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Episode 10: Gender

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Episode 11: Sex & Sexuality

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An evangelistic talk on gender, sex and sexuality.

 

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Talk Title: Can you find love in sex?talking-about-sex-with-your-kids

AUDIO

Marilyn Monroe: “The sex symbol becomes a thing, I hate being a thing. I’ve never liked sex myself. I don’t think I ever will. It seems just the opposite of love”

Actually Christians disagree. Christians say:

GK Chesterton: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Sex and love belong together, profoundly.

Sex and God belong together, profoundly.

To understand sex we need to understand the Christian view of God, the universe and everything. Then we can see where sex fits…

Luke 3:21-22: Jesus enters our filth to bring us to His Family.

God’s Family (the Trinity) is the origin of gender.

The way into that Family (oneness with Jesus) is the origin of marriage.

Now we can understand the Christian sexual ethic. Gender reflects the difference-in-equality of God. Marriage reflects the saving love of Jesus.

In the Gospels Jesus affirms both of these foundational points in Matthew 19.

Therefore, according to Jesus, sex is God’s way of saying to another human being “I belong to you completely, permanently and exclusively.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex imaginable.

And – more profoundly – it’s a proclamation of the ultimate oneness available in Jesus and the ultimate love He brings us into.

That’s why GK Chesterton was right: everyone knocking on the door of the brothel is looking for God.

But don’t settle for the picture of intimacy and oneness – receive the reality.  Come to Jesus and know the truth of what sex points towards.

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meatDear Mr Lama, (Reverend Lama?? Your holiness???)

I’m sorry I’m not trying to be rude, I don’t know how to address you, not being Buddhist myself.

I heard your “teaching” (sorry if that sounds patronising, I don’t know what you call it :-?) at a uni thing put on by the Buddhist Society. A friend invited me and tbh I was there for the free lunch. Lol! – no offence.

Anyway.  You’re clearly a good speaker and you seem like a nice guy.  But this is why your teaching is SO INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me tell you that I am A PRACTISING CARNIVORE. And proud of it!  Right now I’m half-way through a cornish pasty and I’m LOVING it.  That probably sounds BLASPHEMOUS to you, but it’s WHO I AM.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t enjoyed sausages, steaks, fried chicken, you name it.  And I can honestly say it has NEVER done me ANY harm. (Alright, there was that dodgy kebab last week, but you can’t judge a whole food group by one salmonella infection).  You preach about meat but you’ve never had a bacon sandwich yourself, so how on earth can you comment??

Maybe I’ve now committed some “”sin”” by tempting you with the wonders of bacon but, honestly, I think if God – or whoever – exists he wants you to be happy :-)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried your whole Buddhist thing.  Well, I tried giving up meat anyway.  When I was 16 I dated a sweet vegan guy called Chris. He made it all sound so convincing at the time. (Love does strange things to people!)  I gave it my best shot for three long months.  But it REALLY wasn’t for me. I know that in my heart of hearts I have always been – AND I ALWAYS WILL BE – a meat-eater. SORRY!!

In fact, no, NOT SORRY! And this is why I’m writing.  When you told us that your branch of Buddhism denounces meat-eating, my blood  l i t e r a l l y  boiled.  Like literally!  I wonder if you realise just HOW OFFENSIVE that is???  One of my best friends is studying agricultural science and next year he’s returning to manage the family farm. Do you denounce him??  My cousin Joe works in an abattoir, but HE IS THE NICEST, MOST BUDDHISTY GUY YOU COULD EVER MEET. Do you denounce him????

And just now I Googled Buddhism and found out that many branches of your own belief system ALLOW meat-eating. So not only are you out of touch with the real world – YOU ARE DISAGREEING WITH YOUR OWN WIKI PAGE!!

From personal experience, I know how damaging it is to fight your omniverous desires. When my boyfriend pressured me into veganism I felt guilty, repressed and seriously protein-deficient.  Your message is one that makes us hate other people and hate ourselves.  And don’t give me that crap about ‘love the meat-eater, hate the meat-eating’!  That’s just patronising.  In the end it’s just thinly veiled CARNI-PHOBIA.

You gave out your details in case we wanted to find out more about your religion but seriously, NO!  I do NOT want to know anything more about your sick, demeaning life-philosophy.  You said that if we spent time chatting you could make me understand your position on meat.  You said that it fits in with some cosmic understanding of life, the universe, karma, compassion blah, blah, blah.  All I know is that I’m a Meat-Eater and if the universe hates me for that then we’ll have to agree to disagree and go our separate ways.

So no, I’m not getting in touch to find out more. I’m getting in touch to say PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop the hate-mongering!  Meat is food too.  Carnivores are people too.  And now, if you don’t mind (AND EVEN IF YOU DO!) I’m going to finish my pasty, nom nom!

yours respectfully,

Jenny.

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The first thing to say is that the bible’s sexual ethic is different to the world’s sexual ethic.  And it always has been.   This might sound too basic to mention, yet the point is commonly forgotten.  Egyptian and Assyrian views of sex were markedly different from Israel’s.  As for the Greco-Roman culture surrounding the New Testament church… what’s the saying? “A woman for necessity, a boy for pleasure and a goat for ecstasy!”

Both Christians and non-Christians need to realise that the bible’s ethics were never the ethics of the surrounding culture.  Therefore Christians ought not to hearken back to some golden age when the bible’s norms were upheld by the culture.  Neither should non-Christians insist that “Christians move on from their conservatism and embrace a new golden age.”  The truth is that the bible never enshrined the culture’s sexual ethic – it always stood apart from it.

This leads to another basic observation… secularists need to recognize that they too have a sexual ethic. They are not champions of liberation – except in the most limited sense. They are simply trying to impose a different sexual ethic and therefore to define a different set of sinners.

The next point is the explosive one, but it needs saying in order to blow apart some suffocating assumptions: Jesus is utterly anti-heterosexual.  It’s difficult to think of anyone as anti-heterosexual as Jesus.

I mean really, can you imagine Jesus in the sermon on the mount turning to his disciples and saying “Let your sexual desire be unto the multitude of women.”  If you can imagine that sentiment on the lips of Jesus, you don’t know Jesus!  Christians are not – or at least should not be pro-heterosexual.  Lust is lust and never a positive marker of identity – no matter which cross-section of potential sexual partners are in view!

