January 19, 2012

Of Straw Men and Shameful Speech

by Jerry Wragg

Here are the main arguments I continue to hear played over and over for why the church ought to regularly engage in sexually explicit dialogue with Christian married couples:

  1. Young couples today are coming out of a uniquely porn-saturated culture, and are terribly confused about what is sexually appropriate in a Christian marriage.
  2. New Christians with an immoral past are prone to swing the pendulum too drastically, becoming sexually inhibited in marriage despite our God-given freedom.  Explicit sexual honesty between married couples “breaks down” the legalistic barriers and false shame threatening so many marriages today.
  3. Most pastors—especially those over 45 and “bound up” in the conservative sexual practices of past, less informed generations—are clueless about the sexual “hang-ups” young couples face today, or they are simply afraid to offer the frank dialogue essential for building a healthy sexual life in marriage.
  4. If the church remains silent, unwilling to provide raw, graphic answers to today’s average sex questions, she will lose all her influence with the confused, porn-ified couples coming into the body of Christ.

The above list is ardently defended as ample justification for a drastic change of course.  These present and unique dilemmas, we’re told, call for unrestrained, sexually explicit counsel as the only way forward in our marriages.  Previous traditions which cloaked intimate details with words that preserve personal dignity, private anatomy, and the boundaries of human imagination are no longer helpful, in fact, and should be considered debilitating.

But what will be the ultimate outcome of yet another radical, experimental paradigm shift in the way evangelicals conduct ministry?  Even if we grant that today’s average new believer may be haunted by the grossest of perverted pasts (I don’t doubt this is epidemic), why would we imply that becoming sexually “clean” does not result in greater dignity, higher sexual ideals, biblically-guarded conversation, and a purer thought-life?  When the problem has been an uninhibited, overt exposure to all that the sinful flesh can dream up, why would we encourage more unrestrained exposure to some other couple’s bedroom privileges?!  This seems manifestly counterproductive and wrongheaded.   Some may ask: “What’s so undignifying and impure about very frank sex-counsel among Christians, especially if couples are helped by it?”  I’d like to answer by addressing each of the defenses paraphrased above. Today we’ll focus on number 1.

(1) Young couples today are coming out of a uniquely porn-saturated culture, and are terribly confused about what is sexually appropriate in a Christian marriage.

Whether our over-sexed culture is unique or even more troubling than 40 years ago is up for debate.  I grew up in Los Angeles, California, in the turbulent 60’s & 70’s, during what has been dubbed “the birth of the sexual revolution” in America.  Sexually explicit material, though not available via the digital superhighway of today, was easily accessible at local outlets and was far less stigmatized than many assume.  It was becoming a part of primetime television programming, carried by every newsstand on the street, commonplace in movies (blatant frontal nudity was already a normal part of many PG films), and subscribed to by the upper classes of society through magazines.  Contrary to what some claim today, perverted sexuality was already “normal” decades ago.

Junior High classmates of mine were having sex at parties and openly discussing the details.  To be sure, the majority of us were too afraid to actually participate, but no one blushed at spreading around graphic gossip.  Those times were already rife with free sexual expression, out in the open (Amsterdam has nothing on the commune-life of the 60’s)!  By the time I hit the Junior High ministry at church, the sexual ideals and culture of our group were already quite perverted.  Back then, young people were heading into marriage with no more clarity on biblical sexuality than today’s youth.  The variety of perverted experimentation may be greater today, or more barefaced, but it’s certainly not “new and unique.”

It is my concern that those promoting graphic sex-counsel are creating a straw-man by insinuating the marital struggles of believers today require more than previous generations.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that contemporary couples are far more confused about sexual norms—about what is permitted in a Christian marriage than their forebears.  I see no compelling reason why this demands a radically different, if not shameless, approach to helping them.  If the Scriptures were good enough for Corinth, et al., they’re certainly sufficient for today’s challenges.

