Why Evangelicals Can’t Influence the World about Sex

by | Apr 19, 2022 | Faith, Libido, Sex, Sexual Intimacy | 70 comments

Why Christians Can't Influence World about Sexual Ethics
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For the last three years I’ve been trying to change the evangelical conversation about sex.

I’ve been pointing out how we went so very far off track with so much of our messaging in our best-sellers–focusing on men’s satisfaction and ignoring women’s; seeing sex as a female obligation and a male entitlement; prioritizing his needs over hers.

In The Great Sex Rescue, we pointed out that Christians often have just as pornified a view of sex as the world that we criticize: we view women as sex objects; we view men as unable to treat women as anything other than sex objects (Gary Thomas says that God made men to think about sex constantly and to always be ready to seize a sexual opportunity; Every Man’s Battle says that men sin naturally, simply by being male).

Even the “bounce your eyes” solution to lust STILL treats women as sex objects. Either you lust after her, or you ignore her because she’s a threat. In both cases, you see her merely as a collection of body parts (and Every Young Man’s Battle actually talks about women that way–“a pair of boobs walking towards you.”)

I believe the conversation is changing, and for that I am rejoicing greatly.

However, what saddens me is that because evangelicals have gotten sex so wrong, we really have had nothing to say to the world about sex.

We are supposed to be salt and light to the world, but we have failed in our task.

In fact, not only have we failed; in many cases the world is far healthier than we are. Our study for The Great Sex Rescue does suggest that non-religious secular women enjoy better sex than evangelical women, with a lower orgasm gap and with higher libidos.

But also the things that we were teaching in The Great Sex Rescue, which were so groundbreaking in evangelicalism, have been largely taught in the secular world for decades. When I was in university we learned about the importance of consent and the problems with the objectification of women. We learned about the problems with only seeing sex from a male perspective. And this was 30 years ago!

We debated how the sexual revolution and the porn culture had merely made it easier to objectify women by putting cultural pressure on women to approach sex the way that many college frat boys did. We debated what sexual liberation really should look like for women; did it mean rampant promiscuity, or did it mean being allowed to figure out what they wanted?

Again, we debated this thirty years ago.

I’ve been reading a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

 

Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Cover

The central thesis is that evangelicalism became so populist and fundamentalist and “Bible only” that it stopped being able to influence the thinking, the arts, the philosophy of the wider world. It became merely reactionary, and had nothing substantive to say about morality, politics, economics, and even sexuality.

By declaring that the Bible was all that was needed, evangelicalism started looking down on higher learning. And we stopped learning how to engage intellectually with the world. There have been no evangelical Nobel Prize winners; few evangelical Rhodes scholars. Yet this is not true of Catholics or other streams of Protestantism, who have been very active in intellectual life and philosophy.

I’ve been reading a chapter of the book at night, and then during the day working as usual. And so it happened that juxtaposed in my reading was an hour and a half that I took out of my life to listen to one of John D. Street’s graduate level classes on Advanced Biblical Counseling. John Street was one of the ones I fixed in a recent graphic for blaming the rape of a 4-year-old on the fact that the mother hadn’t had enough sex with the stepfather, so he sought “sexual satisfaction” from the young girl instead.

I decided to listen to his series of lectures, and I’m in the middle of his one on sexual deviancy. I was surprised by several things in listening to this lecture:

The level of academic discourse is much lower than I would have expected in a first year university course, let alone a graduate level course.

As someone who has lectured in first year university courses, and marked and led tutorials for multiple first and third year courses at a prestigious Canadian university, I will tell you that this lecture was not in the least academic, and did not meet our standards of rigour.

Street portrays almost an idolization of Scripture

He spends half an hour, for instance, showing how sex was meant to be mutual (at least he said that!) and that it was meant to be in marriage and it was meant for love. All of that could have been said in one sentence, yet he has to prove it with multiple Bible verses, as if one cannot declare “the sky is blue” unless there is a Bible verse for it.

Only if you can proof text it with a Bible verse can something be true. And thus if you cannot proof text it, it must not be true.

This is really the heart of the critique that Mark Noll is making in The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind. It is as if Christians have forgotten that Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. If Jesus is Truth, then study that finds Truth is a worthy pursuit. It points us to learning more of God’s creation.

But if you can only declare something true if you can find a verse that talks about it in the Bible, then you’re very limited in what you can study. And you can’t grow to have a robust intellectual understanding of key things.

 

Evangelicals display a gnostic strand when we treat the Bible as if it were an esoteric code to be deciphered as a way of obtaining privileged information about the creation of the natural world, the disposition of historical events, or the unfolding of the future. (p. 66)

Proof-texting did not cause great damage so long as the culture as a whole held to general Christian values, but when those general Christian values began to weaken, the weakness in evangelical theologizing–even more, in thinking like a Christian about the world in general–became all too evident. (p. 127)

Mark A. Noll

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

The only thing that evangelicalism has to offer the world about sex is “don’t do it.”