These modern taxonomies of sexuality are so limited, so unruly, so new, so western, so 21st century.  We struggle to apply them to other 21st century westerners, let alone other parts of the world, let alone other parts of history.  If you try to use our modern categorisations and apply them beyond our tiny blip in time and space you’re in for trouble.  If you want to actually listen to Jesus’ teaching on sex you’ll need to forget everything you think you know about “modern liberal” notions and “out-dated conservative” notions.  Because Jesus’ teaching is something else…

Jesus’ view of sex is crazy and it’s beautiful.  Same as everything else.  “Turn the other cheek?  Go the extra mile?  Love your enemies?”  Crazy!  Impractical!  Totally unrealistic!  But beautiful!  Let me explain…

Jesus only really said three things about sex, but on these three foundations you have a crazily beautiful / beautifully crazy view of sex.  In Matthew 19 He quotes approvingly from Genesis 1: “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female.”  Then Jesus quotes from Genesis 2 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”  Combine these two truths and what do you have?  You have humanity created as interlocking opposites who become “one flesh” when man and woman come together in an exclusive permanent marriage bond.  That’s his teaching on sex and marriage.  And to that He adds, in Matthew 5, that sex is not for any other context.  Not even in your thought life.  Don’t even think about sex outside marriage.  That’s Jesus’ sexual ethic.  It’s crazy, but it’s beautiful.

Because, according to Jesus, when you have sex with someone you are saying “I give myself to you utterly, exclusively, irreversibly and unconditionally for life.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex the world has ever seen.

This is sex as a Ferrari.  If I owned a Ferrari, you could not drive it.  Only if your name was Scrivener could you get behind the wheel.  But if I owned a beat-up old Lada – anyone could drive it.  The Christian view of sex is a Ferrari.  The modern view is a Lada.

But for that reason, this sexual ethic is for the followers of Jesus.  Explicitly the bible tells Christians not to bother non-Christians about their sexual ethics.  1 Corinthians 5 tells Christians not to worry about what people are doing outside the church.  God can worry about them, we’re meant to only worry about ourselves.  This point will be controversial among Christians but I suggest that, in line with the first truth outlined, we address ourselves with the ethics and the world with the gospel.

Which means that the question for the non-Christian is not “Can I live under this sexual regime”?  The question is, What do I make of Jesus?  If He rose from the dead as Lord of the world, then maybe He knows a thing or two about sex.  And if I come to Jesus – not as hetero-sexual, homo-sexual or bi-sexual but simply as a sinner – then there’s a place at His table equal to every other sinner.  And though I fail at His crazy-beautiful life in a thousand ways, He knows how to lead me, step by step, into greater and greater freedom from sexual slaveries as well as the other really dangerous sins – like greed, unforgiveness and moral self-righteousness!

For another approach, here’s an older post on the subject…

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Mother – perhaps you should go and walk the dog, I have some blush-inducing blogging to do.  We’ll let you know when it’s safe to return…

Is she gone?  Ok….

Dear (Young) Marrieds,

I know you always thought sex was going to be an intense, tantric, mind-blowing union of heart and soul as well as body.  I know you anticipated an emotional and spiritual connection attended by intense, honeyed delight.  In short, I know you thought of sex in a quite disembodied way.  And I know that now the mechanics of the whole enterprise are threatening to burst, not only the bubble of your sexual misconceptions, but your very identities as male and female and stir up all manner of existential terrors.

I know this because every couple struggles deeply here.  Sorry if we didn’t mention this.  Sorry if we don’t talk about it more.  But allow me to offer one word of advice.  Sex is difficult enough without the added pressure of trying to really mean it.

An analogy:  One Sunday I’ll go forward for communion and take the bread and wine with a profound sense of my spiritual need and the sacrifice of Christ.  The next Sunday I might take the bread and wine and feel only a faint sense of gratitude.  Perhaps the next I have only a prayerful disappointment that I’m not ‘feeling it’.  But I take it nonetheless.  Question: On which Sunday have I really communed with Christ?  Answer: all of them!  And actually going through the motions (as I argue for here) is the best way of ensuring my heart catches up with my body.

If I sit in my pew until I really really feel a heart-felt connection to Christ, I’ll never take communion.  But if I’m assured that Christ is promised in the bread and wine, then the focus is taken off my feelings and put objectively onto the real offer of Christ.

So it is in the bedroom.  Marital communion is marital communion whether you’re just ‘going through the motions’ or whether you’re ‘really feeling it.’  Of course mind and heart are meant to be united as bodies are.  But let’s believe in ‘the real presence‘.  One flesh’ is ‘one flesh’.  Let the mind and heart catch up.

You’ll notice that I’m not a memorialist when it comes to the sacraments.  Actually I’m against memorialism in the sexual realm too.  I reckon modern western approaches to sex are basically memorialist already.  We live with a divorce of the physical from the spiritual so that, on the one hand, Demi Moore says in Indecent Proposal “it’s only my body, it’s not my soul.”  On the other hand the vast majority of sex which does happen in the West is now fantasy sex (i.e. pornography).  This dualism feeds into Christian marriages where we see two common problems: 1. A disdain for the physical (sex was always taught as dirty) and 2. a flight into fantasy (the mechanics of sex put us off and we retreat into remembrances of the real thing – porn).

Anyway, that’s just a side-point.  My real advice is this: one flesh is one flesh.  Your best shot at mind-blowing sex is to forget completely about mind-blowing sex.  And just, you know, have sex.  Because it’s Wednesday – and Wednesday is the night we usually make love…

That can be easier said than done I know.  And this one piece of advice is not meant to solve all your problems.  But hopefully it takes a significant pressure off of sex and, you never know, it might just help with those other issues too.

Now could someone go and fetch my mother?  Tell her it’s safe to surf again.

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A repost from two years ago…

Over the summer we got Sky Sports so I could watch the Ashes (I still think I should ask for a refund).

One morning I turned on to watch some highlights and caught the end of  ‘Aerobics Oz Style.’  I immediately laughed remembering the show from my youth in Australia.  As I recall, the whole thing was basically an ultra-gay fitness instructor in ultra-pink lycra teaching ultra-fat housewives to star-jump.

But it seems Aerobics Oz Style has changed.  The gay guy in spandex has been replaced by 5 supermodels – part silicone, part botox, part peroxide, all legs and boobs and hair and teeth – gently stretching in the Australian sunshine.  I stood there holding my remote – my laugh of recognition turned into this boyish burble.  “Hur hur hur- the purdy laydies with their purdy hair, hur hur.”  After a few seconds of slack-jawed, misty wonder I snapped out of it and changed channel.  But I couldn’t help asking myself – What just happened?  How did I go from grown-up to idiot boy in the space of 5 blondes?

