When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

When a Theology of Sexuality Became Too Sexy

“Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.”

    – Roger Scruton

“Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God.”

  – Dorothy Day

The Sexual Revolution

Being near the end of my seventh decade, I am a child of the decade which produced the Sexual Revolution. Those being my teenage years I also recall vividly the enormous tensions this produced. On one side of the generational divide, you had a generally conservative attitude in relation to speaking publicly about sex. It just wasn’t done. And this was even more so in the church, which at the time often laboured under the general error of “flesh = bad, spirit = good”.

On the other side, there was a sudden explosion, and open acceptance by the younger generations, of liberalisation of attitudes towards not just discussing it but experiencing it. The number of couples living in de facto relationships also began to increase at that time.

In popular culture, it came through the lyrics of our music. For example, Crosby, Stills and Nash openly declared that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. And Joni Mitchell sang about her relationship with her partner, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true”. They and others were products of “The Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco, which was itself the product of a slow ferment through the post-war generations. And this culminated in “Woodstock” in 1969 before the Hippie Utopia expired.

I also recall a few years later driving to the beach with my girlfriend (now my wife of 46 years) the morning of the launch of the ABC youth FM station, 2JJJ, which leapt out of the blocks with the Skyhooks song, “You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed”.

And from Hollywood the explosion was even more explicit, with full frontal nudity and casual sex all of a sudden being portrayed as normal and in fact preferable to chastity.

As a teenager, these conflicting expectations were challenging, to say the least.

Response from the Church

As for the churches, there were those who held fast to the rigid conservatism of the time. I recall reading a book a few years ago by evangelists John and Paula Sandford, where he noted that his grandmother once boasted that her husband had never seen her naked. And there was no shortage of those who even claimed that sex within marriage was only for the purpose of having children.

But there were those who lifted their heads above the parapets and began to engage with that generation, to try and come up with a Christian response that was more proactive and at the same time honouring God’s purpose, and we started to regain insight into what Scripture actually has to tell us about sex. And primarily, that it was meant for pleasure within marriage and not just for procreation.

This was a step in the right direction. As a consequence, we’re now able to discuss it in a far more open and healthy fashion, free from the prudish guilt of the past, both within our Christian communities and to the world around us. And I think we’ve made great gains, although we always seem to be one step behind being able to speak positively regarding whatever is the current focal point of any debate on sexuality. And there are those who are still prone to resorting to nothing more than an uncomprehending howl of moral outrage. But that only serves to disengage instead of lovingly confront with a positive alternative.

To this end we’ve never been able to shrug off the “straw man” image that most non-Christians have of us as black-robed people horrified at the notion of experiencing pleasure of any kind. Or if we do, we’d never admit to it.

And that’s one straw man I would love to see removed.

So why the history lesson?

Joshua Butler

Beautiful Union

Earlier this month there was an article published by The Gospel Coalition written by Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Arizona and a fellow at the new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. The article was an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort Of) Explains Everything”.

The article comprises the first three pages of the opening chapter of the book, titled “Sex as Salvation”, where he contrasted the kind of idolisation of sex he experienced in his formative years with how he understands it as a Christian. He identifies:

“… a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom… Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.”

In response, as Kevin DeYoung, a member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council, describes in an article at the Evangelical magazine, “World”, the article:

“… immediately drew curious eyebrows and strong criticism for its sexualized description of the relationship between Christ and the church, and for its description of the sexual relationship between husband and wife.”

In response to mounting criticism, TGC made the entire chapter available in order to provide more context for the controversial remarks. But the digital wildfire was already out of control. In the end, Butler resigned as a fellow, he was removed from speaking at TGC’s national conference, and the online cohort based on his book was canceled. On March 5, TGC pulled the article and the chapter off the website and issued an apology, asking for forgiveness and expressing a desire to listen and learn from its critics.

Reading this article, where DeYoung, in trying his best to be supportive of Butler, only succeeded in damning him with faint praise. This made me curious. And then someone sent the excerpt to me, along with another article in a similar vein.