The word of God, mediated through His church—the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 2:15)—remains God’s instrument of grace in all matters pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3).  Scripture is sufficient—in both its specific terminology and overall content—to cleanse our minds, increase spiritual depth in our marriages, provide wisdom and discernment for even the most challenging needs, and enhance the delight and free expression of our marital intimacy.  We never need to go beyond the content of the Bible!  Two honest, faithful, pure-minded believers who humbly trust God can openly discuss their sexual relationship with each other and build a “secret life” together as God intended.  To suggest otherwise is to question the sufficiency of Scripture’s dignified instruction, as though the bedroom details of other “experienced” couples are a greater change-agent than the Bible.

Read Part 2 here:

Jerry Wragg

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Jerry is the pastor-teacher of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL. He also serves as the Chairman of the board of The Expositors Seminary.
  • This is a well-articulated response that will arm us with answers against straw men arguments. It’s a shame that “conservative” approaches to discussing sexuality are being labelled as ineffective. It really is a subtle attack on the sufficiency of Scritpure. I love your point: if the Scriptures were sufficient for Corinth…

    Thanks Jerry.

    • That line that stood out to me as well. I feel like all this is going to lead to more legalism than any kind of liberation. What are we going to publish next, “How many glasses of Pino Grigio can I have in a day before I am ‘sinning?'” Pastors, and Christians, need to counsel from the cross, always pointing to Christ. That will both reveal our motives and cultivate the right desires.

  • Larry

    Excellent response. The belief our generation or culture is unique in all of history is the root cause of a lot of questionable practices and doctrines in the church. With regard to living in a sexually charged culture, you don’t have to read too much about what went on in the Roman world of Paul’s day to know we have nothing on them – yet in none of his teachings on marriage does he go into the kind of graphic detail about sex that one finds in many of the pop-Christian books on that topic today.

  • Great post Jerry. This issue of explicit content is definitely “growing” around christian circles. “Contextualization” is taken way too far and quite frankly, out of context. Thanks again.

    • Scott S diVincenzo

      There are no biblical defenses for GRAPHIC church sanctioned marital sessions EVEN among the non conformers Shane. However, there are likely circumstances where NON COED, age appropriate, gender specific healing ministries intervine in an attempt to help disconnect the abusive and the abused FROM atypical, immoral, counter-intuitive, unhealthy & dysfunctional IDEAS of what they were conditioned to normalize. Oh, and to what contextuaization were you referring ?

      • Hey scott. I’ve heard that Driscoll’s(whose ministry I love) new book goes into some quite shocking detail, when compared to scripture’s very conservative and high standard of purity with regards to sexual behaviour. I am thankful for ministries that faithfully attend to abused victims of a fallen world. I agree with those above circumstances, but when things start getting “dirty” then I think thats when preachers and writers have passed the line of contextualization- where biblical truth is twisted to “suit” modern day minds, as if we have evolved. We as beings still have the same problems that existed thousands of years ago. Did I answer your question?

        • Scott S diVincenzo

          Then sadly, DRISCOLL is wrong here if he places himself into co-ed pre and / or post marital details. Gender-specific therapies relative to biblical rolls. NOT CREEPY DETAILS

          • Aaron

            Let’s not forget that Driscoll claims to have the ability to “see peoples past sexual sins, like watching a tv, in extreme detail”, claiming that these pornographic images are placed there by the Holy Spirit. He likes to try to call it the gift of discernment. As a friend of mine said….

            “If that is the discernment… I pray that I never receive that gift!”

            this guy has been doing this for how long now… how many times does a four leg creature have to bark before we call it a dog?

  • Anonymous

    Spot on.

  • Scott S diVincenzo

    ‎”… I continue to HEAR Over and Over …” from WHOM, Driscoll, Christ Fellowship ? Personally, I have NEVER heard an inkling of such counseling trash from any of my rebellious non-conformist sources. Yet SOMEHOW the reformed RIGHT hear these bizarre defenses of explicit marital counseling over AND over .

