Sexual Brokenness: Why the Church Falters in Its Defense of Biblical Sexuality & What to Do About It


Note: This is part one of a two-part series on living as Christians in a sexually broken world. In part one, we’ll seek to answer the question, “How can Christians develop a consistent, defensible sexual ethic in the church?” In part 2, we’ll seek to answer the question, “How can I express the truth about sexuality without being unloving?

The sexual revolution has borne its fruit, and its consequences are heartbreaking:

  • Seventy percent of 18- to 24-year-old men visit pornographic websites in a typical month. 1 Among other consequences, pornography is linked to a culture of rape, 2 child molestation, 3 and sexual trafficking. 4
  • By 2023, the majority of American children will be born outside of wedlock. 5 Sadly, children born outside of wedlock have more mental, emotional, health, and educational problems, and are six times as likely to live in poverty. 6
  • Compared with children who grew up in biologically intact mother-father families, children who live with same-sex parents reported significantly lower levels of education and employment and significantly higher levels of experience of sexual abuse and rape, depression, sexual promiscuity, and drug use. 7

And it’s getting worse with each passing generation. Sixties-era Baby Boomers were thought to epitomize sexual promiscuity, but studies show that young adults today are nine times more likely than Baby Boomers to engage in promiscuous sex and twice as likely to view pornography. 8

The fruit of the sexual revolution has now been harvested and is arriving by the truck load in our communities and homes. And even in the church.

In 1988, Multnomah Books published Randy Alcorn’s Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution to help Christians recover integrity amidst sexual brokenness. In April, Multnomah’s sister imprint, Convergent Books, published Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, in which the author claims that the church is sinning by rejecting intimate relationships that fall outside of man/woman marriage. 9

The release of God and the Gay Christian marks a significant turning point in the same-sex marriage debate. For the first time, an author who professes to be an evangelical Christian and who claims to hold a high view of Scripture has been given a platform and a megaphone to contravene the church’s teaching on sexuality.

Some think Vines is playing into the hands of a movement designed to dismantle traditional marriage altogether. “If I were mapping a playbook for the gay rights movement, this book is an important point in the strategy,” writes Andrew Walker, director of Policy Studies for the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in his review of God and the Gay Christian. “It has to be written in order to introduce confusion within the evangelical firmament, one of the last remaining constituencies in America that has not embraced homosexuality with gusto.”

But whether Vines is articulating his own thoughts or attempting to create space in the church for the gay rights movement, biblically-faithful Christians seem to be at a loss for how to respond. When it comes right down to it, what is a biblical basis for a consistent ethic of sexual wholeness?

Developing an Ethic of Sexual Wholeness

According to the traditional Christian conception, a human being is a dynamic unity of mind, body, and soul. Unfortunately, many Christians discount the importance of the body. This is a mistake. We cannot afford to ignore the body’s role in God’s design for human flourishing.

A biblical ethic of sexual wholeness is a story with five acts. Let’s take a look at each one.

Act 1: Recognize the Dangers of Evangelical Gnosticism

The Christian conception of the human person is that we possess both natural, material bodies and supernatural, immaterial souls. Our souls rule our bodies, disciplining them in accordance with God’s eternal law. The secular worldview, based on scientific materialism, dismisses the soul. Humans are merely bodies — animals fueled by desires that we may legitimately pursue as long as no one else is harmed in the process.

Secularism’s claims have led some Christians to spurn the body, viewing it as an obstacle to godly living and, as a result, as something less worthy than the soul. Based on a false understanding of the Apostle Paul’s differentiation between the “spirit” and the “flesh,” these Christians exalt the soul at the expense of the body. The body becomes a sort of prison from which the soul longs to escape.

This teaching isn’t new, and it doesn’t come from the Bible. It actually comes from Plato and others influenced by his writings. In St. Augustine’s day, the Manichees considered the material world to be evil and the spiritual world to be good. The Manichees taught that material existence was the cause of all evil and that humans could only be saved by a spiritual act of denouncing the body. This ancient heresy has a name: Gnosticism.

When we stop seeing how our bodies glorify God or begin thinking of Christianity as a way to escape our bodies, we lose our basis for understanding the Bible’s description of the one-flesh union in marriage as anything other than figurative. This is the error Vines falls into in God and the Gay Christian, emphasizing the spiritual union of Adam and Eve and de-emphasizing their physical unity. If our souls are good and our bodies are bad, then what matters about Adam and Eve’s relationship is that they were companions — not that they shared sexual complementarity.

But honest Christians wonder how to respond. After all, creation is fallen, right? Doesn’t that mean we ought to focus on spiritual things rather than material things?

Act 2: Rediscover the Importance of the Body

Gnosticism’s negative portrayal of the material world is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Genesis praises the goodness of the material world that God created. The Psalmist frequently praises God’s handiwork, which attests to his glory (Psalm 19). Humans, molded from the dust of the earth, were formed in God’s image, and when God saw all that he had made, he declared that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Jesus’ ministry also affirms the goodness of God’s creation. John reminds us that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). God took on human flesh and offered his body as a sacrifice for us (Hebrews 10:10). During his lifetime, Jesus healed both the souls and the bodies of those who came to him in faith. Throughout his ministry, Jesus gives every indication that the body is more than simply clothing for the soul (Matthew 6:25). It is an essential part of our being. The resurrection of Jesus’ body, which foreshadows the bodily resurrection of all the faithful, is the ultimate indication that our bodies matter. And if our bodies matter, so does our sexuality.

Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 6:13-14 when he writes, “Our bodies were not made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise our bodies from the dead by his marvelous power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.”