DeYoung described the language of the excerpt as “lurid and specifically sexual instead of generally typological”, while Denny Burk in his article summed it up as being “salacious”. DeYoung also said that Butler

“took a misstep in combining spiritual language and sexual language to talk about marital intimacy between husband and wife. To be sure, there is a time for spiritual language and a time for explicitly sexual language. There is also a time to put the languages together, but very carefully”.

In both instances I wonder whether these men have ever fully understood how explicitly sexual the language employed by Solomon is in Song of Songs.

But be that as it may, I have to say that when I read the excerpt from Butler’s book I was literally rejoicing in almost every paragraph. Here he was illuminating thoughts I had been trying to unravel for years about the deep parallel between marital intimacy and the intense passion of God’s love for us.

And I believe Butler has given honour to the combining of the spiritual with the sexual in marriage. In fact, I cannot imagine a better explanation of the ineffable transcendence that is the closest we get to comprehending the passion of God’s desire for us. After all, sex is God’s idea and design!

An article at “Premier Christianity” commenting on the TGC controversy conveys this very well:

“If we find ourselves getting a little uncomfortable with these analogies then we might need to recover a high view of sex within marriage. By ‘cancelling’ Butler and pouring scorn on his work we learn more about our distorted view of sex than the truth of his writing. Have we absorbed such a fallen and distorted view of intercourse from our culture that we have an impoverished vision of the intimacy God calls us to?”

In passing, the issue of Butler being cancelled deserves mention. The actions against Butler, with the kind of lynch mob mentality spawned by social media, and what DeYoung described as the “out of control… digital wildfire”, is indistinguishable from so many incidences of “cancel culture” witnessed in recent years. Yet here are Christians doing exactly the same thing! We hold in contempt those on the Left for “drinking the Woke Kool-Aid”, yet many of us are guilty of sneaking a surreptitious sip ourselves when it suits.

Vigilance against “the spirit of the age” was never more necessary!

But in all of this, possibly the greatest irony is that Butler lost his position at The Gospel Coalition’s new Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics, named in honour of pastor Tim Keller. You see, Keller himself has an online article, “The Gospel and Sex”, culled from conferences in 2004 and 2005. In the section headed, “Sex is a Sacrament” he has a subsection titled “Sex Delights: The Dance of Sex”, where he notes that:

“…sex is sacred because it is the analogy of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the life of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of glorious devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son, as well as that between Christ and the believer (1 Cor. 11:3).”

If Butler is judged to be “lurid” and “salacious”, then by that same logic Keller is equally so!

All of this brings me to the point, and to why I started with the “Sexual Revolution” in the ‘60’s.

Lessons for the Church

To me the kind of prurience shown by those who objected to Butler’s article is a reversion back towards the dark days when any mention of sex was taboo. I’m not saying it gets there, but it is a step in the wrong direction, and at the worst possible time for our culture.

Why is that?

Because we are now living through an age where all the boundaries in relation to sex and sexuality have been obliterated. In fact they’ve been turned inside out and upside down, especially in the past few years in relation to the transgender movement. In relation to this, Douglas Murray, in his book, “The Madness of Crowds” repeatedly uses the word “derangement”. We’re certainly living in the most sexually permissive age in history.

And whatever you think of Butler’s writing, I believe he is pointing in the right direction in the process of being able to express a theology of sexuality which can act as a corrective to the secular free-for-all. This can only be achieved by an expression of the true purpose of sex. It truly is the ultimate, most fulfilling, expression of a unique and pleasurable mutual intimacy as God designed it within the protective confines of marriage. This is what Solomon describes in Song of Songs 4:12 as a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain”.

This then needs to be a component part of the whole theology expressed by our Christian worldview, to a world which, by settling for worldly solutions, settles for the inferior, not just in relation to sex, but in every aspect of life.

