Christ and Culture: Human Sexuality

The last two weeks we talked about the question of truth and how Christians ought to think about politics. We might say that those are more broadly philosophical or external concerns.

Starting today, and the next three classes are going to turn toward issues directly concerning the human person.

Today, we’re going to talk about Human Sexuality. Next week, we’ll discuss Gender roles – primarily in the context of the church and the home. So—as a side note, there is some overlap between sexuality and gender. So, today we will talk about gender some—the nature of gender… but next week will focus more on gender roles.

And then, we’ll take a break March 6… and resume March 13 with questions concerning race and racism.

What we’re dealing with in each of these issues is what theologians would call Theological Anthropology.

Anthropology simply is the study of man. So, if you study anthropology across the street, you might take a class on biological anthropology… which would talk about the question of human origins from an evolutionary perspective.

Or, you might take the fun classes—cultural anthropology, where you’re looking at cultural variations across the globe.

Anthropology in a more philosophical sense is asking what is the nature of the human person?

Therefore, a Theological Anthropology is the theological understanding of the human person. What does God say about humanity? (Psalm 8:4 “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”)

Theological anthropology would also argue that human persons can only be fully understood in light of our relation to God.

We are created by God in his image. The Bible gives us the narrative of creation-fall-redemption-future glory with God in heaven. We can’t fully understand humanity apart from these theological realities.

What are the theological issues that fall under theological anthropology?

Creation
Image of God imago Dei
Gender/Sexuality
Body/Soul unity (material and immaterial aspects of our nature)
Personhood
Social relationships
Race/Ethnicity

So, you can see that many of the most controversial issues of our day concern theological anthropology: gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexuality, transhumanism, body image issues, body modification, eating disorders, etc. There is a lot of confusion in our culture regarding these issues. There is confusion in the church.

And here it’s important to say that when you think of the phrase “theological anthropology,” – the order of those words matters. We don’t want an anthropological theology. We want a theological anthropology. Not man-centered… but we start with God. God-centered.

Don’t misconstrue that— to say that we are God-centered doesn’t mean that we diminish the value of the human person… of course not. But in order to think rightly about the human person we must first start with God.

We need clarity from God on these issues. Thankfully God has spoken clearly to us in his Word.

That sets up the framework for the next few weeks.

What does God say about the human person?

So, here’s how we’re going to proceed this afternoon.

First, we’ll talk about Gender- maleness and femaleness… as this is fundamental to understanding human sexuality.

Then, we’ll discuss sexuality… and it’s important to frame the discussion in terms of what God is for when it comes to human sexuality. When we understand what sexuality is for, then we see that God’s prohibitions on certain expressions of sexuality are not arbitrary but actually serve to protect what he is for.

Gender

There’s a lot of confusion about gender today.
Is gender a binary (male – female)? Or is it a spectrum?

I don’t bring this up to make fun of this… In 2014, Facebook released a list of at least 56 genders to select from in your profile. I think now there are 74 options.

  • Agender
  • Androgyne
  • Androgynous
  • Bigender
  • Cis
  • Cisgender
  • Cis Female
  • Cis Male
  • Cis Man
  • Cis Woman
  • Cisgender Female
  • Cisgender Male
  • Cisgender Man
  • Cisgender Woman
  • Female to Male
  • FTM
  • Gender Fluid
  • Gender Nonconforming
  • Gender Questioning
  • Gender Variant
  • Genderqueer
  • Intersex
  • Male to Female
  • MTF
  • Neither
  • Neutrois
  • Non-binary
  • Other
  • Pangender
  • Trans
  • Trans*
  • Trans Female
  • Trans* Female
  • Trans Male
  • Trans* Male
  • Trans Man
  • Trans* Man
  • Trans Person
  • Trans* Person
  • Trans Woman
  • Trans* Woman
  • Transfeminine
  • Transgender
  • Transgender Female
  • Transgender Male
  • Transgender Man
  • Transgender Person
  • Transgender Woman
  • Transmasculine
  • Transsexual
  • Transsexual Female
  • Transsexual Male
  • Transsexual Man
  • Transsexual Person
  • Transsexual Woman
  • Two-Spirit

I think there was a customizable option as well.