That’s what we’ve been saying for decades–“don’t have sex before marriage.”

But we’ve never really said WHY, because we’ve never answered that question ourselves beyond, “because God said not to.”

We need a Christian view of sexual ethics that goes beyond “don’t do it” and encompasses the sacredness of sex.

The world has been developing its own sexual ethic, and it mostly focuses on the twin goals of personal satisfaction and fulfillment and consent. Both are worthy goals; but alone they fall woefully short of what God made sex to encompass. We need a view of sex that honors the dignity of all persons; that encompasses God’s design for real intimacy, and that understands how that intimacy can be expressed even outside of our sexuality. A view of sex that is rooted in relationship and our personhood.

Catholics have actually been very good at this. I can’t count the number of people who have recommended The Theology of the Body to me, and Christopher West’s work is next for me to read.

But evangelicalism’s anti-science bent and our anti-intellectualism, as well as our conceit (if I may say it so boldly) in thinking that our graduate school courses are at all analagous to the rigour that is found in top-notch secular institutions, is keeping us from being salt and light in this crucial area. 

Quite frankly, if the church wants to reach the world, we need to get our act together.

Normally when that is said in a sermon the pastor is referring to repentance and becoming holier.

But that’s not what I mean (though those are worthy goals too). We need to start engaging real arguments. We need to get our own view of sex right, and then we need to figure out how to articulate it to ourselves so that we can start influencing the world. Yelling “don’t do it because the Bible says so” doesn’t work, and it’s insulting. Explaining WHY God created sex the way He did is a worthy and important intellectual pursuit.

I hope that evangelicals will start embracing it.

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

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How evangelicals lost our influence in the world regarding sex

What do you think? Have we lost our influence in the world when it comes to sex? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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70 Comments

  1. Laura

    “Because God said so” or “Because the Bible said so” sounds like a parent telling their curious child “Because I said so” and it just shuts down the opportunity to continue the conversation. It is important to know WHY to save sex for marriage. When I was a teenager during the 1990’s, my mother and I had conversations about this topic. I wasn’t raised in church, but she was raised in the Catholic Church and recalled things she was taught about waiting. I don’t remember what these reasons were, but whatever they were, I was inspired to save sex for marriage.

    Looking back, I don’t know if they were all the right reasons to wait. I just remember thinking how I did not want to end up pregnant and alone nor did I want to be rejected after sleeping with someone. I saw this happening a lot with classmates and even in adulthood. I don’t understand the hookup culture because I’ve only been married once and had one sexual partner. After my divorce, I’ve remained celibate for 20 years and I’m okay with that.

    During the years I’ve been in church, I cannot think of any influential or intellectual conversations about sex that have been discussed in sermons or Bible studies. As an adult, I have not heard the whole spiel on “wait until marriage.” Maybe that conversation is reserved for youth group which I had never been part of. Because the church has made marriage an idol, obviously sex is part of that idol. The only way to cure lust is to get married, but I’ve found that a lot of single Christian men around my age (40s) don’t want to commit. Yet, they’re okay with having sex outside of marriage. This also explains why I’ve chosen celibacy for now. I’m not willing to give my body to just anyone; I want to be married first.

    Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      a small disagreement. Lust is not cured by getting married. Arousal can be. But lust is a sin that happens in the heart and is not “cured” by having someone to legally have sex with.

      Reply
      • Laura

        Some people in the church have taught that the cure for lust is marriage or what they’ve said is along these lines, “If you want sex and are in love with this person, it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

        Reply
        • exwifeofasexaddict

          I’m aware that people teach that. It’s important to make a distinction between arousal/desire and lust. Lust is a sin that must be solved in a person’s own heart, not in what anyone else does. Including whether or not a wife has sex with her husband. So those people who teach that are wrong.

          I speak as a woman who was used in this way. It didn’t work. He still lusted and acted out in all kinds of inappropriate ways. And by the way, he did this without my knowledge or consent. I might have been able to get my marriage annulled because he married me under false pretenses. So. Marriage does not cure lust. It may provide an opportunity to satisfy desire or longing.

          Reply
  2. Jim

    Sheila,
    As a self-professed Christian, you seem to have a dim view of the authority of Scripture. You seem to hold secular views and scholarship in greater esteem because they are ‘peer reviewed’. Who are we to question the Word of God? Who is God’s peer?

    This sounds a lot like Job. I might recommend reading the book of Job, especially God’s response starting in Chapter 38. Not proof-texting, read the whole book.