Well here’s my quick answer: when women uncover themselves to serve passive men some fundamentals of masculinity are reversed. Or to put it another way: pornography turns a man into a child. (I’ll leave to one side women and porn here – though that needs thought too.)

Think about it:  A man is meant to go out from himself and win a bride.  He is meant to proactively serve an actual flesh and blood woman with real and costly service.  He – and he alone – is to uncover her nakedness (a common biblical phrase, see Lev 18) and enter into a deep oneness, not only of flesh but of soul and spirit also.  The woman is to be discerning, to give herself only to the one man who lays down his life for her.  She is to warmly receive him (and him alone) with single-hearted faithfulness.

But then, what happens with the man who indulges in pornography?  He doesn’t go out from himself but turns in on himself.  He pursues nothing but his own desires.  He woos no-one but himself.  He is not the active servant, he is the passive recipient.  He doesn’t uncover her nakedness, she indiscriminately uncovers herself.  He doesn’t engage her mind or heart but merely consumes her flesh.  This image calls forth nothing from the man except his credit card details.  And the habituation of this selfishness will only shut him down further.  Pornography turns a man into a child.

Which is why the male icon of the porn industry pads around his mansion in his jim-jams.

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A friend of mine is very supportive of my ministry but is passionately opposed to parachurch organisations.  He makes many different arguments, but here’s an argument that might persuade me (though I haven’t heard him make it)…

If a local church rented advertising space on the side of a bus, what slogans do you think it would run with?

Anything like “Not Gay, Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud.  Get over it”?

I’m not saying they’re wrong. I think the reification of ‘sexuality’ as an unchanging marker of personal identity deeply undermines our humanity.  I think the elimination of choice (such that one in unable to be ex-anything) is akin to Islam’s apostasy laws!  I think the ad’s censorship betrays the deep intolerance of many so-called liberals.

But, but, but, when those behind the ads say that the controversy was a God-send, I have to wonder whether they’re mission lines up with mine (which I hope is Christ’s!).

INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t buy this level of publicity, now that it’s been banned…

REV LYNDA ROSE: We couldn’t, one has to wonder whether God is not perhaps active in this. It wasn’t our intention to provoke this situation… The publicity is obviously good.  (From Channel 4 News)

Lynda, maybe the publicity’s good for you.  Speaking as an evangelist, let me tell you it aint so good from where I’m sitting!

And it just  makes me wonder, who gets to be a spokesperson for Christianity in the world?  The church, right?  But when does the church lose it’s voice and get drowned out by interest groups?  Certainly the media can’t tell these things apart – and I can’t blame them for it.

It seems to me that our public face needs to be a lot more aligned to both Head and body!  Otherwise local churches (and parachurch evangelists!) are going to have to pick up the pieces.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

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Paul Blackham pastors at Farm Fellowship and is the co-author of Bible Overview.

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect.  The only weird thing is the way that European churches have grown so used to actually imposing ‘Christian’ ideas through the statute books.  It is interesting to see which churches and church leaders are most alarmed at the loss of this power.

The LORD Jesus Christ, through the whole Scriptures, sets out His own unique vision of marriage and sexuality.  The Bible shows almost no interest in what kind of ‘orientation’ any of us might have or what kind of people or things our sexual desires might attach to. Throughout the whole Bible there is a much more practical concern with what we do with our sexuality and how we say “no” to worldly passions, living self-controlled lives in this present age while we wait for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  The passions are there, and we are not told to deny their existence, but rather we say ‘no’ to them and instead develop [receive from the Spirit] a new passion for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour. (Titus 2:11-13)

The alcoholic might live with a strong worldly passion all their life, yet every day they have to say ‘no’ to it – and the fact of that daily ‘no’ is what gives them the freedom and dignity that is so precious. We understand this well enough, but don’t always see how the experience of the alcoholic is a basic paradigm rather than a special case.

We all are what we are as fallen, messy sinners, whether our sexual desires want to run away after several different people of the ‘opposite’ sex or the same sex or both sexes or we may feel little sexual desire.  As followers of Jesus, all of us have to say ‘no’ to a great many of our sexual desires, yet there is that one context of a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman where we are permitted, within godly limits and self-control, to say ‘yes’ to sexual desire. Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God.  Yet, if any of us cannot do that, there is this one possibility of a totally exclusive, lifelong, sacrificial marriage between a man and a woman.

Yes, even allowing for that possibility does not mean that any specific person will ever be married.  There are godly people who would love to marry but have just never been able to make it happen, for one reason or another.  There are godly people whose desires do not lead them towards such a marriage.

Naturally, this understanding of marriage and sexuality is based on a passionate love and trust for the LORD Jesus Christ.  It would seem very legalistic and futile for anybody outside the love and support of a local church to try to live this way.  How can any of us joyfully say ‘no’ to our worldly passions, eclipsed by that great passion for the return of Jesus, unless we are members of the local family of Jesus followers?  There is too much frustration and bitterness when we turn to ‘religion’ as the alternative to our own sexual desires – or when people turn to a harsh treatment of the body (Colossians 2:23). It is not good for us to be alone – and whether we are married or not we urgently need that family of the local church where we can find that unity and diversity in Jesus that we were made for.

It is, of course, slightly odd that in the modern age there is so much pressure within our churches to get people married off.  Yes, the culture of the day strongly worships sex, romance and relationships – with the overt pagan claim that a failure to be sexually active is almost dehumanising.  Our Christian ancestors of the ancient Roman empire tended to emphasise their freedom from such views by declaring how many of their congregations were lifelong unmarried virgins.  It is hard to imagine such a free and confident view of human sexuality at this moment, though there are some encouraging signs as we are sent back to an older, deeper view of sexuality and marriage.

We are living at the tail end of a cultural era when Christianity had exercised enormous control over the legal structures of the European world.  It is fascinating to see how this was done in relation to marriage in medieval Europe as strict legal limits on marriage were introduced as a support to the vision of ‘Christendom’ that was forming.  Polygamy was a widespread European practice in early medieval Europe which was addressed with ‘Christian’ legislation especially after 1215. A classic example was over the marriage of close relations.  Historically it was considered a good thing to marry close relations so that land and power could be kept within a fairly tight family heritage, but for a variety of political, economic and theological reasons Christendom tended to introduce legal limits that forced people to marry from a much wider social circle.

