A lot of people seem flabbergasted at the emergence of hookup culture, but it’s really just the logical conclusion of serial monogamy. It’s also the source of what we call rape culture.
A lot of people seem flabbergasted at the emergence of hookup culture, but it’s really just the logical conclusion of serial monogamy. It’s also the source of what we call rape culture.
There are a broad set of behaviors included in the category of sexual assault–many of which have become commonplace. But when consent is the only allowable metric, parsing out wrongdoing becomes extremely difficult. This is the 3rd Installment of Understanding Rape Culture:
Welcome to a new experiment.
I’ve had enough requests for video content that I’ve decided to give it a try and create a new YouTube Channel called Lutheran in a Strange Land.
The thing is, I teach adult Sunday school each week, and being the kind of person who is perpetually unsatisfied with canned Bible studies, I almost always create my own material. I love doing it, but it’s a pretty big time investment solely for presenting the material to a small class–usually only once in 5 to 10 years or so. Accordingly, for now, the new channel is going to feature my class lectures adapted for YouTube.
The subject matter is going to be more-or-less what you’ve come to expect from the blog. Overall, some of the series are going to have a more theological bent to them than usual. However, while I generally avoid political specifics in class, I don’t shy away from the usual philosophical, cultural, and ideological issues that end up impacting our politics (and truthfully, that’s always interested me more than specific candidates and parties anyway.)
That said, we’re going to be provocative right out of the gate and kick things off with a series of videos called Understanding Rape Culture. It’s a 6-part series, and I’m planning to release a new part each day this week. The first two parts are embedded below.
So please, check out the channel and subscribe. If you enjoy the videos, like and share them. Let’s see if we can get this thing off the ground.
A couple weeks ago, I came across a post at Steadfast Lutherans proposing a resolution for the upcoming Synodical convention “to condemn the pro-choice ideology as heresy.” I have to confess, I was initially pretty skeptical about it.
Now, this isn’t because I’m pro-abortion in any way shape or form. Indeed, the record will show that I’m unambiguously pro-life. No, I had a theological quibble. Supporting abortion is certainly unequivocally wrong and unequivocally an anti-Biblical false teaching, but is it really heresy? That’s a word normally reserved for false teachings that either deny God or deny the Gospel. While Christians do have a moral obligation to condemn the ideology and the practice of abortion, I don’t want to make the mistake of Theological Liberalism and try to make the Church a vehicle for baptizing politics. As abhorrent as abortion is, does pro-choice ideology really violate anything other than the moral Law?
But I was wrong; it absolutely does.
That fact just struck me as I was reading the 2nd article of the Apostles Creed:
…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…
It is truly both obvious and undeniable–to the point that I’m ashamed I didn’t realize it initially. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who denies this has fallen into one of several Christological heresies that proclaims a different Christ and a different Gospel.
If, for example, one claims that Jesus was indeed conceived but not as a human (because a child doesn’t become human until later on), then it’s inevitably a form of the heresy of monophysitism–that Jesus was neither truly human nor truly divine, but had a 3rd nature that is some mixture of the two. If, on the other hand, one claims that it was not Jesus who was conceived, but rather something else was conceived by the Holy Spirit that later became the Son of God upon being born, then its inevitably a form of the heresy of adoptionism–that Jesus is a mere creature who was adopted as God’s Son after the fact.
The only option allowed by the Apostles’ Creed is that Jesus was human at conception–and so we must be as well. After all, Jesus took on our flesh, not some 3rd thing.
But what if the ideological issue isn’t that the unborn child is not a human, but rather that he’s not a person? Well, it’s the same story. This article of the Creed refers to the Son: the second person of the Trinity. In other words, Jesus had personhood at conception as well. If you deny that Jesus was a person at conception, then you deny that He is co-eternal with the Father and fall into some form of heresy such as Modalism or Arianism depending on the details of your rationalization. If, on the other hand, you deny that humans are persons at conception but maintain that Jesus, in contrast, was, then you once again fall into a denial of Christ’s human nature. After all, according to you, to be human is to develop personhood over time, and the Son never participated in this stage of humanity. And if you try to avoid this consequence by having Christ’s true human nature develop personhood alongside the second Person of the Trinity, then you end up with some variation on the heresy of Nestorianism, where Christ the Son of God, and Jesus the man are two distinct entities plastered together so that they look like one being.
So in one fell swoop, the two most common rationalizations for abortion are revealed to not merely be wrong, but actually heretical–they deny Christ and his Gospel.
If you remove those two, all that remains within the scope of pro-abortion ideologies are the relatively rare rationalizations that acknowledge that abortion is murder, but argue that it should be allowed anyway (e.g. that she had no choice; that the baby is an intruder in the mother’s womb; that mothers legitimately hold the power of life and death over their children; or that mothers need to be allowed to murder because the alternative would be even worse, etc.)
The thing is, these rationalizations are already outside the Church, for Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Once you acknowledge that abortion is murder, any variation on murdering your offspring for the sake of the mother has starkly been placed outside of Christianity. After all, what could be a more comprehensive way of failing to care for your own household than murdering them so that you don’t have to?
Any way you slice it (or perhaps any way you tear it apart with forceps) pro-abortion ideology is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity–not merely because its against the rules, but because it inevitably becomes a denial of Christ. It was always right there in the Apostles’ Creed.
Blogger’s note: This is the prose version of a recent talk I gave at my church’s recent congregational retreat where we considered the subject of change in the Church. It’s intended for a lay audience with varying levels of education. The first half concerns what our essentials are as Lutherans, and the second half considers how we ought to think on our essentials in the midst of change.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” It’s a kind of motto for how Christians ought to interrelate to one another and navigate our differences while remaining peaceful and faithful. It’s also the theme for our next three presentations, and I’ve been asked to speak about the first of these three points: identifying our essentials.