This, for me, is in line with what the apostle Peter teaches us in his first letter. He informs us of our own elevation, that we are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…”. By the authority of this office our calling is to “… proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

So, when an issue arises where we are questioned about our faith, because we are encouraged to always be “ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), we have the opportunity to shine that “marvellous light” on whatever issue is raised. This applies as much to a defence of the Biblical perspective on sex and sexuality as it does to any other issue.

This brings me back to that straw man figure I mentioned.

One of the most influential teachers in my Christian life has been the prophetic teacher Graham Cooke, who I recall hearing many times referring to the need for us as Christians in the world to “operate in the opposite spirit”. In other words, to act in response to those we know and meet in a way that challenges their inherent prejudices.

My strongest impression from that has always been of Christians in the world as bowlers in a cricket match, with the batsman seeing us as a bowler who poses little threat, as they imagine they can easily dispatch every ball bowled to the boundary. This is because non-Christians all carry around in their heads a straw man image of what a Christian is like, which gives them confidence that our arguments are easily and rationally dismissed.

But as we operate in the opposite spirit, we have the ability to shock them with a sharply rising delivery off a full length. This forces them to make a hurried defensive shot, and thus make them start to think, and to concentrate more on what we have to say.

And in relation to our theology of sex, in this hyper-sexualised age where nothing is hidden and all shock value has been wrung from every expression of sex and sexuality, now is the time to shock those we meet, to whom we offer our “ready defence”. And we do so by being able to both speak freely, even explicitly when called for, yet soberly, about sex (it goes without saying, of course, that we never resort to the kind of crudities which are so common in normal conversation these days).

By this means we present the Christian view of sex as the excellent and superior “icon” (Butler) and “sacrament” (Keller) that God designed it to be, and how we best explain the transcendence of intimacy far beyond the physical stimulus which, when made the focus, can never fully satisfy. Because God intended it to reflect the other centred focus of His love. The transcendence is in the giving, not the getting.

Beautiful Union” will be available in April. I for one am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

___

Photo by Joshua Butler.

Thank the Source

Armageddon – Part 2: Lessons from the Cold War and the Birth of Cold War II

This is the second of a three-part series inspired by the novel Armageddon by Leon Uris (1963). A remarkable, fictional story based on actual history, from the American perspective, of the end of WWII in Germany with particular focus on the administration of Berlin.

If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!
But passion and party blind our eyes,
and the light which experience gives us
is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

The Declaration of the Cold War

The Berlin Airlift was a resounding success! It was an outstanding achievement, but the Cold War was born. When we think of the Cold War, I guess most of us think of the territorial divisions that defined the ‘East’ from the ‘West’. These terms are still with us today, particular the phrases ‘Western Democracies’ and ‘Western Culture’.

We think of Russia and China as the world’s communist stronghold in the case of Russia, and the fascist dictatorship in the case of China, balanced against the western nations’ democracies. Then we think of the arms race and the nuclear threat, hence the term the ‘Cold War’, and the passionate hope and prayer that the opposing nuclear deterrents will be enough to keep either side from repeating the nuclear devastation unleashed on Japan to end World War II.

But let me take you back to the Berliners in the late 1940s. They did not really see any of these physical manifestations of communism that we recognise today. Rather, they would have sensed the psychological warfare raged against them — they were the heroes of the Cold War by their resistance against the communist agenda, their recognition of the threat and their willingness to sacrifice dearly for the prospect of freedom and liberty.