Having such political and legal power was not necessarily good for the churches or for ‘Christian’ marriage.  If the only kind of legal marriage available is ‘Christian’ marriage, then is there really any such thing as ‘Christian’ marriage in such a society?  If people were forced to marry only as if they were followers of Jesus, even when they were most definitely not, then how could anybody ever see what difference Jesus really makes to marriage?  Once we seriously question the idea that the church should be married to the state, then we see how strange it is for the church to ever be meddling in the business of the state’s legal recognition of marriage?

My Nonconformist friends find these protests against legal definitions of gay marriage totally incomprehensible, but for those of us with established church connections it is “emotionally more complicated”!  Islam is comfortable with claiming legal and political power because it was the way of Muhammad from the beginning, but it is most definitely not the way of Jesus to do that.

In the period between Moses and the Ascension when the Christian church formed its own nation and, to various limited degrees, was able to write its own laws, there was a sense in which ‘Christian’ marriage and the law had a much closer relation.  Even then, of course, the law could only define the limits and provide certain provisions, but the love and sacrifice, the faithfulness and service, all still came down to the godliness of the husband and wife.

However, before Moses and after the Ascension, how could local churches ever have that level of legal control over marriage in any society?  We are only ever a small minority and Jesus promised us that we would be consistently persecuted, misunderstood and even hated.  We are spread out through all the nations and cultures of the world, trying to live out the way of Jesus under all kinds of legal systems and cultural expectations.  Sometimes the law makes it easier for us, sometimes not.

Many of our brothers and sisters in Muslim majority nations or communist regimes have all kinds of legal problems not only with marriage but also their basic citizenship.  It is pleasant when the law is not against us, but can we ever really expect the law to enforce the way of Jesus on the whole of a nation?

Can we ever really expect to be the legal majority who makes life difficult for or even persecutes those who do not follow Jesus?

In the 16th and 17th century some of our Christian ancestors took a very different view.  What had the church got to do with marriage? How had the church ever ended up exercising this kind of state power, providing legal norms for marriage?  How did local churches ever become franchises of the registry office?  The Puritans who went to America wanted to escape the European alliance between church and state.  The established churches of England and Rome thought that marriage was their business, to be authorised by the clergy, but the new England Puritans believed that marriage was a civil business to be governed by the magistrate.  They did not want institutional churches wielding such civic power.

Followers of Jesus marry only other followers of Jesus, only one man married to one woman, exclusively and for life, modelled on the marriage between Christ and the Church – but none of that is from the magistrate!  The magistrate/registry officer is only interested in recognising the civil union defined by the state: the content we pour into that is what it means to follow Jesus.

Think for a moment who utterly strange it would be to imagine Jesus of Nazareth lobbying Herod or Pilate for better marriage laws so that His teaching might find a more comfortable place in society. The Christians in the catacombs were not administering the states records.

Local churches are the places where Christian marriage is defined, where we disciple one another in Jesus’ way – and it is almost a total irrelevance how the state views marriage.  The way we follow Jesus in marriage and sexuality is ever more distant from the legal patterns and cultural assumptions of European society.  Maybe that’s all the better for our Christian witness.  Perhaps it is time we got out of the legal marriage business and leave that entirely up to the state.

The state can define marriage however it wants to – but we should have the confidence and faithfulness to hold up and display Christian marriage for what it is.  We are not a franchise agency for the state’s administration of marriage.  We are the churches of the LORD Jesus Christ bearing witness to His way of sexuality and marriage that is radically different to anything else in European culture.  We need to make sure that in our local churches we are showing the world what the LORD Jesus Christ created marriage to be – but can we really do this through the statute book?  What right do we have to judge those who are outside?  1 Corinthians 5:12.

A friend asked me to consider another possibility.  In the Bible it is sometimes difficult to see the relevance of the state at all in marriage.  When Isaac married Rebekah, wasn’t that just handled within the local church?  The local church community recognised that Zak and Becky were hitched and so Zak & Becky went to live in his tent for the rest of their lives.  Did it ever cross their minds to register this event with the local Canaanite magistrate?  Were they expecting some tax breaks, allowances and credits as a kind of state reward for getting hitched?  I’m not convinced that any of these things went through their minds.  So, is it even conceivable that a modern Zak and Becky could, after some marriage prep and wisdom from older Christians, announce their marriage after the morning service and then go and live together for the rest of their lives as a married couple… and never even bother seeking tax credits, allowances or legal status from the magistrate?  This possibility gave me a sleepless night, thinking it through.

The fact is that as followers of Jesus our marriages are full of challenges and struggles as well as joy and comfort.  When we display the way of Jesus in marriage we are trying to show how grace, patience and love work when selfish sinners are joined so closely together.

At the moment there is a real danger that, once again, Christians can appear to be trying to legislate through the statute book that non-Christian people must behave as if they are Christians.

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Abuse – sexual and verbal

Emma points to a harrowing art project:  Project Unbreakable.  Victims of sexual abuse are photographed carrying placards of what their attackers said to them.

It’s made me think again of the deeply entwined nature of sexual and verbal abuse.  In both you have, typically (though by no means exclusively), a man wielding power over a woman for his own benefit.  The words of a stronger man are forced on a woman just as his body is – often together.

Here’s an excerpt (lightly edited) from an older post I wrote on the awful similarities between both kinds of abuse – He said – She said.

Men are designed to move towards their woman – their one woman, the one they have pledged their life to.    They enter their world for their woman’s benefit and not their own.  Men do have have fruitful, life-giving words to bestow (note how often ‘seed’ and ‘word’ goes together in Scripture: Mark 4:14 ; 1 Cor 3:6; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21).  The woman is to trust one man and one man only – the one who has pledged his life to her.  She receives her man’s approach to be blessed by his words….

In all this we see the parallel between sex and words…

A woman has commonly (I’m tempted to say, universally) been on the receiving end of soul-piercing death-words.  And they have experienced them as violations in a way different to how men would experience those same words.  Stronger men (often fathers) have used their strength to either shout down, belittle, intimidate, out-last or otherwise out-argue them.  There are painful feelings of being bullied and disempowered associated with the words of men.

Don’t men have similar experiences of being silenced by the words of others?  Yes.  Are they painful?  Yes.  But my contention here is that women experience those pains deeper and more sharply.  I could be wrong  but that’s my contention.