Now, there is social peer pressure to be identified by preferred pronouns. I’ve seen this with a nametag or in email signature blocks. Last year I virtually attended the National Mentoring Summit… and most people had their Zoom name and in parentheses, their preferred pronouns.

This is my opinion, but as a point of pastoral advice, I would caution against adopting that practice. While some might say—oh, well this just shows that I’m sensitive to these concerns… I think it tacitly gives approval to the underlying worldview which is directly opposed to God’s created order.

The most vivid example of this pronoun issue was an ESPN cover story on the WNBA’s first openly (keyword there) non-binary and transgender player. Let me read the editor’s note at the beginning of this article:

“Editor’s note: Layshia Clarendon, who identifies as transgender and nonbinary, uses he/him, she/her, and they/them pronouns interchangeably. We do so throughout this piece. We also introduce the preferred pronouns for others who appear in this story and for whom pronouns are used.”

Again, I don’t mean to make fun of this… but the article is nearly incomprehensible. And that’s it’s intent. It’s a deliberate political move to destabilize cultural norms. To destabilize God’s created order.

Is gender a biological reality like sex? Or is it socially constructed?

What we’re dealing with is two competing views about gender (there’s a binary for you).

Gender Essentialism or Gender Constructionism. Neither of which fits fully into the biblical understanding of gender. So first, let me outline the two views… and then I’ll get into the biblical understanding of gender.

Some definitions:

Gender essentialism: gender essentialism is the view that men and women are fundamentally different. Men are from Mars Women are from Venus. That there are certain qualities and characteristics that belong exclusively (keyword) to men and exclusively to women.

Basically, gendered stereotypes are seen as essential to what it means to be a man or women. Men want to solve problems. Women want to talk about their feelings.

Now, there are numerous scientific studies that affirm biological, psychological, and social differences between men and women.

One of the flaws, however, is that the environment and culture does, to a degree, shape gendered expectations and differences.

That fact has led some to embrace what’s called Gender constructionism.

Gender constructionism: Gender constructionism is the view that separates gender from biological sex and views gender as mere social performance or conformity to societal expectations.

Carl Trueman in describing this constructionist view of reality would say that we are now “plastic people.” We are an autonomous individual who can engage in self-creation and be anything we desire to be. Any meaningful social categories are destabilized. It becomes all about power dynamics.

Judith Butler is a feminist thinker who holds to this view of gender constructionism. According to her, gender is purely performance. She speaks of this idea that gender is not being, it is doing.

She would argue that the gender binary is really just a way to maintain the power of heteronormativity.

Well, that’s some gobbledygook. Here’s the translation from postmodern gobbledygook into English.
Heteronormativity—that heterosexuality is the normative majority experience of society.

Butler would say, to affirm a gendered binary is to hold on to your power and continue to marginalize minority sexual identities and expressions.

Simon de Beauvoir is another feminist thinker who holds to this constructionist view of gender. Here’s the opening sentence of one of her books: “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”

There is a clear separation between gender and sex. Now, we even hear language of “persons with cervixes.” Or “pregnant people.” What we’d traditionally call “pregnant women.” And if you’re the least bit critical of that view—like J.K. Rowling (who is not in the least conservative)—you get disinvited to the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter. ☺

On this view, what is the significance of the body?

On this view, the body is meaningless. Maleness and femaleness has nothing to do with our bodies but is purely a psychological phenomenon. And here’s the sad irony behind transgenderism. If the body is meaningless when it comes to what it means to be a man or woman, then why is it necessary to undergo body modifications to bring your body into congruity with your preferred gender? There’s even been a shift in language from calling it sex reassignment surgery to gender alignment surgery.