We honor God with our bodies when we flee sexual sin. Paul notes, “No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-19).

According to the secular worldview, personal gratification is the wellspring of human fulfillment. But according to the Christian worldview, happiness derives from the pursuit of holiness, not from the pursuit of pleasure. Beth Felker Jones, assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College, writes, “Where sinners want their bodies to be for themselves alone, a means of unfettered personal gratification, Christians have ways of seeing the body as being turned outward, toward God and others.”

When it comes to human sexuality, God’s design is fully conveyed in the pre-fall marriage relationship between Adam and Eve. Men’s and women’s physical complementarity is not incidental to the marriage relationship. Masculinity and femininity give us two ways of being in a body and make possible the mutual self-giving that is definitive of marriage and constitutive of human fulfillment.

As human beings, our bodies are good. But as fallen creatures, our bodies are also broken. If we are to honor God with our bodies — with our femininity and masculinity — then we must grasp how God designed us to express sexuality.

Act 3: Establish a Theology of the Body

Early in the Genesis 2 creation account, man is a solitary person — ‘adam. With the introduction of Eve, there is a shift in Scripture’s language. No longer is man the solitary ‘adam. From that point on, man is distinguished between ‘is and ‘issah, male and female, two distinct and complementary ways of being human. J. Budziszewski, professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, writes

Short of a divine provision for people called to celibacy, there is something missing in the man, which must be provided by the woman, and something missing in the woman, which must be provided by the man. By themselves, each one is incomplete; to be whole, they must be united. 10

To be united is exactly what God required of the married couple. In Genesis 1, immediately after God created them male and female, he tells them “to be fruitful and multiply.” Without sexual complementarity, there is no potential of procreation. Further, without the potential of procreation, the married couple cannot do everything God instructs them to do. The author of Genesis notes that all subsequent marriages ought to model the structure of the first marriage. In the imitation of the first couple, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In the procreative act, the man and the woman literally become a single organism. Writing about the biological significance of the one-flesh union, J. Budziszewski notes,

If we were speaking of respiration, it would be as though the man had the diaphragm, the woman the lungs, and they had to come together to take a single breath. … [T]hat is precisely how it is with the procreative powers. The union of complementary opposites is the only possible realization of their procreative potential; unless they come together as ‘one-flesh’ — as a single organism, though with two personalities — procreation doesn’t occur. 11

Children are the proof that this one-flesh union is not an incidental aspect of marriage. Their minds, bodies, and souls demonstrate that through procreation the married couple continues God’s work of creation by confirming and renewing the existence of man as the image of God (Genesis 5:3).

Act 4: Affirm Masculinity and Femininity

While Adam and Eve shared the same humanity, they also expressed dual natures — two ways of being human. These two natures — the masculine and the feminine — have value in and of themselves. As they combine in a mutually self-giving, one-flesh union, we learn more fully what it means to be human.

It is both their same humanity and their unique makeup that enable a man and a woman to come together and form one distinct human person. Each of them fills what is missing in the other. Through the continual and reciprocal act of mental, spiritual, and bodily self-giving, the man and woman represent the totality of created humanity, incorporating both the feminine and masculine components of our nature.

If it matters that Adam was a man and Eve was a woman, then Matthew Vines’ biblical argument misses the point entirely. Their maleness and femaleness are not merely figurative. Both their bodies and souls matter.

Act 5: Promote Sexual Wholeness

Christians do not have the luxury of remaining passive. The rising generation has been encouraged to decouple sexuality from gender and to pursue whatever kind of relationships give temporary satisfaction to their desires.

From the culture’s viewpoint, Matthew Vines’ argument is conservative because he advocates monogamy, being committed to one person. But the biblical teaching on sexual ethics, which is based on God’s design for human flourishing, was established before the fall and continues to be God’s design. As Jesus confirmed, the creation account is the basis for our approach to marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). We should base our notions of right and wrong not on our fallen state, but on our original state — our initial condition, not our modern condition. The question is not “your” sexuality or “my” sexuality, but true sexuality as God intended it to be expressed.

As we will see in next month’s issue, it is possible to affirm the dignity of those wrestling with same-sex attraction without giving in to sexual brokenness or submitting to a cultural agenda that is at odds with biblical teaching. Acceptance of a new sexual ethic is not the path to healing and reconciliation; only salvation in Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit can accomplish that.

Footnotes
  1. David Roach, “Pastors: Porn a Big Problem Among Members,” Baptist Press, November 10, 2011.
  2. Mike Allen, “Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of Rape Myths,” Journal of Communication, Vol. 45, No. 1, Winter, 1995, pp. 5-14; Shawn Corne, “Women’s Attitudes and Fantasies about Rape as a Function of Early Exposure to Pornography,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 7, No. 4, December, 1992, pp. 454-461.
  3. The latest statistics are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_ child_pornography_and_child_sexual_abuse.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafficking_of_children
  5. H. Brevy Cannon, “New Report: Falling Birth, Marriage Rates Linked to Global Economic Slowdown,” October 3, 2011. http://news.virginia.edu/content/new-report-falling-birth-marriage-rates-linked-global-economic-slowdown.
  6. See, for example, “The Consequences of Fatherlessness,” http://www.fathers.com/statistics-and-research/the-consequences-of-fatherlessness/.
  7. See, for example, Mark Regnerus, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research, Vol. 41, 2012, pp. 752–770.
  8. George Barna, “Young Adults and Liberals Struggle with Morality,” http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/25-young-adults-and-liberals-struggle-with-morality.
  9. Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Relationships, (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 162.
  10. J. Budziszewski, “Designed for Sex,” Touchstone, July/August 2005.
  11. Ibid.