybody gets called out, in my experience it’s almost always usually always a sexually active boy.

        I wouldn’t be a pastor these days for Bill Gates’ money.

        You are getting close when you mention the Bible teaches that marriage is reflective of our relationship with God. A little farther down that path and you come face to face with “I believe in the resurrection of the body” and the whole issue of what bodies are for.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Um, what do you mean by “hold their feet to the fire?” Are we talking punishment? Disfellowship? Excommunication? Public stonings? If that’s the case, then no, most churches don’t–and shouldn’t–do that. There is a difference between punishing sin (which is God’s responsibility) and creating a safe environment for folks to be confronted with their sin in the light of conviction by the Spirit (which is what churches are supposed to be).

          • Radagast says:

            Marcus,

            I agree with what you say ideally. The issue is, and if we read the comments of post after post, that Christians are too uptight about sex and we shouldn’t judge and we should be inclusive yadda yadda yadda. The fact is, in my little microcasm of the world, kids are having sex, young adults are having sex, twenty something are having sex, all with the attitude of ‘what’s the big deal – we have a right to be happy – we’re not hurting anybody’. It seems to be completely separate from their faith, as if its as neccessary as the air we breathe. I’m hearing about the so called good kids – whose parents aren’t really paying attention, drop one by one, and then pressure the ones who aren’t participating until they join the crowd….

            I’m hearing about how its not our call to force people to be lonely (sorry, don’t quite understand how its an all or nothing thing, wether I must be having sex or I am lonely), yet, as you mentioned the promiscuous behavior can bring unintended side effects of its own.

            Yes… the Church should do more in education, in my parish we teach Catholic Vision of Love to our kids and in the older grades I am very frank and common sense-ish. But I have also asked these kids and their parents are NOT talking to them about sex and relationships, I have talked to parents and they just say they have a different approach in their family (not address it at all and hope for the best)… bottom line – parents need to start parenting again and stop being the great excuse makers for bad behavior.

          • DaisyFlower says:

            @ Radagst who said-
            “I’m hearing about how its not our call to force people to be lonely (sorry, don’t quite understand how its an all or nothing thing, wether I must be having sex or I am lonely), yet, as you mentioned the promiscuous behavior can bring unintended side effects of its own.”

            If the church actually included older single celibates (such as having married couples invite them over for dinners on holidays and so on), they would not feel lonely.

            If you are over 35 and not married, you get lonely. It’s not necessarily about sex in and of itself. But if you are unmarried and come home each day to an empty apartment (and maybe to a pet cat), you do miss human contact / friendship.

            To further complicate things for the single, most churches and denominations obsesses about marriage and parenting. If you walk into a church alone (no spouse on your arm), you might get a “hello there!” (and that is all you get), but more often than not, you will not be noticed or greeted or included.

            Many (married or divorced) Christians are very awkward and uncomfortable around Christians who have never married who are over the age of 35 – they only feel comfortable talking to other marrieds or with parents or with other divorced people. So if you are without spouse or kids, they have no idea how to relate to you, or do not want to.

            So as an older single, you get excluded at church, and you don’t fit in in secular places, either, especially if you have tried to live a godly life (no bar hopping, no one night stands etc). Life as an older celibate single Christian is in fact very lonely.

            On how sexual sin is addressed in churches: I don’t think people should be beaten up constantly for sexual sin, BUT, most Christians today are too dismissive of sexual sin.

            There is no longer any expectation that singles will remain chaste once they are past the age of 25, which I find insulting, because I’ve arrived at age 40+ and am still a virgin. But the kids (or adults over 30) who are sleeping around are not addressed in the current Christian climate.

            Some pastors may occasionally remind their congregations in sermons that sex outside of marriage is a sin, but discussion of the matter is usually stopped there, and even that gets annoying, because other than sex, singleness is never discussed.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            @ DaisyFlower

            Wow, that picture you painted of thirtysomething singles in a church environment is spot-on accurate.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Christian “Death ’till us part” marriage isn’t taught in the wider Church anymore. What you have is Marriage 2.0, something known as Serial Monogamy. Two people stay together until they get bored with each other, then move on. As long as the forms are respected, and the people are “remarried” properly, there is no great outcry from the Church.

      Reminds me of this song from my early teens:
      “Change Partners” by Stephen Stills.

    • Mule,

      You are right on the money. Everyone in this comment thread should read your link.

    • I think hormonal birth control is awesome. Most women agree with me. That’s an important point. Feminism changed everything, when women partially liberated themselves from male oppression it turned out what they wanted was a legal way to get out of abusive marriages, the ability to control when they get pregnant, and the ability to have sex with out being shamed for it (as men always had been able to do). I don’t think those targets were chosen at random Historically these sorts of sexual codes have been mostly about controlling women.