Our bodies are of immense importance for our faith. We don’t think about our bodies much… theologically. That’s one of the strange paradoxes of our society— we are simultaneously body obsessed hypersexualized, but also body amnesiacs – we forget about it and disregard it.

For further reading here are 4 books that I’ve read that I’d recommend if you’re interested learning more about the theological significance of our bodies:

Embodied by Gregg Allison (Baptist)
Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body by John Kleinig (Lutheran)
For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body by Timothy Tennent (Methodist)
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman (Presbyterian)

What’s the biblical assessment of these two views: gender essentialism and gender constructionism? What is the biblical understanding of gender?

What I’m going to articulate here comes from the writings of Gregg Allison.

The Bible affirms gender as a fundamental aspect of our embodiment. God has created us as gendered beings, either male or female.

I take the traditional view of the word gender as being synonymous with sex.

Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Both males and females are equally made in the image of God. God created the woman to be a suitable helper to fulfill the creation mandate… to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth (build society).

As many theologians have recognized, this male-female binary follows the pattern of other binaries in the creation narrative.

  • Nothing and something
  • Creator and creature
  • Heaven and earth
  • Light and Darkness
  • Day and Night
  • Waters above and waters below
  • Dry land and waters

The crowning achievement of God’s creative work is creating man (humankind) as male and female.

Because embodiment is fundamental to our existence and embodiment is either male or female, then our maleness or femaleness shapes how we see and live in the world.

Now, Gregg Allison would say this might sound like gender essentialism, but it’s not. It diverges from that view in some important ways.

So, gender essentialism would say there are certain qualities or characteristics that belong exclusively to men and women… Allison’s view is that instead there are common human traits that are expressed in gendered ways.

Here’s a real life example of this from my time at WSU. I was in a Men and Masculinities class… which really was all about abolishing the patriarchy… and toxic masculinity…

We were having a class discussion about masculine and feminine traits… And I think it was about “gentleness” being a feminine characteristic. So, it was argued that men who display gentleness are expressing femininity.

But I raised the point that gentleness is not a feminine or masculine quality. Both men and women can express gentleness. I didn’t use his name, but I talked about how at the time I was meeting with Kevin Neuenswander weekly. I’d meet with one of my mentors… who is one of the most gentle of men I know… and that he would say “I love you.” I said, he’s not expressing femininity, he’s expressing a basic human characteristic.

He’s actually expressing a Christian virtue. The fruit of the Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

None of those qualities belong exclusively to men or women. But they might be expressed differently.

We should rightly reject gendered stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

One of the ironies of the transgenderism movement, in my opinion, is that it reinforces gendered stereotypes.

If you’re a girl who doesn’t like playing with dolls, maybe that means you’re supposed to be a boy. Um no, maybe it means you’re a girl who doesn’t like playing with dolls. And that’s okay.

I think it’s here where the church can really help people who are struggling to understand where they fit in. That it’s okay not to fit into gendered stereotypes. And we can help them to be comfortable in their bodies, as God has uniquely made them.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Sexuality

Just as gender is a fundamental given of human existence, so is sexuality.

We are sexual beings. But we have to be careful here.

Marc Cortez is a theologian who says that sexuality is an essential aspect of our humanity… but that doesn’t mean that particular expressions of sexuality are natural or essential.

Because then you can very easily believe that something sinful is essential to our humanity.

So, we should first ask—what is sexuality for? Again, we could frame this discussion with all the various types of sexual expression that is wrong… but that fails to see the larger purpose of what sexuality is for.

Ultimately—and this might seem strange— sex points to our union with God. And here’s why.

Sex is designed by God to only take place within the context of a lifelong monogamous union between one man and one woman. Sex is designed to take place within marriage. And ultimately, marriage is designed to point to the mysterious union between Christ and his bride, the Church.