    • I personally have heard them countless times from people. Usually in the context of explaining why MD’s new book’s explicit chapters are appropriate. I’ve also heard them in defense of his SOS series. I have heard them in defense of the pastor doing the wife/bed/roof thing last week.
      I mean, you obviously can’t defend those things biblically, so the attempt is usually to defend them culturally, and the more common defenses that I have heard are listed above.

      • Joe

        If you wanted to truly respond to the arguments, you should not have filtered them from your perspective. I highly doubt someone’s argument was stated as

        “If the church remains silent, unwilling to provide raw, graphic answers to today’s average sex questions, she will lose all her influence with the confused, porn-ified couples coming into the body of Christ”

        Your summary of the arguments is off base, it’s no surprise that your post is as well. Clearly you are not listening to the arguments of those you disagree with.

  • Scott S diVincenzo

    ‎”… I continue to HEAR Over and Over …” from WHOM, Driscoll, Christ Fellowship ? Personally, I have NEVER heard an inkling of such counseling trash from any of my rebellious non-conformist sources. Yet SOMEHOW the reformed RIGHT hear these bizarre defenses of explicit marital counseling over AND over .

  • Richdpowell

    Excellent Jerry! People forget that whatever controls the mind dictates the life. As Solomon wrote, “For as a man thinks within himself so is he.” (Pr. 23:7) It seems like many who hold this sexuality explicit mentality seem to be spiritually floating on the Costa Concordia cruise ship before it hit the jagged rocks.
    Hello! Anyone there? Danger lies ahead. Steer another course. Take the sealane of escape. Head to the Atlantic. Clay vessels will always lose when they hit the deceitful rocks of sin.

  • Richdpowell

    Excellent Jerry! People forget that whatever controls the mind dictates the life. As Solomon wrote, “For as a man thinks within himself so is he.” (Pr. 23:7) It seems like many who hold this sexuality explicit mentality seem to be spiritually floating on the Costa Concordia cruise ship before it hit the jagged rocks.
    Hello! Anyone there? Danger lies ahead. Steer another course. Take the sealane of escape. Head to the Atlantic. Clay vessels will always lose when they hit the deceitful rocks of sin.

  • Sandgroper

    It has become obvious to me that some wives have been made to suffer a very boring existence within their Christian marriages. This should not be. The key is to put their needs before yours. In every possible way. This is the way of Christ. This is the essence of UNconditional love.

  • It’s good to hear that our society is not in irreversible moral decline after all. Sure we have graphic video porn of all sorts on the internet and alternative lifestyles are now mainstream but this is basically no more of a challenge than the free love of the 60’s. We don’t need to adjust our approach at all. In fact, doing so would be to abandon the bible. Right?

    • Why don’t you think society is in a moral decline? And, if we agree that it is, why do you think deviating from the Bible’s approach to ministry would stop it? Or am I not understanding your comment correctly? Thanks John,

      Jesse

      • Sorry, I was being facetious. Society obviously IS in morale decline. The author seems to think that the there is no need for a new approach partially because the challenges we face today are very similar to what he faced in his youth. The truth is it is very different. Perhaps he should talk to some young couples rather than make assumptions. People do have questions that are not specifically answered in the Word. I don’t understand how anyone concludes that it is “un-biblical” to have these type of frank discussion. It is also unfair to suggest that the proponents of this approach rely on it exclusively without including the scriptures at all. Talk about creating a straw man! We have at least two well known preachers making a lot of news in this area recently. I don’t necessarily agree with their approach but the argument made here does not hold water in my opinion. Are these leaders truly seeking to help or are they trying to shock in order to draw numbers? This is the real question. The logic they use to explain their actions (your 4 points above) seems valid to me. Motivation is what really concerns me.

        • DrakeL

          “….The author seems to think that the there is no need for a new approach partially because the challenges we face today are very similar to what he faced in his youth. The truth is it is very different.”
          How different and how come you know? You are making your won assumption. We only have one anchor here and its is the scriptures. The question is: Is the Bible sufficient to address this generation?

