Archives For human sexuality

What is important to reach the teens of today? How does one equip them for living faithfully in this world? What are the roles and responsibilities of those who are responsible for the training and discipleship of them, parents, youth pastors, youth volunteers? What are important “theological tools” for this endeavor?

Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama, and chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry, has listed “5 Tools Needed to Reach Today’s Teens.” 

I include his points along with the recommended resource.

1. Knowledge about the canonization of Scripture.
Recommended Reading: F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture

2. Developed theology of sexuality, particularly homosexuality.
Recommended Reading: Wesley Hill, Washed And Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

3. Ability to teach the Bible in the greater context of redemptive history.
Recommended Reading: Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture

4. Theological, not only moral, understanding of sin.
Recommended Reading: Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

5. Understand adoption as an element of salvation.
Recommended Reading: Trevor Burke, Adopted into God’s Family (in the NSBT series edited by D. A. Carson)

Though I may nuance these issues a bit differently, and though there are things I would add to the list, and though I would likely recommend a few other/additional resources, I appreciate that Cole is intentional about equipping young people with biblical truth. This, then, becomes foundational for a life lived to the glory of God, for the good of the church, and for true human flourishing.

  1. What “theological tools” do you use?
  2. How do you equip those serving as authority figures according to God’s ordained roles in the lives of teenagers?

Christians and Co-habitation

Greg Strand – March 1, 2013 3 Comments

Christopher Ash, Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, and author of the excellent book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (Nottingham, UK: InterVarsity Press, 2003), recently responded to a question about “Christians and co-habitation.”

This is an extremely pertinent issue as many younger Evangelicals are co-habiting and find nothing wrong with it. Is this a moral issue of a by-gone day? Does morality in an enlightened postmodern day mean that marriage as traditionally understood is good but unnecessary? Can marriage be sloughed off without going contrary to Scripture’s mandate about marriage and sexual expression being reserved for the relationship of a man and a woman within the context of marriage? Though Ash states the question posed by this young Christian man as making reference to many of his “non-Christian peer group,” many Christians are also engaging in this same sort of arrangement.

Ash stated the question in this way:

It comes to light that a Christian young man in your church is living with his girlfriend, unmarried. When you challenge him about this he responds, “So, can you show me from the Bible that it’s wrong for me to be living with my girlfriend?” He is not aggressive, though perhaps a little defensive. But he really does seem to want to know the answer. . . . All—or nearly all—his non-Christian peer group are living together, and really it hasn’t seriously occurred to him that it is wrong, let alone scandalous. So what is his pastor to say?

The young man answers his own question by claiming that

what we are doing is morally responsible, and not at all like fornication or sexual immorality. I am not paying her for sex, as a man does with a prostitute. We are not breaking marriage vows by having an affair. We are not sneaking off for secret assignations in a covert and shameful way. On the contrary, we have quite openly moved in together. We love one another, and we are faithful to one another. So what’s wrong?

Ash notes that there is no single, simple and convincing proof-text in the Bible to quote to win the day. It is not that the Bible has nothing to say – it has a great deal to say about this! – but it cannot be stated in a one-minute sound bite. Here is Ash’s response:

1. Jesus taught clearly and forcefully that the sexual relationship of man and woman ought to be faithful and lifelong. We are not to separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). Any sexual relationship between a man and a woman that is not accompanied by the intention of lifelong faithfulness is, by definition, displeasing to God and immoral. It is not possible for a sexual relationship to be moral and intentionally transient. (It is essential to the definition of marriage that both parties pledge themselves to lifelong faithfulness; the fact that, sadly, some marriages later break does not change the fact that marriage is always built upon this pledge.) So there are two kinds of sexual relationships, ones that are built upon the pledge of lifelong faithfulness, and ones that are not.

2. There is a very great difference between public pledge and private assurances. This difference is not appreciated as it ought to be. In our privatized and individualistic culture we think there is little or no difference between private assurances exchanged between lovers on the sofa and public pledges made before witnesses (which is marriage).