      I could see an argument that the obsession with sexual purity and sexism are not necessary correlated, but here in the real world they often come together. Like in Briar’s linked post which is a giant pile of sexism, where, as always, things are the fault of women having sex with only the people they want to have sex with, if only men could make those decisions for them.

      • Thank you, witten. Thank you very much.

      • As distasteful as it is, our civilization can survive a male sexual double standard. It cannot survive unchecked female hypergamy.. The last 50 years bear this out. Declining marriage rates, increased divorce rates, and an increase in pregnancy outside marriage are exacting a huge toll on our society. These trends have exploded in the last fifty years. Our society cannot survive if they continue.

        • Maybe we men should being doing something about the fact that we are such crappy partners women increasingly want nothing to do with us. Or maybe we men should realize how central child rearing is to human life and devote more of our public resources to doing it (I’m a fan of free child care and cutting checks)

          Anyways, if our society can’t survive the liberation of women, I for one, will not mourn its passing.

          • “Maybe we men should being doing something about the fact that we are such crappy partners women increasingly want nothing to do with us.”

            Speak for yourself on that one…. On the other hand it is more likely feminism has ‘poisoned the well’ and female expectations and responsibilities are skewed. Women file for the majority of divorces.

            “Or maybe we men should realize how central child rearing is to human life and devote more of our public resources to doing it (I’m a fan of free child care and cutting checks)”

            Public monies to support the right to have unprotected sex and saddle ‘the public’ with the bill either for a fatherless child or an abortion? You can wish for it , but the country is going broke, so don’t hold your breath. Apparently a father’s sacrifice for his wife and children is not enough and you would have us pay for everyone else to do as they wish.

            ‘Anyways, if our society can’t survive the liberation of women, I for one, will not mourn its passing.’

            You don’t even know what you are wishing for. You are one day likely to be horrified at what happens when this society falls and something not so civil replaces it.

          • Speak for yourself on that one…. On the other hand it is more likely feminism has ‘poisoned the well’ and female expectations and responsibilities are skewed. Women file for the majority of divorces”

            [Women filing for most divorces is entirely consistent with us men not being good enough partners for them. We need to do better.]

            Public monies to support the right to have unprotected sex and saddle ‘the public’ with the bill either for a fatherless child or an abortion? You can wish for it , but the country is going broke, so don’t hold your breath. Apparently a father’s sacrifice for his wife and children is not enough and you would have us pay for everyone else to do as they wish.

            [No child is fatherless.
            More than half the public is women, and almost all of us men were raised in part by women. So who are we saddling with what? If child rearing is so important that the fact that women are doing it alone is a crisis, i think as men we should step up, and give them what they need. It's exactly the fathers sacrifice I'm calling for, all of us fathers, sacrificing for all of the children.]

            ‘Anyways, if our society can’t survive the liberation of women, I for one, will not mourn its passing.’

            You don’t even know what you are wishing for. You are one day likely to be horrified at what happens when this society falls and something not so civil replaces it.

            [I don't know what your trying to get at. If the reality of female liberation is so radical, that it destroys the very foundations of our society, I will be right out there taking a hammer to the bricks. For me there is no space between my following of Christ and my commitment to the liberation of women (as women themselves see it), and I am not afraid of the frontiers of either of those two things.]

          • “[Women filing for most divorces is entirely consistent with us men not being good enough partners for them. We need to do better.]”

            More than 60% of the time? Who sold you that line? We are worthless in over half the marriages? In what way are we so terrible that we deserve this?

            “If child rearing is so important that the fact that women are doing it alone is a crisis, i think as men we should step up, and give them what they need.”

            Look at the rates of poverty, and school dropout rates of kids from single parent homes and then tell me about how its not a crisis. Look at the crime rates and the suicide rate while you are at it. Single parent families just don’t do as good a job in these areas. But hey, according to you men are idiots so who needs them? Oh, except to pay the bills…

            Tell me, how are you committed to ‘the liberation of women, as women themselves see it?’ And how do women see their liberation?

          • More than 60% of the time? Who sold you that line? We are worthless in over half the marriages? In what way are we so terrible that we deserve this?

            [No one deserves a partner. You should ask women why they want to divorce, I can't tell you what they think.]

            But hey, according to you men are idiots so who needs them? Oh, except to pay the bills…

            [All those kids have fathers, who should be paying the bills?]

            [On women's liberation. Different women have different opinions, you have to listen to them. I support it by volunteering time and money at a women's shelter, I support it by helping a friend care for her children whose father is in prison, you should do one or both of those things. ]

          • Radagast says:

            Sorry folks…. this whole liberation of women thing, I guess we won’t be satisfied until men are liberated out of exsitence…. there are more women going to school than men, there are more and more women CEOs, there are more women in the workforce today than men, the economic downturn affected men more than women…. if you look at my current command chain there are more women than men above me, there about half and half s peers… sorry folks, its getting old.

