It’s ok?

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.

7 thoughts on “It’s ok?

  1. Hey Mo,
    Great to see you blogging again. I’ve been enjoying reading most of what you written recently, but I’m afraid on this I’m going to have to disagree!
    Here’s why:
    I think you’ve misinterpreted the point of the article. I don’t think that Sarah is saying ‘It’s ok, do what you like’, I think she’s saying, ‘It’s ok, because lack of virginity doesn’t disqualify you from being rescued by Jesus’. I think that the point that she made was a good one, and her criticism of the illustration fair, not least because I don’t see how a cup full of one person’s spit is any more appealing a drink than a cup full of lots of people’s spit (spit is spit, after all). However, I found Sarah’s article a helpful critique into a body of teaching which says, or at least implies, that all sin is forgivable except sexual sin. Sometimes it has been suggested (in my presence, at least) that sexual purity, and virginity in particular, is a thing to be prized above almost anything, and when you have sinned in this area (or had sexual sin enacted upon you against your will) you have been irreparably damaged. That is not true, and it’s not ok to say that it is.
    Maybe I’m wrong, and I’ve read what I wanted to hear into what she said (although I don’t think I am, or have!) but just a couple of other comments. It’s slightly unclear as to whether your issue is with ‘A Deeper Story’ the blog, which you linked to, or Sarah Bessey, who wrote the article, and who has the book coming out. And, on that, perhaps it’s only fair to wait until the book is published and you’ve read it, before you announce that is probably going to be theologically obtuse! I’m looking forward to reading it, aware that there are probably some (perhaps a lot!) of things I disagree with, but interested to see how her thoughts and reflections challenge my thinking on being a woman, and a follower of Jesus, and a complementarian, and a feminist!
    Thanks again for your blog, and for getting me thinking!

  2. Ellie,

    Always happy for opposing viewpoints. Just to clarify:
    1) On the book, all I said was, if it is anything like this, it’s likely to be theologically weak. It may be nothing like her blog. Who knows?’
    2) Read the comments on the blog to see how others interpreted what she said. There’s a host of people extolling the virtues of sex before marriage and praising her for (as they perceive it) making it clear that’s ok. She may not be. But I certainly think the indeterminacy of saying “it’s ok” on an issue as important as this encourages some people (evidently) to think she is saying “it’s ok to have sex if you think it’s all right, and not feel bad about that.”
    3) The illustration sucks. But using a sucky illustration is a bad way to challenge an orthodox ethic. IMHO.

    Much blessing to you Ellie,

  3. Eek, I actually really liked her post when I read it a couple of weeks ago! I read her ‘it’s OK’ as meaning ‘you are not permanently broken and less-than if you had sex before you got married’. I thought she was trying to point out that we’re pretty good at saying ‘Jesus has sorted all our sin – you are pure in the eyes of God’ but then we also can sound like we’re saying ‘you will never escape your impurity’ when it comes to pre-marriage sex – it’s inconsistent.

    I’ve not been through all the comments but I’m sure you’re right that people have taken her as saying ‘sex before you’re married is the best – go for it!’ – because we LOVE to be given permission for our sin! But that’s no reason to stop saying that God is good enough, gracious enough and powerful enough to purify us no matter what our past holds and that sexual sinners aren’t more tainted by their sinful past than anyone else.

    I suspect that I quite like what she writes because she’s quite feelingsy and so am I – so I’m easily sucked in! So do feel free to disagree with me and call me emotional/heretical! 🙂

  4. Really interesting Mo, thanks for taking the time to write it and hash your thoughts out.

    Another reminder to me of God’s grace and sovereignty, even through my own sin, he can be glorified.

    Keep blogging 🙂

  5. Hmm,
    You, Ellie and Sarah have all got me thinking.
    If you don’t read the comments after Sarah’s article, it’s possible to agree with her as an evangelical. It is true that the sheep and the goats are not separated by virginity, and it’s true that grace is rich enough *even* for sexual sin. She’s right in saying that this is a point that needs making because sexual sin is often treated as a mark of disqualification and I share her frustration that it gets much more pulpit time than the less exciting but equally damaging sins like pride, greed, dishonesty etc. So in that respect I agree totally with Ellie.

    It will be interesting to see whether her book does go on to say what is needed, which is your point that although grace makes us clean and frees us from condemnation, it does not mean our sin, any sin, is without consequence, for us or for God. In that respect ‘it’s OK’ is a poor choice of words because though in many senses it’s liberatingly true, it also doesn’t tell the whole story. It is a prett important story to tell.

    My other thought is that you set up Sarah as being manipulative in saying that it was a difficult post to write. I suspect it genuinely was and that being the recipient of that dreadful, graceless, manipulative and totally vom inducing talk on purity must have had a very powerful negative affect on her ability to receive forgiveness from God and from herself. That’s something to grieve, because ‘preaching’ like that is an excellent way to push people further into shame and therefore make them even less able to respond positively to the goodness of God, the only genuine motivator towards holiness. A much better motivator than being shouted at and threatened with a glass of spit. It’s that speaker that deserves the real criticism here.

  6. Sorry to be slow moderating and replying. Just a few thoughts. Alice, I don’t think you are heretical, and as for emotional, I couldn’t possibly comment.

    I said in the post “it’s ok” is true in one sense. That could be the sense she’s using it. Sadly both many commenters and the blog which linked to this piece that led me to it, written by someone much less well known, are taking the “it’s ok” to mean “yay, evangelicals are finally ditching all that outdated stuff about purity.” It’s ok just doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this whole area, and and how God uses our real sin in his sovereign plans. That’s the main point of my post.

    Totes agree that the speaker is the real dipwad here.

    In terms of her saying it’s a difficult post to write – well maybe I am being uncharitable. I don’t doubt for a second it was a difficult post for her to write. But I do feel that her telling us that is trying to safety net herself from certain types of responses. I feel that’s a pretty cheap rhetorical technique. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

  7. Concepts like “God” and “Jesus” are a distraction from the real issues of life. Life is about physical and emotional health. If something is healthy, it will tend to make you stronger in the long run. If something is unhealthy, it will tend to make you weaker.

    Sex is dangerous, both physically and emotionally. That’s the common-sense reason why it’s a good idea not to throw it around in a casual manner.

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