But, in fact, there is a very great difference. A private assurance is, as we all sadly know, terribly easy to break. After all, when it comes to it, it is my word against hers/his as to what exactly was said. My reputation suffers minimal loss if I break a private word. BUT when I make a pledge before witnesses, I place my whole integrity and public reputation on the line. This is what happens in a marriage. I pledge publicly that I will be faithful to this woman alone until death separates us. Everybody knows I have made this pledge, for marriage vows (even if made before only a few witnesses) are unboundedly public. When I tell people I am married, they know that this means (by definition) I have publicly pledged lifelong faithfulness.

This means I am agreeing with Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce. By publicly pledging lifelong faithfulness I agree that I ought never to be the one who breaks the marriage. And if I do break it (that is, be the one who actually causes it to break, never mind who does the technical legal business of suing for divorce), everyone will know I have broken my clear vow. And my reputation and integrity will suffer. So the stakes are rightly high in marriage. For public vows nail my public integrity to the maintenance of our marriage.

But unmarried cohabitation never has this clarity of commitment. Whatever private understandings may have been entered into (and these vary enormously), the whole relationship is surrounded by a public haze of ambiguous commitment. When a woman introduces her ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partner’ (horrible word), we are left to guess the nature of their relationship. When a cohabitation breaks, we do not know what private understandings or assurances have been broken and by whom.

3. Furthermore, in marriage there is public clarity that the vows have been made equally by man and wife. Whereas all too often in cohabitations there is a disparity of expectation. Typically (though not always) the woman expects the relationship to last (and persuades herself that her man has committed himself to her) while the man regards the whole business as much more of a “let’s see how it goes” relationship.

4. To the unmarried couple we may therefore say, “Either your relationship is committed for life or it is immoral. If it is not immoral, you must be committed for life. In which case, you ought to be willing to stand up and say so. For what reason might there be for keeping your commitment private? Answer: none. On the contrary, if you really love one another, you will make the public commitment, since this commitment aligns the resources of wider families and society behind you, holds you to it by our expectations that you will be a man and a woman of your word. Public commitment therefore buttresses your relationship and makes it more likely to last (much more likely, as the statistics indicate). And if you are not willing to make this public commitment, the only possible reason is that you are not really committed like this at all and do not really love one another. In which case your relationship is immoral.”

Ash’s conclusion is the following:

That sounds a touch harsh, and it will need to be said in the context of a pastor who loves and cares; but it does need to be said to any professing Christian couple who really think it is moral to live together unmarried. For although they think they love one another, actually they do not love one another very much—and certainly not enough to make sex moral.

What would you say? How would you respond?

To provide one follow up to yesterday’s post on what we can/should learn from the Tim Tebow withdrawal from his church speaking engagement, Carl Trueman concludes that as Christians we ought to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

I have commented often that we live in a day when the mores and culture are changing rapidly. In many ways, we are experiencing a moral tsunami. Most of us have known this intellectually; today more than ever we are feeling the reality of this experientially.

Trueman states the following conclusion, with a bit of biting wit:

The incident is confirmation that the world is changing rapidly and, as I have noted before, taking any stand on homosexuality short of complete and unconditional affirmation will soon place one in the same moral category as a Klansman or a homicidal foot fetishist. Of course, I am not a cultural transformationalist; but if there are any such reading this blog, I might suggest that now would be a good time for you chaps to start proving me wrong.  Yes, I do appreciate the cool movie reviews, the nice paintings, the appearances on the occasional serious news program and the efforts on behalf of decent craft brews; but I have a suspicion that it would really be much more helpful if we were seeing some transformation for the good in society’s moral and legal standards.  The culture is transforming as I write, but not, it seems to me, in ways conducive to religious freedom in general or Christianity in particular.

In noting some of the positive things we can learn from this, Trueman, in his third point, writes that:

we need to remember that hatred from the world is what we are to expect.  The West has enjoyed a happy confluence of the broad ethical values of wider society and of the Bible on things such as sexual morality for many centuries.  That is changing rapidly.  It will lead to persecution, whether in the mild form of name calling or more severe forms such as the use of legal penalties against those who hold fast to the faith.  What does the Bible have to say to this?  ‘Do not be surprised….’ 1 Pet. 4:12.   This is the expected norm; what we have thus far enjoyed for many centuries now is actually the exception – a delightful blessing for which we should be grateful, but the exception nonetheless.