Imagine the culture of the time. Each of these points is a lesson for us today:

  1. The world that survived WWII were on food rations, crippled with grief for lost loved ones. Therefore, they could hardly ever lift their heads above the parapet and look out at other parts of the world. They were simply in survival mode and coming to terms with their own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  2. With the trauma of WWII and the wounds still open and weeping, who could have imagined the emergence of a new enemy, especially one from within their own ranks of the Allied powers? The natural instinctive reaction would simply be one of denial. They may have seen some ‘news’, but it would not have fitted into their existing paradigm, so they could not have made any sense or order out of the events unfolding around them.
  3. The Russians had marched through eastern Europe and ‘assimilated’ nation after nation on their westward march. But they were halted in Berlin. To their surprise, they met resistance. Not so much a military resistance, but a resistance from the civilian Berliners. Their tried and tested methods sprang into action, and wave upon wave of psychological warfare was unleashed on the Berliners by the Soviets. One example will suffice. They claimed that only they could ensure the permanent defeat of the Nazi threat. They claimed that the western powers were simply a cover for the re-emergence of Nazism.
  4. The Berliners were the new frontline against the new enemy. As a people utterly devasted by defeat and slaughter, they could still see through the communist lies and propaganda. I take my hat off to the Berliners! Arguably, they were the ones who ‘won the peace’ after WWII. They were the ones who fought for the freedom of thought and liberty of allegiance.
  5. From the start of the Cold War, there was intense pressure to conform to the communist vision. Many of the western Allied soldiers’ families wanted to leave and return home. They saw that the Russians had the upper hand, therefore resistance was futile. Back in the United States, federal parliament was bitterly split. The battle for hearts and minds was fierce, and in the end was resolved by courageous leadership.

The Birth of Cold War II

I would now like to suggest that we are witnesses to the birth of the Cold War II in our day and generation.

  1. I think we are in a war, a largely psychological war, but there are military manifestations in various pockets around the world. Perhaps the seeds of this idea were sown for me by Douglas Murray’s The War on the West (2022). Murray identified the enemy of the West as being from within the West. The enemy is a traitor among one of our own, just as the Russians in the late 1940s turned on their ‘own’, their fellow Allies. I see these internal forces as just as determined to enslave us and strangle the life out of our democracy as the communists did at the height of the first Cold War.

  1. The enemy’s tactics within the Cold War II, being primarily psychological at this stage, have most certainly taken ground, as demonstrated by the fact that the majority of people still look to their governments and authorities to ‘look after them’, to subsidise their back-to-work initiatives, and to build artificial price caps on energy costs to cushion us from hyperinflation created by them. Yes, the enemy’s tactics are working in the production of a compliant, submissive populace, willing to do their master’s bidding.
  2. Today, just as in 1948, the majority of us are still traumatised from the Covid panic years and the wounds are still open and weeping in many places, though it’s remarkable that it’s so easy to forget some of the pain, as we were effectively conditioned into acceptance of the pain for ‘the greater good’. Therefore, how can we expect people to put their heads above the parapet and look out across the nations of the world to identify a new threat; surely, we have had enough troubles in recent times, we are not looking for another!
  3. The new frontline against Cold War II can be found all around the world. We are connected digitally in contrast to the tangible community that the Berliners knew in the aftermath of WWII. Yes, the new frontlines are drawn by those people who can see the threat and are prepared to take a stand against it. In this context, I take my hat off to the thousands who have lost their jobs as a result of their stand, and to the thousands whose families and communities have been shattered by division and breakdown in relationships, and to the thousands who have literally lost their lives already in Cold War II.
  4. The battle lines are drawn today between those who recognise the threat of Cold War II and those who don’t. The latter can’t see that there is anything to fear — they simply say, ‘We are all in this together, we must make sacrifices for the common good when called to do so.’ I find that the division is largely one of silence and an unwillingness to name the elephant in the room. This is in stark contrast to 1948, when heated debates were common.

I do not see a new ‘Berlin Wall’ being built, but I do see the new ‘prisoner-of-war-camps’ being commissioned all around the world, to corral agitators, protesters, and rebels. There seem to be all the hallmarks of ‘walls’ around these camps to keep the renegades in; in contrast to the Berlin Wall’s design to keep their own in, preventing them from defecting to freedom.

Whichever way we look at it, division and segregation can never spell freedom and liberty of thought and allegiance. Openness, tolerance, and mutual respect are the qualities of a community I want to leave as a legacy for my children. These characteristics are all built upon personal responsibility and small government, as opposed to the abrogation of responsibility to big governments and global big businesses.