          • guest

            Please wait till parts 2 and 3 come out… The author will make the case that the scripture are the answer to the problems of this generation.

        • Jerry Wragg

          John –
          My point wasn’t, of course, that sexual perversion ISN’T more “mainstream” today than in my day. I simply argue that such facts do not demand the presuppositions about explicit sexual counsel many pastors are embracing. If you’ll settle in for the rest of my posts before quick-drawing, I will provide several biblical reasons why this trend is not only unwise but dangerous.
          As for suggesting that I “should talk to some young couples rather than make assumptions,” you mean other than the ones I shepherd through these issues everyday in our ministry? Do you mean young couples from a different sub-culture than liberal Los Angeles or affluent West Palm Beach, Florida? If my conclusions—which derive from ministering to today’s young couples—are merely “assumptions,” then what different information would I gain from other “young couples?” And even if I was as clueless as you imply about all the “graphic…video porn” and “alternative lifestyles” today, my points of disagreement with those pushing explicit sex-counsel would not change. As my subsequent posts will argue, the problem isn’t whether today’s perversions are worse than at other times in history, but that pastors/shepherds can still trust the language and intended meaning/implications of Scripture to transform even the most deviant, sexually confused heart and mind!

        • Graham and Nicola

          If you look at the point we make below, it isn’t at all clear that things are worse now (for many Pastors in any case) than they were in the 1960s and 1970s – before AIDS made promiscuity so much more dangerous.
          As we say, the pornographication of society might well be a less risky way of carrying on the Sexual Revolution.

          In our view, the popularity of pornography probably has more to do with the rise of nihilism. Consider the preponderence of violent entertainment, sometime called “torture porn”. The human body has no intrinsic value. It can be stripped or torn apart for our entertainment. It is an instrument to be used for our gratification; we no longer think of ot as part of God’s Image.

          The casual and crude references to sexuality from our pulpits probably also owes something to nihilism. The language used to describe the human body, and the power of sexuality, is not guarded and respectful because society no longer views the body as worthy of respect and honour. The Pastor simply adopts the language and presuppositions of his congregation.

          Sex is no longer the foundation of family and the source of the next generation. It is something to be enjoyed for the pleasure it brings. Sex is to be kept novel and exciting. We treat sex like consumers; so we even condone cosmetic surgery!

          Ironically, pursuing pleasure makes it harder and harder to find. The more Pastors send their congregants in search of sexual pleasure, the less they will find. In Song of Solomon the lovers find delights in the garden; but they did not set out to find a garden. They went out to find each other.

          Nicola and Graham

  • Well said, Jerry. As I read this, I was reminded of the standard evangelical message of 1990, when I was a young believer. What was taught at that time to Christian singles came from a rather pragmatic attitude, listing all the practical reasons and citing secular research on the matter, as to why it’s better to abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage, and all the psychological problems that people have when they begin their marriage after a tainted past. No appeal to the Bible, to what God’s word has to say on the matter, only a pragmatic psychology approach to a growing social problem. That watered-down message obviously didn’t stop the trend a generation ago, and so now we’ve come to this. It’s disturbing that the church behaves the same as the world in this pragmatism, but it’s also a sign of the times: the growing apostasy of the church as we come nearer to His return.

  • I like that you brought out the example of corinth, if you want to go further back I think even of the Israelites having an orgy when moses came down from the mountain. Adonijah on the top of the temple with his father’s concubines. This is nothing new in the history of the world. Our culture is not special. Scripture is sufficient.

  • Phil

    Great thoughts; thanks. Affirms much of what I’ve been thinking on this issue. As an aside–any way you can autopost Cripplegate blog posts to Twitter, so we can be aware when a new post has been written? Thanks

    • Follow me on Twitter and they are auotposted. jarbitro. Or follow all of the authors at cripplegate by clicking the twitter icon in our graphic at the top of the page. Thanks Phil.

  • Phil Johnson

    Thanks, Jerry. I’m glad you weighed in on this.