    I love God’s response to Job because it puts us humans in our place. Who are we to question God? We think that we are so learned and intelligent, but next to God we know nothing. It is the height of arrogance and pride that we would think that we would know better than God.

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      How big is your God? Is he big enough to not be threatened by curious questions? Or must a curious mind be trained out of all of his followers? Can he handle your emotions, or are they to be deemed as too dangerous and might lead you to leave the faith?
      Did God design a perfect human with 3 spirits battling, or are we blank slates with only 2 warring over us?(that never made sense to me)
      I believe that good and evil are in a constant fight. And our spirit, which is our essence of existence inside the body of clay, is caught in the middle.

      This post does, on the surface, feel like an attack on the Bible. But her point is valid…. though maybe could’ve used more information. For instance saying that the evangelical church is anti-intellectualism, is a classic reference to anyone who believes in literal creation.(in my experience with reading various articles)

      Something not important to the discussion. But it also fits with the Amish and Mennonite communities who will frequently shun a member for simply attending college. I’ve also heard rumors of Jewish communities also doing that, and that’s revelant to the conversation. Because it’s literally being afraid of information, not simply disagreeing and being insulted.
      How big is your God? In the new testament times, churches were encouraged to study and test the Bible. Which doesn’t sound like they were afraid of it being found wanting. I don’t understand everything and until I do, I can trust in God and study things out.
      (I’m in that fog of about to have another baby and pregnancy brain is real. But it looks coherent to me!)

      Reply
    • SLS

      Jim,

      I am a devout Christian with an advanced science degree. While I fully believe the Bible is the true and accurate Word of God it’s purpose is not to be a science textbook or to explain every single possible topic in great detail. It is to tell us about God, the good news of the gospel, and how to treat our fellow human beings.

      While the Bible does touch on every aspect of life it often does so in a general way and explains general principles.

      For example I would not use the Bible to determine the speed of light in a vaccum, the temperature of the sun, or the geology of a region. I would use the Bible to say that the design of nature declares the glory of God.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Jim, if you were a sheep farmer, would you use Jacob’s method of sheep farming? Or would you also rely on what we have learned through research?

      If you have a skin rash, do you consult Leviticus? Or do you consult your doctor?

      Reply
      • Jim

        Sheila,
        You can use secondary sources. We should use our reason to explore the world that God gave us.

        As Galileo said “I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” And I agree.

        But as a Christian, our ultimate standard in life should be the Bible.

        Can we use science to try to understand the world? Yes

        Is science limited it is explanatory power? Absolutely.

        What we should strive to be do is not become like the wider society and make science into our golden calf.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I never said the ultimate standard shouldn’t be the Bible, Jim.

          I said we need to go beyond proof-texting and understand that the Bible doesn’t answer every specific question. We need to form a cohesive sexual ethic that is informed from the Bible. But it has to be based on an intellectual foundation if we hope to engage with the world (and if we hope to truly transform those in the pews as well).

          Reply
        • Andrea

          Just a reminder that Galileo was tried because his research contradicted the verse in the Bible that says God has “set the earth on its foundations, it can never be moved” (Psalm 104). As he was being led away he famous muttered, “It still moves.” So it’s kind of funny you would cite Galileo who almost got executed for trusting his telescope more than the Bible.

          Reply
          • Jim

            Andrea,
            Galileo contradicted the Church’s belief that the Earth was the center of the universe. There is no Bible passage that says anything about that.

            The Bible is the Word of God. Is it exhaustive? No, but no one source is.

            The issue that I have here is that it seems that the Bible is not given the respect that it is due.

            In fact, I would venture a guess that quite a few that are on here would identify as ‘progressive’ Christians. This is a view that looks at the Bible not as the Word of God but as ‘Man’s attempt to understand God’ and that ‘we are more intelligent than those that wrote it’.

          • exwifeofasexaddict

            And now, Jim, you’re parroting Sheila’s argument. She is contradicting EVANGELICALISM, not the bible. Because Evangelicals are SO wrong about so many things, and it makes people have NO respect for us.

          • Chris

            Andrea, the situation with Galileo and the Church is far more complex than that. You mention the phrase “his telescope”. Sort of. “His telescopes” actually belonged to the Jesuits. He was under the patronage of a religious order of the church. Which seems odd that a religious order was funding scientific research? How could this be? The anti science church funding science? (sarc). Also, Galileo did not discover that the earth moved around the sun. The Romans knew it and the Greeks highly suspected it.

        • Kya

          “What we should strive to be do is not become like the wider society and make science into our golden calf.”