The Cold War II’s Agenda

I have reflected deeply on the nature of this agenda. I believe the mastermind to be the devil and his angels. His fingerprints are all over it:

Therefore, Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10: 7-11)

I believe there are many ‘diversionary tactics’ that distract, divide, dilute and dilute our attention. But if we look at the devil’s core values, stealing, murder and destruction, this will help us identify the true nature of his agenda. This is in direct contrast with Jesus’ agenda to bring life and life to the full. It is interesting that Jesus is the ‘gate’, not the devil. It is Jesus that decides who may come in and go out, and who may find pasture.

Who is the devil using to outwork his agenda? First of all, stealing. Sadly, I suspect there will be much more overt manifestations of theft to come, but so far, we have seen soaring fuel prices and artificial scarcity of sources of energy, resulting in inflation fuelled by planned irresponsible government spending over the past three years. So, the first agent of the devil’s agenda, national governments, in perfect harmony across the world.

Secondly, murder. The perpetrating and legitimisation of abortion, the murder of infants:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. (Leviticus 20: 1-2)

Yes, child sacrifice has been known for thousands of years, but God plainly abhors it, and notice He holds ‘the people’ responsible for its eradication. I believe we are responsible for allowing the practice of and legitimisation of abortion. So, in this context, our governments who have sanctioned the practice and our healthcare system that carry out the practice are responsible, but we have not stopped them.

Further, evidence of murder would be the administration of un-tested, unsafe, and ineffective medication resulting in sudden adult death syndrome (SADS), increased numbers of miscarriages and the potential for future infertility. All these measures being the responsibility of the global pharmaceutical industry and our healthcare systems overseen by our national governments. This strategy of the devil has been working very well at depopulating the world, with the immediate focus being the western nations.

Thirdly, destruction. War meets this criterion and is the most obvious evidence of the work of the devil. But destruction can be evidenced in a wide array of phenomena. I would illustrate this with wildfires. It seems to me that many wildfires have been fuelled by Green agendas that have left forests untended for too long, resulting in dangerous levels of tinder for fires to consume.

I also note that some catastrophic floods have been exacerbated by the cessation of preventative dredging of tidal estuaries and the indiscriminate land clearing that has denuded the landscape of vegetation, that would otherwise have captured sufficient rainfall and lessened the destructive floods. In these instances, the responsibility for the destruction would again be the Green agendas that have failed to recognise the biodiversity of different habitats. Then in turn, Green agendas have been incorporated into ‘both sides’ of politics, who in turn bear the responsibility for the destruction.

Here I have sought to illustrate the work of the devil under the three headings of stealing, murder and destruction. Naturally, this is a gross simplification of the nature of the fallen world — in reality it is much more complex; but I have found this rationale a helpful vehicle to seek to understand the nature of Cold War II.

We Ignore Cold War II at Our Peril

Just as in the days of the first Cold War, many could not see it at first. There were intense debates on how best to respond. Let us learn the lessons from history and not be caught out in Cold War II. I believe that the writing is on the wall for us all to read.

___

Photo by Pixabay.

Thank the Source

Armageddon – Part 1: Lessons from the Berlin Airlift (1948 – 1949)

If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!
But passion and party blind our eyes,
and the light which experience gives us
is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

This is the first of a three-part series inspired by the novel Armageddon by Leon Uris (1963). A remarkable fictional story based on actual history, from the American perspective, of the end of World War II in Germany with a particular focus on the administration of Berlin.

What can we learn from these events? Can we see any parallels with our situation today? I believe we can learn invaluable lessons to strengthen our faith. I believe we can be inspired by the courage and passion of the men and women who sacrificed all to serve and protect their former enemies, and I believe we can be supported in our stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation.

The End of World War II (1945)

I find it impossible to imagine the physical and psychological carnage experienced on a daily basis at war’s end.