Something that’s confirmed my suspicions has been hearing three different women speak about conversations with men.  All three conversations happened in the last month.  And all three women said that the words of the man stronglyreminded them of encounters with their fathers.  “And it didn’t seem to matter what I said, he just kept on making his point… It reminded me so much of my dad – he was clearly in the wrong but he just kept going, bullying me with words.  I was powerless, it made me so angry…

And men for their part use words for their own benefit – not to give life but to self-please.  This weekend I was away with a group of teenagers and youth leaders.  My ears pricked up every time an older male ‘teased’ a younger female.  There was a war of words (all in jest of course) and a truce was called only when the girl was exasperated, silenced and everyone had a good laugh.  That was the dominant form of male-female communication over the weekend.

Which means, men can be horrendous abusers – and often are – without ever touching a woman.  But when both kinds of abuse come together, the results are devastating.

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How does porn impact a young girl who discovers her father’s stash?  Michelle VanLoon writes about it in My Father The Porn Addict.  This sentence struck me more than any other:

Porn taught me that the single most important thing to grown-ups was this mysterious world of fantasy, pain, and animalistic impulses too powerful to ignore.

Porn peddles a lie that becomes “the single most important thing” for those who buy into it.  Actually it peddles many lies, but here’s a prominent one: Porn tells us that love, respect and mutual honour are window dressing.  Behind closed doors it’s “fantasy, pain and animalistic impulses.”

Loving commitment and kindness are like mating calls.  The real business is mating.  People might talk about relationships and fidelity, actually it’s about glands and groans.  On the surface it’s love and trust, underneath it’s power and gratification.  And that’s what’s basic, primal, bubbling away.

To believe the lie is to feed it, to participate in it, to grow connected to it and then to see the world through its lens.  Porn sacramentally reinforces the worshipper in that creed and the cycle spirals down.

When a Christian is embroiled in this other religion, what happens when they are told to ‘clean up their private world’?  It will likely be heard as the demand to ‘put a lid on what’s real.’  Renouncing porn will be like agreeing to deny the truth, simply because the truth is too dangerous or shameful or powerful to acknowledge or indulge.  And so the determined porn-denier will commit to living in the unreality of kindness, mutual service and self-control.  All the while power and gratification throb away in heart and mind.

Combatting the lie will take more than a resolve to label pornography as ‘harmful’ or ‘bad.’  We need to know that it’s also ‘untrue.’  And why is it untrue?  Let’s cut to the chase:  God is as He is towards us.  God is not different ‘behind closed doors.’  He does not display sacrificial love as window dressing.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne (Revelation 7:17).    Push through to the deepest depths of God and you will find a faithful marital love that gives itself for the other.  His gracious gospel offers are not mating calls to woo us while back at home He’s all about power and gratification.  No!  He is love ‘all the way down.’

Not every god will help you to conquer porn.  There are many gods who are power and gratification pure and simple.  And there are many Christian doctrines of God that offer a split-personality God – sacrificial in public, selfish in private.

But just imagine… what if, actually, the primeval passions that determine us are intimate, committed, self-denying deferrals to the other?  What if it’s respect and mutual love that are really bubbling away underneath?  What if it’s serving the other that drives this world, not using.  What if giving and not getting is ultimate?

And I don’t just mean, Let’s escape mystically into some godly sphere where that love stuff is true.  I don’t mean, Let’s affirm these religious truths (all the while knowing that ‘the real world aint like that.’)  No, let’s fling wide those doors that we’re always closing because we imagine that darkness rules the roost.  Let’s declare that Jesus really is Lord.  This really is Christ’s universe.  Light really is this world’s driving force, not darkness.   And all that other stuff is parasitic, corrupted, ugly, unnatural, ephemeral and passing away.

The lie of pornography will be unmasked and the bedrooms of Christians, both single and married, will be revolutionized when we see God aright.  Behind closed doors there’s not a throbbing, coercive power too dangerous to name.  The primal urge is not grunting but grace.

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This is an edited repost. The original article received 79 comments, which you can read here.   It’s interesting that the three topics that have generated the most discussion on this blog have been the selfish-god, the selfish gene and selfish-sex.

What’s wrong with solo sex?

Here CCEF has an 11 minute podcast on masturbation. While there are some good points (like husbands prefering solo-sex to talking to their wives about the bedroom), it takes that age-old evangelical line: the problem’s all in the mind.

Have you ever heard the line, “If you can do it thinking about a brick, go for your life”? I hear people giving this advice all the time. As though the problem was simply one of fantasies. And as though the body doesn’t really matter.

Of course in the event of an affair I’ve yet to hear of a spouse placated by the line ‘It’s alright honey I was thinking of you all along.’ So why this uncritical assumption that the body’s not really important, it’s the thoughts that count?

This post is not about answers to masturbation, it’s about defining the problem.  Ironically, if you want an answer I’d suggest not focussing on the subject at all but rather rejoicing in the self-giving God and getting around self-giving people.  When I speak to younger guys who open up to me about the issue I usually tell them that masturbation is not their problem.  It might not even feature in their top 10 of discipleship issues (usually there’s a whole load of pride, harshness, laziness and lovelessness to be worried about first!).  Luther called masturbation a puppy-dog sin.  Let’s get a sense of proportion here!  Seriously, if you struggle with masturbation, it’s almost certainly not your biggest problem.  If you’re even a tenth of the jerk that I am you’ll have much bigger issues to pray about!

This is not me diagnosing what’s wrong with Christian men these days.  This is me questioning how we diagnose our problems.  What I’m bothered about here is the assumptions about pastoral theology that surround masturbation.  Why do evangelicals target the “fantasy” but not the “physicality”?  What does it say about an evangelical spirituality when it diagnoses the problem as “all in the mind”?

Let me state my position – you can discuss it:

The physical acting out of solo-sex is itself problematic considered apart from any mental fantasy that may or may not accompany it.

Masturbation is an incarnation of homo incurvatus in se (man (or woman) curved in on himself (or herself)) – which simply is the essence of sin.  It is to enact an anti-gospel / anti-Christ proclamation.  It is the dramatization of Christ remaining in heaven to please Himself or the church closed to her Lord but indulging her own desires.  It is taking an inherently mutual and other-centred activity and perverting it into self-adoration and self-service.

There are some activities (like reading) that are not inherently social.  Solo-reading is not a perversion of reading (although we can at once think of the moody teen who escapes to her room to read by herself and who might also need to be drawn into more communal activities).  Solo-eating is a lot higher up on the scale of “properly communal activities.”  If someone habitually chooses to solo-eat that too would be a problem.  But in the bible there just isn’t any other context for sex given than a mutual, covenanted relationship between a man and a woman.  Sex just is inter-personal.