And here is Trueman’s important conclusion we must remember in this changing day:

Finally, remember Matt. 16:18.  No media campaign, no election result, no ruling of the Supreme Court, no attack from the most violent enemy can negate that promise.  Yes, the church’s enemies come; but they always eventually go.  The church remains and will always do so, guaranteed by the grace of a faithful, covenant keeping God.  That should be a cause for rejoicing, whatever the outward cultural circumstances in which we find ourselves.

It is important to remember two of Jesus’ promises:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b).

The theme of this coming year’s EFCA Theology Conference (January 30-February 1, 2013, Southern Gables EFC, Littleton, CO) is “Sex Matters: A Theology of Human Sexuality.” It might be helpful to explain how we came to this title/theme and the focus of the Conference.

I had originally thought of just addressing the issue of same-sex marriage, and I believe I would be warranted in doing so. But that misses the big picture, which consists of God’s good design, not just one deviation or perversion of that design. This is what led me to this broader framework. I also thought it would be important to address the deviations from God’s good design more broadly, not just the sin of same-sex marriage. It must be addressed, but so must other sins. We live in a day that when morality is addressed, the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriage must be addressed or one’s silence will be heard as support of it. But then when one does communicate it over and over, which is necessary as it is the moral issue of the day, then we are criticized for having only one note that we play incessantly on our moral instrument.

We are planning to address the whole realm of human sexuality more broadly, same-sex marriage being a sub-category under that larger one. There are huge issues related to human sexuality: creation, male and female, image of God, marriage, singleness, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, GLBT, GID, pornography, cohabitation among young (including evangelicals), older people living together and not married so as not to lose benefits, etc. Moreover, how will pastors respond as custodians of the state when they may be asked to perform same-sex unions? Should the pastor serve the dual role of civil and ecclesiastical in marriages? Should churches no longer perform weddings, but leave that to the state? This question is being raised quite often.

As you know, this is a very complex issue. It touches on all of the following: cultural, scientific, sociological, biblical, theological, pastoral. But this complexity does not mean there is question about this in the Word of God. We need to go back to God’s Word, be reminded of what He says, listen and learn about these issues, learn to get to the heart of these issues in the lives of people, and be equipped to stand firmly on God’s truth with humility and courage, knowing that God knows and cares and desires wholeness, according to His original design, not the personal whims and wishes of men and women.

We will focus on this important issue, and address the contemporary pressure point of same-sex marriage, from an interdisciplinary format (New Testament, Systematic Theology, Psychology, Medical, Personal Testimony). I am grateful to the Lord because it is only His providential hand that allowed us to get the speakers we did. They are key individuals who are on the front-lines of addressing this issue from an Evangelical perspective, seeking to educate and equip the church to know the Scriptures, to discern the times and to engage lovingly with those who struggle or out-right pursue the life and lifestyle.

You can read about the Conference at this link  and the speakers at this link.

Here is the list of the speakers and topics and sessions, with some possibility of modifications.

Session #1: Ben Mitchell, Introduction: Human Sexuality – The Cultural and Ecclesiological Landscape
Session #2: Ben Mitchell, The Theology of Human Sexuality
Session #3, Robert Gagnon, Jesus’ View of Marriage
Panel Discussion #1
Session #4, Robert Gagnon, Paul on Homosexual Practice
Session #5, Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: A Personal Testimony, Theological and Ecclesial Reflections
Breakout Sessions:

  • Robert Gagnon, Analogies and Their (Mis)Use in the Same-Sex Debate
  • Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Recovering an Ancient Christian Practice for the Church Today
  • Spiritual Heritage Committee, A Guide for EFCA Churches in Forming Policies Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

Session #6, Stan Jones, The Theology of Sexuality Applied: Teaching/Training of Youth in the Home and the Church
Session #7, Stan Jones, Science, Social Science and Sexual Orientation
Session #8, Dan Beals, What Can Medical Science Tell Us About Sexual Orientation?
Panel Discussion #2

We are praying the Lord will use this Conference to inform, educate and equip pastors and leaders to address these issues in a biblically faithful, theologically informed, and pastorally sensitive manner, all the while standing firmly on the Word of God. With this topic and with the incredibly gifted speakers joining us, this ought to be one of our largest attended Theology Conferences yet.