          Exactly!! This is what so many evangelicals fail to realize that we have to offer. The secular culture tends to put science on a pedestal, to treat it as a religion in its own right, and to disregard its very real limits. As Christians, though, we understand that the philosophy of truth is the only reason science has the ability to say anything at all. And we know the ultimate truth better than anyone. It gives us the ability to use science as it was always meant to be used–to know God better through the study of His creation. Christians should be the most accomplished scientists in the world, ravenous in our pursuit of knowledge about our creator, and instead we have shunned it completely and left it to a world that misuses it.

          Reply
        • Lisa M

          Jim, you haven’t given any evidence that Sheila doesn’t take the Bible seriously, other than you seem to be disagreeing with her. It seems more like you are equating “disagreeing with Jim on this topic” to “not taking the Bible seriously.”

          Reply
          • Jim

            Lisa,
            My comment is based on how often other sources are mentioned other than the Bible. For a site where the target audience are Christians, Christian authors are quoted more often than the Bible.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            What specifically do you actually disagree with Jim? How about we debate the issues?

          • Jim

            Sheila,

            One of my issues is that when you are refuting arguments, you are using your surveys as the main avenue of attack. It is concerning because since the majority of your respondents to the surveys are those that already follow you and this site, that the survey pool could have had an inherent bias. I can speak to this since I was one of the men who answered your men’s survey.

            Since your target audience are Christians, not using the Bible to refute bad teachings can lead one to believe that either there are no arguments using the Bible or that they are weak.

            I don’t believe that is the case. I would advise that you reach out to apologists and theologians to speak about the Biblical arguments.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            No, the majority of the 20,000 survey was not from my site. And again–let’s talk odds ratios. Our findings were based on odds ratios, comparing those who believed something with those who didn’t believe something. If everyone believed like me, we would have nothing to compare. Think about this logically: If everyone believed as I do, we could not have done the survey. Please educate yourself on survey methods before you make accusations like that.

            I am making biblical arguments. I make them all the time. I merely interpret verses differently from you. But Jesus Himself said that we can judge things by their fruit. People have been debating doctrine for years and getting nowhere. So now I’m saying, “let’s put the doctrine to the test.” Let’s see what doctrines bear good fruit and what ones do not.

            Jim, I’m going to be honest. You’ve shared a lot about how your marriage is not what you want it to be. You’re here because your marriage is not what you want it to be. Yet you are always pushing back on this site.

            Has it ever occurred to you that maybe those two things are related? Maybe the reason that you don’t like what I have to say is because what you believe about marriage is actually the thing that is causing your marriage to not be what you want it to be?

    • Angharad

      There is a huge difference between saying that anything which CONTRADICTS the Bible can’t be true and saying that anything which isn’t MENTIONED in the Bible can’t be true. I think the latter is what Sheila is talking about – the way in which some Christians are unwilling to consider any sources outside the Bible when discussing or teaching about relationships.

      Most Christians have no difficulty in waking up to their radio alarm, showering in their electric shower, boiling a kettle for their morning coffee, driving or taking the train or bus to work where they will use a computer and a telephone…yet some of these same people will turn around and say that we must ignore scientific research because ‘it’s not in the Bible’…

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        When I say, for instance, that sex should be “mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both”, I’m drawing on verses in Scripture, but I’m making my own conclusions about that. The Bible doesn’t actually say those three together.

        However, that is not a statement i can make outside of church circles without some evidence to base it on. So I need more than just “the Bible says…”

        What we need is a philosophy of what sex is supposed to be, that allows the Bible to inform what we think about intimacy and sexuality and relationship, but which stands on its own. Sort of like “we hold these truths to be self-evident…”

        I mean, even the founding documents of the United States were based on the Bible, but did not appeal to the Bible. The Bible informed them, but they made their own philosophical arguments. That’s what I’m saying. We need to be able to take what we know and engage in wider cultural debate. This shouldn’t be that hard. So many Christians have done so in the past, with great success and rigour. It is only modern evangelicalism which has all too often seen that as anathema.

        Reply
      • Laura

        And that’s a reason why many Christians in my community thought COVID was a hoax. They don’t want to believe the science.

        Reply
    • Lisa M

      Jim– As a self-professed Christian, you seem to have a dim view of the authority of Jesus. And a poor understanding of the history of Curiosity
      Christianity. For over a millennium, Christianity grew and thrived with a literacy rate between 1% and 3%, depending on the time and place. People did not have Bibles. Yet they were Christian. Jesus says “I am the way.” He did not say, “the Bible is the way.” Jesus regularly took the words of the Jewish Scripture and called the people to more, not stagnation.

      God is not contained in the Bible.