What are Our Essentials?
One of the nice things about studying history is that there’s no question you’ll ask or situation you’ll find yourself in that other people haven’t already struggled with in one way or another. We’re certainly not the first Lutherans who have been confronted by a radically changing world and forced to take a hard look at what we dare not let go of in the midst of that change—or hat we need to do to adapt to it.
The decades that followed Luther’s death, for example, were an extremely difficult time for the Lutherans. On one side, you had the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor working together to destroy the Lutherans with military might. They handily defeated the German princes who had made Lutheranism legal in their territories, and for a time, they outlawed Lutheranism once again. In it’s place, they imposed Roman theology and practice by force, and Lutherans had to decide how much they were willing to comply with their emperor’s commands. Some did comply—even going so far as sacrifice even the Gospel—that we are saved by faith alone and not by our works—for the sake of peace and compliance with the world. Others held fast; they risked and gave their lives to hold true to what Scripture teaches.
At the same time, changes that the Lutherans made to church practice had opened the door to more radical changes from other Christians with very very different theology. Here too, many Lutherans were tempted to sacrifice what they believe for the sake of unity with those who would deny the very words of Christ Himself because they didn’t fit with their own philosophy. And here too, others stayed the course, knowing that sacrificing truth is far too high of a price for temporal unity. And as these Lutherans struggled, they asked themselves what is essential to us? What does it mean to be Lutheran? What unites us together and separates from others?
This is their answer, and it remains our answer today: It’s called the Book of Concord (meaning Agreement.) or “Concordia” in the latin (so if you’ve ever wondered why Lutherans call everything “Concordia” that’s why). It’s a collection of the ancient creeds of the Church along with documents written by Luther and others during the Reformation that explained the basic essentials of the Christian faith. These are what they found to be non-negotiable.
Now, most of you have probably never read most of the documents in this book. Some of you probably haven’t even heard of most of them. Unfortunately, it’s just not part of regular education for most Lutheran laity. But there is one document in here that you’ve all read: Luther’s Small Catechism. Regardless of whether we go on to study theology in greater depth, this is where we all learn it first. What are our essentials? The Book of Concord is the long answer to that question. The Small Catechism is the short answer.
Before writing the Small Catechism, Luther and other pastors did a survey of nearby parishes to discern how well their people knew Christianity. To say that the results weren’t good is something of an understatement. Here’s Luther’s comment from the preface:
The deplorable, miserable condition that I discovered recently when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare this catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Dear God, what great misery I beheld! The common person, especially in the villages, has no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine. And unfortunately, many pastors are completely unable and unqualified to teach. This is so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it. Yet, everyone says that they are Christians, have been baptized, and receive the holy Sacraments, even though they cannot even recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed or the Ten Commandments. They live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs. Now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all freedom like experts.
So Luther sought to correct the situation by writing this catechism—to provide the essentials of Christian doctrine in a plain, simple form that anyone can learn. And as we all learned during confirmation, it has 6 chief parts:
The 10 Commandments—because God’s law is essential for us, and these commandments are a great summary of it. This is what God requires of us and how we are to love one-another. A lot of people these days try to set up the law and love against one another—thinking that we should prefer to love rather than to follow the Law. But the law is precisely how we are to love one-another. After all, you can’t love your neighbor by stealing from him or lying about him.
What’s more, Luther’s explanations of these commandments urge us away from mere legalism, as each one shows us that it is truly is just a summary so that we may discern how deeply those commandments apply to every area of our lives. If life is so precious that we don’t murder, then it’s also precious enough to care for our neighbors bodily needs. If marriage is so precious that we don’t violate it by committing adultery, then neither do we sully it by fornication or sodomy.
The Apostles Creed—a simple and beloved summary of the Christian story that’s been in use in one form or another for almost 2000 years (though our precise wording is around 1200 years old). It tells us who God is—that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit It tells us what he’s done, and what he still does—creating us, sustaining us, redeeming us, and sanctifying us. When we confess the creed each week, we do so along with billions of Christians across the world, across different cultures & languages, and even across time itself—each of us proclaiming the same God and the same Gospel.
The Lord’s Prayer—because prayer is an essential part of the Christian life as well. Luther wrote that being a Christian without praying is like being alive without breathing. For the Christian, there are only pauses between prayers. This is how Jesus taught his own disciples how to pray, and we use it for that same purpose. Here, Christ teaches us the basics—the kinds of things to ask for, how we are to address God, and so forth.
The Sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As Christians, we all need to properly understand these institutions because they physically embody the most important promises that Christ has given to us—promises that create faith and salvation, just as surely as “let there be light” created light. It teaches us about Baptism, where Christ first makes his decision for us and makes us a part of his household. It teaches about the Lord’s Supper, where we can be certain that the forgiveness of sins that we hear proclaimed each week is for you. You are the one eating the bread and drinking the wine, and Christ has promised that he is bodily present within those elements. It’s where you can literally taste forgiveness.
Confession & Absolution—Because when Pastor says “I forgive you your sins in the same of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, he is announcing the very words of Christ himself on your behalf. Christ has promised that when we confess our sins—when we say about ourselves and our actions the same thing that God says about ourselves and our actions—he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
All of these fundamental basics of the Christian faith are presented in a form that is deliberately easy to memorize—so that we always have something in mind to which we can compare any new teaching about Jesus that we hear to evaluate whether or not it’s faithful and true. These are the essentials that we carry with us our whole lives.
But never forget that the Small Catechism is the introduction, not the entire thing. Never think you’ve learned it all or that you’ve graduated from church just because you’ve memorized the Small Catechism. These are the kinds of subjects that you can always learn more deeply than you have before—there’s always more to understand and further to grow.
