No Sex Please, I'm British

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In light of my recent post on Ed Young's risible `sexperiment', a friend asked me this week about the current trend among some pastors for referring to sexual matters in graphic detail in books and sermons.  Having been rightly rebuked by my wife once for using the phrase `pole dancer' when preaching on 1 Corinthians 1 to a congregation containing children, I am now very circumspect when such matters arise.  Here are my further thoughts on yet another of the many trends in modern neo-Reformed circles with which I have little patience.

It is true: those who jump quickly to allegorise the Song of Songs bypass entirely the obvious fact that it is an erotic love poem.  Nevertheless, it seems to me significant that the Bible reserves raw and explicit sexual references for passages like Ezk. 23:20.  Yes, the Bible contains crudity but it never uses such language to describe a properly functioning marriage.   Those who speak explicitly in their sermons about sex acts may be reflecting the fact that the Bible does refer to such things; but the form they use may actually be reflecting rather the pathologies of the wider culture.  They are certainly not paying any respect to the form which scripture uses to speak of such things.  There is a beauty to the Song of Songs which is connected to its poetic form.  Telling the world it refers to this or that specific sex act misses the point on so many different levels and is an interesting and eloquent response which perhaps tells us much about the reader and little about the text; it reminds me of being in a gallery and seeing priapistic teenage boys sniggering at the naked breast of a woman in a painting by a Renaissance master.    

I also wonder how helpful it is to deal in graphic detail with sexual acts from the pulpit for those struggling with addiction to internet pornography.  Or even simply for single people.  Or for those who have not heard of some of the sex acts mentioned.  Or for those who are impotent.  Or for those who are still children.  Or for those who suffered sexual abuse.  So many pastoral issues would seem to be exacerbated by explicit and indiscriminate teaching on this issue from the pulpit.  Yes, there are obviously serious sexual dysfunctions in the church - many deriving directly from a wider culture which is so explicit about sex - but most if not all of these are best addressed in more individualized pastoral settings.   

Further, the reduction of sex to a set of physical acts seems to play to the idolatries of the world around, and this reduction can be the result as much of the way we talk about sex as the content of what we say.  I find it significant, for example, that we now routinely talk of `having sex' rather than `making love.'  Perhaps the latter is somewhat archaic but it still carries with it emotional, relational and loving connotations which the former lacks entirely.  A man can have sex with a prostitute; he can only make love to one to whom he is emotionally connected.

The Bible's refusal to reduce sex to physical acts is surely one of the reasons why it uses poetry to describe it.   Poetry communicates meaning and significance which cannot be reduced simply to the reference; and the turning of the Song of Songs primarily into a sex manual is arguably a greater act of reductionism than jumping straight from the text to Christ and the church.   This is important because reducing the importance of sex to the physical is one of the greatest moral errors of the spirit of this age, and the current penchant for explicit content in sermons seems rather to stand in continuity with this spirit than to be a prophetic sign against it.  Paul's advice about it being better to marry than to burn is not reducible to 'if you struggle with lust, find a girl to marry and have sex with her.'  That does not address the underlying problem.   Everyone knows that nobody is ever addicted to one pornographic picture; thus lust is not eliminated by simply trying to set it in a monogamous context.

Finally, I wonder if the current passion for producing books and preaching sermons on sex also witnesses to the erosion of the boundary between public and private which is all too obvious in the world around us.   Facebook, Twitter, reality TV and the rise of celebrity have each served to turn us all into exhibitionists and to make those who yearn for privacy look like weirdoes and losers.   That this is impacting the church from the top down is obvious; and it is at least worth pausing to ask whether sex books and explicit sermons are part of this.  It is surely hard to imagine Christian public figures of yesteryear such as  Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J I Packer or Carl Henry setting up a website called the `sexperiment' or giving advice on sexual technique from the pulpit. 

Posted December 21, 2011 @ 8:54 PM by Carl Trueman

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