In all this, I haven’t begun to consider the fantasies that may or may not attend masturbation.  That is an issue.  But it’s not the only issue.  Sex is meant to proclaim the gospel.  But solo-sex proclaims a different gospel.  It is the sacrament of a theology of glory.  Lustful fantasy or no lustful fantasy, it trains a person in selfishness.

The body matters.  It is not an amoral zone.  Discipleship is not “all in the mind”.

So why do we miss it in so much evangelical spirituality?  You know… the same evangelical spirituality that rarely or barely touches on the wallet or the wardrobe or diet.  The same spirituality that’s neurotically suspicious of the sacraments.  That same spirituality that never teaches on fasting, let along practices it?

What lies have we swallowed to believe that discipleship is all in the mind?

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Sexual immorality

William and Kate have cohabited for substantial periods of time prior to marriage.  Let’s call the level of evangelical outrage at this “X”.

I will admit that for me “X” has been really very low.  And I’d say that, institutionally, the public levels of “X” have also been low.

Now imagine the level of evangelical outrage if Harry started dating Gary.  Let’s call that level “Y”.

I don’t have to wonder whether the public levels of “Y” would be greater than the public levels of “X” – we all know they would be.

But I wonder whether, for you personally, “Y” would be greater than “X” (in spite of all that we say about all sex outside marriage as wrong).

Let’s represent the difference between “X” and “Y” by the term “Z” (so that Y-X = Z)

I wonder what proportion of “Z” ought to be labelled “homophobia”?

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Last week, just as we were tucking into Sunday lunch, a woman eye-balled me across the table and said with real venom:  “I will spit on anyone who calls homosexuality a sin.”  I believed her!  She’s probably the most forthright woman I’ve ever met.  She knew I was a minister (as did everyone else at the table) and she watched very closely for a response.

I’d done some thinking on the topic, so I gave her the edited highlights of this…

The bible thinks of homosexuality quite like the way we think of eating disorders.  It’s a disordering of a person’s relationship to sex and sexuality, the way anorexia is a disordering of a person’s relationship to food and the body.

Are there environmental factors?  Loads of them.

Are only some people weirdly disordered and others ‘normal’?  No, we all exist somewhere on a spectrum of weirdness.

Does the disorder present itself as a straightforwardly chosen lifestyle?  Very often.  In fact Pro-Anorexia (Pro Ana) websites stridently assert that it’s a bold and noble choice.

Is it a choice?  Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Do Christians also struggle with the disorder?  Indeed they do.

Do they slip into this disordered behaviour, sometimes for long periods.  Yes.

Can all Christians expect ‘total healing’ from the disorder?  Well we’ve already said that everyone exists somewhere on the spectrum of weirdness.  Difficulties will often remain throughout life, though some may know large degrees of freedom.

Should we approach the issue with an attitude of fear and condemnation?  Please no.

But – here’s the thing – Can a person be an active champion for the disorder and claim Christian justification?  No.  That would be like having a Christian Pro Ana website.  What a truly horrible thought!  That would be to confirm someone in a deeply disordered and harmful condition and to do so in Jesus name.  Christians are rightly horrified by the suggestion.  Not because they hate those with the disorder but because they love them.

And if you’ve ever tried to help someone with a disordered behaviour you’ll know – you won’t be thanked for trying to help them out of it.  But it’s still the loving thing to do.

So anyway, I outlined this kind of thinking to my lunch companion.  She responded, and I quote, “You are refuted by the latest science.  Scientists have discovered a gay gene.”

I said “Well we can discuss what a gay gene might mean, but I’ve got no problem in principle with a gay gene.  But think about this: they might also discover an ‘anorexia gene’ too.  There’s a very high correlation between certain hereditary bowel conditions and anorexia.  I’d be surprised if they didn’t find that certain genes significantly predispose you to an eating disorder.  It’s still a disorder don’t you think?”

“I suppose,” she said, and then discussed how lovely her gay friends were.  I told her mine were too and we enjoyed the rest of our meal.  Spittle free!

Just thought I’d share the eating disorders analogy with you because I’ve found it helpful.

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From Emma’s blog:

“Scripturally, sex is not whambamthankyouma’am. It’s a covenant promise, part of a total self-giving of which the body is the final handshake.  Where, within the safety of the marriage relationship, two people are emotionally, spiritually and finally, physically naked and – crucially, without shame.  Where men step out in strength and gentleness to love and give, whilst women are liberated to receive with joy and peace.

“In contrast, what do these sexualized images offer?  Sex without intimacy.  Invitation without delivery.  Toying, teasing, frustrating.  Everything on show, flesh exposed, but nothing really given.  A plastic, disposable body.  A plastic disposable person.”

Read the whole thing.

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Here are some thoughts regarding potential thorny questions I may be asked on Wednesday night:

Is homosexuality wrong?
What is your position on Gay Marriage?

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Let me begin by saying that I have no interest whatsoever in getting non-Christians to live Christianly.  The good news of Jesus is not a set of rules about behaviour it’s the proclamation of His loving rescue for sinners.

I’m not trying to get anyone to “behave”, I want people to “believe” – and to believe in the Lord Jesus who loves them to death.

The heart of Christianity is not adherence to a code but a relationship with a Person.  Therefore homosexuality is not even close to being a central concern for Christianity – Jesus Christ and His death on the cross is.  The bible centres on Jesus – not on us and our sex-lives!

Having said that, our relationship to Jesus is described as a marriage-relationship.  Marriage is a portrait of our relationship to Jesus.  So marriage and human sexuality does matter.  It proclaims who Jesus is and how we are related to Him.  So for Christians who think it’s important how we proclaim Jesus to the world, we need to think through marriage and sexuality carefully.  We need to resist the assumed sexual morality of our age and make sure we are shaped by Jesus.

But that would remain a peripheral, in-house matter if it weren’t for the fact that human sexuality is a massive issue in our culture.  Homosexuality is not big in the bible, but as a test-case for the defence of our personal liberties, it’s huge in our culture.  That’s where the heat and light is being generated.  Wherever Christians resist the cultural myth that “what I do with my body is no-one’s business but mine”, there will be a clash.  Wherever Christians say “There is a higher authority than the ruling libido of our time” there’ll be trouble.

Today our culture regards it as common sense that “what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is for them and them alone to decide.”  To even think about questioning that assumption is to invite frowns of incomprehension at best and angry revulsion at worst.  This is a sacred cow we must not touch.