All of us should be learning those subjects according to our ability. Everybody has different gifts and different capabilities when it comes to learning, but you should be able to articulate the details of your faith just as well as you can anything else. If you love football, and you can explain your pick on whose going to win the Super Bowl, and why one player or coach is more skilled than another, then you should be able to explain your religion with the same level of detail. If you love playing Fortnite and know the best strategies to use on the different maps and can explain the ways the game mechanics apply, then you should be able to explain the six chief parts of the catechism just as well.
But our essentials don’t end there, because in those 6 chief parts, you can find the two key messages of Christianity: Law & Gospel. The Law is what God requires from us in the way we speak, think, and behave—both a guide to how we ought to live, and that blaring warning siren letting us know that we have not lived the way God has instructed—that we are sinners. And as sinners, we run to that second message: the Gospel. That by his death, Jesus Christ has been punished in our stead and paid for the sins of the whole world—every last thing we’ve done wrong has been laid on Christ. Everyone who receives that salvation through faith in Jesus is forgiven.
These messages are essential to us. You cannot discard them without discarding Christ; You cannot make them relevant because they were never irrelevant; and you cannot fix either one because they were never broken. You cannot correct God’s Law by adjusting it until it’s more like what most people today believe about right and wrong. You cannot be holier than God is or be better than he has asked you to be. Neither can you correct the Gospel by sanding off the rough edges (like exclusivity–that salvation is found in Christ alone) so that it’s loved by everyone. You cannot make Jesus more welcoming than he already is, and you cannot be more loving than the One who gave his life for us. These messages never change. When we lose these, we lose the Faith.
The challenge is always how to explain that eternal law and eternal Gospel to those around us; how to proclaim it in the place we find ourselves. Some of the details of that work do change—how do we explain it; how do we defend it; how do we live it—but the message never does. If we lose the message or try to fix it, all we’re doing is proclaiming something other than Christianity.
The last essential that I’m going to bring up is the most important: God’s inerrant word as delivered by the Holy Spirit through His prophets and apostles: the Bible. It’s the essential that defines all of others. We speak about Law & Gospel because those are the two primary messages that Scripture has for us. Likewise, the only reason our Confessions are meaningful is because they explain what Scripture says.
It’s not as though the first Lutherans were just so smart that they intuited God’s teachings and figured them out through their supreme reason. What set the Lutherans apart was that they actually read the Bible—believe it or not, that wasn’t particularly common for the time, even among doctors of theology. They read it carefully, and they read it alongside 1500 years of Christian theologians who had come before them reading those same Scriptures.
We don’t have to speculate about God because the Bible is God’s self-revelation—what he has explained about himself to us; what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. Our Confessions are a summary and an explanation of that revelation. They are incredibly useful tools to have because they help us to understand Scripture well and avoid a legion of errors and mistakes that others have made in the past when they have disregarded or misunderstood God’s Word. Everybody talks about wanting to make their own mistakes, but the only way to seize that opportunity is to stop making everybody else’s mistakes.
What It Means to have Essentials
Knowing what our essentials are is only half the battle. The other half is understanding what it means to have essentials. We don’t think about this question too much—because our culture teaches us that nothing is essential. We’re told that everything is relative; to each his own; how dare you judge; do what works; etc. We prefer to have ideas rather than essential beliefs. The fact that we have essentials at all marks us as different then most Americans. That means we have to give serious thought to how we live with these essentials that make us Lutheran and that make us Christian.
The sad truth is that by and large, we treat our essentials as stop signs or barricades. We’re going along, doing whatever we want, and then encounter our essentials when someone points out a mistake: “Stop! That’s violates article 13 of a document you’ve probably never read! You can’t do that!” But essentials aren’t about getting in our way. Rather, they propel us forward and they make us who we are. If what we do as a church is important, it’s because THIS is important. So what does it mean to have essentials?
First, having essentials means we have a history, a culture, a liturgy—in short, an identity that isn’t shared by everyone else. It’s our confessions that make us Lutherans, but those confessions have been informing how we live as Christians—not just for 500 years, but for 2000 years. The way we worship on Sunday mornings is an outgrowth of what we believe. The way we govern our congregation is an outgrowth of what we believe. The way we teach God’s word is an outgrowth of what we believe.
Our traditions flow out of the way Lutherans think about tradition. We appreciate traditions for their own sake and try to maintain them when possible. We also change and adapt and adjust when we find those traditions to be in conflict with God’s Word, or when they’re no longer able to fulfill their original purpose. But this task doesn’t fall to us alone, because that’s exactly what those who have come before us have been doing every step of the way. This doesn’t mean we never change—we’ve been changing things for 2000 years. But it does alter the way we change.
Our identity is not a machine with replaceable parts—replacing each worn cog and gasket until nothing remains of the original engine. The way we change is much more like a tree that needs to be cultivated. Yes, we’re always pruning leaves. Sometimes you have to lop of branches. Occasionally, you even have to remove a limb that’s become too damaged or too diseased. Nevertheless, there are limits to that kind of action. There’s only so much you can lop of at once. Likewise, you can’t cut it down at the trunk or uproot it and plant a different tree in its place.
The way that we change requires us to understand and accept what’s come before us, and only then shape it with a mind to how what came before is now going to grow into what we leave to our own children. We need to be able to understand who we are and where we came from before we can figure out where we should be going—especially when it comes to change. G.K. Chesterton had a great parable to this effect. If you come across a fence in the middle of nowhere, and you have no idea why that fence is there, the last thing you should do is tear it down. You shouldn’t change it until you understand it. When you learn to treasure the past, that’s when you can effectively steward it for the future. It’s only then that you know why it has to change and how to change it without replacing it—without losing that identity.
