So, in the way in which I sometimes find myself reading Heat magazine I found myself reading this blog recently. You may want to read it to understand what I am talking about, but you may not.
Summary: an evangelical Christian once said something a bit extreme that made me feel bad. As I have an inalienable right not to feel bad, this example proves that the evangelical church is basically bad and damaging (especially to women) and therefore we should reconsider everything even perfectly normal Christians have said about the issue in question in the past. You should especially reconsider this if you are, at this moment, being made to feel bad by your tricksy wickedsy unintellectual evangelical church.
(Sometimes, as in this post, the person “confesses” to finding the post emotionally difficult to write, usually in order to heighten the sense that you are rejecting and hurting them personally if you reject what they say, which is, of course, their whole problem with horrible Christians like you.)
This particular logical fallacy is very popular amongst people who might describe themselves as emergent or post evangelical. Rob Bell, for example, has made millions in books sales on just this basis. The appreciative comments are bound to pour in, after all, from everyone who doesn’t like feeling bad – which includes pretty much everyone.
In this case, the writer is saying “I felt bad because of this totally extreme illustration saying you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. Let’s rethink that whole orthodoxy. Because you know, I did have sex before marriage, and you might have too, and that’s ok.”
Well, I’m not going to get into the sex issue, at least not in depth. To be honest, what’s missing here is any sense of theological subtlety or reflection – which would put a big warning sign around the author’s soon to be published book. Any sense that, in fact, the church has been considering how our sin and God’s good purposes go together for you know, two thousand years, without ever saying our sin is ok? That seems to have passed the writer by, probably because her disdain for the church drips from every sentence.
Maybe you’re reading this, and you have had sex before marriage. And the words “it’s ok” are a sweet drink of water to your parched and guilty soul. But I doubt, in this shallow self indulgent way, they’ll quench your thirst for long.
Of course, in a sense, it is ok. That’s the glory of God’s lovely and kind sovereignty. All of us bring scars and mistakes and mess ups to the marriage that we end up in (if, indeed, we end up married) and God in his kindness even uses our mistakes to make us more into the perfect partner to help and love and teach and learn from the person to whom we are married. I am, along with all the marks left by my sin, God’s perfect provision for my wife! It sounds extremely arrogant, but is the rest-giving assurance of God’s sovereignty over evil. (She is also that to me, which seems more immediately obvious.) I think it’s a bit like the incarnation – God is delighted to stoop even to work through and redeem my darkest, wickedest motives and actions, just as he redeemed the world one exceptionally dark and wicked day. That is what the real God is like. It’s amazing!
But that doesn’t mean the things that I did wrong before I was married, that now effect me and my wife every day that we are a unit, weren’t wrong, and don’t hurt her and me, and we don’t live with them now. It doesn’t mean they were ok in that sense. It is God’s work in my wife’s life that allows me to bring all my mess and for her to love me that way, and help me on the path to me more like the God we both love. It’s not that I am not damaged goods. It’s that we all are.
My favourite book of the Bible about all this is the book of Ruth. Ruth is God’s perfect provision for Boaz, in God’s amazing plan of salvation, even though she was only there to meet him because of her first husband’s sin, in which she was involved. So are we saying to her first husband – you know you sinned sexually by marrying a Moabite, but that’s ok? In a sense yes – God brought Jesus himself out of that act of sin. In a sense no – a family end up torn apart and a mother ends up alone and grieving. It’s not that God says our sin (and be under no illusion, sex outside of marriage is a sin) is ok morally – but he does say, come into the light own up to it, and don’t worry, I can redeem, work for good, all the bad things you have done, and that have happened to you to make you my perfect provision for someone else.
In a sense, this is not about sex. It’s about the proliferation of people, (of whom I could easily be one by the way) who riff out endless theological streams of consciousness with no roots in the complex and deep articles of the faith that the church has spent eons working out; to do with how God’s plan for our lives and our wicked actions go together; and how grace motivates us not to sin; and how glorifying Jesus in marriage really matters and so and so forth. Draining out all of that thick theological espresso to leave us with some leftover pseudo-theological cappucino fluff, actually does no one any favours. Because it’s in this action of God, redeeming what is actually really bad, that I can find the place to both be myself without pretending, and participate in God’s work in the world.