            Free child care – give me a break.

          • “Maybe we men should being doing something about the fact that we are such crappy partners women increasingly want nothing to do with us.”

            Uh, I think it is increasingly the other way around. Women are pretty crappy partners and I wouldn’t recommend any of the young women I know to any of the serious young men I know. I also know that relationships between the sexes are so primordial, so basic, that invoking the government to ‘fix’ anything in that sphere is likely to end very poorly.

            I don’t repent of anything I said. It is true and right, and sexist, which is a good thing to be, not an insult. You are wrong, although you are kind of an interesting exhibit of how wrong a self-professed follower of Christ can be.

            It is as simple as that.

          • DaisyFlower says:

            @ Mule Chewing actually wrote,
            “Women are pretty crappy partners and I wouldn’t recommend any of the young women I know to any of the serious young men I know. I also know that relationship”

            Wow, that is… obnoxious. And sexist. (Plenty of men are dirt bags or abusive and wouldn’t make good partners.)

            By the way, I was Little Miss Christian Goody-goody my entire life, since I was a kid. I loved Jesus, went to church, read my Bible. Didn’t smoke, drink, am still a virgin at age 40. Still didn’t get a husband. I’m fit, attractive, and in shape. I’m college educated.

            You can be a Jesus- loving, good, wonderful, attractive, smart, gal and still not get married into your 40s and older. It happens.

          • Mule, you can’t even get not being a sexist right you probably should work that out before you try to judge all women.

        • DaisyFlower says:

          @ Stryker who said “Declining marriage rates, increased divorce rates, and an increase in pregnancy outside marriage are exacting a huge toll on our society.”

          I’m not so sure of that, because there is a sizable chunk of older Christian female virgins who wanted marriage. We’re now in our 30s and 40s, and there now seems to be material coming out by 20 something women who say they are encountering the same problem (also Non Christian 20 something women are wanting to get married but cannot find men to marry)

          We weren’t out fornicatin’ all over the place, or burning bras, and we still could not snag a husband.

          I have read that it’s also a matter of numbers, too: there are not as many unmarried Christian males to match all the single Christian women, so females either have to remain unmarried, or marry a non-Christian.

          There’s something else keeping Christians women from marrying, and it is not feminism. There’s something else going on.

      • +1, Witten

        Yes, birth control has made it safer for women to be promiscuous, and feminism has made discussing female desires more acceptable, and so women are bolder about doing so.

        However, there have been many positive effects to these developments. They are game-changers, and many of us have benefited from this game change. So, one need not throw out the baby with the bathwater, just because young people are “hooking up”.

        And one can, I hope, champion are more traditional sexual ethic without feeling obligated to resurrect every bit of sexism and squeamishness about female libido that used to be attached to that teaching.

    • “and I don’t want to lift the sewer lid on the Orthodox practices.”

      I honestly have no idea what Orthodox practices you are referring to. They have a “high” view of marriage, though divorce is allowed, and the behavior of their youth seems fairly typical of youth everywhere–maybe a little better.

      • Getting a valid Orthodox divorce that will allow you to remarry in the Church requires the approval of your bishop. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to imagine how this process could become corrupted.

        The Orthodox have a good track record as far as marriage goes, but most of the stability of Orthodox marriages seem to proceed from Orthodox ethnicities being far more traditional in sexual morality than the northern European ethnicities that compose your typical Protestant church. Just try to see how far the gay agenda will go in Russia, and we’d probably have to go back to bombing Serbia to get them to accept deviant marriage.

        Oh wait, we already did that.

    • Radagast says:

      That seems to be what I have been observing as well, and even more so since the four years it was penned. Very observant. I’ve said in the past that women were the ones that kept us males from being total animals. When women are also competing for the spot of biggest pig, well life gets interesting. In the middle schools and high schools more and more girls don’t want to bother with dating, they just want to have benefits. Guys are willing to comply. And sometimes its done to attain status in the group of girls one’s with, either rite of passage or keeping up with the Joneses mentality. All in keeping with the Mantra… we have a right to be happy….. and parents, being as busy as they are, or just not wanting to know, or not wanting to be hypocrites (because these days parents just don’t want to be parents anymore, just supporters of their kids activities or dreams). I will be the casual observer as we go thru the next generation of kids. It promises to be interesting if not tragic.

      • Josh in FW says:

        While you’re observing say a few prayers for those of us just getting started. I have a 4 and 3 year old boy and a third baby on the way. It’s an intimidating task raising kids in a society that is quickly destroying all the norms I grew up with.