This is the storyline of the Bible. It begins and ends with a wedding.
It begins with a wedding in the garden and the one-flesh union of Adam and Eve… and it ends with the wedding supper of the Lamb in heaven.

Sex and marriage are God’s idea. We don’t get to tinker with it. God has designed it this way because he knows what’s best.

But — we might ask – why has God designed sex to only take place within the context of marriage?

And here, I’m going to re-present some material from the marriage conference… so if you’ve already heard this, I think it’s good to revisit it.

One of the things that I said at the marriage conference is that marriage is for union and intimacy.

There’s a wonderful phrase from John Kleinig to frame this. He speaks about what he calls “the Garden of Nuptial Love.” Nuptial is an old word meaning marriage.

He speaks about the traditional language of marriage as an estate— “a safe place for [the] sexual union to be protected, nurtured, and to thrive.” There’s your answer to the question. Why is sex only for marriage? Well, because ideally, it is a safe place for the sexual union to be protected, to grow and to thrive.

Marriage is a garden of love. Fenced off and protected from others, it is a beautiful environment in which love may be nourished and cultivated.

Sex is enormously powerful. It affects the whole person. Which is why it is so dangerous and destructive apart from God’s design. It affects all of our senses.

The garden of love is the place where husband and wife can come together in their whole person and give themselves in self-giving love. It is physical, there is pleasure, but it is also emotional and spiritual. It’s more than just a physical union.

Therefore, marriages should pursue chastity. Chastity is an old word that we typically just associate with virginity. But it is much more than virginity or sexual abstinence.

Chastity is sexual purity—reserving yourself fully and faithfully for the other person. Chastity is not only for the unmarried.
Essentially, chastity is much more than merely physical. It is about a pure heart governed by self-giving love rather than a heart dominated by lust or the pursuit of personal pleasure.

So, hear me out. Sex is pleasurable. But pleasure is not the sole purpose of sex. When pleasure is sought as the sole purpose, sex becomes degrading and objectifying.

Marriage is a garden of love. It is fenced off and protected in order that the couple’s love and sexual union may grow and flourish.

Another main feature of sex (and marriage) is that it leads to children. It is very clear in Scripture that having children is natural to the institution of marriage. God has given the creation mandate “to be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28). God’s design is that having children would only take place in the context of marriage because that union creates the best nurturing, stable, environment for raising children. Marriage is what’s best for children.

Psalm 127 says that children are a blessing (heritage) from the Lord. We live in a society that peddles narratives that treat children as a curse or an inconvenience or an inconvenience to your personal happiness. Children are impediments to your career or aspirations, etc. The Christian worldview must rightly reject this kind of talk and the entertainment of such thoughts. Children are a gift from the Lord. Even when the circumstances are not ideal, we can trust God that his grace is sufficient to sustain us with what we need.

Another aspect of sex and marriage is that it’s temporary.

Death dissolves the marriage bond. This is the biblical reality, and it’s a good thing.

Jesus says in Matt 22:29, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

That may sound like a diminishment… but it’s not… it’s going to be better.

The biblical survey of marriage answers the question of why there is no marriage in heaven. Marriage ultimately points to our union with Christ. Thus, marriage is only a provisional state. It will pass away when our spouse dies.

Here is John Kleinig again, “The single life is not at all abnormal and uncommon; it is quite normal and common. All married people were single before they were married, and half of them will once again be single after the death of their spouse.”

To be single is not to be less than human. Singleness is a gift just as marriage is a gift. Single and married folks can enrich the lives of each other. We are all one body.

We live in a hyper sexualized culture that says sexual expression is essential to our humanity. But as Sam Allberry helpfully points out—this would mean Jesus is not fully human because he didn’t have sex.

Now, Jesus was a sexual being… as an embodied male… but his humanity did not depend on his sexual activity.

What I’ve presented here is a positive vision for human sexuality. You see God’s design… and it is a beautiful design. God’s design is for our good and for our flourishing.