    You’d think from some of the recent rhetoric that evangelicals and Young-and-Restless Calvinists desperately need more Ruth Westheimers in our pulpits. As if THAT would help us all to mortify the flesh and have our minds renewed.

    BTW, the photo at the top of the post isn’t a tatted hand. That’s Mehndi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehndi It’s a temporary design that wears off. That’s an honored tradition at Indian weddings.

    • Jerry Wragg

      Thanks, Phil, for the clarification on the graphic. Since I don’t assign the pics to my posts, the Cripplegate staff will have to update their own files on that issue.

    • Guest

      Ha ha! I think it’s funny that Phil’s comments had to be edited by the moderator….

      • Fair point. Actuallyl Phil kindly pointed out that the orriginal picture was not what I labeled it. I fixed the picture, and that made his comment look weird, so I took that part down. But I find the irony of the (edited by moderator) funny.

  • Jerry Wragg

    BTW – It’s always difficult to break an article into several posts because questions raised by one post sometimes aren’t sufficiently addressed until subsequent posts from later in the original article. Perhaps some commenters should reserve their questions until the series is complete. I’ll try to offer clarifications then, especially if I know your concerns will be dealt with in posts yet to come. Thank you for your patience!

  • I am heartened by the swell of response, properly negative, to the subject of “shameful speech”.
    Thank you for adding your fine post to the subject.

  • Dave

    Great post on an urgent area of need for counsel. The “put off” – “put on” dynamic of Col 3 seems clear that the way to help marriages reared in a “porn-saturated culture” is by using language that is Word-saturated. “And Adam knew Eve” is an amazingly comprehensive summary to begin teaching non-explicit principles for sexual intimacy (and there is no shortage). Fleshly language fuels the flesh…spiritual truth will fuel the heart to honor God in every relational aspect, and God created marriage for His glory and our pleasure.

  • Excellent post! Thank you for standing on the sufficiency of scripture! This is a much needed message for today.

  • David Westerfield

    FYI, for the record, that picture is not of a tatted couple but rather that is Henna, a non-permanent pigment dye, in this case used in a marriage ceremony in India, painted only on the women for the ceremony. The dye lasts about two weeks I believe.

    • Yeah. Phil Johnson pointed that out to us, and I took it down. My bad. Thanks for pointing it out though.

  • Lisa

    New techniques required for a “special” generation…how pragmatic and arrogant (not to mention uninformed – no perverted people in the Bible, huh?). There is nothing new under the sun…do we believe that or are we really so egocentric as to believe that there is something more required than the pure and unadulterated gospel for what ails man in our generation? The heart is the problem, and the only cure for it is the gospel, plain and simple. The gospel has the power to make us new creatures with new hearts and new desires that love God and see the beauty in following his ways through obedience. Is scripture insufficient for not only calling us to obedience but also informing and sustaining our obedience? May it never be. Foolishly calling for instruction “in addition” to scripture (and in addition to the gospel) smacks of unbelief and worldliness. The Holy Spirit alone possesses the power to penetrate our hearts with truth through scripture. Who are we kidding when we think that man’s words are needed in addition?? Forgive us Lord for all of the ways that we all fail to revere you…
    We would all do well (myself included) to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
    By the way, I speak from experience…my husband, always a church-going guy has a very horrid and scary sexual past, and was also secretly “addicted” to pornography for over 25 years. Through God’s grace, I witnessed him become a new creature first hand when the gospel was presented to him unadulterated. Prior to this, he had been to “christian” counselors (I use the term loosely) who used the approaches mentioned in this article (being very explicit and graphic) and that only lead to further despair and failure, not mention provided him with further temptations. We also read books together that were graphic and explicit in nature, and these also were not helpful but further distrubed us both and lead to no healing. Healing was found ONLY after reading a book that was saturated with scripture that took us back to the basics of the gospel and applied it to human sexuality (done in a way that quoted scripture, rather than employing graphic sexual talk and scenarios). Of course, it wasn’t the book that saved him, it was the gospel, and this book pointed him toward it and the necessity and sufficiency of Christ ALONE. Years have passed, and my husband truly is a brand new man, and our marriage has also been reborn. I am only one person, but I testify that the Gospel of God is sufficient for healing and instruction for very broken and sexually sinful people. Praise be to God!!!

