Sheila here for a moment.
The whole time I was writing The Great Sex Rescue, and combing through the materials for terrible quotes, and becoming quite upset about how awful some of them were, Keith took it all in stride. He kept saying, “yes, Sheila, but the evangelical world is still ashamed of sex.”
And I’d fight him on it, and tell him he was wrong. We think sex is a good thing! Look how many books we have of it!
But the more he talked to me about his contagion model of sexuality, and how he thinks this is how evangelicals think of sex, the more I thought he was on to something. I asked him to write it up today for you, so here’s Keith:
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease.”
My view of what the Bible means by “the gospel” started to change about 15 years ago when I read this verse and found myself thinking, “How could Jesus preach the gospel before his death and resurrection?”
You may find that silly, but I was honestly puzzled. Back then I saw the gospel purely in terms of the four spiritual laws:
- God loves us,
- our sin separates us from God,
- Christ’s death paid for our sin,
- if we accept Christ our sins are forgiven.
That was the gospel as far as I was concerned. Now I am not saying any of that is wrong; I still believe all those things are true. Nor am I saying it is wrong to see these truths as essential to the Christian life or even to emphasize them above other things. Paul himself reports when he was with the Corinthians that “I resolved to know nothing when I was among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). But I have learned that there is a big difference between saying something is a very important or even an essential part of the gospel and saying something is the gospel in its entirety.
At that point in my life, though, I saw the gospel in very simplistic terms, which basically boiled down to saying the “Sinner’s Prayer” and getting a free ticket to heaven.
I saw anything and everything else as superfluous and distracting from the “true message”. But passages like the one above hounded me because they didn’t make sense in light of that interpretation of what the gospel was. I also had a very hard time with these passages about the kingdom of God.
If I am being honest, I think I basically saw the kingdom of God as the name of the club you joined once you got your free ticket into heaven. I knew it must be more than that, but I had no idea what. Nonetheless, I went around trying to find opportunities to “witness” about Jesus. I would tell anyone I could about the gospel as I understood it, doing my best to get them a free ticket to heaven as well. In my zeal to do a better job, I decided to study how Jesus interacted with others as I assumed that of all people, he would be the best to help me with my “witnessing”. That’s when I ran into trouble with the Bible verse that started this post. But even worse, as I read more and more of what Jesus actually said, I found very little of it seemed to fit with a “Four Spiritual Laws” mindset. And it concerned me deeply.
I struggled making sense of this for quite some time. Eventually, as I developed a richer understanding of the gospel, it has begun to make sense. The key to me was taking Jesus seriously about what he said. Jesus didn’t preach the four spiritual laws at people; he met them where they were and said the healing words that they needed to be truly reconciled to the Father. He was setting up a new kingdom, one that is “not of this world”, but still very real and very powerful.
I realized that the gospel really is good news!
It is the good news that the kingdom of God has arrived. God is reconciling creation to Himself.
In the evangelical church, we have adopted a mindset that God’s kingdom is far off and yet to come. Our goal is to endure this present wicked world until we eventually get away from it and get to heaven.
But Jesus said the kingdom was “among you”, it is “in your midst” and that it has “come upon you”. There is a present reality to the kingdom that we must not neglect. And of course, that makes sense. If the king has come, then the kingdom is here! Now, there certainly is a “not yet” element to the kingdom of God, but there is also a very real “here and now” element, too! Reading some of N.T. Wright’s work and listening to the “Ask N.T. Wright Anything” podcast have really helped me understand this idea about the “already but not yet”—and the whole concept of the kingdom of God in general. God is renewing and redeeming the creation. It will culminate at the end of the age, but the work is already begun. That is the gospel (of which our own salvation is a part).
But what does all this gospel and kingdom stuff have to do with sex?
Well, this expanded view of the gospel deals with more than just payment for sin. It affirms that we live in a good, but fallen, world. The wonderful good news of the gospel isn’t just that someday we will go to heaven, but that even now “Jesus is Lord” and He is redeeming and renewing the creation–and we get to be a part of that! It follows, then, if we interpret human sexuality in that light, our view of sex should be clear:
- Human sexuality is good
- Like everything else in creation, it has been marred by the fall.