When we stray from God’s design…we do great harm to ourselves and others. Christians can (maybe sometimes rightfully so) get a bad wrap regarding sexuality… we get characterized as a bunch of puritans obsessed with repressing sexual deviancy. But really, that’s not our concern—our concern is that we want God’s best. And God’s best is for our good.

With all of these things in mind, it becomes clear why prohibitions against homosexual activity (or any other deviant sexual practices) are not arbitrary.

Any of God’s commands are for our good and for our flourishing.

And while I want to focus on what we’re for… I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t address homosexuality at all because of its prevalence in society.

I’m not even going to be able to scratch the surface of all that could be said here. I’m not going to get into the exegetical arguments for/against it. What I want to do is simply to address how we might deal with this issue in our community.

However, For those who are interested in the exegetical arguments… I’d recommend this video on youtube by Robert Gagnon. It’s 1.5 hours long… but he is probably one of the foremost New Testament scholars on New Testament sexual ethics form a conservative point of view. He engages every textual argument here in a really engaging manner.

It’s called “The Bible and Homosexuality: Interpreting the Scriptures” by Dr. Robert Gagnon
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sN9MSK9YUQ

Also, I think there is some phenomenal material out there with The Gospel Coalition addressing this issue—with writers like Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Rebecca McLaughlin. All of whom have this issue as a part of their story.

What I appreciate about their stories and their writing is that they help us see that this is not just an issue “out there” but “in here.” In that sense, talking about it openly helps us think biblically about it.

Then we’re able to better help people who may experience same sex attraction walk with Jesus faithfully.

Now, I’ve just used what some may consider to be a loaded term… I’ve used the phrase “same sex attraction” verses homosexuality. Why did I do that?

Homosexuality, as the word is used now, conveys a sense of comprehensive identity. Biblically, homosexual practice is precluded.
Not necessarily same sex desire. Though, I do think that desire is the result of living in a fallen world.

So there’s a debate going on in Christian circles over the language we use.

Some use the term “gay Christian” to mean that their church is open and affirming, welcoming of homosexual identity and expression. That indeed God blesses such practices and unions.

Others use the term “gay Christian,” but they uphold traditional Christian views regarding human sexuality. For them, that means God has called them to be celibate, but their homosexual desires are central to their identity.

Others use the term “same-sex attraction” to denote their experience of such desires—but those experiences are not central to their personal identity and lifestyle.

Again, as a matter of pastoral advice… I would caution against using the label “gay Christian,” even if by that you mean you believe in historic Christian understandings of sexuality. One reason being it’s confusing to people—especially non-Christians. A second reason, is that you’ve now made a practice that is sinful central to your identity.

The goal for the Christian who experiences same-sex attraction is not to become heterosexual… the goal is pursue holiness and Christlikeness. In my view, adopting that label, can become a stumbling block in helping you pursue holiness.

Also, in this discussion we need to be careful with our language of “welcome” and “inclusion.” Often, we hear that the church should be welcoming toward those who experience SSA… by that they mean, wholesale affirmation of the practice.

And while we cannot do that and remain biblically faithful, that doesn’t mean we are not or cannot be a “welcoming community.”
So, as Christians seeking to love God and love others, we can welcome those into our community who struggle. And we befriend them, we listen to them. We walk faithfully beside them… but we’re not going to compromise on biblical fidelity to New Testament sexual ethics.

Our goal is always to help people walk faithfully with Jesus. We are to help them see that Jesus knows our sin and shame. He knows our every weakness.

Too often, people who experience same sex attraction feel that they must suffer in silence because of the immense perceived shame that they feel from their community. But we must help them see that Jesus himself identities with our shame.

He hung naked on a cross. It was the most shameful way to die. He knows what it is like to feel shame. And Jesus also gives us hope. And the promise that he will be with us. Jesus does work transformation and restores us to wholeness.

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