    • Amen, Lisa, and to God be the glory!

      Great article, Jerry.

      • Lisa

        Yes, to God be the glory. And when it is the gospel alone that is understood to have transformed a life, it IS God who gets the glory. When people rely on techniques or programs or approaches, then it is the technique or program or approach that is magnified, along with the people who promote them. (Techniques, programs and approaches do not transform people, but behavior can be modified to such a degree that it mimics transformation…dangerous and scary.)
        Excuse typos in previous post – flush with emotion, forgot to proofread!

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  • Even if contemporary culture is uniquely deviant … that just makes returning to Scripture itself all the more dramatic.

    A careful exposition of counter-cultural Biblical truth in its specific, contextual, historical, sanctified content becomes even more compelling than preaching which merely mimics the contemporary culture’s lurid details.

    • Jerry Wragg

      Thank you, Spence, for this excellent comment!

  • Michael Delahunt

    Great article, sir. I had the opportunity to take a Roman history class a couple years ago at the University of Minnesota with a world-leading expert on ancient Greek history who also had incredible insight into the Roman world as well. He was quite pagan, so I found out more than I needed to know! However, it is quite clear that this culture was far more outwardly perverse than we are, and yet Paul’s engagement of the culture on the object of sex can be shown clearly in the Word. I think we need to take our call from a inspired apostle in a perverse world, not young bucks who think the old geezers need to take a seat on this stuff.

  • Amen and amen. I’m appreciative of both your plainly spoken response and your brevity. Thank you Pastor Wragg.

  • Anonymous

    Undoubtedly another response to Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage book. The difference is that though this post disagrees with Driscoll’s methods, it addresses the issue in a way that doesn’t make me want to vomit, which is a very refreshing change from what I’ve read so far.

    I love Pastor Mark, as much of his teaching has spurred me toward Christ, but he is as fallible as the rest of us, and should be respectfully and lovingly called out when he makes mistakes. I’m still unsure if his latest book is a mistake, as I haven’t read it yet.

    Thank you for at least addressing this in a Christ-exalting, God-glorifying way.

  • Bill O’Neill

    There is a spate, afresh, of sex-help books out there now by (evidently bi-vocational) pastors self-appointed to the role dethroning Dr. Ruth and her ilk, all while displaying their very tiny, diminutive, teenie view of the big picture of what the Bible actually says and how the Word sufficiently instructs us in this.

  • Graham and Nicola

    This historical perspective is helpful. Before the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s there might well have been less pornography, but more extra-marital sex. We might well have swapped one kind of immorality for another.
    In fact the epidemic of STDs might well explain the widespread appeal of pornography, and its gradual acceptance into mainstream culture. It is simply a way of carrying on the Sexual Revolution, without the risks.
    We also need to carefully examine the concept of “addiction” to pornography and sex. There are psychiatrists and psychologists who dispute that the condition exists; or at least, if it does it is not analogous to drug addiction

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7371171.stm

    Graham and Nicola

  • Inge

    Of strawmen and shameful speech: how appropriately termed. I pray that more YRRers will begin to reflect on this. Wise word in season added to that of Al Mohler and John MacArthur (who was sadly dismissed as out of touch and old…). My heart aches. Forgive us Lord.

    • Aaron

      I once heard the author of this article once say “If I’m ever labeled ‘old and grumpy’ by an unteachable youngster, I’d like to be sane enough to enjoy the compliment and know that I am right where I need to be theologically!” – Jerry Wragg

      • Inge

        well said guest. thanks.

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  • guest

    From WORLD magazine, a few years ago: http://www.worldmag.com/articles/15476

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