By Marc Engelhardt –
In this post I’ll share one of the ways we do Foundation, Worldview, and Practice in my context. It comes from a class we teach called Christ in Common, which is a double entendre. The class exists because those involved have been brought into God’s family through Christ; he is the common thread among us. The class is also focused on digging into what it means to have Christ be the influential voice in the everyday things we face. I write these recaps for people who want to reference what was covered. The class itself is very community driven, meaning that many voices are shared and heard, and it isn’t just me lecturing. Since they are brief recaps, they don’t get into all the details of everything that was said, but they should give you an idea of the overall content and approach.
The class is based upon an understanding that people who are connected to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus live in a state of forgiveness. Jesus secured and guards our place in the family. He forgives our idolatry and our “good” works, which makes us free to try and fail, and try and fail, and try and fail. There is also the understanding that the way God created the world to work is good. The Law is a gift and shouldn’t be feared because the Law isn’t the problem; our inherent sinfulness of which we won’t be relieved in this life is. The things we talk about tend to cut deep, so typically at least once a class I or someone else in the class proclaims that truth: that we are connected to Jesus, so we live forgiven for our past, present, and future sinfulness, and so our trying and failing does not affect our place in his family. Onto the recap…
Sex is a topic that many Christians struggle with, both because of our culture and because of the way it has been treated by many flavors of Christianity historically. Ironically enough, our culture’s misunderstanding of sex can be linked to the Church’s mishandling of sex. Many Christians have an underlying feeling that sex is wrong or dirty and that even within marriage it is sort of a necessary evil that they shouldn’t enjoy too much. Our culture has, in general, rebelled heavily against such notions and celebrates sex in ways not intended by the Creator (more on that in later sessions).
The root of Christianity’s mishandling of sex can be traced to a theological perspective heavily influenced by Platonism. Augustine (354-430CE) overemphasized the spiritual and therefore devalued the physical world to the point that experiencing desire for, or during, sex was sinful. This was even within the bonds of marriage! He greatly influenced the Church for hundreds of years, and he still does within many flavors of Christianity. His philosophic Platonist ideals, however, do not reflect what is in Scripture in this instance (while in other cases they do). Let’s look at our foundation in Scripture to understand this all better.
To begin, we look at Genesis 1:27-28. After God created everything else, he created Adam and Eve. He then tells them to be fruitful and multiply. There is only one way to be fruitful and multiply: through sex. God makes sex a part of his creation, and he says later that all of creation is good, which means sex is good. At least sex for reproductive purposes. However, Scripture does not speak of sex in reproductive terms alone.
Before we get more into that, let’s take a look at Colossians 1:15-20. Here we see that Christ is the creator, ruler, and orderer of creation. Everything was created through him and for him. Christ instituted sex as part of all creation to serve him. Sex is not an invention of sin or the result of the corruption of sin. Sex is built into creation itself from the beginning. This brings to mind that Jesus is present when sex occurs, and when it is expressed in the way it is intended, sex glorifies God and helps humans fulfill part of their purpose in creation.
The next stop is Proverbs 5:15-23. Proverbs is a series of sayings that fits into an overall idea that uses the
imagery of the wisdom of God personified as a woman that a man of God (representative of God’s people)
should pursue, while going after false gods is like going after prostitutes and adulteresses. Proverbs 5:15-23 fits into that overarching idea. It also uses imagery and ideas that help us understand a wise and God-pleasing view of marriage and sex. As we read this section of Scripture, it becomes clear that sex within marriage isn’t about robotic, will-driven, desireless reproduction as Augustine would lead us to believe. Reproduction hardly seems to be the intent at all here.
This leads us to Song of Solomon. Likely written about 1300-1100 BC, this book of the Bible finds itself in the “wisdom” section of the Old Testament. The author is unknown, and while it may be Solomon, it is equally likely that it was written for him or in dedication to him. The book celebrates and instructs the goodness of creation and gift of marital sex, much like Proverbs 5:15-23.
Everything we have discussed thus far comes together in this book. Theology influenced by Augustine and Platonism impacted the Church such that historically many theologians lived in Christian cultures that reduced sex to being purely about reproduction, with any desire being sinful, even within marriage. We use Christ as the lense for all of Scripture, which means that such theologians tried to read Song of Solomon as being about Christ and the Church. Such an interpretation is very difficult, even using the most imaginative allegory. (Allegory is using the general meaning or principle in one story to apply to another instance that the original doesn’t speak to at all on the surface.)
Most times in Scripture “love” refers to self-sacrificial action and attitude, but in this section “love” is typically erotic love. It is far better to say that Augustine’s rejection of the physical world was overstated and wrong and see Song of Solomon as what it is: a celebration of God’s good gift of sex between a married man and woman. With this view, Song of Solomon describes people expressing the gift of sex in a way that Christ the Creator (from Colossians 1:15-20) intended and can be helpful for us to understand the gift of sex as well.
Song of Solomon (or in some Bibles Song of Songs) is about the marriage of a man and woman and the time leading up to it. It is very poetic and includes the perspectives of the Bride, the Groom, and Others. Reading through this book, it is helpful to understand that if the language sounds like a euphemism for sexual acts or body parts, it probably is. As the Bride and Groom describe each other and their sexual relationship rather graphically in poetic language, it is hard to understand how so many theologians tried to make Jesus the Groom and the Church the Bride. It is far more beneficial to understand that this book describes marital sex being expressed in a Jesus-pleasing, purpose-fulfilling manner, of enjoying his good creation.
Thinking of sex as a negative thing which is only for procreation and as a duty leads people to think that Song of Solomon is a very difficult book, of which they wonder why was included in God’s Word. However, when we think about how sex is part of God’s good creation and a gift that fosters a special bond within marriage (more on that bond in coming sessions), it is easy to see how this book is a reminder of how a husband and wife should view and celebrate each other. Make sure to read through the whole book. It doesn’t take long.
Taking all of this foundation in Scripture together, we get a few ways to see the world around us. First, sex is good, and marriage is the context for sex. Second, man and woman should delight in marital sex, both the act and that they are a fulfillment of God’s good creation to each other. We also see that scripture rejects asceticism (asceticism is abstaining from the physical world to be more holy) and debauchery (Debauchery is doing whatever one feels like doing with whomever one feels like doing it. Scripture is clear that sex is good within a marriage, not outside of it. More on that in coming sessions). We also see that Scripture itself debunks a common religious view that sex is a bad thing that marriage somehow sanctifies or makes passable. And last, the marital bond causes and is linked to desire and attractiveness. The way the Bride and Groom perceive each other isn’t necessarily linked to the reality of how others see them, but within their marriage those perceptions are reality for them.
These worldviews show us how to live practically regarding sex being good. Here are a few: Verbal praise can go a long way with your spouse when it comes to your physical relationship. Next, beauty, desire, and sexual attractiveness are linked to the bond of marriage and shouldn’t be the primary factor for who you date. Last, the wait is worth it; sex within the bonds of marriage is better than anything outside marriage.