      To claim that your own use and interpretation of the Bible is the only acceptable one for Christians is both uniformed and arrogant. Christianity is a HUGE religion of which modern American Evangelicalism is only a small portion. In fact, the so-called “church fathers” that are frequently quoted and credited with the tenants of faith and creeds that are generally accepted as Christian Orthodoxy would not agree with your position as stated here.

      Reply
      • Jim

        Lisa,

        I have the highest view of Jesus. He is my Savior and Lord and why I hold the Bible in the highest esteem. I have no idea how you would think that I believe otherwise.

        Jesus did not say that He was the Bible. However, at the beginning of John it is said that ‘In the beginning was the Word, for the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ Then was are told that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelled among us’. That was Jesus. The Bible is often called the ‘Word of God’. Jesus also said that He ‘did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it’.

        You are right about literacy being very low until recently. However, who was able to read? Priests!

        How did people learn about the Bible? It was read in Church.

        We see this in the Old and New Testament. We see Jesus often teaching in the Temple and teaching to the people, many of which could not read. That is also why the Pharisees where amazed at Jesus and his disciples teachings because of their authority since none of them were of the upper class that would have been taught these things.

        In regards to God being contained in the Bible and that I only use my own judgement and interpretations, I never said. I said earlier in this thread that I look at the context of the passage within the Bible and historically.

        I have often gone to look at commentaries and look at various opinions from pastors and apologists like Frank Turek, William Lane Craig, J. Warner Wallace and Sean McDowell to name a few. Then, I make a case based on the evidence that I have gathered and talk with fellow believers at my church and my family, including my wife to see if my thinking and reasoning is sound. I hope that helps to clarify my thought process.

        Reply
    • Lisa M

      Jim– also, Job didn’t read the Bible. He didn’t have one. The book of Job states that God wagered with Satan. Do you find that to be an authoritative truth? That God absolutely did make a bet with Satan at one point in time and history? Judaism, which takes their Scriptures very seriously, usually reads the book of Job as what we would call a parable, a metaphor for life and a commentary on how we cannot explain why bad things happen to good people and vice versa.

      The portrayal of God in this book aligns more with the other ancient deities who would toy with humans rather than work for their good always and in every context. Which is one of many reasons this is dated as a very old story. As Hebrew theology developed over time, their Scriptures begin to depict God as one who would never engage in an injustice such as happened in Job.

      Reply
  3. Nathan

    The bible is our spiritual and moral guide, telling us the story of God and guiding us to be better people. It is NOT the end all and be all of everything. Nor is it a historical or scientific text.

    And that doesn’t mean that history and science are bad. The bible itself indirectly says so. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”. The BEGINNING. Not the end nor the entirety.

    And Sheila seems to say that peer reviewed research is better than the claims of many self proclaimed Christian writers, not better than God.

    Reply
    • Jim

      Nathan,

      You are incorrect. The Bible is a historical text. Archeological evidence found in the Holy Land and secondary sources shows that the Bible describes historical events.

      Reply
      • Nathan

        Some historical events, yes. But not the entire detailed history of the Earth.

        Reply
        • Jo R

          I’m not sure i understand your objection. Even dedicated history books can’t possibly give the “entire detailed history of the Earth.”

          Reply
  4. Erin

    Sheila – I am SO excited you are reading Christopher West next! I have been an email subscriber of yours during my whole marriage (almost 15 years) and I have told my husband countless times: “Sheila would love Theology of the Body! She and Christopher West are so on the same page!”

    This made my day to read that it’s next on your list to read. ToB has been absolutely the best foundation for my marriage – both my husband and I studied it before we wed. It is our roadmap that helps us live our marriage the way Christ designed marriage to be.

    I’m finishing up reading “Theology of the Body for Beginners” w my 12 yo daughter. I highly recommend it!

    Please post a review after you read ToB. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!❤️

    Reply
      • CM

        I’d commend it too. I found his “Good news about sex and marriage” very helpful when I was a teen (found it on a shelf in my parish and read in secret because I was ashamed about the title!). Easy to read and straightforward.

        We re-read it along with “Theology of the Body for Beginners” when we got engaged and it helped lower the waiting pressure and get answers to some uneasy questions my husband and I had before marriage.
        Such as the tricky “is oral sex allowed and why ?” West says it is, nothing in the Bible forbids it, but ONLY IF both partners are okay and respectful and loveful. The discussion we had about this chapter marked a turning point in our intimacy. It made us realize sex is not first about rules but about love and helping each other to get closer to Jesus. I think that’s when we decided to pray together before sex to put first things first.

        Some of it may be a little bit “too Catholic” for evangelicals 😉 For instance, West is really committed to NFP promotion.
        But ToB in general is deeply grounded in the Bible, especially Gen 1-2.