        • Radagast says:

          You have my prayers Josh…. a few observations I’ve noted in my lifetime and a house full of kids… make them have responsiblities and do chores, don’t put them on a pedestal (sports/gymnastics/fill in the blank is a priviedge not a right), children participate in family life, not the other way around, talk lots about God and sex, in no particular order, and take them to church on Sunday whether they scream through the whole service/Mass/Divine Liturgy or not.

          Enjoy… I still do!

          • Josh in FW says:

            Thanks, I’ve picked up a lot of good fathering advice in the comments section of this blog. It’s one of the many reasons I bother to wade through the comments, many of which tick me off.

    • DaisyFlower says:

      @ Mule Chewing Briars

      I’ve never been married (am over 40 years of age), and I don’t think people in abusive marriages should stay.

      Wanting to get married is not an idol, but many Christians have made marriage into an idol to the point that

      1. celibacy and singlehood are disparaged;
      and
      2. marriage is made to be more important than the humans in the marital relationship so that women who are being abused by their spouses are told for the sake of marriage / divorce is Eeeviilll, that they should stay in a marriage no matter how harmful the marriage is.

      Any one who thinks that Jesus was teaching divorce is always wrong, except for adultery, should consider reading online articles and books by David Instone-Brewer – he makes the case that Jesus’ teachings on marriage/ divorce have been woefully misunderstood by Christians for years now.

      • Daisy –

        I have a good deal of sympathy for the plight of the older Christian virgins. I married myself at 38, although I’ll be the first to admit I’m an acquired taste. I married outside my church, despite there being a dozen young women in my age group. Most didn’t like me. The ones who did, I didn’t care for.

        Isn’t that the way it works?

        Of the ones who didn’t want me, there were two who were holding out for a hero. The same hero.
        He married outside the church too. A widow.

  7. IMO it’s the WORLD, not the church, that tells us correlation = causation, that our identity as humans is inextricably linked to our sexual identity and practice. Christians talk of being new creatures in Christ, of old things passing away, of not recognizing any man according to the flesh. But it’s the world treats restraint or self-control in sexual practices as a betrayal of self-identity and self-awareness.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And Christians just flip one-eighty in the opposite direction, with Purity Cults and Courtships and Arranged Marriages of Continence, turning “restraint” and “self-control” into oppressive legalism worthy of Extreme Islam.

      Communism begets Objectivism.

      • I agree. The world is obsessed with sex, but the church is also in a doppleganger fashion, i.e. the Star Trek “Mirror, Mirror” episode you have referenced in past comments. Everything becomes about sex, but in a negative way. But then, the church tries to counter-act that suppressiveness by making everything about sex – i.e. seven-day sex challeneges or the weekend discussion here about worship needing to be better than sex.

        Sexual activity outside marriage is a problem, but it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel to rail on youth about sex. If you want to make youth feel guilty, nag them about sex. But nothing cheapens grace like cheapening sin, and that’s what obsession with sexual sin does. Other sins, like selfishness, coveteousness, lying, bearing false witness, idolatry, murder or intent to harm another verbally or physically, get a pass.

        • Dumb ox, good words, but how are we going to get our youth to feel “convicted” and get saved over and over and over again at rallies if we don’t manipulate them? sarcasm of course

        • The church needs to talk about sex, but it becomes a problem when it’s elevated to its own special category separated from Christian discipleship in general. I think this is part of the reason evangelical men’s ministries make me feel so weird.

          • Josh in FW says:

            I wish evangelical men’s ministries would spend as much time on business ethics as they did on sexual issues.

          • The pornography epidemic is a real problem. But I can’t help but feel like making it the central issue of spiritual formation only makes things worse.

          • Josh in FW says:

            Yes Joel I agree that Porn is an epidemic. In my world I see a lot of Christians that have a high standard of personal morality, but don’t seem to apply the same values to their business interactions. The amount of financial victimization that occurs inside the church drives me nuts.

          • DaisyFlower says:

            Joel said “The church needs to talk about sex, but it becomes a problem when it’s elevated to its own special category separated from Christian discipleship in general. I think this is part of the reason evangelical men’s ministries make me feel so weird.”

            That is an interesting observation.

            It may also be why one of the only times singleness is ever discussed in most churches is in context of sex, as in, “If you are single, the Bible says sex is a no-no.”

            Maybe that topic needs to be discussed, but single people have other concerns too, and some of us are not fornicating.

            Rest of the time the sermons are on marriage and parenting, and depending on what kind of church, also abortion, supporting Israel, or homosexuality.

          • DaisyFlower says:

            Porn usage is on the rise among Christian and Non Christian women, both married and single, according to recent articles I’ve read and TV reports I’ve seen.

