The title of this post is intentionally provocative. It may be offensive to you. If so, I’m sorry about that. But I need to get this out, so hang with me for a few minutes.
First, let’s define the word “sexy” as it’s being used in this context. Over the past year or so, the English language has evolved to redefine “sexy” less in terms of the physical seductiveness of a person and more in terms of the powerful attractiveness, interest or excitement generated by something. So, now a Mustang, a political campaign, an idea, a trendy restaurant or a cell phone can be “sexy”.
Sexy is what turns heads and proves that a those involved are cool or interesting enough to be noticed.
Now, with that in the background, think about when Christians make news in our culture. This year, it’s mostly been politics and the interplay between the Dobson-Huckabee values voters that wielded such electoral power in recent elections and younger evangelicals with different political sensibilities. Apart from that, Christians are apparently interesting for two only reasons: when they fight (see Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians) OR when they talk about sex.
I’m not talking about reaction to the same-sex “marriage’ issue. (More about that soon.) Nor is this about too much sex on tv. I’m talking about ordinary, heterosexual, husband-and-wife sexuality.
I’ve been stunned at the number of news stories I have seen over the last six months making a big deal because some ordinary evangelical church was promoting a message series on marital sexuality. There have been controversies about billboards announcing the series that some deemed “too hot” for a church to promote. There have been interviews with pastors with typical shorthand identification underneath: Pastor Smith believes Christians and sex go together!.
In the past month, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church-Seattle has preached a series called The Peasant Princess on marital intimacy from the Song of Solomon. At the conclusion of each service, he and his wife respond openly to remarkably candid questions text-messaged to them during the message. Then Ed Young, Jr., pastor of the 20,000-attender Fellowship Church in the Dallas area did a series called Leaving Lust Vegas, which addressed issues of sex, sexuality and marital intimacy. He preached sitting on a bed. Near the end, he challenged the married couples in the church to enjoy sexual relations every day for seven days. The church also provided a journal so the couples could reflect on how this experience impacted other areas of their relationship, like communication, emotional transparency, etc.
Let me be clear. I have no problems whatsoever with Christian pastors and churches dealing with issues of sex and marital intimacy, even in uncomfortably honest ways. Those things are in Scripture and should be Biblically and creatively explored as surely as we talk about finances, business, child-rearing and other practical topics. We need to help Christians live God’s truth in all areas of life. We have for too long been unbiblically discrete and held to a false holiness (on these issues in particular) that has had the effect of leaving all honest discussion of sex to pagans and secularists.
On the other hand, I am bemused and disturbed by the world’s reaction to those discussions. They act as if they are observing the odd behavior of some long-lost tribe (use whispered, British-inflected voice from Wild Kingdom): “Astonishingly, these evangelical Christians seem to have the same sort of sexual needs and struggles as other people. They are actually using the s-word…in church!” Do you see how removed we have become from what most people call real, normal life? We have so successfully insulated ourselves into a separate subculture that it surprises them when we merely act human!
And that leads to the main point. Secular people are shocked into talking about Christians when we fight among ourselves and when we talk about sex. That’s a headline for them about us. It intrigues them. Guess what secular people don’t talk about? What is not a headline for them or does not seem to intrigue them?
The gospel is the good news of the eternal God enfleshed, breaking into our world in love and power so that ordinary people, rebels all, can be forgiven and set free to experience heaven’s life now and break out to eternal life forever…all through Jesus and by free grace. There’s never been a story like that.
This is the radical news that “turned the whole world upside down” (Acts17:6). This gospel transforms murderers into lovers, adulterers into faithful spouses, selfish graspers into generous givers, and liars into truth-tellers. It brings peace for conflict, joy for tears, compassion for hard-heartedness and hope for despair. This gospel gives back what failure and forgetfulness have stolen, repairs what a soul-crushing world shatters and raises dead things to life. It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. (Rom. 1:18).
And somehow, the world is only astonished by our fights and sex talks. I suppose we could be smug and talk about their blindness to spiritual things that really matter. Yes, there is a sense in which “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor.4:4)
But what troubles me is that we evangelicals have seen “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6). We know the gospel — its power, its radical claims and its possibilities. We claim to experience it as the defining core of our lives.
So, I guess I wonder why we can’t seem to make the bare gospel intriguing, compelling, interesting, headline-able and yes “sexy” enough to grab the attention of secular, far-from-God people. Why? Is it really them?
Or is it more about how we communicate, feel and live the gospel of Jesus Christ in front of them?
I suspect I know the answer and it haunts me.