Selling sex in the Christian bookstore

All of a sudden, sex is everywhere in the Christian blogosphere. Seattle megachurch pastor Judah Smith is starting a sermon series called “Jesus is bringing sexy back.” This Friday, Texas megachurch pastor Ed Young is going to lie in bed with his wife on the roof of their church as a 24 hour “sexperiment” (hopefully without doing anything that will get them hypothermia) in order to promote their book Sexperiment which challenges Christian spouses to have sex 7 days in a row as a way to reinvigorate their marriage. Then of course there’s Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage book.

I guess I’m supposed to say that I’m glad evangelical Christians are “finally talking about sex,” but didn’t this already happen? I thought it stopped being taboo for evangelical Christians to talk about sex at least a decade ago. Why are evangelical pastors pretending that this year for the first time it’s safe to jump into “such a controversial topic”? I’m sorry, but if I were a young adult “seeker” and the local megachurch pastor tried doing a sermon series on sex to “reach me,” I would be a bit insulted.

I see a larger problem here too though. I’m just not sure that sex is something we should be talking about. I understand the need to ease the fears of evangelical newlyweds who have spent their adolescence and young adulthood seeing their virginity as the single greatest concrete measure of their Christian discipleship. But how does it take away the pressures and dysfunctions of the marriage bed for us to read books that tell us there is a right way to be with our spouses and give us the 5 or 7 or 12 steps we need to follow in order to bat a thousand? What if it doesn’t work because I’m wondering if it’s going to work, which is the way things don’t work at certain moments in time?

I wish sex could be a mysterious journey that two people took together without knowing or caring how other people were doing it. I think that’s the main reason why God wants us to wait until we’re with our partner for life: so that we can discover the beautiful mystery at the same time together. To me, the problem with having multiple partners is that it makes sex into a performance or technique rather than a mystery. It makes it a commodity to be consumed rather than a holy sacrament in which two people experience the intimacy of the divine embrace.

To me, this is why Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a mysterious illustration of the oneness of Christ and the church (Greek mysterion = Latin sacramentum, by the way). I think Paul is saying that the perfect moment of physically intimate self-abandon that defines marriage is what unity with Christ in heaven will be like. But it can’t be that way if it’s a performance. It seems like there’s more than one way to kill this beautiful mystery of marriage. I’m not sure that reading a celebrity pastor’s how-to guide isn’t one of them.

7 thoughts on “Selling sex in the Christian bookstore

  1. Sexuality is a mess in both our society and our churches. It’s one of the top reasons thousands of marriages end (both christian and other), and it is messing up tonnes of young people emotionally before they even get married! Many Christian men and women people feel dirty about having sex and it affects their marriage. I’m a 30+ year old male and I am extremely thankful for this “controversial” subject being talked openly about in our church. It has helped me have a healthy view about sex and helped me enjoy the guilt free, pure version of it in my own marriage.

    We need to be careful how we talk about other pastors and leaders. I don’t appreciate some of the accusations and conclusions made in the article and in the comments, they weren’t based on fact, and it’s not right. I expected a better example.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Chuck. I’m very glad that you have benefited in your marriage from hearing a healthier articulation of sex. I do agree that it’s positive for people to be able to have open conversations about sex in church. To me, it turns into something different when celebrity worship and marketing schemes become part of the equation. I just don’t need a celebrity pastor telling me the “right” way to be intimate with my wife.

    • Exactly. I think male pastors are good at describing what they want from their wives and coming up with a theological rationale for it.

  2. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church is to blame for this. In the book, Warren recommends that pastors preach a “fishing expedition” sermon series shortly after Christmas and Easter to catch folks who came to worship on either Christmas or Easter. The upcoming sermon series can be promoted on those high holy days and can be used to entice folks who seldom come to church to return a couple of weeks later. (Of course you don’t start a “fishing expedition” series the first Sunday after Christmas or Easter, because to expect such non-attenders to come two weeks in a row is a bit much.) We are seeing purpose-driven churches with celebrity pastors use this marketing strategy. Personally, I long for a return to spiritual formation through Christian worship using the lectionary and the church calendar. I’m tired of market-driven, purpose-driven church. It is time for a change.

  3. Amen, brother. Thanks for this. And I love the idea of mystery – and that is what has been lost in our culture much of the time. Be nice if the church could hang onto the wonder of it all, no?

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