      • HUG, when I wrote my post I was thinking specifically of a person I know who is gay, and the particular gay community wherein he finds support says he must actively embrace his sexual preference as part of his primary, hardwired, core identity as a human.
        Not, I’m a spiritual person who happens to be gay, but
        I’m a gay first, who happens to be spiritual.
        Perhaps within that community it is a justifiable defensive position, the result of years of persecution: We’re here, we’re proud, don’t try to change us.
        Nevertheless, in that environment, any discussion of any religion (Christian or otherwise) that may eventually provide some guidance on sexual behavior is simply a non-starter. And a scripture that says in Christ there is neither male nor female would be taken the ultimate betrayal of sexual identity, whether gay or straight.
        I’m not trying to defend the excesses of purity cults, chastity vows, etc. I’m just pointing out the problem of a culture that embraces the politics of identity.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          HUG, when I wrote my post I was thinking specifically of a person I know who is gay, and the particular gay community wherein he finds support says he must actively embrace his sexual preference as part of his primary, hardwired, core identity as a human.

          I’ve run across the same phenomenon twice during my time in the fever swamps of Furry Fandom; once through personal observation, once secondhand from my regular writing partner.

          The first was watching a guy out himself back in ’82 when he turned thirty and apparently lost it in a spectacular early mid-life crisis. “Outing himself” is a mild way to put it; more accurately he acted like some sort of Damascus Road Conversion Experience and started Witnessing for the most Extreme Gay Lifestyles. My snarky way of putting it was “He Accepted Homosexuality as His Personal Lord And Savior” and started Wretched Urgency Witnessing to everyone who couldn’t run faster than he could. Like a funhouse mirror of rabid Fundagelical religion.

          The second was an anecdote about a psychology test given to astronaut candidates in the Sixties. Test was a series of 100 statements starting “I am ________________” with the rest of the line blank to fill in the rest, without repeating anything. My writing partner said most people pooped out somewhere around 20 to 30, that less than 5 was a REAL bad sign, and One was a red flag to run very far away. He also said they discovered a pattern among self-described gays: They usually pooped out around 10-15 (half the average), and every “I am _____” had something to do with their sexual orientation. Gay or straight, that indicated someone whose entire identity had become defined by their gonads and what they did with them.

  8. Any unrepented-of, habitual sin separates us from God. To draw nearer to the source of Life, all of us have to repent and turn from our sins. Each culture has its own blind spots, certainly. (I found it interesting that Galileo, for example, was condemned for his scientific assertions, but he had lived with a woman not his wife for years and had several children with her, and the Church never condemned him for that.) I’d agree that sexual sin is a blind spot in our culture, but then so are avarice, gluttony, and pride. It’s always dangerous to have pet sins and pet virtues. The only stance we can take before God and humankind is Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  9. Two things:
    1. How are our times any different in this regard? Sex has always been an issue from the way Keller sees it. We may have more people having sex now, but we have more people in the world than at any other time.
    2. How could Keller, or anyone else, know that this blocking revival? If you think this way, you could say that any of the “seven deadly sins,” or neglect of the poor, or war, or any and all sin does so. Why limit it to only one?

    • I wouldn’t be too hard on Keller himself. He was answering one question in a brief Q&A session and he focused on one particular issue that he faces daily as a pastor in New York City.

  10. I have to admit that I’m always a bit skeptical when I hear pastors and other leaders talk about revival and the things that we are doing that are preventing it. I’m reminded of the stuffed rabbit at the dog track – it keeps on running ahead of the dogs, and none of them are ever to catch it. I guess I just get weary of pastors telling us that we’re preventing God from acting. Certainly, God acts despite us whenever He moves anyway. I’ve always wondered that what it the holiness threshold we need to reach before God decides to do something.

    It’s not that I don’t believe that times of mass spiritual awakening can’t happen. I believe they do, and I’m not really all that cynical towards the results. But if you back at the time of big spiritual movements, it wasn’t as if everyone decided to simply act holy. There were usually all sorts of factors involved – social, political, etc.

    • I have to admit it sounds a bit odd to me to hear a supposedly brilliant intellectual like Keller talking in “revival” terms, which in my mind, are associated with backwoods fundamentalism. Like or hate him, this just seems inconsistent with his own theology of the Westminster Standards. Revival isn’t dependent upon us any more than salvation, if you’re a monergist.

      Personally, I don’t believe in mass spiritual awakenings. I’m not saying they can’t or don’t happen, but I feel like most of what people point to historically as examples were often propped up by contrivance. The second great awakening, imo, was merely a propagation of destructive doctrine from which evangelicalism is still un-recovered. Too many look at an overload of superfluous religious activity and say that God must be moving. Sometimes I really believe it is just us convincing ourselves. I think God moves in ways we may never notice, usually don’t acknowledge, and can not possibly quantify.