But in the interests of free thinking, in the interests of liberating ourselves from unquestioned allegiance to cultural myths, let’s ask:

  • Doesn’t my gender matter a great deal to my identity, or do we think that it’s incidental?
  • Doesn’t my gender matter in my relationships to others, or is it a matter of indifference?
  • We acknowledge that the number, the age, the degree of family separation and the species of our sexual partners are all vital factors (though perhaps these too will become less important over time).  Is it really so outrageous to suggest that the gender is also vital?
  • If we say Yes, what are we saying about our gendered and bodily existence?
  • Can I really split my ‘true’ self from my bodily and gendered existence without damaging myself?
  • Can I really unite my body to another without uniting my person to them?
  • Is it really true that what consenting adults do in private is of no consequence to society as a whole?
  • How would we know if these cultural myths were ‘true’ or not?  On what basis are we asked to swallow them?  Can they be questioned or are they moral absolutes?

In all this we see how this issue centres around authority.  Who has the right to pronounce on these matters of identity, freedom and choice?

Christianity, at its best, invites people in to look through another set of lenses at questions of sex, relationships, gender and identity, etc.  It sees all things as made by Jesus and for Jesus and therefore has a very different take on these issues.  Therefore Christianity has the temerity to question the deeply religious commitments of our so-called ‘secular’ society.

But once again let’s be clear, this is not about enforcing a sexual morality on those who don’t see things through the lens of Jesus Christ.  The point is not monogamous heterosexuality, the point is Jesus.  First we invite people to Jesus and then to live out the reality they see in Him.

By the way, Christianity has a lot more to say on the subject of sex and marriage than a simple insistence on the gender of the participants!  But that’s for another time.

But finally, perhaps an analogy will help to show the Christian position on human sexuality.  From a biblical point of view, homosexuality is like an eating disorder (see here for more).  It’s a disordering of a person’s relationship to sex, the way anorexia is a disordering of a person’s relationship to food.  Are there environmental factors?  Loads of them.  Are only some people weirdly disordered and others ‘normal’?  No, we’re all weird in different ways.  Does the disorder present itself as a straightforwardly chosen lifestyle?  Very often.  Is it?  No, it’s more complicated than that.  Do Christians also struggle with the disorder?  Indeed they do.  Do they slip into this disordered behaviour, sometimes for long periods.  Yes.  Can all Christians expect ‘total healing’ from the disorder?  Difficulties will often remain throughout life, though some may know large degrees of freedom.  Should we approach the issue with an attitude of fear and condemnation?  Please no.  But – here’s the thing – can a person be an active champion for the disorder and claim Christian justification?  No.  That would be a like holding a pro-anorexia Christian support-group.

On the issue of gay marriage, I’d rather preserve the term ‘marriage’ for the exclusive, monogamous, lifelong union of a man and a woman.  Once you expand that definition you have to start asking why ‘three blokes, a dolphin and the Eiffel Tower‘ isn’t also a ‘marriage.’  But I can’t get too worked up about the name.  And I’m not interested in creating more heterosexual marriages.  I am interested in people meeting Jesus.

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Disagree?

Something to add?

Let me know…

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It’s important to rightly relate these truths – ‘I am in Christ’ and ‘Christ is in me’ (see this older post and this one).

If I put “Christ in me” first then I fall for a Catholic doctrine of infusion.  God infuses His grace into me so that I begin to live the righteous life.  Eventually I might be declared righteous.  If a person gives priority to “Christ in me” they may have Personalised the grace which God gives (which is an improvement on the Catholic doctrine) but we’re still travelling along the same route.

The gospel is “I in Christ” – that is, through a gracious marriage union with Christ I immediately have His name.  Therefore righteousness is a status instantly imputed to me as a gift in Jesus. The rest of my life involves a communion with Jesus in which I gradually exhibit more and more of His nature.  But that is not my hope.  My hope is not me living Christ’s life (by His power within me).  My hope is Christ living my life (with me hidden in Him).

This morning I was reflecting on the nature of the sacraments and how they teach this fundamental truth.  I am baptised into Christ.  This is the beginning and foundation of my Christian life – I in Christ.  But regularly I am fed by Christ and take Him into myself – Christ in me.

To put it in Passover terms, I am saved once and for all by the Lamb’s blood applied externally – I’m hidden in the Lamb.  But I am nourished for the journey out of Egypt by the Lamb’s flesh – the Lamb in me.

And incidentally this is the basis of the Christian sexual ethic too.  The once-for-all one-flesh union first, the regular one-flesh communion afterwards – the two utterly united and the former given absolute priority.

Mix them up and you get into all sorts of trouble, in all areas of life!

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Marriage is glorious…

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…but you have to acknowledge differences between the genders
(warning: one swear word)

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…differences in how we approach relationships

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So men, don’t say any of these things to your wives…

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In all the give and take, you’ll have to make priorities…

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…and find glory in the ordinary.

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Unlike the scuttling basements of many a blog page, the comments section of Christ the Truth is its most redeeming feature.  For those who only get the RSS feed you are missing out.

I thought I’d give you excerpts from some of Paul Blackham’s comments which would otherwise languish in the blog’s underbelly.

Jesus – centre of all reality
…what if Jesus actually IS God? What if the prayer/holiness/sovereignty stuff is actually all about our relationship with LORD Jesus? What if Jesus is not the agent but the content, the substance and all these other things are ‘agents’ for Him? What if Jesus is the centre and substance of every creature’s relation to the Living God? What if the LORD God of the Scriptures is Jesus?…

Jesus – centre of our Doctrine of God
…what would happen if all the attribute/substance stuff was only described in a Trinitarian context? What if Jesus was allowed to be the centre and soul of the doctrine of God? Ok, I know that is just fantasy and it will never happen…. but wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus was really taken that seriously!!!…

Jesus – centre of the Scriptures
…If the Bible reveals the Living God then it just has to be deeply connected to Jesus. The more I go on and realise just how completely Jesus surrounds us in creation then it makes more and more sense that He is present in the Scripture in a much deeper way than is often described. Too often the doctrines of Scripture spend all the time working at issues of inerrancy, when that might come a lot easier if the Bible is seen as the ever-living presence/clothing of Jesus…

Changing the world through love
…the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer ‘unreasonable’ love for Jesus was so intense and so ‘impractical’ that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish… By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus… we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship… we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible…