Second, having essentials means having conflict. We have conflict as Christians because the Bible describes us as being at war with the world, the devil, and our own sinfulness. Jesus does not tell us that if we’re nice enough, we’ll get along with everybody. No, Jesus promises that people will hate us because of him. So shake the illusion that if only we behave in the best possible way, everybody will like us; because you’ll never behave better than Jesus did, and they crucified him.
We have conflict as Lutherans, because we have disagreements with other Christians. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” doesn’t resolve our issues because we don’t always agree on what the essentials are. The Missouri Synod exists because the King of Prussia tried to force Lutherans and Reformed to teach and practice the same things about the Lord’s Supper. The Reformed were generally ok with that because it was just the Lord’s Supper. The Lutherans, on the other hand, were not ok with it because it was the Lords Supper! There’s a profound difference there. We have different essentials, which means we necessarily come into conflict.
We also have conflict as individual Lutherans because we have disagreements with each other. Even when we share the same essentials, we don’t always agree on how best to pursue those essentials. But we each have to diligently pursue them whether we agree or not, because they are essential to each one of us.
So any way you slice it, we’re going to have conflict—and that’s ok. It’s ok to argue with one another. It’s ok to disagree and explain why the other guy is wrong. This is what I always tell my classes on the first day: if you have a problem with something I said, stand up and tell me why I’m wrong. Then I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong. We’ll go back & forth, and whether or not we end in agreement, we’ll all come out of it with a better understanding than we started with. When we have good, respectful, loving arguments, we learn, we grow, and we shape the future of the Church.
If you want a good example of this, you can see it in the innovation of organs. Organs were introduced to the Church in the 800’s, but they weren’t really normal until the 1200’s—in other words, we spent 400 years arguing about having organs in church. Some people will look at that and say, “Oh, what a silly conflict. They even argued about organs, even though everything turned out fine. There was no need for any conflict about that—just a lot of wasted time and unnecessary grief!”
That analysis is incorrect. When organs were new, the conflict shaped the use of organs in a way that made them part of who we are and what we do in church. One of the reasons people resisted organs is because they were used almost exclusively at circuses, and they didn’t want their worship to look like a circus. But you go into a church today and hear the organ playing… I’ll wager not a single one of you has ever felt like you were in a circus. That’s because of the conflict. That’s because people argued about it. Organs became normal in a way that avoided the problem that people were worried about, and it happened because people hashed out how best to use this new thing instead of just blithely adopting whatever was normal at the time.
That’s what we need to remember as we take our essentials with us into liberty. Our essentials drive the way we live. There is no airtight separation between essentials and non-essentials because our essentials inform the way we approach all the non-essential things in our lives.
By way of analogy, it’s essential for us to breathe, and so that becomes a part of everything non-essential that we do. You don’t have to play an active sport, but if, in your freedom, you do, then you play it in a way that ensures you have enough oxygen. You don’t have to go swimming or scuba diving, but when you do, the whole endeavor revolves around making sure you can always breathe. You don’t have to sing, but when you do you always make sure you have enough breath for the next line. Sometimes you think about breathing, usually you don’t, but it’s always there, shaping and enabling the way we freely go about our lives.
“Adiaphora” is the 10 dollar theological word here—it means “things indifferent.” Adiaphora are things that God has neither commanded nor forbidden, and thus are up to us. That’s where we find Christian freedom. But Christian freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you want or whatever you feel like—it means doing what is wisest. It requires thought, reflection, and using your own good judgment and God-given wisdom to decide what is best. Our wisdom and therefore our freedom are both rooted in our essentials. People with different essentials have very different ideas about what is wise—even in freedom. The choices we make, the way we use our freedom, and even the things that we change, should always reflect those unchanging essentials that breathe life into everything that we do.
As Lutherans and as Christians, we are the inheritors of a great treasure—one fought for and paid for in blood and sweat and lives. And it’s not just for us—we want those who come after us to also be inheritors of that same treasure. So don’t treat our heritage as a prison—treat it as treasure; take care of it. Preserve, cultivate, and even prune the foliage when necessary. That’s part and parcel of taking care of something precious—it takes work. But never despise it, and never take your role as its stewards lightly.
Lately, Dalrock has been getting me thinking about the negative impact of chivalry on Christians’ understanding of sexual morality. One of the key parts of the idea is that the false but ubiquitous belief that sex is legitimated by romance rather than by marriage can be traced back to medieval tales of courtly love and chivalry. And this is just as much an issue among conservatives as it is among liberals because of conservatives’ nostalgia for it despite how twisted a lot of those old stories really are.
I found a good (i.e. terrible) example of this while I was preparing for a class on the virtue of chastity that I’ve just started teaching at my congregation. I was perusing the church’s library, and found a little book that CPH (for my non-Lutheran readers, that’s my denomination’s publishing house) put out in ’67 called Parents Guide to Christian Conversation About Sex (part of the “Concordia Sex Education Series.”) Given how badly we’ve dealt with the topic over the past couple generations, I was understandably curious about what we were teaching in immediate response to the sexual revolution.
Much of the book is in the form of Q & A (i.e. if your kid asks you this, here’s what you should tell them.) Here’s their answer to the question of “What’s wrong with sexual relations before marriage?”
I’m sure you understand that God made intercourse for marriage. It is such an intimate act that it cannot really fulfill its unique function according to God’s plan outside of marriage–certainly not in a parked car! The sex act is supposed to be the climax of a love relationship between two people who have married and live together and share life together. It is an expression of the deep, lasting, personal relationship that exists between husband and wife. It expresses the total unity that they share as husband and wife. Before marriage there is no such unity to express and physical intimacies become merely a satisfaction of physical desires. True love is always more than that. Be sure not to think of love and sex as synonymous.
Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20, but I hardly know where to begin in pointing out all the problems with this. It starts off with a whopper: “I’m sure you understand that God made intercourse for marriage.” I believe the next 50 years adequately demonstrated that this presumption couldn’t possibly be further off-base.
Then there’s the contention that “Sex is supposed to be the climax of a love relationship” which is A) not a Biblical teaching and B) not really even true. Anybody familiar with Scripture & history is going to realize that this is a view that comes from our own culture rather than from the Bible or natural law. If you want a good counter-example, just look at Martin and Katie Luther. I’ve read what Luther wrote at the time about why he got married, and it is about the least romantic thing I’ve even seen. He married her to please his father, to spite the Pope, and to practice what he preached about marriage; he explicitly says that he “appreciated” her more than he loved her. When they got married after only a few weeks of knowing each other, it wasn’t because it was love at first sight, but because they both thought it was a good idea. Then they had sex. And then (as you can also see from Luther’s later writings) genuine love and affection grew out of that original partnership. Broadly speaking across history and cultures, that pattern of marriage->sex->romance is probably more common than our own required sequence of romance->marriage->sex.
Sex may be the climax of the love relationship in popular entertainment–the movie may end when the train goes into the tunnel–but real life is different. Sex is great, but when you consider just how much of marriage occurs after you first have sex, you realize that it isn’t the climax of the relationship–it’s the flowering of it. People generally hope that their marriage is going to last a lot longer than just the wedding night. Nobody really wants it to be all downhill from there.
But false teachings like these are really only symptomatic of the bigger problem: this entire explanation amounts to a rhapsody about how only married people are emotionally and romantically intimate enough to have sex. A parked car simply will not do!
Given explanations like this, it’s no wonder why young Christians disregarded Biblical teachings about fornication. If sex is legitimated by romance–by having the right kind of feelings–then all that really means to any teenager is that sex is ok if they feel like it. And that is exactly how people were already seeing it when this book was written. “Well, we’re going steady, so we’re definitely united in a deep and lasting love relationship. We just really want to express that unity with each other.”
And if you’re the one teaching them that romance legitimates sex, then who are you to tell them that they’re wrong? Feelings are subjective. You can’t meaningfully tell a person, “you might think that you feel the right feelings, but you don’t really feel the right feelings that you feel like you’re feeling.” You have no business telling a young couple whether their own feelings of emotional intimacy meet your required threshold of sentiment. That’s also why it was so easy to make gay “marriage” acceptable in our society. We have absolutely no business telling two men or two women how they feel about one another either. And if it’s romantic love that legitimates sex and therefore marriage in our eyes, then it just as easily legitimates them both for homosexuals as for fornicating heterosexuals.
When Christians base their case against fornication on it being necessary to have the right kind of feelings, that merely accepts and reinforces the false cultural belief that sex is all about pleasure–after all, romantic intimacy is very pleasurable. And that is what the Spirit of the Age teaches. Virtually every form of media we consume teaches that it’s pleasure (usually in the form of romance) that legitimates sex. Think back over some of the stuff that you’ve watched and consider how often you were cheering on adultery and fornication between the characters simply because it was romantic. It’s shameful how easily we can be satisfied just by creating the appropriate drama.
The Bible’s disagreement with our culture goes far deeper than what we’ve been teaching those entrusted to us. It is marriage–not romance–that legitimizes sex. And that is just as important to remember after exchanging vows as it is before, because we do exactly the same thing within marriage. People everywhere believe that if the feelings have become insufficient, then the marriage can be eliminated at any time. They likewise believe that the spouses have no real sexual responsibilities toward one-another.
None of this is to say that romance is a bad thing–that’s just a wonderful part of God making his mandate to be fruitful and multiply pleasurable for us. Nevertheless, romance does not provide any kind of moral license for sex. After so many generations of utterly failing to pass on Biblical morality, it’s time for the Church to stop teaching what she’s imbibed from culture, and to start teaching what Jesus actually taught us in the first place.
I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a big fan of devotionals. As instructional material, I usually find them both shallow and unnecessarily flowery. As inspirational material, they usually feel emotionally manipulative. And as material that is supposed to propel me towards prayer and meditation, my previous complaints generally end up distracting me instead.
All that is simply a matter of preference on my part, but when devotionals contain false doctrine, they become dangerous. After all, that light and “inspirational” format often discourages critical thinking while the superfluous language can make it more difficult to even understand and articulate what’s wrong. In those kinds of circumstances, it’s easy to come away with false teachings under the guise of inspirational impressions.
This is certainly the case in a recent devotional over at Christ Hold Fast. Stephen Paulson posted a meditation on Psalm 51, a penitential lament in which David confesses his sin with Bathsheba after being confronted by the prophet Nathan (the “You are that man!” episode that is one of the more poignant moments in David’s life.)
Much of Paulson’s clumsy and disjointed prose is just postmodern bafflegarble designed to leave an impression without actually saying anything at all. When he declares that “The old seminary teachers defined sin as anything said, done, or thought against the Law of God” he doesn’t come right out and say they are incorrect, but connects them without logic to the Church of Rome at the time of Luther, leaving the impression that it’s wrong-headed. He briefly notes David’s guilt when it comes to covetousness, adultery, murder, and so forth but quickly passes by to address a peculiar man-made “sin,” leaving the impression that the actual Divine Laws that David violated are less important without actually saying so. It’s a contemporary writing style designed to be emotionally evocative that just happens to also provide plausible deniability to writers who want to say outlandish things without the burden of being accountable for them.
But at the core of the meditation lies the real problem with this devotional: making the story of David and Nathan all about this peculiar man-made sin.
David’s sin was that he had no preacher. What to do? God sent a preacher who blotted out David’s transgression so that if David ever went back to ask what happened to this sin concerning Bathsheba, Uriah, and the hidden God of majesty, the preached God would say: What sin?