    • Rather than admitting that revivalism is a spurious teaching, each generations tries to reform it to make it work. If only people stopped doing A,B, and C or would start doing D,E, and F, THEN revival will break out. Didn’t work? Well, maybe it’s because we’re not doing G,H, and I. To borrow from Florence and the Machhine, stop dragging that dead horse around and finally bury it in the ground.

  11. I’ve gotta say, I think Keller’s got the cart before the horse. Sexual sin prevents revival? Sin is the cause, and unbelief is the effect? I propose that unbelief in the Gospel and the words of Christ is the cause, and fornication is the effect. If Christ is not risen from the dead, why on God’s good green earth should I not be fornicating? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

    • I think it works both ways, Miguel, in a vicious circle. My belief is weak, so I sin; because of my sins, I am reluctant to strengthen my belief (i.e., turn back to God) because I’ll have to deal with my sins . . . and so on.

    • Or maybe belief is the cause of the sexual sin…that is, belief in the pseudo-gospel of salvation by “faith alone” to such an extent that sanctification is rendered illegal by it.

    • George C says:

      Miguel touches on what I was thinking: My willingness to suffer is going to be directly opposite of my level of doubt. I will be willing to give up the “easy” things just in case, but a real sacrifice requires more faith in the value and need of the sacrifice.

      I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but I would imagine that Keller’s opinion is partly due to the common Puritan idea that sin produces unbelief. I think there can be a sort of truth to this in that you do not want to believe that there is a God who might forbid what you enjoy, but I think it also works along the lines of not being willing to give up something you have doubts about.

      A couple of other things that came to mind:

      1- It is harder to see any damage caused from sex outside of marriage (unlike theft or murder or even pride and hypocrisy) and to think that the prohibitions against it are to be treated like many people treat passages about gender issues, slavery, ect.

      2- We tend to only want to talk openly about theoretical sin and white collar sin, not the down and dirty sin, which does not make for a very welcoming situation for people to confess or discuss them.

  12. It takes effort not to be upset at Augustine being held up as a doctor of the church. I consider him to have done more damage to the church than any other single individual and it continues today. At least the Roman church was able to point out areas where he got it wrong. Not enough tho.

    • I think Eastern Orthodox believers would agree with you.

      • They formally accept Augustine as one of the Church Fathers, but a Church Father can make serious mistakes. Of course Augustine’s centrality to Western theology, of which the Orthodox obviously disapprove, has made him a convenient symbol for everything that is wrong with the West, from the filioque to the sack of Byzantium.

  13. Just to throw this out there: What about those of us for whom sexual relations are not something that God has planned for us? Bear with me on this.

    Perhaps I read it here, but once the question was asked: “Is the Church a safe place to be a sinner?”

    Sexual attraction is undoubtedly a normal part of humanity. As with all things, sin has affected human understanding of sexuality’s original purpose. Sexual sin is one of many indicators of the now-imperfect relationship with God. It is not an exclusive indicator. I agree that the Church broadly has an unhealthy fixation with sexuality. Unfortunately for so many, it makes many churches unsafe places to be a sinner.

    I think you’ll agree with me that sexual relations are not something that God has planned for me. I am celibate, and will by God’s grace remain so. If you’ll indulge me, please let me illustrate.

    I am a relatively young, single professional with a stable, salaried job. Many people I know feel that I have made rapid progress in my career. I have excellent benefits and own a home, although I’m paying a modest mortgage. I attend an orthodox reformed church, where the expectation is that single people will not engage in any kind of sexual relations before marriage, including masturbation. It’s my feeling that single people of a certain age are viewed with suspicion; I have heard it said from the pulpit that single people (implicitly past a certain age) just don’t want to grow up and take responsibility for commitment. Needless to say, this is not the most accommodating attitude toward those who know themselves not to be defined by a traditional understanding of heterosexuality.

    Over the years I have come to accept the realities of my sexual orientation, which I don’t believe I can change. I also believe that God won’t change them either, although I believe he could if he wished. My relationship with God has improved significantly over the years; it’s only been relatively recently that I’ve really come to believe grace apart from law. Prior to that I’ve raged against God in my prayers, begged him to change me, shouted at him to change me, demanded that he change me to become a “normal” heterosexual person. I’ve seriously considered suicide. But God never did change my sexual orientation. By his grace, I’ve accepted that.

    I have never had sex.

    Can I relate to Augustine? I think so. For me it’s very clear that I may not have sexual relations with the people I’m attracted to. Chastity (for want of a better word) is not optional for me. I’m learning from my own sexuality not to condemn others for mistakes that are made, especially sexual ones. I can also relate that at least from my perspective, God’s command to exercise sexual restraint is truly a good command. Would you think it’s presumptuous of me to suggest that my own life may be a metaphor for Augustine’s insistence on (obsession with?) sexual restraint to prevent spiritual harm?

    I am a paedophile.