On Apologetics
…if we are trying to render the ‘concept of god’ as reasonable or if we are trying to ‘demonstrate’ that the Bible is the Word of God or if we are deploying philosophical arguments that never end up with ‘ergo, Jesus is the glory of God, the eternal Son of the Father’… then we are obviously trusting in the flesh. Of course we want to believe that if only we work hard enough or organise well enough or develop the best campaign or get the new ‘technique’ then we don’t really need to fast and pray, we don’t need to follow Jesus in sheer dependence on the Spirit on the way to crucifixion. Yet, the truth is that when the apostle Peter spoke of giving an apologia, he did so in a letter that consistently argues that the glory comes after suffering, that we will be thought strange for the way we live, that we should be living such good lives that people ask us about Jesus…

On engaging atheists
…The great temptation is to want to be ‘reasonable’ – i.e. to find a non-’religious’ foundation that will show us to be wise and the atheist to be foolish. The only foundation is Jesus. He is why we believe in God…

God’s glory – not the glory of Allah
…It is not arbitrary to say that God’s glory is His grace – because the apostle John makes it so very clear that God’s eternal glory is manifested at the Cross. The specific words of Jesus concerning His own glory have to be our starting point here. My most common conversation partners in theology these days are various Islamic theologians [especially those amazing guys from the 8th/9th centuries] – and their understanding of the transcendant glory of Allah is really serious. If you really want an exaltation of divine glory that is utterly, utterly opposed to human autonomy/glory then those are the guys you really want to be reading. However, is that what the Living God Himself said about glory when He walked among us? Where did He say that His glory was to be seen? Is the glory of Allah substantially different than the glory of the Trinity?…

On Christ Alone
Matthew 11:25-3o – Everything is in the hands of Jesus – whether revelation or redemption. We can know nothing of any god other than what Jesus chooses to tell us. How do we know that there is a Father other than what Jesus tells us? How can we prove the deity of the Father other than through Jesus? How can we find rest for our souls other than through Jesus?

Recently we were challenged to ‘get serious with god’ over the summer… but Jesus wasn’t mentioned. I imagined a follower of Odin heading home to get on his viking helmet and wielding his battle-axe with more passion and commitment or a follower of Baal putting aside his tiredness and heading out for some serious immorality after work.

If we are not dealing with Jesus then does it matter whether we get serious with Odin or Ra or Vishnu or Artemis or Allah or the Prime Mover.

Christ alone… in all the Scriptures… or else why bother at all?

On the Enlightenment
I think the Enlightenment brought a re-structuring of European thought generally – from specifics to universals. Think of the contrast between John Owen and John Wesley. Both are such amazing Christians, but they live on different sides of the Enlightenment fence. Wesley is a ‘global’ or universal man, thinking of a truth for all humanity. Think of the way that Wesley relates to the empiricist philosophers of his day, whereas Owen is related to a much older philosophical world. Wesley is ‘modern’ in a way that could never be said of Owen. Owen was still thinking in that more ancient mode where the universal vision was very much at the edge of his thinking… or perhaps it is more to do with the ‘universal’ being at the edge of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. Wesley traveled around the world, around his global parish – but the Puritans didn’t really feel that need.

Is it possible for us to have the global heart of Wesley while rejecting the Enlightenment ‘objectivity’ that feels so shocked that we are condemned sinners? Of course, the very last thing we want is to dig up a scholastic zombie as if the missing ingredient is more Aristotle!

Jesus Himself, of course, is the glorious solution – a great love for everybody He meets but without that ‘objectifying’ train of Enlightenment thinking. He faces the chaos and suffering without any of the self-pity or bitterness… yet joy and hope pour out of Him. Glory! What a mess we make of our thinking and feeling… and we only realise what a mess we make as we look at His glory and maturity!

Sex
This is important. I’ve been reading some of the books and sermons on sex/virginity from the early centuries after the apostles. The contrast with especially modern evangelical thought is shocking. Today, in the church community almost as much as outside, sex is something to be simply ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed – and there are plenty of Christian sex manuals etc etc. Sex problems are seen as resolved through better techniques or losing repression or ‘communication’. The idea that a closer relationship with Jesus might be helpful is not a common solution. Of course, when the most intense experience of intimacy in the culture is ‘mind-blowing sex’… then of course sex is seen as an end in itself. To celebrate sex is seen as a big enough goal in itself and why shouldn’t the Bible be forced to have such a limited horizon? The deep damage that this kind of attitude has for single and LGBT Christians is frightening. How can we really hold sexual practice up as the most intense relationship/intimacy, constantly trying to pair everybody up, and also pretend to be so shocked when single and LGBT Christians believe the hype?

…The best sex help we can offer is to remind us/seduce us back to the Divine Romance. That is the full and complete and ultimate human experience of intimacy… and from that ecstasy we do begin to see both the joys and sorrows of our fallen human sexuality… not in hopeless frustration or obsession, but as a grace given to some of us in order to lead us to our true Spouse.

On Song of Songs as a love triangle
I think that there are two men after the bride – the wealthy and powerful king with his many lovers and the humble, rural Shepherd who has eyes only for His love. The bride is caught up into the king’s seduction/power… but her heart is always really for her true Love. Will she be one of many in the glittering palace… or will she be the ‘one, true love’ out on the mountains, in the shepherd’s home?…

On biblical masculinity
…think of the different kinds of men within the Bible. Would artistic, multi-media Ezekiel spend his free-time with Jehu?

Who is the proper man – Esau or Jacob, Cain or Abel, Joseph with his fancy clothes and fear of ‘sex’ or Judah with fairly ‘relaxed’ view of what’s on offer sexually speaking? Would bi-polar, zealous Elijah fit well with the very reliable/stable Daniel?

David himself is such a complex character. On the one hand he is a sorry figure, hunched over his roof-top porn… setting a destructive example to his sons… yet on the other hand he is capable of such profound and deeply masculine expression in the psalms; tremendous integrity and courage before Saul and Goliath.. but cowardice and stupidity before the Philistine king; passion for the LORD Jesus when enacting the ascension in transporting the ark, but the seedy and humiliating “hot-water bottle” of the latter years.

On Calvin and Barth
…Calvin begins with the utterly transcendent God before the world began… whereas Barth wants to always begin with the actual point of contact, the one mediator, Jesus Christ. I find that both theologians lead me to worship.. reading them both is like walking into a grand cathedral. Calvin carries me away to eternity, to divine counsels and the being of god in a more classical sense. Barth confronts me with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, here and now.

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