        Reply
  5. A2bbethany

    Something I don’t understand without clarification from you: you said that no evangelical had ever won a nobel or Rhodes scholars(I’ve never actually heard of that?), But a few protestants had. These terms are frequently interchangeable so I’m wondering why these are not considered evangelical but protestant?

    Also I have always understood that evangelical christians claimed or had several historical figures in their ranks. (Michael faraday, Isaac newton?) Even though they didn’t win those awards you mentioned, it’s because they predated Them, not because they aren’t impressive scientific giants.
    I understood that, back then, “evangelical” didn’t necessarily exist….is that why?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There are many types of Protestants–normally we divide into evangelical/mainline, but it’s not always that simple either. The anabaptist tradition, for instance, doesn’t always fit neatly into one or the other.

      And, yes, evangelicalism as Mark Noll was talking about was really started in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, and had a huge surge in the early twentieth century. But again, these terms aren’t well defined and are frequently interchanged with each other, so I’m just using what he did.

      Reply
    • Lisa M

      Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday were not Evangelical.

      Isaac Newton absolutely rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He could best be described as in alignment with Arianism.

      Michael Faraday was a protestant and identified as Sandemanian, which shares some commonalities with Evangelicalism, but they are not the same. However, I can see how Evangelicals could “claim” him in a much more honest manner. Claiming Isaac Newton was Evangelical is flat out false.

      Reply
  6. Sarah

    Mmm, I’d be wary of claiming that the world has a better view of sex than we do. Yes, too often we have just said, ‘don’t do it’ to teens, but so has the world (to the extent that it’s parodied in Mean Girls). I’m aware I’m coming from a British perspective – we are a very secular society where Christians are sub 5% of the population – but the view of sex commonly held by my non-Christian friends appals me. Talk of a person’s ‘body count’ i.e number of people they’ve slept with, is common, as is having sex with people before you’ve even got to know them. In one case, a friend of mine slept with a guy before learning that he had a conviction for grievous bodily harm. My social education schoolteacher told my class of year 8s (12 y/os) that is was perfectly fine and normal to carry condoms in your handbag, just in case, and that she’d recommend it. Kids in my class started having sex at 13. Porn is accepted; viewing it is seen as normal and concern about exploitation or awareness of the links to human trafficking in the porn industry is low (though this is changing slightly!) I’ve heard many non-Christian women friends make jokes about a man taking 5 minutes and then rolling over, or that they couldn’t find the clitoris with a map. I could go on, but I think you get it. Yes, we’ve failed in the Christian world, big time, but there is so, so much darkness in the world’s view of sex in so many cases.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good point, Sarah. I guess what I meant is that the debates that are happening in higher places of learning are often far ahead of what evangelicals are debating. So the themes in academic books in the secular world in the 1980s and 1990s were far ahead of where evangelicalism is even now (understanding problems with the objectification of women; understanding problems with consent).

      There are certainly HUGE issues with where society is, but my point is that if we’re going to be able to influence society, we need to be able to make a case with a coherent intellectual underpinning of what healthy sexuality is. There is an effort to do that on the secular side in institutions of higher learning; there is not the same effort in evangelicalism.

      If we had a more robust intellectual understanding of sexuality that was biblically informed but that could be articulated in places of higher learning, then we could influence where society is going. The church certainly did that in the 19th century in issues like child labor. Josephine Butler and Katharine Bushnell, the former a Brit and the latter an American, used profoundly Christian arguments to argue against the sex trade and to protect women, and they did so in the public sphere in the 1800s (and in Bushnell’s case, the early 1900s as well). But we seem to have lost that somewhere along the way, and I hope we can find it again.

      Reply
      • Sarah

        That totally makes sense, Sheila. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

        Reply
  7. Nathan

    From way above…
    > > In fact, I would venture a guess that quite a few that are on
    > > here would identify as ‘progressive’ Christians.

    I try not to mix politics in here, but I’ll partially break my rule once. In general, I do in fact consider myself a fairly conservative, evangelical Christian, with some exceptions…

    1. I disagree with the Male Patriarchal views on marriage, obligation sex, women submitting, the marriage being more important than the people in the marriage, etc
    2. I believe in the 14.7 billion year old Universe and 160,000 year old humanity.
    3. I believe that many of the Old Testament stories are allegorical and not literal documentary statements of what actually happened.

    End of lecture. Except to that once, many years ago, I rather snarkily asked somebody on a different chat board how they could possibly be posting stuff on the internet, when the internet isn’t mentioned in the Bible?

    Reply
    • Jim

      Nathan,

      My comment about ‘progressive’ Christians is that I have seen comments here and other places that have Christians discounting the authority of the Bible.