    Is the Church a safe place for me to be a sinner? Not that I’ve felt, so far.

    • Josh in FW says:

      Thank you for sharing. I will pray for God’s continued grace in your life.

    • I admire you and salute you. You are fighting the same battle that the saints fought. If you find yourself slipping, though, for God’s sake, choose masturbation.

      • Gerald, Josh, thanks for your support.

        I have every confidence that God will always keep others safe in spite of me. It is my constant prayer to him, and he has never let others or myself down.

    • In the Catholic Church there are many opportunities to serve the the Church as a lay or religious single. But of course there are also other things at play as well in which anyone of any sexual orientation and/or specific subgroup is going to experience: How strong is the desire? For some it is so weak that they become almost asexual or non-sexual… meaning it is easier to focus on other things. For others its a constant distraction or gnawing that can overcome in moments of weakness.

      I pray for you to always stay strong in your chastity, or if the desire is great, to channel it in other directions or safer oriented group.

      God Bless…

    • It was somebody very like you, although not as successful as you in controlling his inner compulsions, who first preached Christ to me.

      Please pray for me, a sinner.

  14. Now that is one humdinger of a life assignment, Warthog. Talk about a hard row to hoe. I have heard from different sources, and it resonates with me, that we are given a preview of the situation we will be born into before conception and that we can accept or decline. No way to prove that, but it lets me think about my own situation differently.

    I would think you would have a hard time in a lot of churches unless it was possible to be mostly anonymous. Certainly it would be extremely rare that you could be open and honest with people, and it is people that make up churches. For the most part doing pretty much the best they know how and often not doing it all that well. Eagle has horror stories about being honest in church.

    Again, I wonder if a twelve-step program might not be available where you could fit in. A far cry from where you are now by choice, tho I’m not sure from your description whether it is one of the Eastern churches or a Protestant one. I know that chastity was not considered weird back in Augustine’s time, and in fact many straight, married couples practiced it out of choice for spiritual reasons.

    As did Jesus, for that matter, and Paul, probably John, and this in a culture that also frowned on the single life. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here in assuming that you are not immersed in an addiction with porn, which would certainly complicate matters but not close the coffin.

    I have the feeling that you would not have been given this assignment if you were not capable of completing it correctly and with dignity and honor. You certainly seem like your head is screwed on the right way in spite of the extra load you were given to carry. My guess is that most therapists would prove useless, but who knows. David R. Hawkins might possibly have something you could relate with, but most people can’t connect with him.

    Chaplain Mike has a lot of experience with a lot of different kinds of pastors, I would be interested in what he would have to say about your situation in relation to churches, both pastors and congregations. I would think in most churches the best advice would be to keep yoiur mouth shut. That is very sad.

    • In the USA, there are serious legal issues to consider. Clergy cannot be subpoenaed to testify on matters heard during confession. I doubt that 12-step groups enjoy any such protection. Psychologists (and Warthog should really be seeing a psychologist) may be protected, but under certain circumstances may be required to report what they know. You should ask about this before disclosing something like pedophilia. Even if you have never acted on it, you can still end up on some kind of list.

    • Thanks for your support, Charles.

      I can assure you that through God’s immense grace and goodness, I am not addicted to pornography, nor have I acted on my urges. God has always had the power to protect others from me when I haven’t had the strength.

      The difficulty is that I understand that one may have proclivities, but not act on them. I’m not sure others would be so charitable. That is why I have never shared my sexual orientation with anyone, until now.

      I’m pretty sure that I can relate to Paul’s comment in Romans 7:25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

      Those aren’t just empty words for me.

      • Warthog,

        I believe I understand… and I will say up front that I am completely naive about the struggles you are going through but if I could make a comparison (possibly inaccurate)… and in my mind I would probably use the same comparison of someone who is inclined towards same sex desire so I am probably about to show some real ignorance here… I, as an older man may see a younger woman, say 25 or so and have the passing thought or stirring or even flash of fantasy in my mind, but then thats all it is and I return to the world of reality and push that thought aside – something that John of the Cross wrote about. Can’t help what comes in your mind, but it is your own choice if you choose to dwell on it or go a step further and act on it.From a spiritual perspective thats my thought.

        • DaisyFlower says:

          @ Radagst.
          Why 25? Lots of women over 25 are attractive.

          • In which case they’re probably mistaken for 25.

          • DaisyFlower,

            I simply use that age for illustrative purposes. Actually from a personal perspective it would be more like 40 since I have daughters who are closer to 25….

            I also heard you mention the way singles are treated in church. In my tradition being single is looked at as another, equally important vocation and when I teach kids about vocation I mention three Religious, Married and Single.