So how on Earth does Paulson get from A to B on this? If you toss his word salad for a bit, here’s what you end up with. You might have thought that in Psalm 51, David was repenting of all the lies, murder, and adultery he committed by sleeping with Bathsheba and arranging her husband’s death to cover it up. But Paulson has moved beyond such mundane and legalistic affairs to a higher plane of interpretation. David’s sin, you see, was theological in nature–he didn’t have the Gospel right.
The first sleight of hand is when Paulson declares that David’s “real sin before God was his best quality—enthusiasm (trying to make God’s word true, faster).”** But How was David using adultery to make God’s word true faster? Well, being part of Christ’s direct lineage, when David was laying with Bathsheba, he was actually trying to hasten God’s promises and control the Gospel by planting his Seed in Bathsheba. This is what Nathan’s parable of the poor man robbed of his single beloved sheep was *really* about: Not David robbing Uriah of his wife and life when he had a kingdom and a harem of his own, but David not treating the Gospel as the poor man did his beloved sheep. And God taking their illegitimate child’s life wasn’t anything so crass as a punishment. He just wasn’t going to let David define the Gospel.
So in the end, David’s sin wasn’t really a matter of the Law, but rather an absence of Gospel. He just didn’t have someone to properly explain it to him. Hence, David’s only sin is not having a preacher to preach the good news, so God sent Nathan to cheer him up.
Words cannot describe what a bastardization this is of the Biblical text. I challenge you to try to actually read 2 Samuel 11-12 according to this interpretation. See for yourself how much damage you have to do to Scripture to make this even kind of fit the words.
The obvious faults to even the casual reader are legion. It reads ridiculous motivations into the story. I sincerely doubt that David was watching Bathsheba bathe and thinking, “Hoo boy, I’d sure like to plant mankind’s savior in DAT. Better hurry up and git her done.” Certainly, the fact that he found Bathsheba’s pregnancy so inconvenient is enough to establish that. Paulson’s “interpretation” also forgets that David already had lots of wives and lots of children–most of whom were not in Christ’s direct line, and most of whom weren’t immediately killed by God for David’s over-enthusiasm for siring the messiah. And, as is typical of Radical Lutheranism, It completely forgets about the principle human victim all this–Uriah. Even the prophet Nathan’s parable that so dramatically impresses the gravity of what David did to Uriah is redirected from the natural reading of the text to a bizarre symbolism in which the ewe is really the Gospel. In short, it contorts one of the most straightforward and dramatic texts in the Old Testament beyond all recognition for the sole purpose of transforming David’s sin into a mere theological mishap.
This is ultimately why Radical Lutheranism isn’t Lutheran at all. Luther bound himself to the Word of God. There he stood because that’s what God had clearly said. Radical Lutherans, on the other hand, have to torture Scripture until it confesses to what they’ve already chosen to believe. Consequently, what they believe, teach, and confess bears only a passing resemblance to Lutheranism–a glamour crafted by slathering on some common terminology. It fools people who want to be fooled, but no one who can see through bafflegarble is taken in by this.
Like every false religion, Radical Lutheranism has to create a new scheme under which its adherents can attain innocence before God. Christ’s substitutionary payment for their sins is insufficient because that righteousness is not of themselves. After all, they still feel guilty for having committed the sins covered in Christ’s blood, and nobody likes feeling that way. Scorning God’s true grace and mercy, they then craft a system in which they were never truly guilty in the first place–a system in which God’s condemning law is an arbitrary construct that God Himself disregards just as blithely as the Radical Lutheran has. Under such a scheme, they never really sinned in any significant way, so God can just brush it all under the rug without any fuss.
But whether it’s Radical Lutheranism or some other flavor, every form of antinomianism always comes with a price-tag: a brand new law crafted by the antinomians and used to oppress their opponents. In this case, the new law both demands people provide a forgiveness that is as costless as their sins are harmless and forbids the preaching of any of the reminders thereof found in God’s Law. Anyone criticizing the Radical Lutheran is immediately found guilty of despising their man-made Law/Gospel hybrid and labeled a self-righteous pharisee.
There’s nothing Lutheran about Radical Lutheranism. There’s not even anything Christian about it. In the end, it’s all just another heresy that proclaims another gospel.
**I did struggle with what Paulson meant by “enthusiasm” and “enthusiasts” here. Does he mean it in the Lutheran sense–those who seek God’s revelation apart for His Word and his salvation apart from His Means of Grace? Or does he mean it the colloquial sense of somebody who is really excited about something? I eventually decided on the latter. If he’s using it in the Lutheran sense, he’s deliberately redefining it away from its normal definition to mean “trying to make God’s word true, faster.” Now, that could be an instance of a common postmodern rhetorical trick–an attempt to leverage a word’s connotation without applying its definition in order to trigger an impression. However, “trying to make God’s word true, faster” does sort of fit with the colloquial definition of “excitement,” and he marks it as David’s “best quality,” so I’m giving Paulson the benefit of the doubt and assuming he means it that way. I could be wrong.
Awhile back, I was involved in an informal discussion about opening up the office of congregational president to women at an LCMS congregation. We were all on the same page with respect to God only calling men to the office of pastor. And care was given to make sure none of the duties of presidential office usurped any parts of the pastoral office. But with those issues addressed, surely women could take on the role, right? After all, there’s no hard and fast Biblical rule about congregational presidents. It’s an office invented by human beings for the sake of administrating the day-to-day management of a congregation. As its creators, we can also alter the office as we see fit. So in this day and age, shouldn’t that old restriction be lifted?