      In my opinion, if you do not believe that the Bible is the ‘God-breathed’, ‘divinely inspired’ Word of God, then why would you call yourself a Christian at all.

      Reply
      • Meredith

        Augustine did not believe in a literal Genesis. Did that make him not a Christian?
        A belief in an inerrant Bible has never been a litmus test for Christianity. It is in none of the historic creeds.

        Reply
        • Lisa M

          True! Augustine didn’t believe Genesis was literal.

          Gregory of Nissa, the “church father” who is credited with the Doctrine of the Trinity, was a universalist.

          Christianity is wide and deep across history and place! Studying it is both fascinating and freeing.

          Reply
      • exwifeofasexaddict

        Jim, here is something that is LITERALLY God breathed. Jesus told us to look at the fruit. A good tree can’t bear bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t bear good fruit. Guess what? The fruit of current Christian teaching on sex is rotten. Therefore it can’t be from God. Again, from Jesus’ own mouth.

        Reply
      • Lisa M

        Jim, I absolutely believe God inspired the Bible and I am a progressive Christian, following in the progressive trend set by both Jesus AND the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament. Jesus took the Scriptures of his day and progressed. When you read the Old a testament carefully, and in as close to chronological order as possible, you see progression. A simple example– in the first set of directions for observing Passover, the Hebrew people were commanded to roast, never boil, the lamb. In later instructions, the Hebrew texts direct to boil the lamb (English translations change it to “cook” for reasons I can guess but won’t discuss here) but the Hebrew text clearly states to boil.

        This is a very small example.

        Other examples would be the initial giving of the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, the prophets (who, incidentally, didn’t appear to be needed until Israel had kings) proclaimed that merely following the ten commandments was not what was required, that until the priests and leaders washed their bloody hands God would not heed their prayers. True religion was stated as caring for widows and orphans (the most marginalized people in that society), not observing the Sabbath or any of the other commandants.

        In other words, God started out by meeting the people where they were at, and continually calling them to more as generations passed. This is progressive theology.

        Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity had a bunch of problems, but it was one of the better evangelical books to wrestle with the topic

    Reply
  9. Anne Elliot

    Ok here’s my take. Men like Tolkien and CS Lewis were incredibly educated, well read people. I’m not sure Tolkien was a Christian, but definitely had a Biblical Worldview. Lewis was a born again Christian. They were and still are HUGELY influencial.

    They read, thought, discussed, and argued with their other friends about other authors, philosophy, God, the Bible, world events, etc. But they did not just stick to ONLY the Bible. They read Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Freud, Marx, Boswell, Plutarch, etc. Also, they read Darwin. Now, I have read many of these authors. Does reading them make me a communist or evolutionist? Hardly. I am firmly a Literal 6 day creationist, and not by any means a communist in politics. But by actually reading what these men have said, I have better knowledge of their theories; thereby I can refute them or accept them. Or just think about them. I am part of a literary group, all of us are born again Christians and we took Tolkien and Lewis’s own group as a model and we are trying the same thing. To THINK. to Discuss. To argue. and, I want to point out; I do filter everything by the Bible.

    Truth is truth. And even Jesus had disciples that said, Hey that guy over there (presumably they didn’t know him) is casting out demons in your name. Want us to stop him?

    Jesus said, He that is not against me is for me.

    So, to simply cast out great authors and thinkers simply because they are not in the cannon of Scripture is stupid. That doesn’t mean I agree with them all. Also consider that, because evangelicals have stopped doing this, we have lost our influence with others. We can’t even have conversations or arguments with other people with different ideas because we lose minds and don’t know how to anymore. I have noticed what Shelia is saying. I agree.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Tolkien was a Roman Catholic.

      Lewis was raised Church of Ireland, the Northern Irish member of the Anglican Communion. He once noted that his main objection to becoming Catholic was that he was an Ulsterman, which is to say it was cultural not theological.

      Both were very well-educated. Lewis, in particular, spent a year preparing for university under the tutelate of “The Old Knock”, who was, if memory serves, an atheist.

      Reply
    • Jim

      Tolkien was a devout Catholic as I understand it.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Ya, Tolkien was Catholic.

        Reply
    • Angharad

      I’m guessing you also read Jane Austen? (-;

      Anne is probably my favourite one of her heroines!

      Reply
      • Anne Elliot

        Yes, I read all of Austen’s works every year. She’s one of my favorites!

        Reply
    • Lisa M

      Tolkien was a Christian. He was Roman Catholic and his LOTR trilogy was an allegory.

      Reply
      • Sarah R

        Tolkien was a Christian; however, his work wasn’t allegorical. He specifically stated that he ‘cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations’ – his work was rooted in his faith and deeply influenced by it, but it was not an allegory. In the same way, it was also rooted in his love of history, fairy-story and poetry, yet it’s not reducible to just that.