  15. Robert F says:

    The sins that Jesus called to task head on, with harsh words and confrontational style, were the sins of the strong, not the sins of the weak. So much of the dysfunction, and sin, that surrounds human sexuality is the result of terrible weakness, woundedness and pain, and we all share in it to such a degree; I can not help but believe that God pours his mercy out to us in this most vulnerable of places, and that there can be no place for self-righteous condescension in this matter among those who want to emulate Jesus’ attitude and love.

    • So Jesus didn’t say anything about adultery in the sermon on the mount, then. Where can I buy your new improved Bible translation?

      • DaisyFlower says:

        @ Jose.
        I don’t think he was saying what you think he was saying.

        Jesus often showed what seemed to be more mercy towards sexual sinners such as woman caught in adultery and prostitutes than he did to the Pharisees. Not to say that Jesus is fine with adultery, but other sins seemed to tick him off more than. Christ particularly seemed upset with sins against children.

        • How is adultery not a sin against children? It destroys families, causes divorce, and therefore hurts children.

      • jose,
        In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that even thinking about illicit sexual behavior is the same as committing it; given the universality of such thoughts, if this isn’t his irenic way of commanding mercy from those who would otherwise cast the first stone, then I don’t know what is.

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Now that is one humdinger of a life assignment, Warthog. Talk about a hard row to hoe.

    And like all “hard rows to hoe”, those who have never been there themselves Know All About It and are always dispensing glib advice on how YOU should handle it. Job’s Counselors, anyone?

  17. Radagast, I appreciate your insights. I don’t feel that others need to try and understand exactly what it’s like to live like this, but it certainly helps me to be understanding of people who face sexual temptation. For example, I find it exceptionally easy and comfortable to relate to gay people, religious or otherwise. This is not something that some people I know are blessed with. I also feel that I can relate to people who “fail” sexually, either heterosexual, gay, or otherwise.

    One of the (admittedly small) perks of being who I am is that pervasive sexual marketing completely passes me by. I can’t imagine what it must be like to daily see overtly sexual advertising for example, as the images and messages don’t attract me. Despite what some might suggest, western society doesn’t sexualise children in the same way as it does adults, so my world might even be a little freer than it is for other, more traditionally heterosexual men.

  18. “Rachel Held Evans responded with a cautionary post. She was especially concerned that the article seemed to imply that sexual guilt was the primary reason young people have doubts about the faith.”

    Whereas the reality is the exactly opposite: the lack of feeling guilt for it. They view Christianity as nonsense because it dares have any sexual morality. And is this not…I know everyone hates it when I say this…a side-effect of “faith alone” preaching? “Why should anyone feel any guilt for anything?” the modern youth asks “We are saved by faith alone.”

    • DaisyFlower says:

      @ Jose
      So you think salvation is by faith plus good works or faith plus something else? I disagree.

      • Did I actually say that? Justification by faith is no longer interpreted according to its meaning that it had during the Reformation throughout most of Protestantism; it was always assumed that once one was justified they would also be sanctified. That assumption is no longer operative. Today justification by faith alone tends to mean “make sure not to try to stop sinning, because if you do try to, you’re a Pelagian and going to hell.” Its very sad. You know the passage where Paul says “against such there is no law” referring to various virtues? Well, today, they makes laws against those things in the name of “faith alone.”

  19. DaisyFlower says:

    I saw a post about this at Rachel Held Evans’ blog few days ago and I think I left a post there, and another today. I don’t understand the point that “sexual sin = doubts about the faith”.

    Sexual sin has nothing to do with my faith struggles (a virgin at 40+), so why would it necessarily for any one else? (I’m talking about people who are genuinely struggling, not selfish 20 year olds who are using it as an excuse to justify sleeping around.)

    I would agree that the church has become a little too comfortable with fornication. Some on this blog and other blogs find the term “fornication” itself offensive, so how can a pastor even address the issue?- and most Christians are now a little too comfortable with sexual sin. It’s become the norm for Christians to believe all Christians are guilty of it, even though some are not.

    Your quote by someone named Ben:
    “..my assumption is that people are sleeping together…”

    Yeah, I find that deeply offensive. Don’t assume.

    If preachers and the laity are going to assume that all singles (and there are those who assume I must be having sex because I’m past 40 and still single), I might as well become sexually active, and if God is so peachy with sexual sin, I might as well go ahead with it, as I have nothing to lose.

    • Do you really have nothing to lose? That sounds legalistic. Like you’re only not doing it to gain brownie points with God. Nothing to lose, eh? How about your dignity. Why stoop to the level of animals just because they assume you already have?

    • And let’s not forget that pre-marital sex in this day and age has a tendency to lead to abortion. Once people have engaged in it for a while they dispense with c’s because they say its not as fun, and they risk pregnancy and use abortion or morning after pills that kill a “conceptus” instead. Nothing to lose? Nothing but your sanity perhaps.