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TGC, Sex, and Christ
Okay, I just read Josh Butler’s TGC piece on Sex Won’t Save You (But It Points to the One Who Will). And, well, I do have some thoughts on this.
First, there is a legitimate scriptural image for Christ as the husband and the church as the bride (see Ephesians 5 and Revelation 21). There is also an allegorical reading of Song of Songs so that the love between a king and his concubine is like the love between Christ and the church.
Second, there were Puritans who did liken communion with Christ to the pleasure and ecstasy of sex. Which shows that the Puritans were not quite as prudish as we might assume, but celebrated sex as the ultimate metaphor of union.
But … Butler’s piece gets cringy and manufactures conditions for misogyny when he equates, literarily, Christ’s saving word with a man’s semen! He uses the language of penetration a lot, refers to semen as a sacrificial offering and a holy seed, and describes a woman’s uterus as hospitable and rejoicing.
Note, in Butler’s analogy, the man plays the role of Christ and the woman is the church (but never vice-versa!). That automatically correlates men with Christ-like authority and Christ’s agency, while women are cast as receiving salvation through the man’s sexual fulfillment. The man penetrates and the woman is penetrated, this makes men dominant and active while women are passive and obedient. Sexual release for the man is part of the women’s salvation. The man’s pleasure and penis are christified, while his semen is sanctified as a holy sacrifice - I can’t believe I’m even saying that.
Note too, this is not the first time TGC has published something like this, I can remember an article written over ten years ago (since taken down), where Jared Wilson quoted Douglas Wilson as to how men colonize the bodies of their wives in sex. No, I’m not joking, I found this in an old blog post:
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
Butler is just rehashing some old Doug Wilson tropes about sex.
The twittersphere was also alive with many critics of Butler’s TGC article and they show why Butler’s article is genuinely concerning.
Even Jonathan Leeman, from the 9 Marks network, with whom I often disagree, expresses legitimate concern!
I think Zach Wagner is right that we have to be very careful about the sex typology for Christ and the Church.
In a post-#MeToo, post-#ChurchToo context, Christians should be careful how they employ Christ-church typology as it relates to sex. Yes, it is the case that theologians throughout the church’s history, taking their cue from Eph 5:25–31, have connected sex to salvation and the Christ-church relationship. It is also the case that rank misogyny has been a consistent feature of Christian theology. When theological analogies about sex mix with dehumanizing attitudes about sex, things can get dangerous quickly.
If you want a better perspective on husband-wife biblical imagery and a healthy sexual ethic between couples, check out Aimee Byrd’s book, The Sexual Reformation: Restoring the Dignity and Personhood of Man and Woman.
To be cynical, the TGC post is part of the marketing strategy for Josh Butler’s forthcoming book Beautiful Union, for which he purportedly received a six-figure advance. So, this does look like the evangelical industrial complex platforming a project and I have to ask if TGC was paid any money for publishing this article (I hope not, but I have to ask. I mean, why else would you publish something this cringy?).
In addition, as I’ve said before, TGC-America needs to get some female editors who are not just going to smile and nod at everything that they are handed, but women who will look the author and editor in the eye and say, “Are you out of your freaking mind?”