To be sure, congregational presidents are a matter of adiaphora–things indifferent. In other words, there is no Biblical command one way or another that we are obligated to obey, so it is indeed a matter of Christian freedom. However, as I’ve written numerous times, adiaphora doesn’t mean “do whatever you want,” but rather “do whatever is wisest.” Is the ongoing push to open more and more roles to women a wise course of action for churches to follow? We should never accept change as a foregone conclusion simply because everybody’s doing it, but rather weigh it with the wisdom God has given us.
One of the most important questions we need to ask is where does this push come from. Why do so many want to open up more and more leadership roles to women?
Well, the push certainly doesn’t come from Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible command women to take positions of leadership in the church or otherwise. On the contrary, the only times I can think where the subject comes up in Scripture are times when women taking positions of authority over men are used as images of shame. Neither does it come from Christian tradition, as the Church has always been patriarchal in its governance until recently. Neither does it come from effectiveness in any empirical sense. After all, the last generation of expanding roles for women hasn’t produced some kind of golden age of church leadership, to put it mildly.
No, the push comes from the worldly philosophy of feminism, which has spent the last century marching through our institutions and has now become part of our basic worldview. But while it may make us comfortable in a worldly sense, feminism is the last philosophy the Church should be looking to for guidance. Through its insistence on abortion, it became one of the bloodiest ideologies of the 20th century–a remarkable achievement given the competition. The sexual revolution that it demanded has brought about untold misery. The divorce revolution has destroyed countless families and undermined the most fundamental element of any human society–the very first place we all learn how to love the people God has placed in our lives. If we are to judge a tree by its fruits, then this is clearly a philosophy the church should be resisting rather than embracing.
Next, one must consider the costs and benefits of making a change of this kind. And I have to say, I have not yet heard a convincing case for a clear benefit. Why would a congregation be better off with women presidents?
I’ve heard that it would be awful for a qualified woman to be arbitrarily excluded, but not a sound reason as to why. The common line is that all her wonderful gifts would go to waste, but there are at least two big problems with that line of thinking. First and foremost, the office exists for the benefit of the congregation, not for the fulfillment of the individual occupying it. It’s not there to make the president feel useful, included, or affirmed. The second problem is that it proves too much. Most congregations I’ve been a part of have had a dozen or more people who could adequately fill the office, but only one office. Does that mean that the congregation is terribly abusing the other 11 each term by wasting their talents? Of course not! There are no shortages of work in the church, the home, and the world to which such talents can be applied. This claim speaks more to a fixation on achievement of position rather than a desire to serve.
I’ve also heard that deliberately including more women would help make up for the exclusion of women from the pastoral office–to help prove to the world that Christianity isn’t just anti-woman. This is also wrong-headed in a number of ways. For starters, that merely makes women presidents a kind of consolation prize. Nobody in the history of the world has ever received a consolation prize and exclaimed how completely satisfied it made them–‘consolation’ is right there in the name! This is the platonic ideal of the given inch that ultimately costs a mile. It does not satisfy a desire to usurp authority, it merely whets the appetite. What’s more, Christians are never instructed to deal with sin by getting as close to the line as possible without crossing, but rather to flee temptation. Most importantly, the Church has no business dressing itself up to appeal to the world. The Church is the kingdom of God, and it should be recognizably different.
So without much in the way of benefits, what shall we say about the cost? And make no mistake, there is a cost to making this change as well–one that goes beyond the effort required for change as such. God instituted both the Church and the family, and in each case, He explicitly established an element of male headship to the institution. In the Church, men shepherd God’s flocks, and in the home, the husband is head of the wife. Any social and ecclesial offices and institutions that we create should be for the sake of facilitating, assisting, and reinforcing the divine institutions. Both of these offices–pastor and husband–have been under ferocious assaults by our feminist culture for generations now. Given the choice of A) undermining the authority of husbands and pastors by making them stand more & more alone in the world as male-specific authorities and B) reinforcing the authority of husbands and pastors by making expectations of leadership by men a part of our church culture, why would we want to use our freedom to choose A?
When we live in a culture that actively tries to steal away the distinctive roles and identities of men and women, Christians should not be trying to keep its own sex-based distinctives to a minimum. On the contrary, we should be reinforcing those elements of God’s creative ordinance that Satan is trying to do away with. Offices like presidents or acolytes may be adiaphora, but the wiser use of our freedom would be to start rolling back our submission to our culture rather than extending it.
I got quite a bit of feedback on the last Federalist article (on Abstinence vs. Chastity), so I wanted to take a moment to address some of the criticisms that actually addressed my arguments.
Objection: Jesus never taught anything about sex!
Only if you start off assuming that the Apostles’ teachings and the Prophets’ teachings aren’t Jesus’ teachings. But no one who actually tries to learn from Jesus is going to make that mistake for very long. Anyone who actually believes the red letters is going to know the black letters are Jesus’ teachings too.
Objection: The delay in marriage isn’t purity culture’s fault; Christians just picked that up from the wider culture.
I’m not sure how familiar the people making this criticism are with Christian teaching, but one of the things the Bible repeatedly warns us against is worldliness–adopting the world’s standards and judgments over and against Christian teaching. Sometimes worldliness is deliberate, more often it’s absent-minded, but it’s always something we are to avoid rather than embrace.
So while I agree that Evangelicals mostly picked up delaying marriage from the wider culture rather than inventing it, that makes it no less of an indictment.
Objection: These priorities aren’t entirely due to feminism; many households need two incomes to survive because wages are depressed over the past few generations.
First, it may not be entirely due to feminism, but even on the economic side, it’s a hefty contributor. When woman entered the workforce en masse, they drastically increased the supply of labor without increasing demand for labor in any substantial way. (Many women have always worked, but as I recall, the proportion of women working outside the home roughly doubled during the 20th century.) Basic economics says that the price of labor (i.e. wages) has to substantially drop as a result. So bad economic policies and circumstances aren’t our only reason for depressed wages.