Berlin was a city of millions that had been all but demolished at the hand of the Allies — British, French, American and Russian forces. With precious little infrastructure left to sustain the surviving population, the Allies divided the city into administrative sectors: Northwest, French; West, British; Southwest, American; and East, by far the largest sector, Russian.

I am sure that all of you will know of the Berlin Wall. It began on 13 August 1961 and was taken down on 9 November 1989. Most of you will associate it with the beginning of the Cold War between the western nations and the communist eastern bloc.

But fewer will know of the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift that lasted 462 days from 26 June 1948 until 30 September 1949 — the Western powers’ answer to the Communist blockade. I am not going to recount the history per se, but I commend these resources for those interested in understanding the background in more detail:

The Destruction of Nazism and the Leadup to the Blockade of Berlin

There were two opposing currents pouring through the bombed-out Berlin streets. The Nazis had been defeated and now the Allies’ responsibility was to mop up all remaining Nazis and herd them off for trial and imprisonment. But how would you define a Nazi?

Surely one descriptor could include ‘all German and conquered peoples who went along with the Nazi machinery’? Under that definition, nearly all Germans would fall into that category. But on the streets, the round-up of surviving Nazis left millions of Berliners to be administrated, who were now deemed victims of the war, not perpetrators.

The opposing current was the sense of responsibility towards the German people, to support their survival amidst the ruins and to start the rebuilding of a city, a nation and a people. How would the Allied forces manage their emotions as they sought to support ‘the people’ responsible for the death of family and countrymen by their complicity with the Nazis? This stream was Uris’ focus in Armageddon.

The Russian method of administration could be described as the rape of German women and girls and the rape and pillage of anything of value that could be salvaged from the ruins of Germany. There was some of this at the hand of the western Allies, but far less.

After a little while, when the liberating forces had settled into their roles, the western Allies began to take the Russians’ behaviour to task. I think this tension between their opposing values could have been the seed of the Cold War to come.

A further distinction between the western Allies and the Soviets was their respective understanding of the value of democracy. Prior to the Russian blockade of Berlin, the Russian communists took every opportunity they could to intimidate or silence the voices of the freedom parties at any of the local elections and at the appointment of the Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor of the city).

The Russians only knew one party, the Communist Party, so by process of elimination, anyone who could not swear allegiance to The Party, was, by definition, an agitator, a protester, a rebel and one to be removed or silenced. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973) depicts the machinations of the Community Party over many decades in the treatment of their own people, and I am sure that the Berliners knew something of this reputation in the immediate years after the war. Imagine the Russians’ attitude to any Germans who would not conform! They had been ‘given’ a sector to administrate, so they naturally saw their Berliners as their responsibility to indoctrinate.

What Provoked the Russians to Blockade the City of Berlin?

The Soviets’ own information channels to their own people perpetrated the myth that they alone, the Russians, had ‘liberated’ Berlin from the dictates of Hitler’s Fascist, Nazi Party. In reality, it was most certainly a team effort involving all the Allied forces.

The Russians were shown the evidence on numerous occasions, but they barely believed the western powers, putting this rhetoric down to, western propaganda, much in the same way as they knew their own machine was at work creating Soviet propaganda. The result was that the Russians felt cheated by the western Allied claims, even if they could not prove it.

It has been widely argued that the central provocation for the blockade of Berlin was the Allies’ introduction of the new German currency, the Deutschmark, on 20 June 1948. This included a special currency for use in Berlin, the B Mark, the new Deutschmark with a B stamped on it. This angered the Soviets, as they knew that whoever controlled the currency, controlled the economy and the people.

So, the Russians’ response was to cut the power supply to West Berlin, most of the power being generated in the Russian Eastern sector. They really wanted to consolidate the communist bloc and they did not want to see a few rebellious suburbs thwart their plans.