- As members of Jesus’ kingdom, we should seek to redeem it and bring it back to the state of health which God intended (as best we can until God ultimately restores all things)
But the view of sexuality I see in evangelical Christianity does not look like this. Rather, it seems to see sexuality as an enemy that needs to be defeated. Why else would purity culture go so viral and do so much damage before anyone ever spoke up about it? Why else would books like the best-selling “Every Man’s Battle” explain that “we find another reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there naturally—simply by being male”?
The Evangelical church may give verbal assent to the idea of sex being a good thing, but it rings hollow based on how they actually talk about sex and sexuality.
Rather than having a redemptive view of sexuality, the evangelical world appears they have adopted what I call a “Contagion Response” model of sexuality.
Basically, it goes like this:
- Sexuality is bad.
- Unfortunately, God has made men so that they really want sex, so:
- We will at least limit this whole sexuality thing to marriage and
- To make sure it stays contained there we will tell women to have as much sex as their husband asks for so he won’t be tempted to express his sexuality anywhere else.
I am humorously overstating the point here, but I expect you see elements of truth in what I am saying.
Does the evangelical church believe sex is fundamentally bad? Before you answer, think about how evangelicals actually talk about sex. Especially the fact that until recently we really didn’t.
I remember once telling a matronly Christian woman that Sheila was a Christian author. She asked what Sheila wrote about and when I answered her, she responded, “Oh, why would she ever write about that?” Then I think about all the Christian radio interviews and TV shows where Sheila had to use code words. “Remember to say ‘intimacy’ instead of ‘sex’, okay?” Yes, there is a point to being modest in our speech and avoiding explicit language. But there is a difference about talking about something politely and being embarrassed to talk about it at all. It is clear to me that the evangelical church doesn’t demur to talk about sex because we are trying to be polite; it is because for most evangelicals, sex is something associated with fear and shame.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.
But over the last decade or two, the church has experienced a bit of a “sexual reawakening” where a whole host of people have come forward to talk about sex in the Christian context.
Thankfully, some are healthy, like Sheila (or the Penners, authors of The Gift of Sex). But unfortunately, large numbers of them are brazen and disgusting, like Mark Driscoll. And the thing I find remarkable among the unhealthy teachers is how much sex is portrayed as exclusively for men. The assumption is that God made women virtuous models of sexual restraint while men are full of testosterone and desire. We see this all over the place—from the infamous Missouri preacher ranting how “God made men to look” to Paige Patterson’s disgusting comments about gawking being Biblical. The message is clear, a real man has a healthy God-ordained sex drive. But while we relish our male libido, we are also conflicted about it. As Every Heart Restored says “Men don’t naturally have that Christian view of sex”. It would appear that we men–while we know we shouldn’t–want it anyway.
Church, it is long past time to realize that we have a messed up view of sexuality.
How did we ever get to the point where men are told that your male sexuality at its core is not Christian and that your “male hardwiring” predisposes you to sin? Or that women’s sexuality is exclusively about how they affect men? How did we get to the point where we weaponize 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 against women and warn wives that unless they put out, husbands will likely turn to porn or have an affair? Even if we thought these things were true, how could we ever have seen them as part of God’s perfect plan?
Thankfully, there is another way. God did create sexuality and it is good. Yes, we need to listen to God about how to make sex all it is supposed to be. Yes, we will be happiest in our sexuality if we follow His plan. But it is clear that not everybody out there who is claiming to speak for God really is. You need to be discerning about what you take in.
If you read or hear things from so called Christian resources and they steal, kill and destroy your sex life, think about where they are actually coming from.
Jesus came not to steal, kill and destroy, but that we may have life and life abundantly. If something is not from Jesus, you should reject it.
It is time for a Christianity that deals with more than sin management till we get to heaven. That is milk and by now we should be on to solid food. It is time for wholeness. It is time to reject destructive, toxic teachings and instead to honestly seek to be God’s co-laborers in building a Church where people become increasingly healthy in every aspects of our lives – including sexuality.
What do you think? Do we have a “contagion” model of sexuality, where sex is bad, so let’s keep it to marriage and let’s make women make sure it doesn’t spill over anywhere else? How do we counter this? Let’s talk in the comments!
Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books
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