Second, I did not say that women should never work outside the home. What I said was that marriage and family need to be higher priorities than career for anyone who wants marriage. Circumstances may dictate that a woman needs to work for her family’s sake, but that’s always got to be balanced against the invaluable service she can provide by being with them at home–particularly when they’re very young. Full-time work is something mothers do so their children are fed and clothed, not so they can go on family vacations every year or “earn feminist merit badges” as Dalrock puts it.
Third, some (not all) people who think they need two incomes do so because they’re excessive consumers. If you’re going to Starbucks every day and own all the latest video game consoles, there’s a lot of discretionary spending going on that you really don’t need. When you tally up the cost of daycare, taxes, and so forth that come with having a 2nd income, a lot of people aren’t as far ahead as they think. And sometimes, that smaller amount of additional income may be able to be offset by adjusting discretionary spending.
Objection: But what about gays? Is it realistic to demand indefinite celibacy from them by teaching against gay marriage?
This is a fair question. But in order to be able to accept the answer, we first need to be frank about the moral reality. Two people of the same sex cannot be married to one another; it’s a contradiction in terms. They can have a ceremony, say the words, and call themselves married, but that’s not going to actually make two men or two women married to each other anymore than ceremonies and words can make a circle a square. So even if every Christian in the world immediately and permanently stopped repeating Christian teaching on the subject, same-sex “marriage” would not and could not relieve anybody from a life of fornication. It would only give them a false pretense of peace. This option was never on the table no matter how many people might want it to be or think they’ve achieved it through legal change.
Once people stop grasping at that particular straw, the various ways of handling same-sex attraction fall into two broad categories.
The first is to pursue real marriage. My understanding (and it was an unrepentant gay man who explained this to me) is that homosexual desire runs on a spectrum. For instance, some men are actively repulsed by women while others simply prefer men to women. So for some homosexuals on the shallow end of that spectrum, it might be possible to make marriage a viable option through repentance and therapy. I know that programs designed to bring people out of the gay lifestyle have a high failure rate, but the fact that they have any success at all suggests that sexual desire is more plastic than we are led to believe. It’s something they’d need to be honest about with a prospective spouse, and it may take a whole lot of extra work, but it’s not always unmanageable.
Note that I’m not saying that anyone should marry a person they don’t want to have sex with. Neither am I saying whether this could work for 50%, 10%, 1% or .1% of homosexuals–I really don’t know. I’m not even describing the different ways this might look in practice. All I’m saying is that homosexuals shouldn’t let people put them into an identity bucket that prevents them from thinking critically about the idea for themselves.
But even if it isn’t always unmanageable, it is sometimes unmanageable–and that gives us the second category: Work to be indefinitely celibate and live a life of repentant struggle.
I’m not going to dress it up; this option sucks. But sometimes God gives us some really heavy crosses–terrible circumstances that we can’t fix and that He won’t take away. In those cases, our only real option is to bear that cross and follow him–trusting that his grace will be sufficient for all our failures. And by the way, given the wide scope of human tragedy, this isn’t only true when it comes to sex, but to all sorts of exceptional circumstances.
And even when it comes to sex, this isn’t true only for homosexuals, for there are many exceptional circumstances that force heterosexuals to live in indefinite celibacy. There can be injuries, illnesses, and deformities that make marriage a practical impossibility for some people. Even within marriage, there can be circumstances where one spouse is suddenly no longer physically capable of fulfilling their marital responsibilities. These are exceptional cases, but remember that despite their over-representation in media, homosexuals only make up 2-3% of the population. Unrelentingly dominant same-sex attraction is itself an exceptional circumstance.
There have been countless Christians whose only faithful option has been to pick up their cross–and more likely than not, most of these Christians were not gay. This unquestioningly involves a great deal of suffering and temptation. And there will be times when temptation wins and you fall into sin. The only way through is to trust the Gospel and stay connected to a church where you hear it all the time. Christ paid for every time you collapse on that road and redeems every last ounce of suffering you endure as you struggle to move another inch forward.
I have a new piece over at The Federalist:
That’s the problem with purity culture. It purports to be about saving sex for marriage, but the whole point of purity rings and abstinence is to refrain from sex while delaying marriage. It’s all supposed to help young people remain celibate while dutifully fulfilling their worldly priorities first—namely, education and career—until marriage hopefully just comes along and happens somehow.
There, in that demand for celibacy, lies the rub. As the Church of Rome has been proving for the last 1,000 years, celibacy doesn’t actually work for most people, no matter how many oaths, ceremonies, and monastic environments are used to facilitate it. If you don’t have the Apostle Paul’s relatively rare gift, it’s not sustainable long term. After all, humans have always struggled with sexual temptation, and our culture ramps that temptation up to 11 through mass media and loose mores. The Christian prescription for that struggle isn’t celibacy—it’s marriage.
Whether it’s the perverse culture of theological liberalism or the celibate culture of conservative evangelicalism, the root problem is that they’re both attempts to baptize feminism. The liberal end with its vagina-worship is your basic sex-positive feminism, in which chastity is seen as a shackle from which women need to be freed.
But the conservative evangelical side is likewise feminist, because its pours its effort into baptizing the elevation of education and career above marriage and family. It just simultaneously tries to force that into the mold of Christian prohibitions on fornication.
It might be odd to think of conservative Christians as feminists, but one must remember that conservatives are first and foremost traditionalists. Feminism is now a wrinkled old lady that has been marching through our institutions for generations. It’s become traditional in many respects. Conservatives may balk at the latest extremities, but they’re mostly on board with things like egalitarianism, serial monogamy, and blaming men for everything.
Christians need a third path—something that actually encourages marriage instead of choosing between fornication or celibacy. The church needs to recover the virtue of chastity.
You can read the whole thing here.