The West saw red. This provoked the highest-ranking American Army General from Berlin to fly back to Washington DC and offer these impassioned words to the American President and his team:

We cannot abandon the one place on this planet where we hold an offensive position. “This is no ordinary city. Berlin… is our Armageddon.” Hansen leaned forward, his knuckles pressed against the table and turned white. He looked now at the President alone, “In the name of God, Mr President, the future of freedom on earth requires our presence.”
~ Uris, Armageddon (1963), p. 441

In Uris’ terms, the argument had been going the way of withdrawal prior to this impassioned speech. It certainly stuck a chord, as the President of the United States responded just a few hours later with his authorisation for the stand against the blockade, and he endorsed the general’s plans for the Berlin Airlift:

General, I am going to send you those Skymasters you wanted. You get back to Berlin and tell those people we intend to stick by our word.”

It is going to take a little time to convince everybody here, but you just leave that to me. You can depend on the first squadrons arriving within the week. Now, what else do you need?”

~ Uris, Armageddon (1963), p. 442

The Berlin Blockade and the Airlift

All land, road, rail and waterways between West Germany and West Berlin were cut by the Russians. But they did not block the air corridors. It is my understanding that the Russians never once sought to block landing in Berlin, as their airfields were in West Berlin and to do so would have been to provoke military retaliation. For this reason, they never opened fire on any Allied aircraft, though some Russian pilots ran scare flights around the Airlift planes by flying far too close for safety.

At the height of operations, Allied planes were landing every 45 seconds. In about a year and a quarter, 2.3 million tonnes of cargo were flown in, two-thirds of that being coal for power generation, heating and cooking. One of the greatest achievements, in my mind, was the dropping of 23 tonnes of parachute candy. Thousands of little parachutes were made and attached to bars of chocolate and the like for the children. The planes would drop these from the back of the planes just before landing so that the children could seek them out and have a little joy in their otherwise near-starvation diets.

Nevertheless, even though this was not ‘warfare’, there were 101 fatalities from the Airlift, 40 British and 31 Americans — 17 American and eight British planes crashed, mostly the result of bad weather. Some of the casualties were Germans whose homes the plans had crashlanded into.

Lessons from the Berlin Airlift (1948–1949)

There is nothing uplifting about war, but the Berlin Airlift has certainly lifted my spirits. First of all, it highlighted the victors’ compassion and commitment towards the defeated. The Allied forces did not turn tail and leave Europe to pick itself up and start over again defeated and alone. No, they stayed, they battled to serve, with at least 71 armed forces personnel paying the ultimate price for their service.

I have been struck by the contrasts between the western Allied forces and the Soviet forces in the aftermath of war. The West’s self-sacrifice and commitment to an extraordinary work ethic contrasts with the East’s regimentation, the constant haemorrhaging of deserters, even from the highest-ranking officers, and the painstaking surveillance of every single one of their people. This is to say nothing of their whole focus being on control, destruction, and depravity.

Most of us don’t study the impact of Communist Party operations on a routine basis; rather, we think that the communists are just another political party, like all the others — they probably have their good points and their failings.

My study of the Berlin Airlift and the events that led up to it which made it imperative for the western Allies to fight for freedom and democracy, has shown me that the Communist Party, the Russians’ police state, is not really a political movement at all: it is pure nationalistic totalitarianism.

Armageddon can be defined as:

  1. The place where the final battle will be fought between the forces of good and evil (probably so-called in reference to the battlefield of Megiddo. (Revelation 16:16)
  2. The last and completely destructive battle
  3. Any great and crucial conflict, especially one seen as likely to destroy the world or the human race.

The western democratic powers saw these events as their ‘Armageddon’ with the eastern bloc’s communists. Thankfully, it was only a Cold War, but extremely frightening nonetheless. I can remember nearly being frightened into the Gospel by the Cold War in the 1960s. The Berlin Blockade and Airlift teach me so graphically about the seriousness and the severity of the physical and spiritual battles between good and evil.

___

Photo: US Government/Wikimedia Commons

Thank the Source

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