        Sorry – as an English Lit nerd who did her dissertation on Tolkien, I couldn’t help myself 🙂

        Reply
  10. Julia

    Yes. We have lost our influence in the world when it comes to sex, and as a corollary, marriage and divorce too.

    If all we have to offer the world with regard to sex is “don’t do it till you’re married,” then all we have to offer those who marry is “stay together no matter what” (and the proof texts to go with it).

    There has to be more to it than that. And I’m glad you are calling the Church out on its failure in this. It’s about time more people did!

    Reply
  11. Codec

    It is odd. You have some truly great thinkers like C.S Lewis, Blaise Pascal, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Craig Blomberg, Gary Habermas etc. You even have more popular guys like Strobel or InspiringPhilosophy who you did a video with.

    I do not think it is necessarily that intellectuals are not there. Rather, I think for a lot of intellectual stuff and for sexual ethics people look at it and maybe they are intimidated. Maybe they feel that they will make fools of themselves.

    Sometimes I think stories help us think about big ideas. Where then are the stories about people seeking sexual purity that is an engaging story? Where are our stories about forgiveness about the quest for knowledge? Who will be to us what Virgil was to Dante? What Macdonald was to Lewis? Facts and figures are a necessity but does hearing that Napoleon lost to Horatio Nelson make one care?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think part of the issue with philosophy in Christendom right now is that it’s being done WITHIN the church–on our own YouTube channels; on our own blogs. What we need is for it to take place in academic circles. But unfortunately Christians have so separated ourselves from the academic discourse, setting up our own universities, that we’re not really able to influence the world at large. At least Lewis was at Oxford!

      Reply
      • Anne Elliot

        Exactly. Lewis didn’t just stick to “church” only stuff. He didn’t shy away from “secular” academia. He engaged it. Pushed against it. And he was not afraid of doing so. Why are evangelicals afraid of this? I think we are not prepared. We have no preparation for engaging arguments, discussions, or even just talking. We just say, Like someone said up in the comments, “Because God said so.” There is benefit in reading stuff other than the Bible. In conjunction with the Bible. How does this philosophy filter through what the Bible says, etc. one more thought: sometimes evangelicals feel threatened by the great literary authors. When’s the last time someone read Dante or Virgil?

        And to put a response to Codec; no one is writing great fiction because no one is reading great fiction or great classics.

        Reply
  12. Anon

    A friend of mine is agnostic, and recently started dating again. I spoke with her some about how if she truly wants to get to know a guy (cause she wants a relationship), she should hold off on sex for a bit. Now she is not at all going to hold off till she is married, but in today’s online one night stand culture, her waiting for a few dates has weeded out soooo many guys!

    We have very different ideas on religion and on dating/sex/marriage, but we discussed this, and she got how waiting a bit helps her to see red flags that she’s missed in the past! And how it keeps her from getting stuck quickly to an abusive guy.

    I’ve told people before (and my kids) that sex is powerful, and it releases endorphins, and draws people close together. And that God’s plan is for that in marriage, where the power can build a relationship.

    Also, many yrs ago when I was dating, my relationships never lasted more than 3-4 months. Because sex was off the table, and because the guys I dated, and myself, WERE looking and praying for a spouse. So we were actively trying to decide if this person is a fit or not. Within those few months, one or both of us were able to realize that a further relationship was futile. And I believe that sex being off the table allowed that! Also, we weren’t dating just for fun (though dating WAS fun). We weren’t together, either, just to have a boy/girlfriend. Then I met my husband…and it’s been alot of years together! ❤️

    Reply
  13. Dave W

    From the main article: ‘The only thing that evangelicalism has to offer the world about sex is “don’t do it.” That’s what we’ve been saying for decades–“don’t have sex before marriage.” ‘

    And in decades past they went as far as “don’t have sex at all unless you are trying to get pregnant.” That was the attitude my wife was raised with. God hates sex. Hates the desire, hates the good feelings, hates everything about it. Invention of the devil to ensnare us. She learned this in grade school. It was driven home hard when an older teen age relative started abusing her. So by the time she should have started having desires, she shut them down. That was over 50 years ago, and they still have not been turned back on.

    Bad theology has long lasting bad effects.

    Reply
  14. Eileen

    The more I read of your posts, Sheila, the more impressed I am. Your take on this subject is rich, honest, and often surprising, in a way that enriches the pursuit of truth, and brings calm and clarity to my own heart. Thank you so much for your willingness to be forthright about a topic many are afraid to address at all! (It helps that you have so engaging a personality to boot–I’d guess you were truly *made* to take on this role, and I, for one, am so glad you do!)

    Reply

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